Although I’m walking the east coast of Scotland this walk involves more or less no movement north – because this part of the coast actually faces directly north and so I’ll be walking east, rather than north!
I started the day from home making an early start in order to catch the 6am National Express coach from my local station to Heathrow Airport where I arrived at Terminal 5 around 25 minutes later. I’d booked a return flight from London Heathrow to Aberdeen with British Airways for a very precise £99.74. I opted to go from Heathrow this time as the route I’d used previously from London City to Aberdeen was now way more expensive. (I think it stopped running not long after).
After the usual hassles of security etc it was time to get on board the 08:20am flight for the short flight to Aberdeen. This was alleged to take 90 minutes but in fact it takes less than that, but typically takes off late so it is still an on time arrival. Today I was in for an unexpected treat. This was before British Airways became basically the same as Ryanair in every way except the price and when a flight with them still included food. So it was a very pleasant surprise to be offered the option of a complementary cooked breakfast. Whilst it didn’t look very pretty, it tasted nice enough and although I had already had breakfast at the airport I wasn’t going to decline a second breakfast!
On arrival at Aberdeen I got off fairly quickly and having travelled with hand luggage only I could get quickly to the Hertz car hire desk where I’d booked a hire car for 5 days for a very reasonable £71.65 and I was lucky because when I arrived at the desk there were no other customers so I got served straight away. I declined all the optional extras so I didn’t have to pay an extra and was soon given the keys to my hire car. Although the booking suggested a “Kia Picanto or similar” it turned out I’d fallen into the “or similar” category and the car actually turned out to be a Renault Twingo.
At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, it was an odd car and frankly I couldn’t work out why anyone would buy one. It is apparently more expensive than similar “city cars” like the Volkgswagen Up, Toyota Aygo, Fiat 500 or Ford Ka but also, in my opinion worse. It was altogether rather quirky but it’s main quirk is the engine is mounted at the back underneath the boot, rather than at the front. (Though I believe the bonnet still has things like the gear box and radiator, it’s certainly not extra storage space). This means the boot is very small (though more than sufficient for my purposes on this trip), but also gets quite warm when driving because the hot engine is right underneath (not ideal for taking home frozen food!). This doesn’t seem to save any space however because the car is still larger than a Fiat 500, for example. So yes, a strange car, though it was fine to drive and gave me no problems.
So anyway on to the driving. I then drove from Aberdeen airport to Banff, having to negotiate the quite heavy traffic around the airport though fortunately the airport is north of Aberdeen so I didn’t have to drive through the city centre this time. I think it took me a little over an hour. For the avoidance of doubt I was heading to Banff in Aberdeenshire, rather than the more famous town of the same name in Canada!
I parked in a free car park on the B9142 just north of the bridge over the River Deveron and north of the Co-Op. The Co-Op provided a good place to buy lunch which I also bought before I set off.
The town of Banff is on the west side of the river whilst on the opposite side of the river is the town of Macduff. I could already see the first buildings of Macduff from Banff.
The river is crossed by a quite elegant arched stone bridge.
My initial route was along the A98 to Macduff which runs right alongside the eastern bank of the river. Fortunately though a busy road it did have a pavement so I didn’t need to dodge the traffic.
As it was March and sunset was early I didn’t linger to explore Banff but looking back it looked quite nice with a bit of sandy beach visible with the harbour beyond.
The sign welcoming me to Macduff was a bit odd because it just said “Macduff 1783 – 1983” which seemed a bid odd to me – had the town ceased to exist 33 years ago? Well the answer was no – this sign was put up to mark the bicentenary in 1983, though the sign didn’t mention this.
From here I had good views back over the bridge over the River Deveron and Banff.
Meanwhile the coast beside the road was showing signs of recent erosion. Perhaps winter storms but it was getting very close to the road!
I soon reached the edge of the town which had some light industry. I suspect anyone checking into one of the first buildings I passed, The Waterfront Hotel might be disappointed to find if they’d booked into a front room, facing the water, they had a view of the Stagecoach bus depot rather than the waterfront!
Just past this I reached the harbour. Like many on this part of the Scottish coast the sizeable harbour, now largely empty, hinted at the declining fishing industry.
Still the town itself looked quite attractive with some nice looking stone buildings along the road behind the harbour.
The northern part of the harbour was more active with a bit of ship building industry still present here. Rounding the corner there was a life boat station and aquarium and another rocky bay backed by mostly single storey houses.
I followed the road around this second bay which when the houses ended, soon climbed up away from the town. I passed a pretty little shingle and rock beach and then the water works up on the top of the next hill.
Beyond this was a much larger bay again a mixture of shingle and rock. The road ended here roughly mid-way along the beach at a car park and beyond that was an outdoor swimming pool.
Between the beach and the swimming pool was this impressive and rather beautiful natural rock arch.
