This was a lovely (though long) walk along a beautiful section of coast where I discovered a castle I had seen before (but had no idea where it was at the time) and a wonderful RSPB reserve I had no idea existed either. This was also the first of a 4-day trip to the east coast of Scotland so I was starting the day at home.
On my previous trips to the East Coast of Scotland I had travelled from home by train. However the journey was now getting very long. Setting off from home in the morning the earliest I could arrive on a new part of the coast was around 3pm now. That didn’t leave much time to do a walk on the first day of my trip, as I like to and meant I lose most of the day travelling. The other problem I had was that a new operator, Virgin Trains East Coast had taken over trains on the East Coast mainline, the route of trains between London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness. One of the first “improvements” they made was to get rid of the “East Coast Rewards” loyalty scheme which I had used to good effect to get a few “free” one-way trips by train, replaced with a tiny amount of Nectar points instead. Another thing that changed as soon as Virgin Trains took over is the prices of the cheapest “Advance” tickets (available if you book 3 months or so in advance) had also gone up considerably since they took over.
I could no longer ignore the fact that travelling by train was now both slower and more expensive than flying. So instead I booked a flight from London City Airport to Aberdeen to start this walk, with FlyBe (this route no longer runs). This cost me £43.88 each way, about £15 cheaper than the train (and since London City Airport is within the London Travecard zones it cost me the same to get to the airport as to London Kings Cross) with a 9:25 departure time and an 11:15 arrival time, which would get me to the coast considerably earlier than the train and without having to get up at the crack of dawn.
I took a train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube to Canning Town and then the Docklands Light Railway to London City Airport. Check in and security was very quick (as it’s a very small airport). The plane was a small turbopop, small enough I banged my head going through the door and with seats with only 2 seats on one side of the plane and 1 on the other, an unusual layout. The flight was only around half full and I soon found out that though it didn’t say anything about this on the booking the flight was actually operated by the Scottish airline Loganair, under a franchise agreement with FlyBe (they mostly operate independently now). The safety demonstration told me this was a Saab 2000, a surprise because I thought Saab only made cars, not aeroplanes and secondly the “2000” in the name suggested this model had been named when putting “2000” in the name of something made it sound futuristic, which meant the plane was likely now very old. Nevertheless it got me there without any problems. Take off at London City Airport is steep as the runway is very short (only small planes can operate there) and they have to gain enough height to get over the sky-scrapers of Docklands just beyond. Once up we were soon in clouds so there was not much to see most of the way and arrived a bit early at Aberdeen airport.
I had travelled only with hand luggage so had no luggage to collect and being a domestic flight there was no need to queue for a passport check. So I was quickly outside the airport and waiting for the bus into Aberdeen. This got stuck in a horrible traffic jam just near the station in Aberdeen. Twice the traffic lights ahead went green but the bus didn’t move at all and they went red again, because traffic on the road we were trying to join was completely stationary the whole time. Thankfully the helpful driver let me get off even though we were not at the stop so I could walk the last bit to the railway station. Here I bought lunch and a train ticket to Stonehaven and then took the train to Stonehaven. I had lunch on the train to save time and so arrived at around 12:35pm. Still making for quite a late start, but earlier than if I had come by train the whole way.
I did the walk this way around because I had less time to wait for a train at Aberdeen to Stonehaven than a bus to Johnshaven, so I would be walking south today to end where I ended the previous walk the previous year.
I made my way from the station through the small but pleasant town centre to the sea front. Here I was pleased to find a promenade and a bridge to take me over Carron Water, which flowed through a man-made channel over the beach.
Irritatingly after taking a couple of photos I was now having trouble with my camera. It was a Canon EOS400d that I had taken on pretty much all my walks (not just coast walks) since I bought it way back in 2008 and on all my holidays. It must have taken well over 100,000 photos. As a result it was now somewhat battered but had served me very well, but it seemed today sometimes the shutter would stick open and I’d end up with a photo that was entirely white. Trying again a second time (with the exact same settings) and the picture would come out fine. However I also had a smaller camera with me as a back up (I’d need it in a few days time!)
The coast had the backs of the houses alongside it here, which was not the most attractive but at least it had been brightened up by this wire mesh model of a dolphin.
