279. Johnshaven to Montrose

September 2014

This was the last day of this 4-day trip to the north of Scotland and so I was heading home later that day. As a result I made an early start for this walk and to avoid any extra delay I took a local bus from my hotel to the city centre (and wasn’t overcharged) and stopped at the Tesco Express to get provisions for the day. I then headed down to the bus station to take the X7 bus to Johnshaven.

The bus service on the east coast of Scotland has been pretty good so far and today was no exception. The bus was in fact a much more comfortable coach and the slightly over 1 hour journey from Dundee cost me £5.60 which I thought was pretty reasonable. The bus dropped me on the A92 as it doesn’t go into the centre of the village.

Although I ended my last walk at Montrose I opted to start this walk from Johnshaven and walk south back to Montrose as I had to catch a train from Montrose station in the mid afternoon and so wanted to avoid any extra risk of missing my train by also having to wait for a bus at the end. This also means I’m starting this walk in another county – Aberdeenshire and will walk back into Angus. When I reach the end of the walk in Montrose that means I’ll also have completed another county, Angus. (All this talk of Angus and Aberdeenshire also reminds me of Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse restaurants, a chain of restaurants that used to be all around the West End of  London designed primarily to rip off American tourists).

I headed down through the residential roads to the harbour, which was quite pretty but surprisingly quiet.

Johnshaven

Johnshaven

Now heading out of the town I walked past the harbour and was pleased to see a signed Public Right of Way at the end of the harbour. I find the access laws in Scotland very useful but they are not quite the utopia you might imagine. Whilst it does mean you can walk over fields and most private land legally whether doing so is possible is another matter, as you might be blocked by hedges, impenetrable undergrowth, animals, wire fences, gates etc. In addition, the Rights of Way aren’t marked on maps, so it is not always easy to find where you can walk. (Though some are marked as a track, which helps).

This path took me past a few houses and then unfortunately, back onto the road.

Heading south from Johnshaven

This was signed as a dead end but I could see a track on the map so suspected, correctly, that I could carry on along the coast here. The houses soon ended and the road narrowed to a track heading towards a couple of white-washed cottages.

Johnshaven

To my left were low cliffs and pebbles with the sea splashing over some of them – the area felt quite vulnerable to the sea. Whilst it was fairly windy today it was also summer and yet even today the waves were only a few metres from the front of the houses.

Cove Hill

Behind the path I soon passed some old Lime Kilns (I assume) and a pleasant pebble beach on the left.

Lime Kiln near Johnshaven, Aberdeenshire

Cove Hill

The track continued along the shore and on reaching the house (marked as Narrows on the map) the owner obviously was a fan of collecting debris from the beach and turning it into works of art (or junk, depending on your view point). It was interesting although I can’t say especially pretty!

Seagreens

Seagreens

Beyond this the track continued but this time as a grassy path. As the previous day had been very wet and it was overcast and misty this morning, the long grass alongside the path was sodden and so I soon had very wet feet.

I soon passed a sign I’d not seen before, it showed I was on a path called “Nave Nortrail”.

Nave Nordtrail

This seems to be a long defunct EU project that ended in 2006 and attempted to create a “North Sea Coast Path” around all the countries that bordered the sea. It seems to have ended with not much having actually been done and the official website has long since disappeared. Aberdeenshire Council do publish information and a leaflet about a “coastal trail“, but this turns out to be a driving route (much along the A90 and A92), not a walking route. It seems much like Angus there were once plans for a coast path but they were never completed and have long since been abandoned.

The I was on now headed up hill to Cove Hill, on a path close to the edge and a little rough in places.

The coast south of Johnshaven

This brought me down to the rocky beach leading to more cottages at the end. The path here disappeared into the pebbles at the back of the beach and became heavy going so I headed down to the beach and walked along the shore, which was a little easier going.

Miltonhaven beach

Passing the cottages I rounded the cliffs to another beach, this one a sandy one, although with the tide in there wasn’t much sand. I continued on the shoreline to the far end of the beach where there was a caravan site.

