This was my last walk of a 4 day trip up to Aberdeenshire. I had planned for this trip to walk northwards from Newburgh, where I got last time, but in the end I ended up doing the walks out of sequence largely because another walk, up at Gardenstown, had a very limited bus service (only on Saturday) so I had had to do that walk earlier in the trip. This meant I had a gap on the coast between Cruden Bay and Peterhead that I wanted to fill, to make sure I didn’t leave any annoying gaps I’d need to come back to next time. I also had a deadline to this walk. I had hired a car for this trip and had a flight to catch from Aberdeen airport at 16:55. I had also booked the hire car until 3pm (in hindsight, I should have selected a later drop off) so I needed to get back to the airport by 3pm to avoid the risk of any late fees.
I left my hotel, on the south of Aberdeen (another mistake, as it meant travelling through Aberdeen each day) early, because this was the first trip I needed to do on the weekday rush hour and my experience had already been that traffic in Aberdeen is bad, as at the time I did this walk the main trunk road (the A90) did not bypass the town but rather goes through the outer suburbs. (In the mean time a new Aberdeen bypass has opened taking the long distance traffic around the town rather than through it, which I imagine has greatly improved the situation). The (now former) A90 is mostly dual carriageway, but with lots of roundabouts and traffic lights, but there are two bottlenecks, the bridges over the River Dee and River Don, both of which are only single carriageway. Setting off I soon got in a traffic jam to get over the River Dee. This took about 10-15 minutes, but once over the bridge there were no more major hold ups. The roads were very busy so it took a bit longer, but nothing major. Soon I was free of the city and on the A90 heading north. I decided to head for Cruden Bay since it was closer and where I finished last time.
It had rained heavily through much of the night and although it had now just stopped, it was very wet around. The forecast for the day was also not good with heavy showers and longer spells of rain forecast. Heading north on the A90, once the dual carriageway ended there was a building site beside the road, where the lorries had got mud all over the road. Now with the rain, it kicked up lots of muddy spray. My spotless bright white hire car was no longer spotless and splattered with mud, I was hoping this would not result in an extra charge (it didn’t, thankfully).
I remembered from earlier in the week that there was parking bays along the road if I turned off the main A975 on the minor road to the coast. In fact as I approached there was also a car park, so I parked there and was pleased to see that it was free. I arrived around 08:50. After using the nearby toilet I decided to check the bus timetable to see if a bus was due to Peterhead soon. The buses are hourly and I worked out that I would need to get the bus back from Peterhead at 1:30pm which did not leave much time for the walk. I was pleased to see that there was a bus to Peterhead in a little over 10 minutes so headed to the main road to catch it, which would give me a bit more time to complete the walk.
I also stopped at the bus stop to eat the breakfast I had bought before leaving Aberdeen but not had time to eat yet. The bus arrived, around 5 minutes late, but I was pleased to see that it was a comfortable coach rather than a bus – the buses in Scotland are so much better than England! It arrived around 5 minutes late too and stopped at the bus station at Peterhead, something I had not realised existed (it is not marked on the map), as last time I had got off the bus on the street. I soon found my way back to the place I parked in Peterhead last time, so I could resume this walk south from the same place. As before I did not have a very good impression of Peterhead. The streets were quiet and many of the people that were around already seemed to be drunk, even though it was early morning. I headed down to the industry and walked past the docks. There were a number of large fishing boats and other large vessels in the port – it is large and seems well used. It was however mostly industrial. At one point I spotted a path between the dock fences which I followed. It was not especially nice, but it avoided the road and I was pleased to see that emerging from the dereliction, there was now a good promenade path ahead and a fine view over Peterhead Bay.
Despite the weather forecast, it was dry and I noticed some blue sky visible too, so I was hoping for good weather. I could now follow this good promenade path below the A982 right around the rock and sand shore of Peterhead bay. It was an easy and pleasant walk mostly being used by dog walkers, who generally seemed a friendly bunch, as most were that I met.
Nearing the south end of the bay, there was a mariner and here the beach became sandy and was surprisingly nice. It was also an interesting contrast with the good beach and the industry beyond.
