START: Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Gardenstown, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 12.3 miles (Total – 592.5 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 hours
OS MAPS: Explorer 426 & 427
ACCOMMODATION: Victoria Cottage, Whitehills
Usually when I travel to various parts of the country to do a few days coastal walking I tend to stay in B&B’s or hotels. However on this occasion I was struggling to find any decent places to stay so I decided for a change to try self-catering. When I was staying in a B&B in Musselburgh the owner recommended I try AirBnB as you can get some fantastic finds on there. So I did. And I did get a fantastic find in the shape of a lovely restored fishermen’s cottage in the beautiful coastal village of Whitehills, a couple of miles away from the town of Banff in Aberdeenshire.
Getting there proved to be a bit of a long haul as the north-east of Aberdeenshire lost it’s railways in the 1960’s. After completing a long train journey from Newcastle to Aberdeen I then had to jump on the bus for a two-and-a-half hours to get to Whitehills. By the time I collapsed into the fishermen’s cottage I was ready for a long sleep.
The following morning, a Saturday, I was ready for some good coastal walking. Unfortunately travelling from west-to-east and vice versa in this part of Aberdeenshire is quite difficult. To get from Whitehills to the starting point at Rosehearty (only about 22 miles away by road, even less if you’re a crow) I had to get a bus to the harbour at Macduff, wait about half-an-hour for the very irregular bus service to Fraserburgh via Gardenstown. When I got to Fraserburgh I then had to get on another bus to Roshearty. Two-and-a-half hours after setting off from Whitehills I was finally ready to start the walk.
Rather than starting off at the harbour where I had finished off the last time I was here (see Coastwalk #48) I got off the bus at The Square in the centre of Rosehearty which was much more convenient for the route I was walking. I wasn’t 100% sure there was a suitable path along the coastline from Rosehearty especially as the terrain was a bit ‘cliffy’ to the west of the village so I decided to take a more inland route along quiet back lanes towards Pennan.
From The Square, I followed Pitsilgo Street as it climbed ever-so gradually uphill out of the village. There were wonderful views along the coast and I watched as a large fishing boat slowly made its way along the coastline to a destination unknown. Just under a mile-and-a-half out of Rosehearty before I got to some crossroads I noticed a tower standing on a hill across a field off to my left. It looked like an old castle tower however it was in fact a very fancy doocot (basically a place to store pigeons so that they can be harvested for their eggs and meat) built by a local estate owner around 1800.
At the crossroads I took the road to the right and followed it for a couple of miles, passing by a number of isolated farms. The road ran parallel to the coast and because I was quite high up I continued to see great views of the sea. The fishing boat I had clapped eyes on earlier was still steadily making its way along the coast. After about forty minutes walking I came to a staggered junction. A road to the left headed off to the village of New Aberdour whilst the road to the right lead down to Aberdour Beach where St Drostan’s Well was situated.
St Drostan was a sixth century monk, possibly a son of the royal family of Dalriada, an ancient Scottish kingdom located in the west of Scotland. St Drostan was trained to become a monk on the holy island of Iona possibly under the tutelage of St Columba. He accompanied St Columba on one of his missions to Aberdeenshire to convert the local Picts to Christianity. St Drostan later became an abbot at a monastery founded at Deer near Peterhead before later becoming a hermit down in Angus. St Drostan was famed for his miracles, including restoring the sight of a priest called Symon. After his death St Drostan’s remains were buried at a church near the old village of Aberdour where his bones were said to continue to miraculously heal people.
According to legend St Drostan used the water from a spring where the well is now located to baptise local people. I decided to not to go down and see the well as I was pressed for time, although I was tempted to see a place used by a saint. Perhaps the waters could I have cured my aching feet.
Anyway I pressed on, following a farm track which led straight on from the staggered junction and down a small wooded valley before zig zagging up the other side. Ahead I walked along a grassy track where the vegetation had recently been cut back to allow much easier passage. Whilst following this track I noticed that some mists were starting to roll in from the sea. Fortunately I was soon to drop down in height a little so I missed the worst of the mist and fog although it was quite eerie watching it roll in.
A little later on the track joined a gravelled road. I had a choice here. Either I could bear right towards a farm through which a track led downhill to the village of Pennan. Unfortunately it looked like there was a large herd of cattle in the field which I would have to walk through. So the only real choice I had was to head left and join the main coastal road towards Pennan, which wasn’t ideal especially with the mist rolling in.
Fortunately I only had to walk along the road for a short while although I did have to side step onto the verges out of the way of traffic a few times. A short while later I came to a crossroads where I took the road to the right which led downhill into the beautiful village of Pennan.
Now film fans might recognise Pennan as it was used as a filming location for the 1983 movie Local Hero starring Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. The film tells the story of a representative (played by Peter Riegert) of a large Texan-based oil company who comes to Pennan (disguised as the village of Ferness) in order to purchase the village and the surrounding land to make a way for an oil refinery. Since the film’s release Pennan’s harbour, the Pennan Inn and the village’s red telephone box have become somewhat of a tourist attraction. The phone box used in the film was actually a film prop and was removed after filming, but as a result of public demand a genuine working public phonebox was installed in 1989.
Pennan was traditionally a fishing village with a harbour first being built here in 1704. The last commercial fishing boat left the village in 2016 when the owner of the boat passed away, although a handful of fishing/pleasure boats occasionally use the harbour during the summer.
I walked from end of the village to the other taking in the views. Pennan consists of one row of houses facing the sea with the village itself flanked by two large cliff formations at either end of the village. Pennan does feel like it is completely cut off from the rest of the world. If it wasn’t for the fact that a few tourists were milling about it would have felt like I was the only one there such was the peace and quiet.
