This was a long walk through some stunning scenery and pretty villages, but sadly also a walk that was at time frustrating because of the lack of paths.
I was staying on the south edge of Aberdeen, which was not an ideal location for this walk. I had hired a car so drove this up the A90 to the edge of Fraserburgh and then followed the B9032. It took about an hour to get to Fraserburgh and then a little over half an hour for the last stretch, as the road was often single track with steep hills and hairpin bends, which was beautiful, but not the easiest or fastest of drives.
There was not a car park marked on the map in Gardenstown and from a bit of Google research the road down to the coast was steep and narrow, so when I reached the road that started to descend down I parked here on street, where it was still plenty wide enough and walked down to the harbour.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, because there was a small free car park at the bottom that had some spaces, but not marked on the map. I decided to leave the car where it was, however.
So far up the east coast of Scotland I have found the public transport to be, on the whole, very good. However I have now reached a more remote part of the coast and public transport is much more limited. There is an occasional bus service to Gardenstown Monday – Saturday but oddly the only day there is a direct service between Fraserburgh and Gardenstown was a Saturday. On a weekday you have to change and it takes between 2 and 4 hours! So I had left this walk to do on a Saturday so I could use the direct bus.
However the direct bus was not until 10:54, later than I’d like and so I had considered instead walking to Fraserburgh and taking the last bus back, at 16:30. However that is a bit risky because it might take longer than expected and if I miss the bus I’ll have to call out an expensive taxi. So instead I stuck with my original plan and so it gave me a bit of time to explore Gardenstown, so I headed down the road to the sea front.
Gardenstown turned out to be beautiful. There were high cliffs at the west of the town, below which was a good sandy beach mixed in with rocks.
Although the sun is low in the sky at this time of year, it was now high enough to be shining on the beach. It reminded me of Cornwall. At the other end of the town from the beach there was also a small and pretty harbour packed with most small pleasure boats.
The town itself was also lovely, with the houses literally right at the back of the beach, just on top of the concrete sea wall that provides some protection – though I do wonder how much protection in winter.
I wandered down on the beach where there were red rocks in amongst the sand, reminiscent of South Devon, now a long way away!
The cliffs were reflecting in the almost mirror like sand that was covered in water. It was stunning.
Around the coast I could also see the small village of Crovie which is around half a mile north of here and is also mostly located below the cliffs.
Soon I had to drag myself away to catch the bus and begin my coastal walk. So I headed up to the bus stop, but someone had by now parked in it – not very helpful! So I stood nearby hoping the bus would still stop. It arrived a little over 5 minutes late – late enough I was getting nervous it would not show up at all which would scupper my plans for the day. It did though and was a little minibus. I assumed it turned around here, so I was a bit surprised on getting on and buying a ticket to see it continued down the road to behind the harbour where it turned round and came back. I am not sure if this is a usual part of the route (there were no bus stops, no one got on or off) or whether the driver had to resort to this because of the parked car in the bus stop making it too hard to turn around there. Whatever, we were soon off on the way to Fraserburgh.
Despite the infrequent service, it was quite busy, as a lot of buses in Scotland seem to be. It took a little over half an hour for us to reach Fraserburgh and it was quite a scenic journey too, via Pennan.
I had been to Fraserburgh the previous day, so I knew what to expect, I was not that impressed with the town. So from the bus stop I headed north to the Lighthouse museum where I had reached the previous day.
It was a beautiful sunny day, with a cloudless sky (despite the forecast) and the museum looked quite interesting, but I could not spare the time, so I had to get going. There was a grassy path around the back of the Lighthouse museum, so I followed this heading west. I soon passed the old foghorn on the right.
I like Lighthouses and I remember the wonderful atmospheric sound these foghorns used to make – sadly I don’t think any are used any more. Next to the museum was a load of wooden posts which an information board revealed were for drying nets. Fishing is big business still here although I don’t know if these posts are still in use or to illustrate what used to happen, there were no nets hanging there today.
I follows the road south from the museum which seemed to mostly go past derelict buildings and waste ground but with newer houses soon appearing. I have heard the whole area was cleared in a rather controversial regeneration project. There was a man repairing (or dismantling, it was hard to tell) a car on the road, which seemed a bit odd. Soon the path I had been following had houses on the left and a rocky little bay ahead. This is the beach marked as Broadsea Shore on the map.
I followed the grassy path along the cliff top here and soon looked back to Fraserburgh, which looked more pleasant from this side.
The road I had been following headed a bit inland, but there seemed to be a path along the coast. Soon there were more derelict areas of waste ground to my left separated by a chain link fence with a narrow and sometimes rough path between it and the coast. I made my way along it until I was soon alongside the B9031, which thankfully had a pavement. So I followed that for a while as it was the most direct route but after a while I soon found the traffic wearing and headed down to the beach instead. For a while there was a thin line of sand near the back of the beach which made for reasonable walking.
