- START: Cullen, Moray
- FINISH: Portgordon, Moray
- DISTANCE: 9.5 miles (Total – 620.3 miles)
- APPROXIMATE TIME: 3.5 hours
- OS MAPS: Explorer 425
- ACCOMMODATION: Victoria Cottage, Whitehills
Day 4 of my little adventure to the Aberdeenshire and Moray coast and this day’s walk promised to be an absolute beauty. I was heading back off to the wonderful village of Cullen in Moray where I had finished my walk two days previously (see Coastwalk #50) and continuing west along the coast until I reached the former fishing village of Portgordon some nine-and-a-half miles away.
It was another beautiful day as I set off from my accommodation in Whitehills, taking the short bus journey to Cullen where I disembarked in the centre of the village or “New Cullen” as it is known to distinguish it from “Old Cullen” which lied further inland. I had a couple of items to stock up on so I hit the shops first before heading out underneath one of the viaducts which carried the old railway line into Cullen and down a path that led into Seatown, the once bustling heart of Cullen’s fishing industry. These narrow streets are filled with a couple of hundred fishermen’s cottages dating from the 18th and 19th centuries and have bags of character. You can just imagine these streets being filled with fishermen heading down the road to the harbour to head out to sea and bringing back boatloads of fish particularly haddock some of which was smoked and placed in a potato and onion soup creating the famous local delicacy of the Cullen Skink.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t have any Cullen Skink, the only food I got from there was a Cullen Ham & Cheese Sandwich and a bottle of Cullen Coca-Cola, neither of which are locally sourced or particularly famous to this area. I passed through Seatown, coming to the sea wall and then a bridge which crossed over a burn. Ahead of me was the huge railway viaduct which frames the town, adding even more character to a lovely place.
Rather than following the Moray Coast Path through a golf course I dropped down to the beach and walked along this for a short while. There were a number of people about even if it was a weekday, and like me they were enjoying the wonderful sunshine. At the other side of the beach a finger of rocks poked out into the sea which looked like they would block me from continuing onwards. Fortunately there was a winding path through the rocks at the other side of which was another little beach. Here the path climbed up onto more firmer ground, passing by a semi-circular stone structure through the middle of which poured some water into a little gully. On the top of the stone structure, spelt out in white seashells were the words “Jenny’s Well, Portknockie”.
Now it’s not entirely clear who this Jenny (or Janet as she may have possibly been known) actually was. A book from 1866 said that “Janet’s Well” is named after a lunatic woman who lived in a cave nearby whilst an 1888 book said it was not known who Jenny was but about 50 years earlier the well figured in local folk customs associated with May Day and pins and other small items were placed in and around the well to win the favour of Jenny. Whoever it was named after it was a lovely place regardless, with the trickle of water from the stones being very calming.
Leaving the well behind I followed the path over another rocky rise before it dropped down to yet another small beach. Here the path climbed steeply up to the top of the cliffs where I got my first clear view of the village of Portknockie.
Before I got to Portknockie the path wound along the clifftops for a short while, passing by bright yellow gorse bushes. Out in the sea ahead was a huge rock formation which looked like a large hump with a whale’s tail coming out of the side. As the path continued along the clifftops, my view of the rock formation changed and the whale’s tail turned out to be a huge sea arch which arcs out of the larger lump of rock. The rock formation is known as “Bow Fiddle Rock”, so called because it resembles the tip of a fiddle bow. According to an interpretation panel the arch was formed from a sea cave which gradually eroded away until the sea was able to break through both ends. Eventually the sea arch will collapse which will be a great shame as Bow Fiddle Rock is a stunning sight.
I left Bow Fiddle Rock behind, albeit a little reluctantly, continuing to follow the coastal path as it took me into Portknockie. I headed along a road passing by a number of fishermen’s cottages which overlooked a little rocky bay below me. Another interpretation panel noted that a rocky promontory in the small bay was once the site of a fort which had been occupied from the Iron Age some 3000 years ago right up until when the Vikings started raiding the Moray coast. The fort was known as The Green Castle.