I decided to stop here for lunch since although I’d not walked far yet given the time it had taken me to get here and the early start I’d made, I was now hungry (despite the two breakfasts).
Sadly the outdoor swimming pool was in a sorry state and derelict. I gather there is a local campaign to try and restore it but whether it will come to anything I don’t know. It doesn’t help it’s rather remote from the town and there is not much parking.
According to the map there was meant to be a footpath at the far end of the bay beyond the swimming pool and I was pleased to find out that this was indeed the case. Indeed it started off as a very pleasant grassy path and I ignored the “Caution Dangerous Path” sign.
The path soon climbed up the cliffs giving me a fine view back over the bay and the sadly derelict swimming pools.
The path climbed over the cliffs and down into the next bay, Bay of Cullen.
This was a lovely little bay with a sandy beach mixed with a few rocks, unlike the shingle beaches I had previously passed.
The footpath continued close to the back of the beach around to the next smaller beach but sadly this appeared to be the end of the path. So I made my way up the steep grassy cliffs at the back of the beach onto the cliff top.
There wasn’t really a proper path now but it did at least appear that there was at least a rough path possibly formed by people or possibly animals, alongside the fields on the cliff top.
It was rough and difficult walking because the grass was very long but at least it wasn’t too hilly though there were a couple of boggy areas and little streams to cross. The difficulty was made up for though by the fact the coast is very spectacular with lots of rocky bays, rocky headlands and rocks out in the sea.
I could follow the cliff tops for almost a mile until I approached Old Haven, another shingle beach. Unfortunately the terrain was more difficult here because I had the Burn of Cullen and then the Burn of Melrose to cross, both of which flow at to the sea at opposite ends of this beach.
Unfortunately the first of these valleys was very deep and with the burn big enough to have a sizeable waterfall.
I imagine it’s close to full flow in the middle of March, after the rain of the winter. It was too steep to be able to get down to the burn after the waterfall and I wasn’t going to try, so I had to head inland to before the waterfall.
The valley of the burn continued to be very deep and I had to head almost back to the road before it was shallow enough I could get down into the valley and cross the burn.
Once across this burn I decided to make my way around the edge of the field to the minor road serving Mains of Melrose and follow that to cross the Burn of Melrose.
At least crossing via the road was easier than trying to cross nearer the shore and the height gained gave me a lovely view back along the coast.
Interestingly I could see that a grassy path did make it’s way down to the beach from the end of that field with some huts and fishing equipment at the back of the beach, and a zip-wire was also attached to the cliff top, presumably for lifting equipment up and down.
Once I was over the burn I left the road and again tried to make my way over the rough ground between the cliff top and the adjacent fields. It was hard work and I made slow progress, but I was rewarded with some stunning views – the coast around here is really quite spectacular, with high rocky cliffs and numerous bays and headlands.
After a while the land between me and the cliff top was very narrow and entirely filled with gorse, so I had no choice but to climb over the wire fence (topped with barbed wire, naturally, as they always seem to be in Scotland!) to walk in the edge of the adjacent field instead.
Rounding Stocked Head I was rewarded with a fine view of the impressive coast beyond, with some really high cliffs and a rocky beach at the base of the cliffs.
In the distance I could just see the village of Crovie, which is actually beyond Gardenstown (the latter being out of sight, further into the bay).
Once again I battled my way along the cliff tops, sometimes in the fields and sometimes out, depending on the terrain and often having to climb barbed-wire fences. Still the scenery was spectacular and as I approached More Head I had a wonderful view of Gardenstown below me.
I was also mindful that I didn’t have that much day light left – so I was glad to see it was now quite close. Below the cliff tops there is a sort of undercliff. A maze of impenetrable gorse, I wasn’t going to try and get through that lot, so I stuck to the higher cliffs where I was (you can see it in the photo above).
Now according to the map there is supposed to be a path down there but I could see no sign of it. So I stuck higher up until I could see the ruins of St John’s Church down below, which is marked on the map (near the bottom right of the photo below).
From there a path should follow down to the beach at Gardenstown, if only I could get there. So very gingerly, I made my way down the very steep bank on a gap between the gorse. It was very steep and I had to be careful not to fall down (this is the view back up, once I had made it safely down).
I was however still quite a long way up when looking back down over the town and it’s lovely sandy beach. Gardenstown really is a lovely village.
I stopped for a rest on Arthur’s Seat (no, not that one), as it had been a tough walk.
I then explored the ruined old church. I don’t know the history of it but the internet does and tells me it was founded in the year 1004 but another parish church was built, presumably nearer the village, in 1830 and it is believed this one was then left to fall into ruin. Despite this some graves have clearly been built inside the now roofless church after that.
The reason why the church might not have been too popular with the villagers was soon obvious when I looked at the terrain beyond.
This steep valley separates the church from the rest of the village. There is a zig-zag path that will take me down the valley and indeed I was pleased to spot the footbridge at the bottom which you can just make out at the bottom of the photo above.