I followed this until the sandy area ended and the going became too though again, so I headed back to the road.
Soon I had reached Sandhaven which seemed to be something of a strange name given it seemed to lack any sand on the beach! What it did have was a large harbour which had a large harbour wall that was in poor condition, missing great chunks of it.
It was also almost entirely empty, except for a few boats right in the far corner. Presumably this had once been an important harbour, but it certainly wasn’t now.
At the western edge of this harbour there was a small area fenced off which I suspect is the only part that is maintained and this did have some boats in it.
However it was clear Sandhaven has suffered a decline, probably in the fishing industry. The road continued behind the harbour and the beach now had a line of bricks and rubble nearest the landward side, not very appealing. The village itself was quite nice though with many solid stone cottages making an attractive main street.
Briefly I had houses on both sides of the road blocking views of the coast, but soon the houses ended, as indeed did Sandhaven. It was therefore back to the road again for a while, but at least it had a pavement and fine views of the sea to my right. As I got further west there was soon dunes to my right and I suspected a good beach beyond. So I walked through the dunes and indeed there was a good beach, which I followed for the rest of the way, there now being plenty of firm sand to walk on.
At the far end the sand had a good covering of seaweed and then I came to another small harbour.
This one was in better shape than in Sandhaven, with a few fishing boats along either side of the main wall. It was quite pretty.
Beyond the harbour I continued on the road past some houses, but the road I had been following, the B9031 now turns inland. On the map it looked like there was a track along the cliffs for a while, a footpath of sorts I hoped.
There was even a picnic site marked part way along, so I was hopeful of a good coast path. However the official North Sea Trail leaflet from the council showed the coast path ended a at the picnic site, just a few metres beyond the end of the road, so I wasn’t hopeful of being able to get through.
The track I followed though initially went past what I think is a private house but looked for all the world like an aircraft control tower. The sign on the wall described it as “The Rosehearty Tower”.
A later internet search suggests this is a lookout tower for some nearby military ranges. Soon the path followed along the low cliffs which had started. After a flat walk so far, things were getting a little harder, but also a lot prettier.
The coast ahead looked spectacular, I hoped I could walk it all. I soon rounded a cave and beyond a small pebble beach.
Beyond this there were unusual rock formations with lines cut into the cliffs, presumably where water had collected and frozen creating fissures in the rock.
Ahead though I was pleased to see that there was still a rough path of sorts along an area of gorse. This continues on the coastal side of walls. The path was rough with thick tussocky grass and some rabbit holes, but at least it was possible and I had not had to climb over any fences so far! I passed lots of rocky little inlets, with I suspect caves below. Soon I reached a little bay un-named on the map but just before Quarry Head, which was filled with rocks causing the sea to splash over the rocks and create a line of foam. It was very beautiful.
Happily the coast path I had been following continued around the coastal side of the dry stone walls and soon I headed up onto Quarry Head itself which sticking out a little further north than the other gave me a good view back along the coast I had been following, with that observation tower back at Roseharty still very visible. It was beautiful.
Rounding the headland the path continued past a white building I had been able to see for a while. I thought to start with it was some sort of lookout.
As I got closer it began to look a bit like a marquee but turned out to be a derelict building painted white. The coast path continued around this area but beyond became even rougher and more difficult, in truth there wasn’t really a path as such at all now I suspect it was more a track created by sheep in the places where they were grazing.
Still there was now a minor road close inland I would cut through to if needed. As it happened I could continue to struggle on along the cliff top. There were at least stiles provided at fences but other than that, no hint that this might be a path.
I was soon approaching the beach where there was “Dundard Castle (remains of)” marked on the map.
I was wondering what to expect here but it turned out the remains was really just the tiny stretch of one outer wall, the rest presumably having long since fallen over the little headland, which looked to be made from fairly soft red sand stone. (It’s the bit of rock below just as the cliffs stop being that sort of pinky colour).
Behind it was a more modern house, which looked much more like a castle.
I even spotted a footpath sign here but after a while again it seemed to fizzle out.
Having struggled to find the onwards path and after a bit of a battle through thick undergrowth, I decided to abandon this and headed along the drive of this house to reach the minor road, where I turned right to reach Mill Farm.
By this point I realised progress had been slow on that difficult and overgrown path. There was a road down to the beach at Aberdour Bay but it looked like this was a dead-end because there was a valley to the west. I spotted a track though going out to Bankhead and Clinterty. I hoped I might be able to follow this. So when the road turned right down to the beach (the end of the public road), I continued ahead on a track. I was pleased therefore to come across a large wooden sign “Public Footpath To Pennan – 3 miles” and underneath “Cat O Tel”, whatever that is!