Miltonhaven beach

Here a stream flowed out to sea and a bridge was marked on the map which I intended to use to cross but in fact what had happened was someone had built up the stones on the beach part damming the stream to form a little pond. Whilst the bridge was there, I had no need to use it, since there was just a small amount of water flowing under the pebbles, so I could just continue along the beach.

Milton of Mathers, Aberdeenshire

The track I had been following seemed to end at the road to the caravan park according to the the map, so I decided to continue on the beach, passing a ruined building on the way. The beach was rocky and pebbly so it was rather hard going and I wondered about heading up into the fields.

Miltonhaven beach

The pebbles on the beach however were rather lovely, all different shapes colours and sizes.

Pebbles at Miltonhaven

At the end of the beach were a few cottages, marked as Tangleha Cottages. I decided to keep to the beach until these and then see if I could follow the field edges to continue. On nearing the cottages there was all sorts of fishing sheds on a very well kept area of grassland and I couldn’t quite work out if this was part of a private garden (and therefore out of bounds, as private gardens are obviously not part of the Scottish right to roam) or just a well kept field.

Milton Ness

As I was wondering this, a man dressed head to toe in sow-esters came out of one of the sheds. I said hello and continued along the beach, not wanting to get told off. As I rounded the headland, there was a good grassy mown path around the low cliffs. I followed this but it soon became rather more overgrown and the wet grass made my feet wet again. The path soon became very rough, so I headed through a gap in the fence to the adjacent field.

This had recently been cut, with hay bales all around the field, so I could follow the edge of it without damaging any crops. My concern ahead was a house ahead (Rock Hall Fishing Station according to the map) right on the cliff top. There seemed to be a bit of a path around the coast side of it,so I left the field and tried to follow this.

The path was between the fence of the house and the cliff top. It was narrow and soon got even narrower. I ended up having to almost hang on to the fence of the house. Passing the house, the “path” was still very rough and still separated by a fence and with great difficulty I made it onto a track leading down to a derelict looking concrete building on an old slipway to a beach.

Beach at Tangleha Cottages

It looked like there was once a bit more down here, presumably why it was called a “fishing station”, whatever that might be. Now though this is the only building and I looked for a path back up to the cliff top at the other side. There wasn’t any, so looked to see if I could climb the cliffs up a small valley, but it was very uneven, rough and overgrown and not possible to so safely.

Frustrated, there was nothing for it but to head back up the way I had come, hoping the owner of the house didn’t spot me! I safely made it back to the field edge and this time, re-entered the field around the fence.

When I was trying to make my way up from that beach I saw I had been spotted by a large group of walkers making their way along the cliffs west from here, so there would be a good path ahead, I hoped. I headed around the walls beside the garden of the couple of houses on the field edge and then came out on the tarmac drive leading to the houses. Just to the right I was pleased to spot another footpath sign. There was, once again, a rough path along the field edge, so I no longer had to walk in the field. Although narrow the fact I had seen other people walking it made me confident I could get through. Now I could look back on the little beach and the track I had followed down to it – the “Fishing Station”.

Beach at Tangleha Cottages

Ahead, the path soon descended quite steeply down steps into the valley at Kaim of Mathers, where I could see the remains of a building on the cliff edge, “Kaim of Mathers Castle (remains of)”, according to the map.

Kaim of Mathers Castle

At the bottom there was a bridge over the stream which was good, so I crossed it only to be met with a sign that the Right of Way ahead was closed for health and safety reasons due to it cliff erosion. Frustrated, as there was no signed diversion to follow or alternative path, short of going back (again), I pressed on. It is fair to say the path was very close to the edge in places, but I did make it round safely in the end and at the cliff top by another house, these was a good track down to the beach.

The beach at St Cyrus

What a view there was here, a stunning sandy beach stretching for miles ahead, with rocks in places and dunes at the back of the beach, with grassy and rock cliffs behind it. It was stunning, despite the overcast weather.

The beach at St Cyrus

The beach at St Cyrus

The “closed” footpath soon lead me down to the beach. Footpath closed you say? Ah bollocks to it!

IMG_4650

Now on the beach I couldn’t see a single other person on it, so I had the place to myself for the first mile or so. It was a wonderful beach and I was glad to be walking on a safe beach rather than dangerous cliff paths.

