START: St Combs, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 11.6 miles (Total – 580.2 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4.5 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 427
ACCOMMODATION: The Waverley Hotel, Peterhead
And so it was here, the final day of the first coastal walking holiday of 2019. I had been very lucky with the weather considering it was still winter and a Scottish winter at that, Storm Gareth had nearly put the mockers on things but in the end it turned out to just being a little bit windy.
And so for the last time that week I was on the bus heading to the lovely village of St Combs where I had finished off the previous day (see Coastwalk #47). It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day. The wind had dropped almost to nothing which made a change from the previous couple of days walking. All in all it was a perfect day for walking.
I got off the bus in St Combs and made my way down downhill past a number of old fishermen’s cottages to Charleston which is now merged with St Combs. The village has existed since at least the 17th century and takes its name from a church dedicated to St Columba which used to exist in the area. The village was established as a fishing port for the fishing families who lived in the area, particularly those families who came from the deserted settlement of Boatlea which became stranded when a huge storm blocked off access to the sea forming the Loch of Strathbeg in the process.
I wandered through Charleston before I followed a road out of the village which led towards the edge of a golf course. Here a track to the right headed down to the beach and to St Combs’ old ruined harbour. A semi-circle of large stone blocks out in the sea coupled with a few tumbledown sheds on the shore were all that remained of a once-bustling harbour.
From the harbour I wandered along the edge of the shoreline in between the sea and the golf course. At the first opportunity I dropped down to the beach. The sea was a beautiful blue colour as I walked along the beach before having to step back on to firmer land on to a track which edged around the golf course. Ahead was the lovely fishing village of Inverallochy.
INVERALLOCHY & CAIRNBULG
Inverallochy along with its twin village of Cairnbulg were planned fishing villages. Fishing communities along this stretch of the coast can be traced back to the 1500’s however a visitor noted in the 1850’s that the villages hereabouts were little more than a collection of huts next to which fishing boats were parked where they had been dragged out of the sea away from the tide.
These huts proved inadequate in more ways than one when a cholera epidemic hit the area in the 1860’s. A little later the huts were cleared away to make way for planned fishing villages. The new and much more expansive villages were able to accommodate the influx of fishing families during the herring boom of the late 19th century. By the 1880’s over 200 fishing boats were based at Inverallochy and Cairnbulg. By the end of the 19th century most of the fishing boats had moved to the safer port of Fraserburgh although a lot of the fishing families stayed in Inverallochy and Cairnbulg, with the fishermen travelling to Fraserburgh by means of a light railway which opened in 1903.
Nowadays the vast majority of boats have gone, although some still use Cairnbulg Harbour which I would pass a little later on in the walk. I followed Shore Street through Inverallochy, passing by rows of old fishing cottages which were built with their gable end to the sea to minimise the effects from storms. The narrow spaces between the houses were once used to house boats which were pulled up from the sea after a day’s fishing. Nowadays the gaps in-between the houses are home to garden sheds and other buildings rather than boats but you can just about picture what it used to be like during the heady days of the 19th century.
The transition from Inverallochy into Cairnbulg is seamless as the two villages have merged together over the years. In Cairnbulg was a beautiful statue of a fisherwife and a young daughter looking out to sea waiting for their loved ones to return home. The statue which was unveiled in 2016, is dedicated to those from the two villages who have lost their lives at sea and was paid for mainly by local contributions. It is an incredibly poignant statue and I was moved when looking at the inscription at the feet of the fisherwife and young girl which read:-
“In memory o’them that gid doon tae the sie in boats tae make their living in grite waters”In memory of those who went down to the sea in boats to make their living in great waters.
It must have been awful for the families when their loved ones didn’t return from the dangerous waters of the North Sea. I wondered how they managed to continue and pick up the pieces when their main breadwinner was taken from them a. I took a few minutes to reflect on this before continuing on through Cairnbulg.