So I followed this, as there was no path marked on the map near the coast here and another long valley which I would likely need to walk around. Although not right along the coast, this path was high and so it gave me good views of the coast and the sea, so I did not mind too much and it was fairly easy going.
Or at least it was until I reached the point where the track on the map split, with one part going to the farm marked as Clinterty on the map. There was meant to be another bit of track ahead, but it soon narrowed to a grassy enclosed path, which was quite overgrown in places, not the road I had imagined.
Once the other track came back up from the farm house, it returned to more of a track again. This was short lived though because it soon narrowed and became more of a path again, as I passed a large pond on my left. The grassy track was easier here though and soon gaining height, but I was also now quite far from the coast.
I realised checking the map though that I was following the official route of the North Sea Trail, so it must be as close as I can easily get.
As the track started to turn left back to the B9031 I forked left on a track to East Mains, which was also signed as a footpath. As I approached the farm at East Mains the track split so I took the right most one, avoiding the farm, which was also signed as a footpath. Again this soon became grass but a little further up regained the track, now leading north to Pennan Farm. Here the barns were obviously still in use, but the farm house, which looked quite imposing, was derelict with no windows and many holes in the roof.
I walked through the farm yard not sure of the route ahead, as the track on the map ended here. But as I was beginning to wonder I spotted a footpath sign, which directed me over a stile and along the left hand edge of the fields ahead, heading gently downhill.
Again there was no real path visible on the ground, so I stuck to the rough direction the path was signed.
At the bottom though this led to a track. I could see this headed downhill to Pennan, although the initial bit was so boggy, I had to climb up on the hill beside. Further down the path became drier and then headed around the back of the first few houses in Pennan and down to the waterfront.
The last part of the walk had been frustrating – no obvious closer coast path so a long walk around fields. But I was soon cheered up by this beautiful little village. There was a small harbour at the eastern end of the village.
The village itself seemed to be more or less one street built on top of the sea wall at the back of the beach. The houses were beautiful being solid stone with red and grey roofs.
They were very exposed though, being built below the cliffs.
Many had shutters they could put up over the windows to protect them a bit from stones thrown up by the sea at high tide and in storms, but it looked very vulnerable.
Indeed I read later that a few years previously, part of the village had to be evacuated when there were mud slides on the cliffs behind, damaging some houses. It did seem very exposed, even on this calm day the sea was splashing up onto the sea wall just a couple of feet from the houses. I was quite taken with this pretty village so I followed the road right to the far end of the village.
Here there was a little car park and seating area. I was hoping though that I might find steps up and a coast path. I was out of luck, no path up the cliffs. So I had to head back and take the road back.
I then followed the road out of the village and up to the main road, the B9031, which was quite steep.
On reaching the road I turned right along it.
Sadly the official map from the Council website also showed no coast path so I kept to the road which had no pavement but thankfully was not busy. Soon there was a little loop off the road down into Mill of Nethermill. This was a small hamlet really with a bit of a campsite at the back of the pebble beach.
It was a peaceful spot and I would liked to have lingered a bit, but it was now 5pm. I had about 3 hours until it got dark. But I still had a long way to go. So I followed the road the other side of this little valley over an old bridge and back to the B9031.
I turned right up the hill and spotted there was a minor road soon off to the right heading to a car park. From there I could see tracks through Broomybrae Wood. I could see one heading from here out to Northfield where I hoped I could find a path along the cliff tops.
So I followed this road for around ¼ of a mile to the small car park. Here there was indeed the small car park marked on the map and it led down to a small but pleasant shingle beach.
However there was also a track heading into the woodland as planned. I followed it soon descending into a wooded valley.
I tried to follow the tracks but each time it split I seemed to end up at a private drive leading to a single house, with impenetrable undergrowth all around meaning I couldn’t go here. Every track seemed to just head to a dead-end. In frustration I found what I thought might be the right path. It was muddy and headed up into the woodland, but it soon became narrow, overgrown and water logged to the point I could not get any further, even ducking under the bushes. I had to return the way I had come. Frustrated I tried in desperation to get through some of the undergrowth but each time I had to turn back and on one case got to a fence, but I could not get over it. Sadly after much frustration, I had to admit defeat and return back to the car park. I had spent about 40 minutes trying to find a path and failed, it had been a tiring waste of time, time I now didn’t really have. So reluctantly I headed back along the road I had followed and back to the B3091.
