START: Balmedie, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Collieston, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 10.1 miles (Total – 534.1 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 421
ACCOMMODATION: Allan Guest House, Aberdeen
So here it was. The final walk of the week and also the final one of 2018. I was still feeling the after effects of a viral infection from the week before but the week’s walking had done me the world of good and I was feeling a whole lot better than I had been at the start of the week.
This final walk would see me retrace my steps back to Balmedie and head northwards along the coast to Newburgh and then through Forvie National Nature Reserve to Collieston. If I was feeling really energetic I could head even further to Cruden Bay but I would see how the day would go first.
I got off the bus in Balmedie village, but still had a mile’s walking to do down to the beach at Balmedie Country Park. It was quiet when I got to the beach. There was one dog walker further down the coast but they were at least a mile away so it felt like I had the whole beach to myself. It was a bit overcast when I set off but that didn’t spoil myself as I headed northwards along the beach towards Newburgh.
About a mile up the coast from Balmedie at the other side of the tall sand dunes is a luxury golf resort owned by the current President of the United States, the controversial Donald Trump. The course, opened in 2012, was partially built on Foveran Links which is home to 4,000 year old dunes and is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Scottish Natural Heritage warned that the development of the golf course could seriously harm the SSSI but planning permission was granted on the basis that the economic benefits of the course outweighed the potential environmental impact. Following a survey of the site in 2016, Scottish Natural Heritage stated that the SSSI had been partially destroyed with little to no prospect of recovery.
In addition to annoying Scottish Natural Heritage, Mr Trump has also cheesed off the locals when prior to the opening of the resort he tried to persuade Aberdeenshire Council to use their powers of compulsory purchase to acquire some additional areas of land on which four family-owned properties stood.
One farmer, Michael Forbes, refused an offer of £450,000 for his farm plus a salary of £50,000 per year for an unspecified role. Mr Trump claimed that the Forbes’ property was a slum that would spoil the view from his resort. In response Mr Forbes said that Mr Trump could “take his money and shove it up his arse”.
A local campaign group called ‘Tripping Up Trump’ was set up where hundreds of people bought small interests in the Forbes’ farm becoming co-owners in the process and making it harder for the title of the land to be transferred. The campaign worked as in 2011 Donald Trump announced that in fact all along he had no intention of using compulsory purchase orders to buy the land. An award-winning documentary called “You’ve Been Trumped“ was made about the campaign. Michael Forbes himself was awarded the ‘Top Scot’ award at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards. This annoyed Mr Trump a little bit as he declared the Awards to be “a terrible embarrassment to Scotland” and that tennis player Andy Murray would have been more deserving of the award.
Anyway leaving the golf resort behind I continued along the beach towards Newburgh, soon reaching the mouth of the River Ythan. I walked along the west bank of the river and then came inland through some old dunes and then alongside a golf course (which doesn’t belong to Donald Trump). Apparently I came off the river a bit too early as on the east bank of the river there is a 400-strong colony of seals which I completely missed.
I walked into Newburgh along the village’s Main Street. Newburgh is a pleasant peaceful settlement and there was barely a soul about as I wandered through. Newburgh can trace its origins back to 1261AD when a charter was drawn up by Lord Sinclair which established a settlement here. The village developed as a salmon fishing port, becoming the primary port for the nearby town of Ellon. A number of clipper ships sailed from Newburgh to destinations all over the world, delivering tea and other cargoes. In 1828 Scotland’s first Lifeboat station was opened in Newburgh which remained in the village until 1961 when it was moved to Peterhead.
Newburgh remained an active port until well into the 1950’s, along with a working mill. Like most other settlements along the coast it was affected by the downturn in the fishing industry in the latter half of the 20th century, however benefited from the North Sea oil boom in the 1970’s, becoming an attractive commuter settlement for the influx of new workers to the area.