However this proper path was still very steep and very slippery and as it approached the river was clearly eroding into the river!
In fact having crossed the first bridge the path then crossed back over the river. This second bridge had not been so lucky and had collapsed into the river!
Fortunately it had not yet been washed away and was secure enough I could still make it across with care. Below too the cliff were so steep the soil had eroded away and showed a good deal of evidence of recent landslips.
I was glad to soon be at the bottom of the path. The only bit about the path that seemed to be well maintained was the sign at the bottom!
Still now I could make my way down onto the beach because the tide was out. That made for a flat and easy last half a mile into Gardenstown village.
The beach was very beautiful with red cliffs, reminiscent of south Devon and even a few small streams flowing down the cliff face and some small caves cut into the cliffs.
I was fortunate the tide was low because otherwise I’m not sure how you would reach the village without going around via the roads, which is much further. There are also several burns which again had enough water in them to create small waterfalls. Fortunately once the water flows onto the sand it disperses enough I could just step over it.
I was pleased to soon make it to the edge of the village. From the beach it is clear how exposed the village is, with just a fairly low sea wall and then the houses, which are built below the natural cliffs. I suspect some are second homes or only occupied in the summer because many still had boarding or metal sheets over the lower windows, presumably to protect from rough seas and stones thrown up by the waves that could break windows.
Soon I continued to the harbour, which I had reached last time.
This walk had deliberately been a bit shorter because I knew I had to allow time to reach the north coast of Scotland from home, which is now a long way away. However one downside of this walk is that Gardenstown does not have a frequent bus service. Indeed the timetable is a bit confusing because there is a bus from somewhere called “Troup” around the time I arrived that misses out Gardenstown. It turns out this is the small collection of houses on the cliffs near Pennan but the bus only goes there on school days which I think today is, but it’s Scotland where the terms dates are different, so maybe not. Either way I’d worked out that the bus on the way to Troup does go to Gardenstown, but misses it out on the way back. So I was hoping to catch that bus but was just a few minutes too late, which was annoying. I hoped it might be late or it might come down to the harbour but sadly not.
The next (and last of the day) was in just over an hour and unfortunately for me, only went as far as Macduff and not Banff. Still at least I hadn’t missed the last bus out of the village. However it had now started to rain and I was unable to find an open cafe or a pub. So I headed up the hill where I did at least find a bus stop with a shelter I could sit in. However boredom soon set in and I did at least find Gardenstown has a Spar shop that was still open so I could get some snacks to eat in the bus shelter.
I wondered as I waited for the bus who would catch the last bus from Gardenstown at this time of day back to Macduff, apart from me, it didn’t seem the sort of place people commuted to. There wasn’t exactly a lot of activity in Gardenstown at gone 5pm in March, just a few cars passing. Still the bus arrived more or less on time and soon I had my answer as to who would catch the bus – it was just me (well and the driver). Indeed for the entire journey I was the only passenger. The driver seemed surprised I wanted to go to the bus depot not the town centre (as the bus depot is after the town) but I explained I actually wanted to go to Banff and the bus depot was closer. I suspect this bus only really runs in service because it has to go back to the depot in Macduff anyway, so it might as well run in service. Anyway it was a quick journey back to Macduff with no other passengers to pick up or drop off and the driver dropped me outside the depot.
This left me about 3/4 of a mile to walk back to Banff. I did check the bus times (as there are other routes between Banff and Macduff) but decided not to wait around for the next bus. As it happened the first bus to pass me was as I reached the bridge back over the river, so it wouldn’t have saved any time anyway.
I was now back at the hired car and now it was dark, but the bridge was attractively lit up. I stopped to take a photo, which didn’t really come out but here it is anyway!
Now it was time to head to my hotel. For this trip I had booked to stay in the Premier Inn in Elgin. It’s about an hours drive away and it was not all that pleasant at night on unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar car but I was pleased to find the Premier Inn was to the east of Elgin and being lit up and beside the A96 was easy to spot from the road. Here I checked in had dinner at the associated pub.
This had been a very enjoyable walk with some stunning scenery on the way and the coast had turned out to be more impressive than I had expected, with a remote and wild feel. Sadly the terrain was rather difficult at times but despite that it had certainly been worth the effort of making it along the coast rather than taking the easier option of using the roads because the coast here was so beautiful.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Stagecoach Bluebird route 273 : Banff – Macduff – Gardenstown – Troup (school services and Saturday only) – Pennan Road End (Saturday only) – New Aberdour (Saturday only) – Fraserburgh (Staturday only). Approximately 6 times daily between Banff and Gardenstown Monday – Friday. On Saturdays 4 buses run between Banff and Gardenstown, two of which continue on to New Aberdour and Fraserburgh. There is no service on Sundays. It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Banff and Gardenstown.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link