The beach at Stonehaven was pebbles and shingle so I was glad of a promenade along the back of the beach which was much easier to walk on.
I was also very pleased to note a sign telling me how far it was to Dunnottar Castle which suggested, as I hoped, there was a coast path at least this far, which mapped the map I had got from the council website. (At the time Aberdeenshire Council produced a map of the coast of Aberdeenshire showing the nearest routes you could walk along the coast, with the route using official footpaths where they existed and roads where not. Sadly these seem to have disappeared from the website now).
The promenade soon ended at at a car park overlooking the pretty harbour.
This was backed by some attractive houses, with hills beyond and even a bit of sandy beach. I made my way around the harbour.
Part way round the harbour I could take a footpath that climbed away from the harbour up onto the minor road above. The height gained gave me a nice view back and I could now see the whole town of Stonehaven laid out before me, it was quite pretty.
The sun had made an appearance too and it makes such a difference with the sea now blue and all the colours so much brighter. The path soon reached the minor road and I followed this up to the point it turned back inland.
Here the main route of the footpath headed south but instead I took a feinter path around Downie Point, which gave me a fine view back over Stonehaven.
Rounding the end of the headland I now had Strathlethan Bay ahead, a sheltered shingle beach backed by cliffs which were topped by gorse, it looked lovely in the sun.
Now I was back on the official path which was easier underfoot and followed right along the cliffs, below the war memorial I could see on the hill to my right. This rounded the pretty bay, which became very rocky at the far end (Bowdun Head). There path missed out Bowdun Head and the field alongside had crops right up to the edges so I had no way of getting there without damaging the crops so stuck to the official path.
This soon took me to the next bay, Castle Haven. This was another pretty beach with some rock stacks at the north end of the beach and the ruins of Dunnottar Castle on the headland at the other end. The castle was bigger than I had realised.
The path soon approached the castle and though I had never been here before or even been aware of the castle I suddenly realised I knew the view well.
The reason being at the time I had a computer running Windows 7 and had selected the “United Kingdom” theme and a photo of this castle was one of the pictures that would be periodically set as my PC desktop wallpaper. When I saw it on my computer I had no idea where the castle was, but now I was standing in front of it.
The castle has a spectacular location on a steep headland that has almost been cut off from the mainland. I was no having a bit of a dilemma. I had quite a long route planned for the time I had available already and when I finished the walk I needed to catch a bus to the outskirts of Aberdeen where I was staying and would need to get something to eat before everywhere closed, too. I couldn’t really spare the time. Yet I really didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to visit this beautiful castle now I was here because if I didn’t, when would I come back? I decided to head down the steps to the castle entrance. This confirmed it was open and now I had come this far I decided to have a look around. I could always make it a quick look around.
On reaching the entrance I paid my fee. The man in the office asked if I wanted to leave my bag behind (it was quite big, because I had 4 days worth of clothes etc). I initially declined but he insisted he didn’t mind and was sure I’d prefer not to be carrying it around the castle. He was right of course so I accepted his offer and it was nice to be rid of my heavy bag whilst I looked around the castle.
The earliest parts of the castle date from 1392. The castle was then extended over the years but was sold in 1717 and stripped of anything of value which includes all the furniture, floors and ceiling and so the castle soon falls into ruins. It was bought by the current owners in 1925 who have now preserved the ruins for the public to visit.
It was a fascinating place to look round because whilst most of the houses within the castle walls no had no roof you could still make out the walls and rooms, which still had fireplaces present in some.
Part of the main building too still had a roof (or more likely it was restored later) giving some hints of what life would have been like in the castle. Here are a few photos of the castle.
The location too was absolutely spectacular too and the castle gave me good views of the coast I had just walked and what lay ahead.
My “quick” visit had turned into about 45 minutes. I retrieved my rucksack from the helpful man at the ticket office and continued my walk. I hadn’t allowed for this time so I was hoping progress onwards would be easy, so I’d make good time. Initially there was a good path around Old Harry Bay, to the south of the castle where I suspect people walk to photograph the castle. Sadly at the next field the path ended rather abruptly.
From here on I found a very rough path that run along the cliff tops between the field fences and the cliff top. The trouble was the grass was long and I could not see where I was walking all the time and it was un-even too.
It would be easy to twist an ankle, so I had to take it carefully and this meant progress was slower than I’d like.