After a short break in the village I decided to press on so I retraced my steps back up the steep road which zig zagged out of Pennan and re-joined the coastal road. Now the next couple of miles were interesting. Normally it wouldn’t have been too bad walking along this road as I would have been able to see traffic, however with the sea mist coming in visibility had been reduced significantly and I spent the next forty minutes squinting into the distance for any vehicle-shaped entities coming out of the mist.
I was more than relieved when I turned off the coastal road to follow a country lane for a short while as it meandered past isolated farmsteads before heading off downhill along a grassy track which took me through a steep gully. As I descended the mist lifted a little bit and I was able to get a great view down the coastline although I couldn’t yet see the village that was next on the walk’s itinerary – Crovie.
Halfway down the gulley I joined a gravelled road which took me past a couple of houses until I came to another track that descended steeply downhill into the village of Crovie (pronounced ‘Crivie’). What can I say about Crovie? Well, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too not only on the Coastwalk but in my entire life. Even on a murky day it was still breathtaking.
Consisting of a single line of fishermen’s cottages which lie just a few short metres from the sea on a narrow ledge of land, Crovie is a hidden gem on Aberdeenshire’s coast. It is not possible to drive a vehicle through the village, so narrow is the ‘street’ that runs in front of the houses, instead you have to park at one end and walk the rest of the way. I joined the village about a third of the way in and I walked along what counted as the main street through the village. About three quarters away down the village I sat on the ‘street’ with my legs dangling over the shore and had myself a short break.
Crovie was established in the late eighteenth century by families who had been cleared from inland estates by the landowner to make way for sheep which apparently were much more profitable. Not wanting to lose a readily-available supply of labour the landowner moved the cleared families to a new village on the shoreline where they operated fishing boats owned by the landowner entirely for the landowner’s profit. By the mid-19th century some fishermen in the village had built their own boats and by the end of that century some fifty of these boats operated from the village.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the number of boats operating out of Crovie gradually declined as the fishermen moved on to more suitable modern harbours nearby. The fishing trade in Crovie was brought to an abrupt and dramatic end on the 31st January 1953 when a huge storm crashed into the village wiping out the footpath to nearby Gardenstown, large stretches of the village’s sea defences and swamping a number of houses and sheds. A large part of the population moved to Gardenstown almost overnight and since then the majority of the remaining houses have been let out as holiday cottages.
I was sat down on the ‘street’ for about twenty minutes just watching the world go by. The sun was trying to break through the clouds and almost succeeded however the heavy fog won out the day although it hadn’t yet quite sunk down to where Crovie was.
I could have stayed there forever however as I needed to get to Gardenstown to catch one of the few buses of the day I reluctantly headed off back along the “street”, this time heading out of the southern end of the village. Fortunately for me the path to Gardenstown has been repaired since the storm of 1953 so I walked along here soon coming to a huge ring of metal which was laid on top of a stone cairn. This was the boilerhead of the SS Vigilant which ran aground at Crovie during a huge storm in February 1906. The crew of the Vigilant were rescued by a joint party of fishermen from Crovie and Gardenstown who braved the stormy weather to ensure the safety of the six men onboard the stricken ship. The boiler from the Vigilant lay in the bay and was a local landmark for 90 years before being removed by Aberdeenshire Council when it washed ashore during another storm. The boilerhead was left as a dedication to the brave men of Crovie and Gardenstown.
I continued along the coastal footpath which ran along a concrete ledge with a chain banister running along the seaward side to stop any unlucky walkers from falling into the cold North Sea. The path cut through a narrow headland before dropping down onto a narrow rocky beach, at the other side of which was the village of Gardenstown.
I headed into Gardenstown passing a number of fishermen’s sheds and little warehouses which were crammed in between the shore and the bottom of a steep cliff. Ahead I came to a sort of V-shaped road junction. One road headed uphill into the upper half of the village while the other road took me along Harbour Street to Gardenstown’s harbour. By this time some of the mist had descended falling as rain this time so I had a wet end to the walk as I ambled into the harbour.
An interpretation panel overlooking the harbour said that Gardenstown was once a busy herring and salmon port, home to some 92 boats in 1900. At this time pretty much the whole of the population was employed in some form by the fishing industry. The drift net herring fishing industry ended in 1958 but larger trawler vessels were still able to operate from Gardenstown until the 1980s when this industry also declined. Fishing boats still use the harbour; some thirteen of them still ply their trade from Gardenstown continuing a nearly 300 year old tradition.
I left the harbour behind and walked uphill to the nearest bus stop ready for the bus back home. It had been a great walk despite the foggy weather. There are some absolutely stunning villages along this part of Aberdeenshire – Pennan and Crovie – being two of the best. The scenery continued to be outstanding too and I couldn’t wait to see what was next.
I had hoped to be back in Gardenstown the following day to walk along the coast to Banff and then on to Whitehills. however there were no buses to Gardenstown on a Sunday and I didn’t really fancy forking out for a taxi. Therefore I decided to switch Sunday and Monday’s walks around. Sunday’s walk would now consist of walking from the cottage in Whitehills to Cullen and then come back to Gardenstown on Monday to fill in the gap.
However, on the way back from Gardenstown the bus took the same route I would be walking to the town of Macduff and it wasn’t the most appealing of routes. I would be walking along a B road for about 8 miles which ran about a mile or so inland and I would only occasionally get a glimpse of the sea. I could walk along the clifftops but I wasn’t 100% sure if there was a suitable path all the way.
I spent the next two days deciding whether I actually wanted to do this stretch of the coast or just start at Macduff and walk to Whitehills. This would mean a break in the Coastwalk (although not a break in the journey as I would have done some of it by bus). Did I decide to do the walk or not? Well you’ll have to find out in the next post…!