START: Whitehills, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: Cullen, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 12.6 miles (Total – 605.1 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 425
ACCOMMODATION: Victoria Cottage, Whitehills
Due to there being no buses on a Sunday to Gardenstown, I couldn’t do my original walk as planned from Gardenstown to Whitehills. Therefore I decided to switch the walks about and so did the walk from Whitehills to Cullen which I originally had planned for the next day instead. The beauty of this walk in particular was that I wouldn’t have to spend hours on the bus to get to the start of the walk. Instead I could set off from the doorstep of the lovely Victoria Cottage where I was staying at which was literally a stone’s throw from the sea. Perfect!
Leaving Victoria Cottage behind I followed Low Shore which ran alongside the shoreline, past lovely old fishermen’s cottages. Whitehills was and still is a fishing village, and these old cottages have been home to generations of fishermen and their families. It was a bit of a cloudy day as I set off although I could see that the sun was trying to get out. I looked out over the small bay at Whitehills, noticing the seabirds diving for fish a little way out at sea.
I followed Low Shore out of the village which curved inland towards the B9139. I wasn’t 100% sure again if there was a path along the sea edge from Whitehills to Portsoy so I decided to take a more inland route along the coastal road which thankfully wasn’t too busy, even on this Sunday morning.
Despite the inland route I was still able to get a decent view of the sea, particularly if I looked backwards towards the east where I could make out the great hump of the cliffs between Gardenstown and Banff. Off to my left were a number of wind turbines which marked the site of the former RAF Banff base which opened in 1943, becoming the home of the RAF Banff Strike Wing that attacked enemy ships and U-boats in the North Sea. Some 80 airmen sadly lost their lives from this base during the last nine months of the Second World War. The airfield closed in 1946.
I continued along the B-road soon heading downhill into a little wooded valley hiding amongst which was a scattering of large houses. At the other side of the valley the B-road seemed to get narrower and narrower as it headed towards the next village on this walk – Portsoy.
Just before Portsoy I came to a junction. Ahead of me on the other side of a dip in the land stood Portsoy. I left the B9139 behind and followed a grassy track down the dip and over a very old stone bridge which straddled the Burn of Durn. The track continued to climb up into Portsoy after the bridge however I followed a path to the right which ran alongside the burn and around the edge of a graveyard, soon coming to the horseshoe-shaped Links Bay.
I continued along a road round the edge of the bay passing by a small caravan park which was packed full of caravans and tents. Off to my left was the Old Salmon Bothy, built in 1834 by the Seafield Estates who owned the rights to salmon fish along this stretch of the coast at the time. The building provided a one-stop shop for everything salmon fishing related – there was an office, a bothy for the salmon fishermen to stay in, a fish preparation area, a workshop and an ice house where salmon could be stored to keep them fresh. The Salmon Bothy was in use as recently as 1990 when salmon netting in Portsoy came to an end. Since then it has been restored and re-opened to the public as a museum detailing Portsoy’s fishing heritage.
I continued past the salmon bothy, following the road as it curved round towards Portsoy’s New Harbour. This was built in 1825 to meet the needs of the growing herring fishing industry. Further along the road I came to Portsoy’s Old Harbour which was flanked by lovely old 17th/18th century buildings. A harbour was first built here around about 1550 which was replaced in 1692 by a much larger one, the majority of which still exists today. Whilst salmon and herring fishing were important, Portsoy harbour exported a variety of goods to customers at home and all over Europe. There was thread and linen to England, coal for home fires in Scotland and the locally quarried green Portsoy Marble even made it all the way to the Palace of Versailles in France.
I had a quick break on a bench which overlooked both harbours where I could just take in the wonderful sights. Portsoy has bags of character with its old buildings overlooking the harbour which thankfully have not been lost to time. I was reluctant to leave but had to press on as there was so much still to see. I headed around the harbour following a rough track which climbed up a hill overlooking the harbour. The track wound its way around the back of some old warehouses and joined up with the coastal path towards Sandend.
It was a great walk along the clifftops. The coastal scenery was stunning and I went snap-happy with my camera taking lots of photos. About halfway between Portsoy and Sanend the path swooped around the tip of a small headland covered in bright yellow gorse before heading downhill towards Sanend beach. I stopped for a moment to watch a man paddle boarding in the calm waters around the headland (memo to self – possibility of doing a project involving paddleboarding around the UK coast).
South of the coastal path was the grey warehouse buildings belonging to the Glenglassaugh Whiskey Distillery. My path unfortunately didn’t take me towards the distillery but instead it climbed steeply downhill, passing a pillbox and a double line of old anti-tank concerete cubes left over from the Second World War, before dropping onto the beach.
The beach was only a small one but it was great to walk along and was certainly popular with tourists on this sunny Sunday afternoon. At the other side of the beach was the tiny fishing village of Sandend. Before I got there though I decided to have a lunch break next to one of the numerous anti-tank cubes which lined the beach. It was a pleasant afternoon and I just sat and watched the world go by whilst giving my legs a well earned rest.
