This was my last day of a 4 day trip to Aberdeenshire, so I had to travel home in the afternoon. This time I have gone far enough north into Scotland that it was both quicker and cheaper to fly rather than take the train home, as I usually have, so I had booked a flight home from Aberdeen Airport.
My flight was originally booked for 16:30, but the airline (FlyBe, now ceased trading) subsequently informed me they had changed it to 16:55 which in this case was a bonus, as it gave me an extra 25 minutes. This turned out to be important!
I decided to walk from Newburgh back to Aberdeen on the basis that as I neared the centre of Aberdeen I would be able to take a bus into the city centre (and on to the airport) if the walk took longer than expected – a luxury I would not have if walking in the other direction.
I was staying in the Premier Inn in Portlethen. Having checked out I first needed to get to Aberdeen. On previous mornings I had taken a bus, but today was a bank holiday and the bus service was much reduced. However the normal weekday train service was operating even though it was a bank holiday, so I elected to go by train instead, as it is quicker. It was about a 15 minute walk to the station and I arrived a few minutes before the train, only to find that the train was running 9 minutes late! I checked the time I had to make a connection between train and bus in Aberdeen and decided that I still had enough time so waited for the train.
Another advantage of taking the train it that it runs right along the coast, giving me a good view of the coast I had walked the previous days. It was a lovely morning, and the wet and windy weather of the previous day had cleared, but the sea still looked very rough. It also looked like the tide was high, as I could see it was right up against the rocks in many of the little inlets. Soon we arrived at Aberdeen and had managed to make up a bit of time, so we were only a little over 5 minutes late now.
I made my way from the rail station to the bus station via the Union Square shopping centre, but could not see the bus, which I had thought went to Peterhead. No buses to Peterhead were listed. There was one to Newburgh listed, in about 55 minutes. I wondered if the timetable I had read on my phone was wrong, but it turned out the bus went to somewhere called Ellon, via Newburgh. (I’m afraid I’d never even heard of Ellon).
I found the right stand and was pleased to see the bus was once again being operated by a coach rather than a bus. I am impressed with the bus service in this part of Scotland. The service is more frequent than I had expected, seems to run on time, is not that expensive and all the buses offer free WiFi. Most of the longer distance routes, such as this one, are also operated by much more comfortable coaches with air conditioning, a step up from the old and expensive buses that run in my local town.
The bus left on time and we go to Newburgh on time and it was a pleasant and comfortable journey. The bus dropped me in School Road and I headed from here a short distance back to the main road. My first impression of Newburgh was a good one, it seemed a pleasant village, with a shop and pub on the main street.
I turned left on the main street, passing the Costcutter and a sign for the Coull Walkway on the right. I headed a bit past this and decided it might be a good idea to check the map to see when I needed to turn off. Then I realised I’d gone past it, and that Coull Walkway sign was the way I needed to go. I can’t find a lot about this, other than it was a walking trail created by the Newburgh Youth Club, as a fund raising exercise around 20 years ago.
This is one of three bridges over the Foveran Burn that I needed to cross. This took me behind the houses and immediately beyond, to the bridge. This was a pretty little river running over an area of flat ground (flood plain, I expect) and splitting into two little channels to my left, making a little island. Ducks quacked along the waters and suddenly, away from the road now, it was very peaceful.
The path soon passed between bright yellow gorse bushes and then emerged onto – a golf course.
There are certainly a lot of golf courses in Scotland! Thankfully golfers were only playing on one of the holes, the first I came to, so I didn’t have to wait long to get over the first hole. Not really knowing entirely where I was going, I got occasional glimpses of the sea, and headed in roughly that direction.
This took me on tracks between the gorse bushes and more by luck I ended up by some huts near the estuary, which turned out to be a local angling club. Just before the river was reached there was a sign warning dogs to be kept under control as there may be seals ahead. Seals are like puffins as far as I am concerned. Lots of people say you see them, but I never seem to manage it.