Cairnbulg soon petered out as I followed Shore Street out of the village. Off to my right, lying half submerged in the waters (left), was a shipwreck. Usually any shipwrecks I’ve come across have tended to be decades old however this one wasn’t. The ship, called The Sovereign, has been stranded here since it ran aground during a storm the week before Christmas 2005. The five crew were rescued however the ship was a complete loss. As of August 2019 as I write this it has not been salvaged despite a lengthy legal process. The shipwreck became sort-of internationally famous when it was featured on a heavily-edited promotional poster for the 2012 Hollywood blockbuster film The Life of Pi.
Leaving the shipwreck behind (mainly because I couldn’t take it with me) I continued to follow Shore Road until it came to the empty Cairnbulg Harbour. I assume all of the boats were out at sea although there were a couple on dry land undergoing repairs. Going past the harbour there wasn’t a clear track on the OS map however I could see a clear track with my own eyes heading alongside the shore so I followed this hoping it would take me to a point where I could cross the Water of Philorth which separated me from the long and curving Fraserburgh beach.
The stream was just too fast flowing and deep and wide to cross, especially as Storm Gareth had dumped a fair bit of rain in the area earlier in the week. After a couple of attempts at trying to find a crossing point I took a detour inland through ancient dunes and then farmland where I could cross the stream on the coastal road. I sheepishly walked through a farmyard next to the coastal road hoping that nobody would think I was trespassing especially as I wasn’t doing it on purpose, I just didn’t fancy walking all the way back into Cairnbulg to pick up the coastal road there.
At the other side of the stream I came across a sign which welcomed me to the Waters of Philorth Nature Reserve. I followed a road into the reserve which came to a small park. From there a path wound its way over some duckboards and into the dunes. After a short while I was back down onto the beach which I had hoped to be on about half an hour before. Ahead the golden sands of Fraserburgh were drawn out before me with the town of Fraserburgh itself lying at the other end. I could see the sun reflecting off solar-panelled laden roofs in the town which seemed to beckon me.
It took another half hour to reach Fraserburgh, the beach being longer than I thought it was going to be. I had a lunch break just as I got into town as my legs were starting to get a bit tired and I had a few more miles to go. It was rather pleasant sat on a bench overlooking the beach. It wasn’t too cold considering it was March although I couldn’t sit down for too long otherwise I would freeze.
After about twenty minutes I was back on my way again. This time I followed a road which led past a load of marine-related industries until I reached the town’s busy harbour. Fraserburgh has been an important port since the 16th century with a stone pier recorded as being built here in 1576 by Sir Alexander Fraser. Over the centuries the harbour has been extensively renovated and added to until it became the busy harbour you see today. By the late 19th century there were some 800 herring boats using the harbour, almost one for every ten people living in Fraserburgh at the time. Fraseburgh’s rise in prominence led to the decline of other nearby fishing villages such as St Combs, Sandhaven and Rosehearty.
Nowadays there are fewer boats but that’s only because they’re a lot bigger now. In 2017 27,000 tonnes of fish were landed in Fraserburgh generating some £48 million for the local economy. A sizable portion of the yearly catch must have been landed there that day as the harbour was a hive of activity as I wandered past. I joined another Shore Street, the second such named street of the day which took me alongside the harbour and then past more marine-based industries. Shore Street came to end at a T-junction which was lined with a huge seafood canning warehouse.
I followed another couple of streets until I came onto the seafront at the north end of the town. I decided to take a little detour towards Kinnaird Head lighthouse. Before the lighthouse was built the headland was home to a 16th century castle built by the Frasers of Philorth who lent their name to the town of Fraserburgh. The Frasers had a masterplan to develop the little village of Faithlie into a thriving harbour which would become the bustling port of Fraserburgh. Building a castle on Kinnaird Head allowed them a secure base in which they could oversee the development of the harbour.
In 1787 the castle’s old tower became the focal point of a new lighthouse. The light has been replaced a few times since then but the lighthouse is still guiding ships safely into harbour and through the Moray Firth as it has done for the past 232 years.
There is a local legend associated with the Wine Tower, a still standing tower of stone which is the oldest building in Fraserburgh. According to the tale the daughter of a lord fell in love with a piper but the lord was a bit miffed so he locked the piper in a cave beneath the tower and his daughter in a chamber above. Sadly the piper drowned when the high tide swamped the cave. Understandably the lord’s daughter was a bit upset and so threw herself from the window splattering herself on the rocks below. It is said that the ghostly sounds of a piper playing his music can be heard as he searches for his long lost love, and that the blood of the lord’s daughter still stains the rocks below the Wine Tower. This wasn’t as ghostly as it sounds – as a tribute the lighthouse keepers would throw red paint on the rocks every year when painting the lighthouse.
