START: Whitehills, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Macduff, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 5.7 miles (Total – 610.8 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 2 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 426
ACCOMMODATION: Victoria Cottage, Whitehills
The original plan for this day was to walk from the cottage I was staying at in Whitehills, Aberdeenshire, through the port towns of Banff and Macduff and then along a B-road to Gardenstown where I had finished off two days earlier. However, this all changed on the way back from Gardenstown on the bus where I decided I really didn’t fancy walking along 8 miles of a busy B-road from Macduff to Gardenstown. After a couple of days deliberating I decided not to walk this bit instead using the bus journey to say I had completed this part of the coast. I know it’s cheating but I felt as if I wouldn’t be safe doing this part of the coast. So the new plan was to set off from Whitehills and walk the relatively short distance to Macduff to the bus stop where I had gotten off the bus from Gardenstown. This meant that there would be no gap in my coastal journey just a gap in the walk.
From my cottage, which was only a stone’s throw from the shore, I headed along Low Shore passing by Downies fishmongers where the smell of freshly caught fish was wafting from. Low Shore brought me to Harbour Place which led me to Whitehiils’ harbour. Whitehills has existed at least since the 1700s and unsurprisingly fishing has been the village’s mainstream throughout the following centuries. By the 19th century the old harbour at Whitehills was home to some 160 fishing boats, a huge number for such a small village.
As the 19th century waned the old harbour at Whitehills was proving to be too small for the ever increasing fishing industry. Stiff competition from nearby Macduff meant that the fishing industry in Whitehills was declining quite rapidly. Something had to be done before the village’s fishing industry disappeared altogether. At a public meeting on 20th January 1890 it was agreed that all fishermen going to sea would contribute six pence a week which would go towards the building of a much larger harbour. In addition canvassing throughout the local parish raised another £650 with more money being promised over the next few months. By 1895 plans for the new harbour were drawn up and four years later it was completed costing some £10,412 to build (about £1.32 million in today’s money).
The new harbour was an instant success with trade increasing overnight. Even though the numbers of fishing boats using the harbour shrunk (mainly because the fishing boats themselves were increasing in size) the harbour continued to operate throughout the majority of the 20th century. By the 1990’s changes to the fishing industry had rendered small harbour such as Whitehills less and less profitable and so a decision was made by the Harbour Comissioners to build a marina and remove the dependence on fishing. Fishing boats still use the harbour continuing the fishing heritage into the 21st century.
I passed the harbour which was filled with a number of pleasure boats along with a couple of fishing boats. I continued along the road passing by a grassy rise which had a few picnic benches on it and a memorial dedicated to those who had lost their lives at sea – no doubt Whitehills has lost a few of its sons to the waters of the North Sea over the years. The road continued onwards, passing by a recreation ground and then a large playground next to which was the remains of a tiny harbour. This belonged to a Blackpots Brick and Tile Works which was across the road from the harbour where a caravan park now resides. The works only closed in the 1970’s bringing to an end two hundred years of industry but no remains of them now exist with the exception of the small harbour.
I passed the caravan site and was able to get my first real view across the bay towards Banff and Macduff – and what a view it was (below). There was barely a cloud in the sky and the deep blue of the sea merged into the light blue of the sky. The road continued onwards some more coming to a small car park where the road zig-zagged back up into Whitehills. Next to the zig-zag in the road was a small stone shelter which was in fact a well, or the Red Well as it is known.
This is an ancient building, possibly Roman in origin and gets its name from the red deposits left behind from the water. There is also a mysterious event which occurs only twice a year at the Red Well. If you were to stand in the centre of the building on the morning of the Spring Equinox (21st March) and and the Autumnal Equinox (21st September) and look east towards Troup Head at the other side of Gardenstown at about 7am just as the sun comes up it is said that as the sun rises past Troup Head a perfect beam of sunlight illuminates the inside of the Red Well whilst the surrounding area remains in darkness. Is this a remarkable coincidence or was it designed this way? It is highly likely that the Red Well was positioned so as to be a way to measure the coming of the seasons which allowed the ancients to know when to start sowing their crops. Obviously this doesn’t work if it is cloudy on either of the Equinoxes.
I didn’t go past the Red Well instead I followed the track which continued along the coast towards Inverboyndie Beach. I crossed over a bridge across the Burn of Boyndie and headed through a caravan park. There were plenty of people about taking full advantage of the glorious sunshine. At the other side of the caravan park I crossed a grassy area and joined another track which ran through Banff Links. According to an interpretation panel this area used to be home to a golf course which came with its own halt on the now-disused railway line into Banff. Since the golf course’s closure at the end of the 1920’s the Links have reverted back to being an open space for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike.
I had a look in one of the old beach shelters which could have done with a bit of TLC although the murals inside them were very colourful. The open space of Banff Links came to an end and the coastal path joined a narrow road which was wedged in between the old railway embankment and the shore. I followed the road into Banff, passing through Scotstown, a single street of attractive fishermen’s cottages which faced out to the sea. These cottages, named after William Scott, a Provost of Banff in the 1840s and 1850s, were built in the mid-19th century in an attempt to expand the fishing industry which had been significantly reduced.