The beach at St Cyrus

The beach at St Cyrus

As I neared the visitor centre at St Cyrus I wondered how I was going to get round the River North Esk, which flowed out over the beach ahead. David Cotton managed to ford it, and with my success fording rivers the previous day I decided to walk to the wooden posts I assumed marked where it flowed out. But getting there I still couldn’t see the river, but having seen it from the A92 earlier on the way here I suspected (correctly I think) it would be too deep to cross.

So I decided to follow a path over the dunes, which looked to have been well worn. This lead me to a house and again I was concerned this was a private garden, but there was a gate ahead with signs pinned on the other side of it. I went up to the gate and lent over to read them only to realise they were signs saying to clean up after your dog amongst others and that you could walk here but only leave footprints. So I went through the gate and then realised this was the visitor centre for the beach with a car park (which looked far too small for such a lovely beach) beyond.

St Cyrus

St Cyrus

I could then reach the minor road to the beach and turned left along it, heading for the bridge over the river.

This was a long and fairly tedious road passing a few farms one of which was Steptoe junk yard which looked (I’m sure intentionally) like that from Steptoe and Son, selling all sorts of random stuff (it’s even made it to TripAdvisor).

Thankfully today being overcast and a weekday the road was not very busy and only around half a dozen cars past me the whole length. I had spotted a track off to the right leading up to the old railway line, which was marked as a cycle track on my map. This took me past a farm, North Esk Farm not marked on my map which looked like a travellers camp, but hidden behind a brick wall and gates. Nearing the viaduct I saw a sign about the footpath up to the viaduct having been re-opened but no sign of a path up the overgrown embankment. I headed under the impressive viaduct, sadly not used for trains any more, as the line has closed and headed down to the banks of the river.

North Water Viaduct

Both the road and rail bridges here are beautiful brick affairs, and it was a lovely spot.

North Water Viaduct

North Water Viaduct and Lower North Water Bridge

I then took this minor road that climbed up to the main road. Just before the main road there was another path leading me up onto the top of the viaduct, initially through woodland but soon opening up for a wonderful view of this river and it’s valley.

Lower North Water Bridge and the River North Esk

The River North Esk

Lower North Water Bridge

Though I hadn’t spotted it at the time when I was half way across the bridge (so about when the photo above was taken) I had crossed from Aberdeenshire back to Angus).

This is a fast flowing river, with weirs at the bottom and I suspect a popular place for catching trout.

Lower North Water Bridge

Once over the bridge I had spotted a track beside the river leading back to the beach on the map. At the end of the viaduct I saw steps down to the A92 and then looking beyond that as I headed down these steps I could see a track into the woodland. I hoped this lead somewhere and I could get to the beach.

I took this path, timing it for a gap in traffic between the single-way traffic flow over the bridge and took this lovely path through the woods behind the stream.

Woodland beside the River North Esk

It was a lovely walk, but as the woodland ended the path got narrower, before emerging at a ford by a building. I was again concerned this had taken me to a farm yard, but there was a sign saying you are welcome to walk this path and the owners even went to the trouble of provding a seat. The tarmac path soon ended and became a grassy path that soon became sand dunes. There was a small plank bridge over a stream and then a good path to the dunes and this wonderful beach.

Marshland near Kinnaber

I stopped on the top of the dunes to have the rest of my lunch and then walked south on the beach.

Kinnaber Links

This was a lovely walk that continued on the lovely sandy beach for several miles.

Kinnaber Links

Kinnaber Links

I saw no one for the first mile or so, but as I neared Montrose I started to see people, mostly dog walkers.

Montrose Links

Nearing the town there was a concrete sea wall, which was marked on the map and a caravan park beyond this.

Montrose Links

I decided to continue along the beach, as the tide was out, to the caravan park and walk through this to the road.  Ahead I could see Scurdie Ness where I was the previous day.

Montrose Links

As I reached what I assumed was the path I planned to follow into the caravan site I went up steps over the rock armour coast defence only to find a good path on top of this going left to the dock area. I decided to follow it, and it went round some sort of fuel/gas terminal with high fences and past a couple of little lighthouses (well navigation lights more I think).