Passing over the last of the dunes I was beside the river Ythan. This river separates the beach at Newburgh from Forvie, on the other side of the estuary and gosh, it was beautiful. It reminded me of the River Avon in Devon near Bigbury, with the river having sand and dunes on either side and a fairly thin channel of water.
There was part of a ship wreck exposed a bit ahead and I headed to this, but the sand became muddy in places, so after this I stuck to the edge of the river, close to the dunes.
As I neared the coast I could here some odd noises. I assumed they were birds, but just rounding the corner, I found the other bank of the river had many seals on it. And when I say many, I mean it! So much for my thought that I wouldn’t see any, then!
It was lovely to watch them, some of them bouncing around over the sands. As I got further out to the mouth of the river, there was a second group of them, with even more seals. There must have been several hundred.
I was now at the mouth of the river and could look north over the glorious dunes and sands at Forvie.
On this side of the river, I too soon rounded the corner to be faced with a glorious beach. Beautiful large dunes at the back, a wonderful soft sandy beach, with harder sand at the shoreline and the crashing waves beyond.
The waves were quite large (and hence the sea quite noisy), which I loved and reminded me of the North Cornwall coast.
Out to sea, I was surprised how many boats were out at sea and oddly, none of them seemed to be moving. Some had helicopters coming and going from them too. Presumably oil related. In places, where the tide had gone out, it had formed some interesting indentations in the sand.
The walk today would be easy. For almost all the way I would stick to this glorious beach, with just a brief diversion inland to get over the River Don and the last mile or so through the docks to the city centre.
The beach stretched south for roughly 12 miles. 12 miles! I think that is a record to be on a single beach, albeit it one separated by the river Don further south. I could see only one other person. Not bad for a sunny may day bank holiday. (This is another reason why given the weather was so bad the previous day I waited, because I really wanted to do this walk in good weather).
I walked on the hard sand nearer the back of the beach for a while, as water channels made it difficult to get to the sea itself without wet feet. The sound was lovely and at times I climbed up the dunes for a view along the beach.
I could just make out Aberdeen in the distance, but it was barely visible. I could see just one other person, a dog walker.
After a while I passed a post with a snapped rope tied to it. I wondered what had been tied to it, obviously something too heavy for the rope. Soon the water channels between me and the sea ended, so I could walk closer to the sea, close enough to feel the spray from some of the large waves, which were whipping up a bit of foam, too.
At the edge of the beach, there were Oyster catchers and some other little brown birds, which a quick bit of googling suggests were probably Sandpipers.
There were at times a few little streams (or burns, to use the local term) which crossed the sand. I tried to walk through this without taking my shoes off and without getting wet feet, with mixed success (I.E., I did get wet feet, but I didn’t really care). After a few miles I could see some other people ahead on the beach and a check of the map revealed I was nearing Balmedie a short distance in land, where some car parks were shown on the map, probably explaining the sudden presence of other people!
A little bit south of the village there was another large river flowing out over the sands. This one was a little deeper and I got wet feet trying to cross this one, mainly because I didn’t bother to take my shoes off, but really needed to. Another reason I had chosen to do this walk on the Monday of my trip, was that a firing range (Danger Area) was marked on the map further south. I thought you would be able to walk on the beach when it wasn’t in use, and a weekend (this was a bank holiday) would be most likely to find it out of use. In the end I saw very little evidence of it. The only real clue was occasional signs on the tops of the dunes, which I wasn’t close enough to read, but looked like the usual “Firing range keep out” type notices. There didn’t seem to be any evidence of red flags or lights being put up on the beach, so it maybe that you can use the beach at all times.
South of the firing range I came to another little stream at a place called Blackdog. This one unusually had a footbridge just at the back of the beach, so I decided to head to that, rather than wade through the river. I crossed the bridge, thinking it was nice to have one for a change, and headed back to the coast.
There was another stream ahead to cross and we were back to streams without bridges once more. Along the beach around here in particular (although in other parts to), were the remains of World War II. Old concrete pill boxes obviously built on the top of the dunes now on the beach or in the sea, and the blocks of the tank traps still along the beach, in various states of repair.