Scotstown was soon behind me and it wasn’t long before I reached Banff’s harbour which was filled full of leisure boats. I took a break here reading another interpretation panel which gave a brief history of the town’s harbour. The town was established way back in the 12th century and owed much of its continuing prosperity to its overseas and coastal trade thanks to a shingle bar across the bay which provided a natural harbour. Banff was well positioned to take advantage of trade across the North Sea and the Baltic Sea as well as coastal trade around Britain. Shifting sandbanks made the natural harbour difficult to navigate over time and so a more substantial stone harbour was built in 1625 which was later extended twice over the coming centuries.
By the 19th century Banff was a busy herring fishing port taking full advantage of the herring fishing boom in Scotland. An Edinburgh merchant, Walter Biggar settled in Banff and pioneered the export of herring from north-east Scotland to the lucrative markets of the Baltic ports in Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe. Not all trade from the harbour at Banff was legitimate, smuggling was also lucrative and many of the towns prominent officials and families involved in the trade. The export of herring to the Baltic was interrupted by the First World War and never recovered afterwards. Nowadays the harbour at Banff is primarily used for leisure with the majority of fishing boats using the harbour at Macduff at the other side of the River Deveron.
I left the harbour behind, following a road which led alongside the shoreline, passing by old warehouses and harbour buildings which looked out across the River Deveron and the bay, some of which had been converted to residential buildings. Rather than following a path which ran alongside the sea wall I continued straight ahead along Church Street which brought me to Old St Mary’s Church and the burial ground. The church now a ruin dates from the 16th century, likely on the site of an early structure, and was at the heart of the medieval settlement. The entire church apart from the attached burial aisle was demolished at the end of the 18th century when the new church opened on the nearby High Street.
I stocked on a couple of supplies at Tescos before continuing along Bridge Road which unsurprisingly took me to a bridge across the River Deveron. The elegant seven-arched bridge was opened in 1779 at a cost of some £9000 (over £1.5 million in today’s money) and was widened just over a century later in 1881. I crossed the bridge glancing up at the domed rotunda of the Temple of Venus which stood on top of Doune Hill ahead of me. The “Temple” was constructed in the mid-18th century by the Earl of Fife. I followed the A98 coastal road which took me around the bottom of Doune Hill and into Macduff.
“Doune” was the original name for the settlement of Macduff until 1783 when the 2nd Earl of Fife, James Duff renamed after his supposed ancestor Lord Macduff, a character in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.
I passed a bus depot and a couple of industrial units off to my left whilst on the right hand side up the northern side of Doune Hill was the attractive Macduff Parish Church. The church was built in 1805 probably to the cheers of parishioners who previously had to travel some 8 miles east to the church at Gamrie if they wanted to worship. I didn’t go up to the church instead sticking to the coastal road which soon brought me to Macduff’s harbour.
Construction of the harbour commenced in the 1770s thanks to the 2nd Earl of Fife, James Duff. His father, William Duff, the 1st Earl of Fife had bought the little village of Doune. The harbour remained in the hands of the Duff family until 1898 when it was transferred to the town council. The harbour is still used by fishing boats and there is a repair yard for boats here so Macduff is still very much a working harbour and has been for over two centuries.
There wasn’t much activity going on when I took a break on a bench overlooking the harbour. I was originally going to stop my walk here as this was where I had got off the bus from Gardenstown two days previously, however I was aware that there was an old outdoor swimming pool a little further along the coast that I wanted to have a look at.
I left the harbour behind following the coastal road as it swung round past the boat repair yard to head uphill. However rather than going uphill myself I took a road off to the left which took me past Macduff’s Aquarium and along a street lined with old fishermen’s cottages facing out to the shore. The road rose up soon leaving the houses behind and passing by a golf course before dropping down towards a picturesque horseshoe-shaped bay flanked by steep cliffs in which was Tarlair Outdoor Swimming Pool.
Built in 1931 the Art Deco style facility has been left to ruin since its closure in 1995. A community group “The Friends of Tarlair” was set up in 2012 with the ambitious aim of bringing the pool back into use. Since then the group have been maintaining the site whilst trying to raise money for its repair. The place is well looked after, with a grassy area beside the pool regularly cut back so that people can sit down and enjoy the views, which is what I did. Also a couple of picnic benches had been set up for people to enjoy. I spent the best part of two hours just lying on the grass soaking up the sun. As I had finished my walk early and had nowhere else to be I just chilled out for a while.
A few people came to the outdoor pool whilst I was there. A middle-aged couple stayed in their car and just watched the world go by whilst having their lunch, whilst a mother and her son played with toy speedboats in the outdoor pool, meanwhile another couple were walking their dog around the edge of the pool. It will be a fantastic place when it reopens. If I closed my eyes for long enough I could just about imagine the splash of water and the delighted screams of children playing in the pool whilst hundreds of chattering voices filled the air.
After a while it started to get a little cold as the sun went behind a cloud so I retraced my footsteps back to the bus stop next to Macduff Harbour and got the bus back to the cottage in Whitehills. It had been another great walk. I was a little disappointed that there was a gap between Macduff and Gardenstown but ultimately I don’t think I would have enjoyed it or been completely safe. Still I had seen the best of the scenery that day, the little stretch of the coast between Whitehills and Macduff was filled with so much variety once again highlighting how wonderful Aberdeenshire’s coast is, and the best part of it was I still had so much to explore.!
Aberdeenshire Council (2011): Scotstown Conversation Area Review. (Accessed from here)