The River South Esk

The River South Esk

I soon passed the grave of the dog Bamse. Bamse was the ships dog of Thorodd, a ship drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel at the onset of World War II and Bamse was enrolled as an official crew member on 9 February 1940. After the Nazi invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, Thorodd was part of the naval opposition and eventually escaped to the UK arriving in June 1940 and on reaching the UK was converted to a minesweeper and stationed at Dundee and Montrose. Reading the Wikipedia page (I have linked to) it sounds like the dog was something of a character and was buried with full military honours after dying of heart failure in 1944. That probably explains why even now the grave is well tended and well kept.

Bamses' grave, Montrose

After the grave and at the second of the lighthouses , the path joined the road. (This is the view to Ferryden across the River South Esk).

Ferryden from Montrose

Mini lighthouse beside the River South Esk, Montrose

I followed this round to the A92 and then took the road into the centre of Montrose. It was a nice town with a cobbled main steet and some grand stone houses and market places.

Montrose

Yesterday when I reached Montrose it was pouring with rain and I hadn’t wanted to linger. Today it was cloudy but dry and I had some time to spare so it was nice to have time to have a bit of a wander around it.

Montrose

Montrose

Montrose

Montrose

I then headed to the station for my train home. I had another bargain ticket because I had collected sufficient points through the East Coast Rewards scheme (East Coast being the train operator of the through trains to London on this route at the time) that I qualified for a free ticket, so my train ticket home cost me £0. Can’t get better value than that!

(Sadly this generous loyalty scheme soon came to an end. East Coast trains, a nationalised company was soon privatised again to become Virgin Trains East Coast. About the first thing Virgin Trains did was scrap this loyalty scheme and replace it with a few measly nectar points instead! The second thing they did was significantly hike up the prices of the cheap Advance tickets. As a result this, it was to be the last trip I’d do to the east coast of Scotland travelling by train – it had now become too expensive).

This was a very interesting and varied walk. I had really enjoyed the walk along the beach at St Cyrus and being able to follow this right into Montrose. North of there, the route finding south of Johnshaven had been a bit tricky. So far on my Scottish walks I’d not had to put the “right of roam” into practice much with much of the coast I’d walked so far actually having a proper coast path. Now that seemed to have ended I had perhaps made the mistake of trying to stick right to the cliff tops when it wasn’t really practical and had to turn back as a result. Still it was only a minor problem and overall this was a very pleasant walk. It was also another milestone as I now completed another county, Angus, and had begun walking the coast of Aberdeenshire.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. There is a choice of the express bus, which stops on the A92 at the turning for Johnshaven or the 747 which goes into the centre of Johnshaven.

Stagecoach buses route X7 : Perth – Glendoick – Incthture – Hawkhill – Dundee – Muirdrun – Arbroath – Inverkeilor – Montrose – St Cyrus – Johnshaven (A92) Inverbervie – Stonehaven – Aberdeen. Hourly, seven days a week. It takes around 20 minutes to travel between Johnshaven and Montrose, but this bus is an express service that stops on the A92 turning for Johnshaven, it does not go into the village itself (it is about 500 metres from the bus stop to the centre of the village).

Stagecoach buses route 747 : Montrose – St Cyrus – Johnshaven (Square) – Gourdon – Inverbervie – Kineff – Stonehaven – Kingswells Park and Ride – Aberdeen Airport – Balmedie – Ellon – Ellon Park and Ride. Approximately once every 2 hours seven days a week. It takes a little over 20 minutes to travel between Montrose and Johnshaven.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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2 Responses to 279. Johnshaven to Montrose

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, there is some very useful information in your TR, which i will make good use of. I always try and do research into my route and avoid the pitfalls of others by learning from their experiences. I stayed in Montrose for a week back in the early 80’s when I worked offshore and attended an oil industry fire fighting course. It was quite an experience. Cannot remember anything about the town though!

    • jcombe says:

      Glad this is useful to you. Fire fighting an oil fire doesn’t sound pleasant. My only fire fighting training is training to be a fire warden at work which in reality means anything that cannot be tackled with a single fire extinguisher is left!

      As to Montrose it seemed like a pleasant enough place but I can imagine that it’s also probably not the sort of place to stick much in the memory after 30 years or more!

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