At one of these little streams I was surprised to see an area of grass on top of the dunes, but as I got closer I realised it was part of yet another golf course.
I passed a few more streams, most with a pill box on the beach nearby.
After a while I came to another stream, this one being channelled into a pipe. It looked like you could step over some concrete circles in front of the pipe, which looked easier than the soft sand behind the pipe.
Here is a picture of it. It turned out to be the last picture the camera I used to take it would ever take…..
I went to do this, but as I went to step on what I thought was solid sand ahead, disaster struck. The water had undercut the sand and was deep underneath. Usually the sand is firm until an inch or so before the water but not here and it collapsed as I went to stand on it. I slipped and ended up falling over into the stream, just as a large wave then came in from the sea, which went over my head.
I was soaked from head to toe and had to scramble to get back up on the soft sand and water. I had also made the mistake of wearing jeans, because I like to take two pairs of trousers with me on a trip and had put my lighter walking trousers in my rucksack for the flight back , mindful of the weight limit and the need to keep my luggage weight down, I decided to wear my jeans as these were heavier. Now they were soaked and covered in sand, as was my T-shirt. But worse, I had my camera around my neck. Once safely away from the sea I stopped in the dunes to inspect the damage. The water had gone all over my head and I’d been lying in the sea briefly, with my rucksack on my shoulders.
It was only then I realised how bad things might be. I had my camera around my neck. I tried to dry it out as best I could and wipe the sand off it. I took the battery out, but it seemed dry in the battery compartment which is a relief. Perhaps the water had not got inside it, so I tried put the battery in and tried to turn it on (and yes I know now this is the absolute WORST thing you can do in this situation – salt water conducts electricity and will cause all manner of short circuits which can damage components). Nothing happened. I took this battery out and put the spare one in. This time, the memory card access light blinked briefly, but after that, no response. I took the battery out again. This was not the first time the camera had got wet. The last time it happened it initially seemed to work fine, but then developed a problem that every time it was switched on, it would behave as if the shutter button was pressed down continually and constantly take shots until you turned it off again. This happened for a few days, after which it seemed to return to normal and had been so since. This was a couple of years previously. I hoped the same would happen again and that in a day or two it would start working again. Sadly, it was not too be and this time I had ruined it. (Though to be fair, the shutter had started to stick early on this trip so I think it was on it’s last legs, anyway)
I hoped that the pictures would be saved which, thankfully, they were (as you can see).
However I then suddenly realised that in my pocket was my mobile phone, it too wet but seemed to still be working (though I switched it off). I also wondered how much had been damaged in my rucksack. It was only then I realised in my ruck sack as well as clothes I was also carrying a tablet computer, ipod (remember those?), kindle, spare camera (yes I am obsessive) and GPS. I was worried these too would all have been destroyed. Thankfully it was only my camera, inside my bag was still dry. So in some ways I was lucky in that only my camera was ruined, it could have been a lot worse. It’s only when something like this happens I realise quite how many gadgets I end up carrying about, especially when returning from a few days away!
I had that camera (a Canon EOS 400D) for very many years and had taken tens of thousands of photos with it. It had served me very well and I was sad it was now broken. In fact when I got home I hadn’t the heart to get rid of it. 5 years later, and I still have it now! In fact here it is.
As you can see the labels for all but one of the buttons had long since worn away, as had all the rubber on the hand grip, I’d long ago lost the eye cup around the view finder and a plastic panel that was stuck on the back had also come off. It had had a lot of use and travelled many miles! In the end I decided to use the opportunity upgrade to a Canon EOS 6D (which I’m still using now) because I found this website which had it much cheaper (and I mean by several hundred pounds) than anywhere else (including Amazon) which turned out to be because they are actually in the US (where cameras are much cheaper) and send it from there to the UK, so it was a “grey import” (though despite this, I had no problems). My original lens was incompatible with this camera.
