288. Banff to Cullen

March 2016

As today was a Sunday there was only one walk I could realistically do (without doubling back anyway) due the fact there are very few buses on a Sunday, so Banff to Cullen it was because that was the only bus route in the area running on a Sunday! Today would also be another milestone walk as I’d complete the coast of Aberdeenshire and move into Moray. I drove from the hotel I was staying at in Elgin (Premier Inn Elgin) to Cullen. It was a lovely sunny morning and it was a pleasant drive there.

I parked and found a shop to purchase lunch whilst I waited for the bus, always grateful to find somewhere open on a Sunday (though this is much easier in Scotland than England). The bus was not until fairly late on so I had a bit of time to wander the streets of Cullen.

To my surprise there were two impressive railway viaducts in the town. One across the road down to the shore and another I could see at the far end of the town.

Banff

This was a surprise because Cullen doesn’t have a station or indeed a railway line, sadly. However (I later found) it used to but it was closed in 1968 but it was a pleasant surprise to find the attractive viaducts were kept.

Banff

Banff

I could also see west along the bay to see that at low tide at least, Cullen had a nice sandy beach, though I couldn’t see a single person on it!

Banff

Clearly the tide was low because not only was there a lot of sand on the beach there was also a lot of sand, and not a lot of water, in the harbour.

Banff

Once the time was near for the bus I headed for the bus stop and the bus quickly took me back to Banff. It was a coach again rather than a bus, which was nice as they are far smoother and more comfortable to travel on.

I alighted just by the bridge at Banff and walked back to the bridge where I ended my last walk.

River Deveron

Since the tide was still low when I got to Banff I decided to start by walking along the sandy beach. This proved to be easy walking but it was clear that at high tide the water reaches the sea wall.

Banff

Nearing the far end of the sea wall there were steps on the left and I couldn’t see any more gaps in the concrete sea wall so decided it was best to leave the beach here. I followed the promenade behind the wall passing the police station and soon reached the pretty harbour.

Banff

Banff

This one did have some water in it (though not much) and was almost entirely given over to sailing boats rather than working boats.

Banff

At the far end of the harbour the promenade resumed though lined by some rocks which had clearly been imported from somewhere and dumped at the back of the beach, presumably to act as coastal defence. It was quite a pretty rock actually (no idea what it is), but looked rather out of place against the grey natural rock of the beach.

The coast at Banff

Rounding the corner a road continued right along the coast with a promenade beside it. Like many of the towns and villages I’ve found in the northern parts of Aberdeenshire a row of houses was built below the cliff face along the back of the road.

Boyndie Bay

At the far end of the road the beach had become sandy again so I dropped back down onto the beach to continue west along the lovely sandy beach.

Boyndie Bay

Boyndie Bay

This turned out to be a slight mistake as I hadn’t noticed from the map a river flowed out over the beach (to be fair, it is not obvious on the map and you have to look closely). The river was too wide to cross without wading. I’d do it if I had to but it’s a bit cold in March and instead I had spotted a bridge a small distance inland. So I crossed there instead, keeping dry feet.

Boyndie Bay

Once over the river there was a proper path along the back of the beach so I decided to stick to that since the sandy beach soon ended anyway.

Boyndie Bay

Boyndie Bay

This turned out to be a good move as it soon took me to this interesting construction, built around a red well, as marked on the map, so called because the water from the well runs red, apparently due to iron deposits.

Red Well near Whitehills

The building is said to date from Roman time but be measure out to metric sizes (really?) In the 18th Century it became especially popular as part of a walk to “take the waters”. I decided not do the same owing to a more modern sign warning “This water supply is unfit for human consumption”. Red water not a good idea to drink? Who would have thought it! I wonder how many that decided to “take the water” suffered ill effects from it!

The coast east of Whitehills

From here on a proper path continued into the next village, Whitehills. It passed the site of an old brick works, where the raw materials were quarried from the headland and transport here on an small railway (perhaps the route of that is now the path). It closed down in 1974 and was demolished in 1977. The path continued past a caravan park, children’s play park and then reached the harbour at the village of Whitehills.

Whitehills

Beyond the harbour was a rocky bay with the houses built behind it, though further along there was a little bit of sand too.

Whitehills

Whitehills

It didn’t take me long to walk through Whitehills but it was a pretty and pleasant little village I thought.

Whitehills

At the end of the village I initially followed the minor road until it turned inland where I found there was a path off to the right that followed along the base of the cliffs, it was even shown on the map as a dashed grey line and it looked as if I could follow it for several miles to Boyne Bay quarry.

The coast west of Whitehills

The path was clearly an official path as it had kissing gates at fairly regular intervals but despite this was extremely boggy and overgrown and made for quite difficult walking.

The coast west of Whitehills

The coast west of Whitehills

It was a bit of a battle and I was glad when I came across another sandy beach ahead near Den Brae and I could head down onto the beach. It was lovely, completely un-spoilt and deserted.