I followed the soft sand around to the marina and back to the industry.
Just before the industry there was a car park. I first tried to see if there was a path between the fence of the industry and the grassy slope to the right. It looked like there might be, but it soon became overgrown and unusable, so I headed back into the car park and instead took another path up the grassy bank to the top. This came to a parking area in front of a house. I wasn’t sure if it was private, and the owner was out the front, but turned out to be friendly and we stopped for the usual British chat about how the weather was, in this case that it had turned out much better than forecast, and we both hoped it stayed that way!
The path I had followed sort of fizzled out here, so I carried on ahead on what can only be described as waste ground, obviously something here had been demolished. Ahead there was a prison and young offenders institution, which we had passed on the bus earlier. I spotted that there was a road going around this, so made for what I took to be the road, where I could see a row of street lights just in front of the prison walls. As I got closer I had come out into the car park for the prison!
I headed on, thinking what was ahead was a road. But it turned out to be just a gravel track beside the wall, with many street lights and security cameras. I climbed over the fence from the car park onto it and started to follow it. Checking the map I soon realised my mistake, the road went a long way below the prison. I was not really comfortable here. Whilst there is open access in Scotland I was pretty sure that walking around the perimeter fence of a prison holding a camera was likely to attract some unwanted attention.
Despite this I decided to carry on and hope for the best. At the corner, I could turn and continue beside the wall of the prison. Around the next corner, the track continued (perhaps used for patrol vehicles?) but I could now see down the grassy slope to the road below and realised I could get down if needed, so I would not have to turn back.
Soon there was a low stone wall ahead which had an access road to it’s right. I walked from my track down onto this, which then joined the public road. As I did so I passed what looked like a bus shelter with a list of prohibited items beyond this point, including mobile phones of course, so as I suspected I should not really have been there, but no one had come to tell me off. I had now largely reached the end of Peterhead and ahead had the good sandy beach of Sandford Bay. I followed the road around until I reached the beach, then headed down onto the beach. The problem was the first part was large pebbles and difficult to walk on, but it was not long before it became sandy, and I could follow the sands instead.
At the end of the beach I was pleased to spot a path ahead. This climbed up the grassy bank away from the bridge. Behind you could see the prison on the cliff tops.
Ahead was Peterhead power station, and the leaflets for download from the Council website suggested there was a path on the coastal side of it, but I was having my doubts.
The path I was on though passed the burnt out remains of a white building, a hotel perhaps, but no roof now.
The path though did indeed continue below the power station, which despite it’s size was largely quiet. I could pass over the water outlet for the power station and then follow another tarmac promenade type path just above the beach. I was now approaching the small docks at Boddam, and there were some warehouses buildings right on the coast just before it. It looked like there might be a path so I started to follow it, but decided it might be a dead end and I should check the map from the Council, sure enough, it showed the path going the inland side of this. I headed back and found the path, between fences to this on the left, but a proper path even with wooden hand rails and steps. This took me to the road just above the small harbour at Boddam. This was a large harbour but seemed hardly used now, with only a few small boats in it. Probably it was once busier with fishing boats.
Again, Boddam felt a little run down, but was an improvement on Peterhead. It also marked a change, where the coast began to come more rugged and scenic. There were little rocky islands and inlets off to my left, and I could see the red and white striped lighthouse on Buchan Ness ahead.
There was a good coast path in front of the houses here to this island of Buchan Ness. Unusually for Scotland, the lighthouse here is painted with red and white stripes (most seem to be white with some cream around the top), it reminded me of Portland Bill. I soon joined the pavement beside the road to reach the corner and the bridge out to the island.
I had debated walking out, but there were two conflicting signs, one declaring it private and the other saying that access was at your own risk and there was erosion on the north side of the island, so it was dangerous. I think the LIghthouse may now be a private residence, so I decided against exploring it, and stuck to the mainland. A subsequent search revealed the complex is now let for holiday cottages.