In the end I ended up also buying another Canon EOS400D from Ebay for only £55 (a bargain I thought because although listed as used it was in perfect condition and seemed to have hardly been used), it is useful when I want a smaller lighter camera to take with me somewhere and I’m less worried about getting a £55 camera damaged! It also allowed me to find my original lens was not damaged by the sea water and still works fine now.
I couldn’t walk on in soaking wet jeans, neither could I travel home on a flight in them . So I stopped in the dunes to change into the still dry walking trousers in my bag and a dry (but previously worn) t-shirt. At least then only my feet were still wet, and I couldn’t do much about that (and they were already damp anyway). The problem was, my jeans were now soaking and wet jeans are very heavy, so I put them in a waterproof bag (to avoid getting the rest of the contents of my rucksack wet). I hoped I wouldn’t be searched on checkin at the airport, as I don’t imagine I would be too popular if the security people had to go through a bag with soaking wet sand-covered jeans.
I also realised I now had sand all over me and in my hair, and tried to get the worst of that out, too. Whilst doing that, my map I had put down blew away along the beach. I had to run after that too, only for it too to end up blowing into the sea and getting soaking wet too. Things were not going well. I grabbed my now wet map, folded it up and put it in my bag hoping it would not also be ruined. Finally, I continued the walk, hoping not to get wet again. At least it was a simple walk so I didn’t really need the map now.
I walked on along the beach, rather embarrassed and annoyed with myself for not just taking the safer option of walking behind the pipe, or up into the dunes.
As I neared the river Don, I decided to stop and set up the spare camera (I always take two, which is a bit obsessive), this one an Olympus PEN, which I find has rather dubious colour balance (greens are too bright), hence it was not my main camera, but at least it was dry and still worked!
I’d packed the camera and lens desperately in my rucksack, so found the two parts and connected them up, so I could continue with photographs of the rest of the walk. I was conscious the falling over incident and subsequent sorting out and trying to dry things out had cost me quite a bit of time. Whilst it had been looking like I would comfortably have enough time, I now realised things were getting tight and I would have to pick up the pace. I also didn’t want to try unfolding the wet map to check so I relied on memory to keep going until I get to the jetty at the end, then follow as close as I can beside the river into the city centre. I did want to take the most coastal route, so I would not be left with an annoying gap to fill the next time I came to Scotland.
Once sorted, I followed the path and then the road along the east side of the bridge. Then onto the bridge itself, which carries the A956.
In my first job I worked for a company that had software that attempted to correct postal address supplied by customers to the official Royal Mail approved format, correcting missing information (such as postcodes) and removing incorrect extra detail people love to put in addresses (North Kensington instead of Shepherd’s Bush for example, was one one I remember). This allowed companies to save money on postage when sending out junk mail (or “Direct Marketing” as the company told me to call it). The software was very old, parts of it written in COBOL and the data had to be put in and out in a very specific and obscure format (using fixed-length fields and packed decimals for those that know about such things). This meant I had to check the first few records manually to make sure this conversion had been done correctly, or we’d waste hours of processing incorrect data. The software always output addresses in alphabetical (order on postcode) and the first post code in alphabetical order in Britain is the one for the Bridge of Don area of Aberdeen. I had seen addresses in this area so many times over the years and now at least I had seen the place itself!
Once over the bridge I turned left on the more minor road, which was now quite busy. I soon opted for the grass verge next to the road, rather than the pavement as it was easier on the feet and further from the traffic. This soon bought me back to the sea and by the river the tide was now high enough that there was little beach, with the sea lapping at the shingle and dunes at the back of the beach (and was about to take the path with it, too).
Soon a promenade started and I could join that for the next couple of miles.
The promenade was busy and it was something of a shock compared to the beautiful deserted beaches I had earlier. The beach was now split with groynes and a sea wall at the back, on top of which the promenade ran. The sea was splashing up the concrete ramps at the back of the beach in places, revealing just a small amount of sand at high tide.
I hadn’t realised Aberdeen had a proper resort beach, as this clearly was, as it was soon backed by arcades and fairground rides.
I continued south past the fun fair after which the promenade became quieter and the beach more or less non existent, as the waves now reached the back.