I passed through Newburgh, coming alongside the River Ythan once again. Just before I crossed the river there was a little seating area overlooking the water so I decided to stop here to have my lunch break. I had a pleasant twenty minutes watching the world go by whilst munching on my tuna sandwiches. I thought I could see the heads of seals bobbing up and down in the river but when I tried to look closer they had disappeared. I decided to finish lunch a bit early as there were dark clouds approaching and I didn’t fancy getting drenched.
I took off once again, following a path along the riverside until I reached a bridge that crossed the Ythan. About halfway across I happened to glance down into the water and noticed a seal’s head looking at me. When the seal realised I was looking back at him, he quickly dived underneath the waters, appearing a few seconds later further upstream.
On the other side of the bridge was a car park belonging to the Forvie National Nature Reserve. The Reserve covers more than a 1000 hectares of globally important coastal habitats, and is home to the largest colony of eiders in the UK. A path led away from the car park, passing through a copse of trees before coming to a junction. The path that led straight on followed the northern bank of the river and would eventually come out near the colony of seals that I had missed earlier. I decided not to take this route as I didn’t want to disturb the seals. This was the correct choice environmentally speaking as there are growing concerns that too many sightseers to the reserve are causing undue stress to the seals who will stampede into the water when they are disturbed.
Instead I took the path to my left which headed straight through the middle of the reserve. A short while later I passed an old railway carriage which at one point must have been moved here to be some sort of storage for farm equipment but was now just rotting away. I walked through a gate before continuing onwards, following the path as it wound its way through ancient grass-covered dunes. About a kilometre later there was a fork in the path. The path down to my right led down to the coast where there was a ruined fishermen’s bothy. I didn’t go this way instead I took the path to the lest which led to the remains of Forvie Kirk and is all that remains of the medieval village of Forvie.
On the short journey there I passed a number of signs which described a little bit about the village of Forvie as described by the ‘villagers’ of the old settlement. Each sign described a sense of approaching disaster in the shape of shifting sand dunes. Over thousands of years since the end of the last Ice Age huge quantities of sand have been transported down the Ythan to be dumped at the mouth of the river. Over time the sand shifted northwards, gradually covering much of the available farmland and then eventually the village itself in the 1400’s. It must have been horrible for the inhabitants to see their lands being gradually covered by the relentless sands until eventually they had to abandon the village.
I walked in to the old church (once dedicated to St Adamnan) which is now just down to its foundations. The church was completely covered by sand dunes until excavations by a local doctor in the late 19th century and archaeologists in the 1950s uncovered the church and some houses from the village (although these have since been covered back up by the dunes). I’m not a religious man by any means but I did feel a sense of spiritual peace when I stood in that church, imagining that hundreds of years ago this would have been a place of spiritual refuge for the inhabitants of Forvie.
After a short rest I left the kirk behind, following the path away from the old village until it re-joined the coastal path. The next couple of miles walking towards Collieston were absolutely wonderful. I passed by a number of narrow coves and inlets and then one of Scotland’s hidden treasures – Hackley Bay came into view (below). This lovely curved bay is hidden away from the world and as such remains largely unspoiled. I didn’t go down to the little beach but instead remained on the clifftops so I could get the full grand view as I walked on by.
Past Hackley Bay the coastal path continued along the clifftops gradually twisting and turning until it reached the lovely former fishing village of Collieston, Arranged along a natural amphitheater centered around the village’s harbour, Collieston was a wonderful place to finish off the day’s walk. I meandered my way through the village and down to the harbour to end the walk, at which point it also started to rain.
This didn’t dampen my mood though as I sat down on a bench overlooking the harbour and watched the waves come in whilst reflecting not only on the day’s walk but also on the year’s walking as well. I had seen so much variety on the east coast of Scotland, from the engineering masterpieces that are the Forth Bridges to the gorgeousness of the Fife coastline, the hustle and bustle of the cities of Dundee and Aberdeen and the forgotten places like Boddin Point in Angus. 2018 had been a good year for coastal walking and I couldn’t wait to get started on 2019 but that’s another story!