I continued on the road to the edge of the village. Just before some newish houses there was a track on the left which I thought might be the coast path and began to follow it but soon realised it was the drive to an isolated private house at the back of this development, so I headed back to the road.
Just after this, there was a path leading out to the remains of Boddam Castle. There was not in fact an awful lot of this remaining and to be honest what did remain did not look very “castley”. The 2nd photo below is all that is left!
The wet grass on the slightly overgrown path also meant I soon had wet shoes. Still from here I could follow another path to pick up the coast path marked on the council map. This headed close to the main A90, but a little before it turned off to the left on what was the old railway to Peterhead, sadly closed in 1965.
This track started off well enough, but soon became a muddy boggy mass, with ankle deep water (and I suspect later, knee deep water), where it went into a cutting. I didn’t want to walk through that, so followed a rough path worn by other walkers on the embankment above, but I was a bit concerned as the embankment got higher that I would not be able to get back onto the path. In fact I could as it soon levelled out again and I could rejoin the proper path, which now became much better.
The coast here was quite remarkable and very pretty with many little rocky inlets and almost islands. The coast path kept to the back of most of them, but there were paths right out to the cliff edge worn by walkers too, so you could get right up to the coast most of the way.
The coast ahead looked very rugged too and I was soon pleased I had chosen to do this walk this way around, as it would have been a bit of a disappointing end to the walk to go around the industry of Peterhead, but this way the scenery had been getting better all the time.
Going around all these rocky coves, and the small beach at Long Haven took a bit more time though, but was worth it, as this is a lovely and very scenic part of the coast.
Soon I passed a wooden sign welcoming me to the Longhaven Cliffs Reserve and signs of all the bird life that could be seen here. In truth it was a bit late in the year now, after the nesting season, so there was not so much to see, but I gather there is a lot to see earlier in the year.
This marked an improvement in the coast path too.
I had read from the reports of other walkers, that the coast path marked on the map here is poor, overgrown and difficult to use. In reality I found that it had likely improved, because it was actually pretty good, with mostly regular signs and bridges and boardwalks provided to cross streams and boggy areas. I had no complaints.
The coast here was stunning, with inlet after inlet, many with steep sides and rocky little islands. Despite the spectacular scenery and good path I did not see a single other person!
The good path continued for around a mile or so where I was then a bit surprised to pass a large pond to the right and a check of the map revealed I was in an area of old quarries. A short distance ahead there was a much larger quarried area which was now full of water to my right. Here sadly the path had a lot of evidence of use by trail bikers but thankfully there were none about today. There was also a lot of rubbish about and at one point someone had created a camp fire, sadly uprooting one of the footpath signs they had attempted (and failed) to burn. A shame as this occurred at one of the few points I needed it, coming out onto a track but I guessed correctly the way to turn. Ahead I could soon see the few houses at the Bullers of Buchan ahead, an oddly named village.
The coast path soon reached a gate and then some steps, which had stopped the trail bikers, whose tire tracks had now disappeared.
I hadn’t expected what came next. It was very spectacular, although to be fair the map provides a hint! A rocky inlet but where the sea had actually broken through the cliffs to create I suspect a cave and the roof had then collapsed, leaving an inlet to the sea with land all around it. If that makes any sense! I walked out and over it, and then back to admire the view from the landward end, near the houses.
Just past the houses I was pleased to come to a sign “Coastal footpath to Cruden Bay” so confirming there was indeed a proper coast path the rest of the way, which was good news. Having checked the time I worked out I had done about right I would probably reach Cruden Bay around 1:45pm.
South of here there was another large inlet, Robie’s Haven, where again the sea had cut gaps through the rocks. It was spectacular. There were another couple of rocky inlets ahead and one more spectacular one, with a couple of rocky islands, Dunby.
On the cliffs ahead I could see the much larger ruins of Slains Castle (strictly, New Slains Castle). It reminded me very much of the ruins of Dunstanburgh down on the wonderful Northumberland coast.
There were another couple of smaller rocky inlets but then the coast path became easier along the cliff top until I reached the wide track near the castle.