Ahead I could see the control tower like structure at the mouth of the harbour and see the waves breaking over the harbour wall near the entrance to the harbour. The promenade soon ended at a rather lovely row of houses ahead.
I ended up climbing over a flood gate and there was a path both in front and behind the houses. I opted for the path behind, alongside the coast. At the end I could approach the harbour control tower (Marine Operations centre, to give it it’s correct name).
Here there looked to be a path along the river, so I turned right and followed it. It soon turned right with the river and headed into industry. After such a glorious walk, it was a shame the last mile was fairly unpleasant, as the rest of the walk was lovely.
I followed the road closest to the harbour, York Street. I was a little nervous I might find it blocked to pedestrians or no pavement but thankfully this was not the case. I got my phone out both to check the time and follow my route on Google maps. I was walking about as fast as I could and watching the blue blob on my phone showing where I am move slowly. At the end of York Road I turned left and then right along Waterloo Quay. I soon worked out I was about half way to the bus station, and about half way through the time I had left in order to catch the bus I needed to get. As I got to the end and turned left into Regent Street, time was now very tight. I broke out into a run and headed along Market Street. I managed to dart between the traffic between changes of the traffic lights and ran into the bus station. I then had to find the right bus stand, but saw the first bus in the first bus stand was the 727 to the airport. I made the 3pm bus with quite literally 10 seconds to spare, as there were 2 people in front of me getting on, and I was the last one on. I was concerned that the next bus at 3:20pm would not get to the airport until around 3:50pm. I thought I had to check in no later than 1 hour before departure (4:55pm), but it turns out it was actually 45 minutes, but missing the 3pm bus would have made things very tight, so it was a relief to make it.
I could relax on the bus and tried to get my camera working again, but it was still dead. I also sorted out the liquids that had to go in the bag for the flight and the empty drinks bottles I’d need to throw out.
Soon I arrived at the airport and checked in. I was concerned going through security that I would get stopped because of the sodden sand covered jeans being flagged as a fluid. I was also concerned that the water on them (wet jeans are heavy!) would take my bag over the weight limit. Thankfully I had nothing to worry about, my bag wasn’t opened and the airline did not weight it.
The flight boarded on time and I was pleased that again I had a window sea. It seated around 50 people and was more spacious and comfortable than I expected. As we left Aberdeen I soon got views of some snow-covered mountain tops, but as we neared the English border, it became cloudy, so the rest of the flight there was not much to see until we neared London.
Once we descended through the clouds, I could see that we came in over the north edge of Southend, on past Canvey Island, Stanford-le-Hope and along close to the Thames to City Airport.
Unexpectedly, we carried on past the airport, so the plane could turn. As it did so I got a wonderful view as we flew right over Tower Bridge and city hall, passing the top of the Shard (my photos of a visit to the top), which looked very close down below us (and, funnily enough right over the office where I used to work at the company that processed name and address data I mentioned earlier).
Then heading east again, we went over the towers at Canary Wharf, the Dome (O2) and cable car, and soon touched down at City airport. The airport is unusual in that on landing the plane has to turn right around 180 degrees at the end of the runway and head back down the runway to reach the stand, as it’s in a very constrained location (only small planes capable of a making a steep landing can use the airport). We arrived around 10 minutes early, to a grey overcast day. I suspect the weather had been much better in Scotland all day. All in all, it was an easy and pleasant journey. There was no customs or immigration to go through, so once free of the airport I took the DLR to Canning Town, the Jubilee Line to Waterloo and then a train from there. Engineering works (grr) meant the train from Waterloo was slower than usual, as it took a different route (and also running less frequent) but I made it home in a reasonable time. It had been a wonderful day (well, apart from ruining my camera) and a great trip, too.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Stagecoach route 63: Peterhead – Longhaven – Cruden Bay – Newburgh – Balmedie – Aberdeen. Hourly seven days a week (this is under normal conditions – at the moment because of Covid/Coronoa Virus it is much less frequent). It takes around 40 minutes to travel between Newburgh and Aberdeen.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk: Main Link.