Ahead the coastal road came out onto a scenic vista with Portknockie’s harbour nestled out in a bay below me. I was hoping to follow the road down into the harbour but there appeared to be a lot of construction work going on so I stayed up on the clifftops overlooking the harbour. Whilst the Green Castle may have been occupied on-off for some 2,000 plus years there wasn’t really a settlement in Portknockie until 1677 when a group of fishermen from Cullen moved a little up the coast and settled here. Over the next century it only grew very slowly but then exploded during the herring fishing boom of the 19th century, with 150 boats operating out of the harbour by the 1890’s. Nowadays things are a little quieter, Portknockie is more of a residential village although the harbour is still home to a small number of fishing boats and a larger number of pleasure craft.
It was very peaceful as I walked through the village although there was a fair bit of banging and clattering going on from the construction workers in the harbour below. I followed the road round along the clifftops until it came to an end at the other side of the village. Here the coastal path continued the journey, passing through fields of bright yellow oil seed rape. The path wound its way along the clifftops. Occasionally I got glimpses of the next village along the coast, Findochty (known locally as “Finehcty”), and it wasn’t long before the path dropped down off the cliff and into the outskirts of the village.
My first good view of Findochty was of a group of fishermen’s cottages overlooking a beautiful curved bay with a white painted church stood on top of a headland overlooking the village itself. However this was only part of the story. I followed the coastal path into Findochty, passing through New Street and Duke Street, both of which were lined with old fishermen’s cottages, some of which were painted in a variety of colours.
Duke Street brought me out onto a tiny bay called the Crooked Haven (or Hythe). This natural harbour was where the settlement of Findochty originally grew from in the 1400’s. The old harbour was overlooked by an old storehouse dating from the early 20th century. I followed the road past the old building, dropping down Sterlochy Street which took me past even more multi-coloured fishing cottages before coming out onto Findochty’s beautiful harbour.
Nowadays the harbour is more filled with pleasure craft rather than fishing boats, however it was an important fishing port in the 18th and 19th centuries, being home to some 140 boats by 1850. However, like most things in history, times changed, and with the expansion of the harbour at nearby Buckie, most of Findochty’s fishing fleet had moved there by the mid 20th century.
I walked around the edge of the harbour coming to a bench which overlooked the many boats bobbing up and down in the water. Behind me was the Admirals Inn pub, once a sailors’ haunt. I ate my lunch whilst I watched a group of people row a sea canoe into the harbour and then drag it onto the shore. I had seen a couple of these sea canoes during the past few days, including one from the living room window at the cottage in Whitehills. Evidently it must be a popular activity in these parts.
My break over I followed the road past the Admirals Inn which took me through a small caravan park. Ahead the path crossed a narrow gorge via a bridge before climbing up to edge along the clifftops, passing by a couple of scenic inlets. The views up the coast were absolutely stunning, the sea a bright blue, sparkling in the golden sunlight.
The path dropped down from the clifftops back onto the shoreline. A well worn track brought me out onto a long grassy area called Strathlene. I passed by a large house which was once a hotel catering to the many tourists who visited the area. Here, an interpretation panel talked about an outdoor swimming pool and lido that used to exist here from the 1930’s which attracted thousands of visitors. The outdoor pool was in regular use until the 1970’s however when an indoor pool was opened nearby its days were numbered and it was left to rack and ruin, eventually being demolished in 2005. The former hotel was converted into private housing and Strathlene’s heyday was over.
Just as I got into the village of Portessie I walked along a long concrete path which ran straight as an arrow through the rocky foreshore. Portessie is a former fishing village and is one of a string of villages along the coastal road into Buckie. Once they were distinct separate settlements however over the years they have merged into one. The former fishermen’s cottages of Portessie soon gave way to Ianstown, which consisted of more former fishermen’s cottages. I continued to follow the road soon coming to Gordonsburgh and the eastern edge of Buckie’s large harbour.