The coast west of Whitehills

I walked along it, though it didn’t take long and rounding the corner I was met with another lovely remote sandy beach.

The coast west of Whitehills

The coast west of Whitehills

I decided to make this my lunch spot and it was a lovely place to rest and there was no one else there. Sadly at the end of the beach a fence came down from inland right down to the shore, topped with barbed wire (as all fences in Scotland seem to be!) clearly intended to prevent or at least deter access to the coast beyond. Why? I had no idea and it was rather irritating but fortunately a fence and the sea are no match and such structures are quickly destroyed by the sea. So it was here and I could get around the end of the fence at the coastal end where it had been damaged by the sea.

Now the path wasn’t really a path at all and it was a difficult walk along the base of the cliffs, on rough ground and sometimes climbing over rocks.

The coast west of Whitehills

This continued for a little under a mile until I rounded the corner with the rocky beach of Boyne Bay ahead with the structures of the quarry behind it.

The coast west of Whitehills

The coast west of Whitehills

The coast west of Whitehills

Boyne Bay

Unfortunately I couldn’t see any path marked on the map or visible on the ground at the far end of this beach. The cliffs at the other end were very steep with gorse growing up them and what looked like there might be another part of the quarry above. Nevertheless I thought I’d head down to the beach and have a look. What I hadn’t noticed until I was almost on top of it was that at the far end of the beach, right before the cliffs a stream flowed out (it’s more obvious from above – like this).

Burn of Boyne at Scotsmill

It was quite deep and fast flowing and not easy to cross with almost sheer cliffs the other side.

So I backtracked as there was a bridge over it at the quarry, but right beyond the bridge was a gate. Quarries aren’t usually welcoming places to walkers but being Sunday it was all closed which I was glad as I was worried about being questioned why I was here otherwise. Fortunately as I got closer I was pleased to find a seemingly brand new footpath headed up through a pedestrian gate and up steps to follow beside the quarry access road. It had brand new kissing gates along it so I was pleased that someone (perhaps the owners of the quarry) had considered walkers and created a safe path from them. Or at least I assume that was why because at the other end, the track to the quarry was marked “No unauthorised persons” which made me wonder if the footpath was actually built for quarry workers and I shouldn’t have been there at all. Whatever, I had made it to the public road which was all that mattered.

The first place I could safely cross the stream, now in a fairly deep valley was at the road at Scotsmill Bridge. I passed through the tiny hamlet of Scotsmill and the road was odd, as the through route of the road turned inland and was unclassified, whilst traffic wanting to stay on the  B-road had to turn off on the now very narrow road marked “Unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles”, it seemed puzzling to me that the B-road was the far narrower and steeper one and the un-classified road wider!

This road, the B9139 took me down through woodland to the little stone bridge over the river and back up the other side.

Burn of Boyne at Scotsmill

The road is unusual in that it is marked on the map with a dashed rather than solid orange line, which means although a B-road it is only single-track with passing places (as I got further north in Scotland I’d soon find this happens to A-roads too!).

I followed this road to a place called Cowhythe and then followed a track I could see on the map back to the coast.

The coast east of Portsoy

At the far end of the track I hoped I’d be able to make my way along the cliffs, as no path was marked on the map.

The coast east of Portsoy

Despite this there was actually a path with railings and boardwalks even, a luxury in Scotland (and all the more unexpected given it was not marked).

The coast east of Portsoy

The path initially on cliff tops then took me down to the rocky Strathmarchin Bay. From here the path continued around the base of the cliffs improving as it did so.

The coast east of Portsoy

There were a few odd signs along the path such as one stating “Sannie Een Hotel”, another “Small stone – small people – big magic” and a pile of wood with another sign at the top “Stonie Een”. Not sure what that was all about!

The coast east of Portsoy

The coast east of Portsoy

At the end of the bay the path climbed back up to the cliff tops, improved further and eventually became tarmac at the edge of Portsoy, when it had descended back down to beach level.

The coast east of Portsoy

The coast east of Portsoy

The coast east of Portsoy

The coast at Portsoy

Here I came across lots of high-viz jacketed students with rucksacks and clipboard and a teacher or lectures with an American accent. Geology students I suspected, perhaps from Aberdeen University.

The coast at Portsoy

The path passed a cemetery and crossed another stream via a little stone bridge and continued on the path (now a minor road really) through a small caravan park, which was behind a quite nice little beach,  I continued on the road round the corner to the harbour.

Portsoy

Like many on this part of the coast the harbour was largely empty with just 3 boats present.

Portsoy

However a short distance ahead was another slightly larger harbour though it too had few boats. Portsoy however looked like quite a nice little town.

Portsoy

Portsoy

Portsoy Harbour

At the end of the harbour was the end-gable of an old house (I assumed), but nothing more of it was left.

The coast near Portsoy

I followed the nearest road around here and soon found a proper coast path heading along the coast again around into a rocky bay.

The coast near Portsoy

Rounding this I was soon alongside a field on my left however below there was another of those old tidal swimming pools, like the disused one I’d seen on my last walk.