However I did not want to miss this bit of coast if I could help it. It was spectacular and the nearest alternative was the A92. I knew this road was really busy and I really didn’t want to be dodging traffic on it, so the rough route along the cliff tops was preferable.
The coast here was very rugged with high cliffs dotted with little inlets, caves and rocky coves and it was extremely beautiful. Some of the caves had broken right through forming rocky arches in the cliffs.
If you look below you might just notice a small waterfall flowing into the sea in front of this cave, too!
As I made my way along the rough coastal “path” around the edge of the cliffs I saw the first person I had seen since leaving Dunnottar Castle.
I was also seeing now a huge number of sea birds.
They were quite literally clinging to the cliffs in places and flying around the bay. Guillemots seemed to be most in evidence. Soon the rough path gave way to a proper path again and I met a notice.
This told me I had entered RSPB Fowlsheugh and also another sign announced the way I had come showed “End of RSPB reserve trail” and that the nature reserve actually ran for another 1KM in the direction I had come from but “the path is not suitable for walking and for your own safety we ask visitors not to go beyond this point”. Well it’s too late to tell me that now since that is the way I had just come!
It went on to tell me the RSPB were working on plans for a proper coast path from here to Stonehaven and in future years you might be able to walk from Stonehaven (which was of course exactly what I had just done)!
Still this meant I now had a proper path ahead again following the cliff tops and giving views of the sea birds nesting on the cliffs. I couldn’t believe just how many birds there were here (mostly Guillemots) seemingly clinging on to the almost sheer cliffs faces. It was an incredible sight and another thing I hadn’t expected to come across on this walk.
The noise to was quite something (as too unfortunately, was the smell)!
The proper path constructed by the RSPB continued right along the cliff tops to the road at the hamlet of Crwaton.
I followed the road past the half-dozen or so houses of this hamlet and around the ruins of another building (a church perhaps).
Now there was no proper cliff top path again so I was back to squeezing between the field edges and the cliff tops. It was worth it though as there was more lovely scenery.
I started to see a few daffodils on the cliff top but suddenly the fields to my right were full of them, in neat rows. They looked to be in full bloom and I presumed they were grown to be cut and sold as flowers but if that was the case they’d have to be cut soon or they’d go to waste!
Whilst the going was hard to scenery more than made up for it.
The coast was spectacular with another rock arch cut by the sea at the base of the cliffs near Trelong Bay.
I stopped to take a few photos and then rounded the corner into Trelong Bay itself, another remote and pebble and shingle beach, it looked lovely from the cliff top but there was no easy way down.
Rounding the bay I was soon approaching the village of Catterline and soon spotted it’s harbour wall below me.
The path I had been following soon bought me out on the road above the harbour and I was able to follow this around the pretty little bay that the village is built on.
There was a lower path down to the beach itself but I could see it was a dead-end with no way up from the beach at the far end so I stuck to the cliff top path.
At the end of the village I continued around the edge of fields soon with a view of Todhead Point and the lighthouse ahead.
Before I could get there though I rounded the corner into a river valley.
This is Catterline Burn and there was no bridge across it at the coast.
The banks were also very steep, but using my hands and zig-zagging down I was able to make it down to the water without falling over. Then I was able to step over the water on rocks sticking up above the surface of the water, though it was not easy. Once over I had another very steep climb back up the other side and I had to try several places until I found a safe way to get up.
Though the fields here didn’t have daffodils growing in the seeds had clearly blown around the coast because there was daffodils growing at the field margins.
Having made it around that valley I very soon had another valley to cross, Glasslin Burn. Ahead though I had the beautiful view over Braidon Bay and the burn itself formed a little waterfall at the back of the beach.
It was a beautiful spot and worth the effort it took to get here. Heading inland though the burn briefly disappeared under part of the field (in a pipe underground, perhaps) so I was able to get across this one more easily and then follow the field around to find another path around the back of the beach.
At the far end of the beach Braidon Burn flowed out onto the beach forming another valley.
I crossed the burn on the beach and then climbed up the grassy cliffs alongside a line of telegraph poles. Again it was hard going and I was relieved to reach the top and the field edge. I could follow this around to Todhead Point and the lighthouse and enjoy the resulting stunning views.
I believe the lighthouse is now privately owned but it looked well cared for and has a spectacular location.