Anyway I couldn’t hear any ghostly pipes or see any blood-stained rocks so I traced my steps back the way I had come and followed the coastal path as it curved around a bay towards the Broadsea part of town. Broadsea was an important fishing village particularly during the mid 19th century although it was later swallowed up by Fraserburgh which became the chief port. Somehow though Broadsea still retains a separate identity to that of the wider town which I noticed as I wandered along Main Street which passed through the village. Main Street was lined with old single-storied fishermen’s houses which had bags of character.
The end of Main Street brought me back to the coastal path which I followed for a short while before diverting inland past a warehouse until I joined the coastal road. This was my companion for the next half hour as I made my way towards the former fishing village of Sandhaven.
SANDHAVEN AND PITTULIE
I took a little break at Sandhaven, sitting down on a bench which overlooked the crumbling harbour walls. A harbour was built at Sandhaven in the 1830’s by the request of the fishermen of the neighbouring village of Pitullie. Within twenty years Sandhaven was prospering with over 100 fishing boats and 700 men using the harbour, billed as one of the safest on Scotland’s north-east coast. Fish curing was big buisness with 12 curing houses set up in the village employing over 60 coopers and 300 fish workers. Over 1000 people were employed in a place as tiny as Sandhaven and Pittulie.
A new harbour was built in 1865 but the good times weren’t to last and the advent of the First World War saw harbour usage go into terminal decline. The fishing trade tended to be dominated by bigger steam boats which needed much larger harbours in which to berth, something Sandhaven couldn’t provide. As a result the fishing trade move to Fraserburgh. Trade had declined to such an extent that in 1935 the owner, Lord Clinton closed the harbour leaving it to rack and ruin. In 1999 a Trust was set up to re-develop the harbour which is still in use by fishing boats albeit on a much smaller scale than in the past.
My break over, I followed Shore Street (the 3rd such named street of the day) past the harbour until I joined the main High Street which led from Sandhaven into Pittulie. Pittulie was a nice little place consisting of one street’s worth of old fishermen cottages, a couple of which had been abandoned and left to ruin.
Pittulie soon came to an end and I was following the coastal road towards Rosehearty, my final destination of the day, which I could see getting ever closer in the distance. It wasn’t too long before I reached the village. I passed the entrance to The Square which was the centre of the New Town built during Rosehearty’s boom years in the 18th century when 90 fishing boats were using the harbour. I gradually made my way towards the harbour which is located in the oldest part of the village called Fishertown which had rows of fishing cottages located near the harbour.
The harbour probably dates back to the 17th century however there had already been a fishing settlement at Rosehearty for three centuries prior to this. The village was probably first settled by Danish fishermen in the 1300’s. Rosehearty was dramatically expanded in the 1630’s by the local landowner Sir Alex Forbes who wanted to create a large commercial fishing port, with him taking 20% of everything that landed at the harbour. It was a very lucrative business however one of Sir Alex’s successors backed the wrong side in the Jacobite Rebellion and all their lands and titles were revoked.
The harbour is still an active fishing port although nowhere near the extent it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was hoped that the arrival of the railway would benefit the village, however the railway only went as far as Fraserburgh and most of the fishermen moved there almost overnight. Still Rosehearty is a lovely place and the harbour was a perfect place to finish the walk.
I had about another hour until the bus arrived to take me back to Fraserburgh where I could a connecting bus back to the hotel at Peterhead. I had plenty of time to reflect on what had been not only a great day’s walk but a great week’s walking. Aberdeenshire continued to provide many surprises in the shape of stunning coastal scenery and quaint coastal villages such as Cruden Bay and St Combs. I would be back up in Aberdeenshire again at the end of April ready to continue walking along the fantastic coastline. I couldn’t wait!
Inverallochy & Cairnbulg
Sandhaven and Pittulie