Buckie itself goes back about 1,000 years with the oldest part of the settlement, Rathven, about a mile inland, being settled in the 11th century. The modern town took shape in the late 18th and early 19th century when the landowners, the Gordon family of Cluny, built a new town around Cluny Square on a ridge overlooking the sea.
The harbour I was stood next too, Cluny Harbour, was also built by the Cluny family in 1877. This was the family’s second attempt at building a harbour in Buckie, an earlier effort at Nether Buckie (now Buckpool) was built in 1857 but this tended to silt up and so a brand new harbour was built at Buckie. The new Cluny Harbour was one of the finest ports in Scotland at the time of its construction and it became a thriving fishing and shipbuilding port. At the harbour’s height it was the major port on the Moray Firth and had the largest steam drifter fleet in Scotland. The fishing industry has declined over the years but it is still an important employer in the town with shellfish now being the staple catch. Buckie is one of the main shellfish ports in Scotland.
There were a number of fishing boats bobbing up and down in the harbour as well as the RNLI’s orange lifeboat which was docked up waiting for the next emergency call. I continued on alongside the harbour passing by a number of warehouses on the landward side, fish processing being a big employer in the town that was evident around the harbour which was a hive of activity.
I came to a T-junction with the road to my left heading up into Buckie town centre. My road took me straight on into the Seatown part of Buckie. Seatown is like any typical fishing settlement along this part of the coast – narrow grid-pattern streets filled with former fishermen’s cottages. I walked through the lower part of Seatown, crossing a bridge over the Burn of Buckie and then taking a path off to the right which brought me to the remains of Buckpool Harbour. The Harbour was filled in with stones from the nearby beach in the 1970’s and landscaped into a park. All that remains are the outer harbour walls hinting at a maritime past. Buckpool was known as Nether Buckie and was once a separate fishing village, however over time it has become part of Buckie as the settlement has expanded.
I crossed over Buckpool Harbour Park and followed a rough but well trodden path squeezed in between the shoreline and the back gardens of houses that ran alongside the main coastal road. The back gardens and the houses they belonged to eventually petered out and I had a long grassy area ahead of me. I passed by a former fishing station now bricked up and left to ruin.
Ahead the coastal path joined the coastal road for a short while before heading back off to the shoreline once again. I noticed as the tide was out there were a number of big grey lumps lounging on the rocks. These were in fact seals and the rocks between Buckpool and Portgordon are home to about 30 of these wonderful aquatic creatures. There were signs along the beach warning people not to get too close to them so I respectfully kept my distance as I continued along the path.
Ahead was the village of Portgordon, the final stop on my day’s walk, The path joined a quiet road which led round the back of a row of houses before bringing me to Portgordon’s harbour. The harbour was very quiet, however it was once a bustling port being both a fishing harbour and also importing coal for industries in Moray whilst exporting their finished products. The fishing trade declined in the mid-19th century when the harbour at Buckpool opened and when the Cluny Harnour opened in Buckie in 1877 it signaled the end of Portgordon as a major fishing port.
The harbour remained active until 1953 when a storm badly damaged the structure. It has since been repaired and is now home to a few leisure craft and a couple of fishing boats. There were a couple of leisure boats bobbing up and down in the low tide but nothing much else was going on. As I wandered through Portgordon it seemed very still. I assume that it is more of a commuter settlement nowadays and the majority of the village’s residents were out at work.
I walked a little way along the main street passing by the old fishermen’s cottages which were laid out in a grid pattern hinting at Portgordon’s origins as a planned fishing settlement in 1797 on empty land owned by the 4th Duke of Gordon. I finished my walk at a bus stop at the western edge of the village. I had a bit of a wait for the bus so I sat on a wall and looked up the coast towards Lossiemouth, my destination for tomorrow’s walk. As I scanned the scenery a couple of military transports buzzed low overhead, getting ready to land at RAF Lossiemouth, a few miles up the coast. This would be the start of my military adventures as the next day’s walk would feature both the RAF and the Army, but more about that in the next post. Happy reading!