At this point I was feeling pretty frustrated. I needed to get to Gardenstown ideally before dark – it would not be safe to walk on unlit narrow roads at night, this is a remote area. Equally if there was a path it would be difficult to use at night (I hadn’t got a torch). I considered just walking along the B9031 and roads the rest of the way, I reckoned it to be just over 4km, which I could do in an hour. But it was not pleasant. So I thought I’d try the more minor roads and track again. I followed the B9031 up to Jacobshall and to Middleton where there was a more minor road I could take to leave the B-road. I took this heading past the farm at Middleton and on to the next farm at Protoston.
At Protoston there was another road heading north to Northfield but then it looked like it became a dead end. I didn’t have time to try it and see now if I wanted to reach Gardenstown before dark. I could turn left off it though to Crovie Farm which was one option. But the better option seemed to be another track heading past Stonewalls to Mink Howe and then down to Crovie. I checked the official map where again the official route seemed to be continue south on the B9031 then follow the road down to Gardenstown. I did not want to do that, at least this route was more coastal.
So I stuck to my track. This went around fields but I soon spotted a sign indicating it as a footpath, so it must go somewhere. All the farmers round here seemed to be busy and there were various machines driving around the field. As I got near the farm at Stonewells the first machine drove across the track in front of me. As I got nearer a second was also about to cross. I stopped, but the farmer stopped and waved me across. It is nice to see them welcoming, many farmers in England make it clear they don’t want anyone walking through their farm and only grudgingly accept it when there is a footpath, but here they seem friendly.
Beyond the farm the track continued up through another couple of fields and then became a path rather than a track as it headed down a steep valley at Mink Howe, then picked up a track again. This descended down into a valley past an isolated house. Near the bottom there was a bit of a ford past some houses and then I had at last reached Crovie. I was hoping to find something to eat here, it was now nearly 7pm and I was hungry and thirsty after a days walking. Sadly there was no pub or cafe open.
But my spirits were lifted because this was another beautiful village, tucked in under the cliffs like Pennan, but with a more varied collection of buildings. There was also a small pier, so I walked along it to get a better view of the village, which again is somewhat exposed, but very pretty.
Thankfully there was now a coast path marked on my map along the back, so I followed the sea wall through the village.
When the houses ended I continued on the path approaching what looked like a dead end. Then I came across a rather discouraging sign “This path is dangerous” but it looked OK to me so I carried on.
The concrete soon ended, but there was a good path ahead.
I could see that at the end of the cliffs it looked to go around the base of the cliff, as indeed it did.
The metal railings were a bit bent in places and a bit of water was flowing down the cliff, but the path was clear and easy to use, so did not seem dangerous to me.
It was then with great relief I rounded the corner and finally had Gardenstown ahead of me.
I just had to make my way over a few rocks and then the small area of sand at the back of the beach.
Once over this I could take the slipway and follow the road along the coastal edge of the village. It was very much dusk now, but at long last I had made it. I walked along the main road at the lower part of the village in search of a pub or takeway, but did not find any. So reluctantly I had to walk up the hill (if only I had moved the car earlier in the day!) back to the car. I was exhausted, but pleased to have finally made it. I was also hungry, but the only facilities I could find was a Spar. I bought a couple of chocolate bars from there and then I drove the 90 minutes or so back to my hotel and ate there. It was nearly 9pm when I arrived, but they were still serving food, so at least I did not go hungry, even if it was a late meal.
So then this was pleasant enough to start then a good and quite spectacular section to Pennan but after that much frustration in trying (and failing) to find a coast path and hence having to follow roads and tracks that were mostly some distance from the coast. What made it a good walk though was these beautiful little coastal villages, Pennan and Crovie in particular. They were lovely places and I’m very glad to have visited them. But it would be nice if Aberdeenshire could one day have a proper coast path – the current one that just stops and starts is very frustrating!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Note that the direct bus between Fraserburgh and Gardenstown (route 273) only runs on Saturday! To do this walk Monday – Friday use route 272 and connect at Banff to the 273, see the timetables below.
Stagecoach Bluebird route 273 : Banff – Macduff – Gardenstown – Troup (Saturday only) – Pennan (Road End, Saturday Only) – New Aberdour (Saturday only) – Fraserburgh (Saturday only). Approximately once ever 2 hours Monday – Friday between Banff and Gardenstown only. On Saturdays 4 buses run between Banff and Gardenstown, two of which continue on to Fraserburgh (and vice-versa). It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Fraserburgh and Gardenstown. It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Banff and Gardenstown.
Stagecoach Bluebird route 272 : Fraserburgh – Memsie – Strichen – New Pitsligo – Woodside – Macduff – Banff. Twice per day, Monday – Friday only. It takes around 55 minutes to travel between Fraserburgh and Banff.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link