All this making my way right along the cliff tops had cost me a lot of time. It was around 5:15pm. I quick estimate on the map and I reckoned I had about 13km to go – probably a bit over 3 hours! Trying to stick to the coast all the way would take much longer than that but thankfully there was now a road that served the lighthouse so I opted to follow that.
It took me a little inland from the lighthouse and then ran parallel with the coast to Hallhill farm where it seemed to go right through the farm yard. Under the Scottish right to roam you are meant to avoid walking through farm yards but the map suggests this is a public road so I felt it was OK to continue and didn’t get accosted by any farmers.
From Halhill I followed the road as it turned inland for about 500 metres and then turned back left to follow along the road now about 500 metres from the coast. However the land was higher here and so I could still see the sea, even if I wasn’t directly along the cliff tops, and look over more fields of daffodils below.
I continued along this road passing Whistleberry and Kinneff.
The road was much easier to walk on and had very little traffic so I made good time along this part. I was however soon approaching the A92, which the road would join. I was determined to avoid walking on the A92!
So just after Grange farm on the map I turned left on a track heading for some mobile phone masts. I followed the fence around the edge of this area when I reached it and made my way through some gorse beyond to pick up a track at somewhere marked as “Craig David” on the map!
I followed this to Kinghornie and then took a path from there down to a footbridge over Bervie Water and then through Inverbervie Caravan park back to the beach.
In truth I really should have stopped here. It was nearly 7pm and I still had almost 2 hours still to go! Thankfully it is May and it stays light late this far north. Thankfully from Inverbervie I can follow the path up from the beach and then follow National Cycle route 1 which now follows the course of an old railway line right along the coast.
One thing about railway lines is they tend to be flat and so this makes for easy walking. So it proved and the next village, Gourdon was only about 1 mile away along this track right along the coast. It made for an easy walk and I soon reached the harbour, now devoid of water because it was low tide and the old lifeboat station, now a maritime museum.
Thankfully at the other end of the harbour I came across a welcome sight – a fish and chip shop. I decided to stop here for pie and chips. I didn’t have time for a sit down meal and it seemed likely I’d not get to my hotel before dinner was finished so this was my best opportunity to get something to eat. Thankfully service was quick so I headed out onto a seat to eat it by the harbour.
Now at least with some food and more drink I could continue as I knew the buses from Johnshaven ran until quite late and I’d really like to get there to avoid leaving a gap I’ll have to come back and fill on another day.
Now I had about 5km to go to Johnshaven. Thankfully the going proved easy as I could follow the old railway line again out of the town, passing another small field of daffodils.
The old railway line continued past a dry stone wall for a while right along the shore and soon crossed Benholm Burn.
The last mile and a half was hard. I was tired as it had been a long walk and in truth probably too long. But the end was in sight now.
Soon I reached the caravans at the edge of Johnshaven and continued down to the harbour where I had ended my last walk the previous autumn.
However I then had a further walk of about half a mile from the harbour up to the A92 to catch the bus. I was very glad to reach the bus stop and a sit down. Thankfully I had just made it in time for the 2nd to last bus.
It was dark by the time the bus arrived and I was glad to get on it into the warm (it was quite cold waiting at the bus stop now the sun had set) and head towards Aberdeen and find that it was a coach. I was staying at the Premier Inn Portlethen hotel and I was able to get off this bus on the A92 from where it was about a 20 minute walk to the hotel, which had cost me £105 in total for 3 nights which wasn’t bad. I pretty much went straight to bed as it had been a long walk and a long day!
This had turned out to be a really brilliant walk. The coastal scenery had been stunning the whole way and the highlight had been the wonderful castle at Dunnottar on it’s spectacular headland. However the scenery continued to impress as did the massive number of sea birds nesting on the cliffs south of there at RSPB Fowlsheugh which I also hadn’t expected. South of there even when I had turned a bit inland the roads were lined with fields of daffodils in bloom. I had been glad of the old railway line to follow at the end too.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Stagecoach bus 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 get between Johnshaven and Stonehaven. Note that this bus stops on the A92 in Johnshaven and not in the village itself.
Stagecoach bus 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 around 30 minutes to travel between Johnshaven and Stonehaven but this bus does serve the centre of Johnshaven.