Here I turned left and followed this to the ruins of the castle. It looked more a large stately home than a castle to be honest. I would quite liked to have explored the ruins (there didn’t seem to be any fences or signs saying you couldn’t), but I was pressed for time, so had to continue.
The track soon descended into a rocky valley and I could see the path now headed inland to Cruden Bay. South of there there is another rocky headland, but it is almost an island and on an earlier walk I had already covered this.
So I continued on the track through the wooded valley and soon next to the stream. It was quite pretty and near the end entered the woodland. This emerged right into the car park where I had parked! Very handy.
I arrived around 1:50 in the end, which was not bad. I finished the last of my lunch and then set off for the airport. I also had to remember to refuel the car before I got to the airport, since I was horrified to see that if I didn’t the hire company (Hertz) would refuel it for me – but at a charge of over £3 a litre, or nearly 3 times the curren price. What a con!
I timed it perfectly, since just as I got in the car, the rain started. This had been forecast all day but for most of the walk it was sunny and dry for all of it.
There was torrential rain all the way back to the airport. Sadly I got stuck in some traffic just before the A98 turning for the airport which delayed me, but I did find a petrol station to fill up at. I continued on the A98 and at a roundabout saw a sign for Aberdeen International Business Park. I took this to mean I was near the airport, but continuing on the dual carriageway I could no longer see signs for it. There was a few minor roads off to the left to villages and at one I suddenly caught a sign indicating the airport was behind me. Somehow I had missed the turning (it turned out to be at that roundabout). I needed to turn around, but although there were roads on the right each had a “No U Turn” sign, so I had to continue up to the next roundabout. I went all the way and headed south again, concerned I did not know how far the airport was. I still don’t know how I had missed the turn (perhaps it is not so well signed from the south), but soon found it and headed for the airport. I pulled into the car rental car park just as the clock showed 14:59 – 1 minute to spare!
In the heavy rain the staff did not want to come and inspect the car, so I just gave the keys back and told them they bay I had left it in (I didn’t have any subsequent problems with this). I then headed for the main terminal. My flight was on the board, so I checked in. I had a choice of machine or manned check in, but since the airline (Flybe) do not charge for checkin I went to the manned desk and I was glad I did, because I was offered a choice of aisle of window, whilst the machines don’t give this choice.
I got lucky, getting the window seat of the front (emergency exit) row, and with no one in the aisle seat, so had plenty of space – result! I had stopped to empty out the empty food wrappers and drink bottles before going through security, or so I thought. Having set the alarm off myself I had to have the metal detector waved all over me, where they could not find what caused it, so having got passed that I went to pick up my bag, only to find it too had been stopped. The chap doing this was (to my surprise) very pleasant and I commented I bet it was a water bottle. It was – somehow I had missed removing one. He was apologetic and I found it quickly but said that the policy was he now had to check all through my bag.
A frustrating experience, but it turned out spotting the Ordnance Survey maps in my bag he was also a keen walker and had been walking the coast of the Scottish Borders at the weekend, so we could compare notes on that stretch of coast and where we had both been walking. I apologised for leaving the bottle but he was very friendly about it and said it was no problem at all. He also did a far better job of packing my bag back up after this than I had!
The rain continued to come down heavily, but it did not cause a problem for the flight. The only downside is the smaller Flybe planes can’t use the air bridges, so we had to walk out to the plane in the heavy rain. However it was a pleasant flight and I enjoyed having the spacious emergency exit row to myself! It was cloudy for much of the way but cleared over the Lake District which was nice and also around the Midlands and Buckinghamshire, but by the time we neared London, it was back to cloud and rain and we only emerged from the clouds a couple of miles from the airport, but it was still enough for me to recognise the coast of the Thames estuary and river Darent!
Soon we touched down at London City airport although we had to be bussed to the terminal. However I do like London City Airport. I was on the DLR heading away from the airport within 5 minutes of entering the terminal, something you can rarely do at large airports. It was then just over an hour home, after a good trip.
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 20 minutes to travel between Cruden Bay and Peterhead.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link