Sandend is one of the more older fishing settlements on the Aberdeenshire coast. A fishing settlement had been well established here by the early 17th century with the current harbour (and most of the fishermen’s cottages) dating from the 1800’s. Sandend has never been a large settlement because of its exposure to the elements and the lack of suitable land to build upon. Still the village has a lot of character and is very popular with tourists, particularly surfers.
My break over I walked along the rest of the beach, crossed a bridge over a small burn into a small caravan park. From here I was hoping to walk through the village and then along the clifftops towards Findlater Castle however a couple of websites I had used to research the walk were advising that there had been some landslides the previous winter and the path was impassable in places. So to be safe I took a more inland route along a minor road which passed through fields glazed in the bright yellow of oil-seed rape. I watched as a farmer raced along the field in his tractor which was spreading some chemicals to kill of any pests on his crops.
After I passed a couple of farmhouses I took another road which headed back towards the coast. I passed an old dovecote surrounded by the golden oil-seed rape before the path brought me back out on to the coast. I had been right not to follow the coastal path from Sandend as there was a “footpath closed” sign laid across the path to Sandend. Unfortunately for me there was also another sign next to the path towards Cullen. Not ideal. Whilst I mulled over what to do next I sat down on a bench which overlooked the spooky ruins of Findlater Castle.
The castle’s remains stand on a rocky promontory which juts out into the North Sea. There was a defensive structure here as early as the 13th century however the present castle was built in the 1450s by Sir Walter Oglivy. The castle’s location made it a hard place to capture although some people did try to. In 1560 the castle passed to Sir John Gordon, the Fourth Earl of Huntly who rose up against Mary, Queen of Scots a couple of years later. The Queen’s forces besieged the castle in the autumn of 1562 and then destroyed the Gordons on the battlefield in October of the same year. Sir John Gordon was executed and the castle passed back into the hands of the Oglivy family. The Oglivy family didn’t keep the castle for long, instead abandoning it for a much more modern house in Cullen in the 1600’s. The castle has been left to rack and ruin ever since.
I decided to try the footpath along the clifftops to Cullen, mainly because the only other alternative would be to follow the main coastal road which I didn’t fancy doing. The path wound along the cliffs for a short while before dropping down to Sunniside Beach. On the way down to the beach the path had partly been washed away although fortunately was still passable. I walked alongside the beach for a bit before I joined another path which headed back up onto the clifftops. Here the path joined an old farm track which headed inland for a mile, passing by the remains of an old farmstead which was just as ruined as the castle I had left behind earlier.
The sun was beaming down now and I was able to get my good first view of Cullen. I followed a track which led steeply downhill towards a caravan park. I could hear a number of people shouting and clapping and as I rounded a slight bend in the path I saw what all the commotion was about – a football match. I dropped down onto a grassy field where a game had just kicked off featuring the home side Cullen F.C. I stood and watched for ten minutes, my presence bringing the “crowd” up to a total of three people and a dog including one man was watching from a seat next to his caravan.
There had been no goals scored after the first ten minutes (although I think the away side went on to win 3-0) so I continued onwards, edging round the football pitch (it would have been rude to cross it whilst a game was in progress) before heading over towards some houses. At the end of the street the road continued into the caravan park, however I took a left along a path which flanked a cemetery. The footpath joined another residential street from which I got another glimpse of the bay before continuing past some more narrow streets of old cottages. At a T-junction I headed right down Lower Blantyre Street which took me to a grassy area overlooking harbour and the Seatown part of Cullen. All I can say is what a view!
Seatown, with its narrow twisting lanes filled with old 17th century fishing cottages is crammed in between the sea and a huge stone viaduct which once carried the Great North of Scotland Railway above the town until the line’s closure in 1968. This huge viaduct is one of a series which carried the line through the town as a result of the Countess of Seafield refusing to allow the railway to be built on a much easier route within sight of her home, Cullen House.
I followed a path which zigzagged down towards the harbour, which was nearly empty of water as the tide was out. In fact a couple of people were walking along the floor of the harbour, kicking the saturated sand about as they walked. I ambled alongside a sea wall, passing by the narrow streets of Seatown until I came to a burn which I crossed over. I was hoping to continue on to Portknockie but after stopping to get an ice cream from a mobile cafe I decided to end the walk in Cullen and leave Portknockie for another day.
I wandered back through Seatown and uphill into the upper part of Cullen where I could get the bus back to Whitehills. It had been yet another great walk along Aberdeenshire’s coast which continued to throw up more surprises. I loved the little fishing villages – Portsoy, Sandend and of course Cullen – each one with their own distinct character. It was also a great feeling to getting fifty coastal walks under my belt totaling just over 600 miles. There had been some great walks amongst that fifty and I couldn’t wait to get started on the next one – but more about that in my next post!