Sandend

This one didn’t look so disused though, there was what looked to be a toilet block or changing room down there too and a dead-end road that served it.

Sandend

It was a dead end so I didn’t bother to go down and take a closer look, preferring to stick to the cliff top path. So I crossed the access road to this pool and continued along the coast on what continued to be a good path, rounding Redhythe Point.

Around this I had an attractive pebble beach ahead backed by grassy cliffs and soon heading down to a lower level as I reached the beach at Sandend.

Sandend

Sandend

I believe this is quite a good beach at low tide. However the tide had now come in so there was just a tiny bit of sand visible below the waves. At the near end of the beach were some remnant of World War II including an old pill box and some tank-trap rocks.

Sandend

Sandend

I descended down onto the beach which had a few people about as a caravan park is nearby.

Sandend

Sandend

Soon I encountered another stream, Burn of Fordyce. With no bridge visible this time I decided to wade it, which got me a bit of an audience (I think they were disappointed I didn’t fall over!). Once over it the sand was wider and it was easier to walk along the beach because now there was a thin strip of sand.

Sandend

I could follow the beach almost to the other end of the beach at the small village of Sandend. I say almost because at the far end of the beach was another stream, but this time there was a bridge so I didn’t have to take my shoes off again.

The coast near Sandend

Once over this I followed the path off the beach to the road beyond where I turned right. Near the end of the houses a wooden sign on the right directed me left on “Coastal footpath to Sunnyside Beach”. This was good news and I soon found “Sunnyside” on my map around a mile and a half west along the coast. I followed what initially appeared to be a private drive but soon was directed right with a sign saying “path” which then lead me up and followed the cliff tops.

The coast near Sandend

In the tradition of many Scottish paths it was rough and quite boggy in places, but the route was always obvious which was nice.

The coast near Sandend

The coastal scenery was quite spectacular and this was a lovely stretch of the walk.

After around a mile I reached the remains of Findlater Castle. Sadly unlike some other ruins I’ve seen on the coast of Aberdeenshire there wasn’t that much of this left and what was left looked about to fall into the sea!

The ruins of Findlater Castle

A sign informed me that there had been the sight of a stronghold since the 13th Century but the castle now here was abandoned in the mid 1600s so the ruins are extremely old and it had by this point been converted to a home and rather a grand one from the illustration on the board.

The cliffs now were extremely high and I had a stunning view down to West Sands far below.

The coast path east of Cullen

Beyond this was the beach of Sunnyside and whilst it was sadly no longer sunny it was at least a nice sandy beach.

The coast path east of Cullen

The path descended very steeply down to the beach but it was a lovely and very remote feeling beach. Given the number of footprints in the sand there had been plenty of people down on this beach recently but now there was no one else so I had the place to myself. I followed the beach west.

The coast path east of Cullen

The coast path east of Cullen

Sunnyside beach, near Cullen

Sunnyside beach, near Cullen

Sunnyside beach, near Cullen

At the end of the beach I resumed on the path which was quite spectacular, mostly sticking at a low level along now often pebbly beaches and passing some impressive rocks.

The coast east of Cullen

The coast east of Cullen

At one point there was a cave in the cliff and a sign told me this was the location of the “Cullen Caveman”.

The coast east of Cullen

His name was Charlie Marioni and he had deserted the French Navy during World War One when his boat was moored in Plymouth. He trecked right across the country from Plymouth eventually ending up here. He decided to make the place home creating a sort of shed in the cave and used a nearby spring for water. He scavenged from ship wrecks and collected driftwood for his stove. Later he went on to establish a vegetable patch. However he soon became noticed and and began to get a steady stream of visitors and the landowner of the farm above was not happy. He was eventually summoned to court and fined and told to register in Banff as an alien. Sadly the home he made was burnt as soon as he left.

Anyway back to the walk it was a lovely walk on the path now at the base of the cliffs, just at the back of the beach.

The coast east of Cullen

Here there were a number of rocks left sticking up from the sea and beach. How this happened I’m not sure. I really should learn more about geology!

The coast east of Cullen

Soon the path climbed up some steep steps built single handily by a local in 1987 (I know this from the nice little memorial at the bottom of the steps).

The coast east of Cullen

However the path then became even more spectacular winding it’s way half way up the cliffs!

The coast east of Cullen

A bit of a scramble in places, it was quite spectacular. The path descended back down to the beach again and climbed a little back up.

The coast east of Cullen

The sun was just setting now and a thin strip of the horizon free of cloud meant the last rays of sunshine poked through the clouds.

The coast east of Cullen

The coast at Cullen

The coast at Cullen

I soon reached the first part of Cullen, unusually a pet cemetery, right behind the beach.

Pet cemetry, Cullen

Sunset at Cullen

Onwards the path soon came to the harbour at Cullen, now with some water in it and looking very pretty in the last light of the day.

Sunset at Cullen

I followed the up from the harbour, the buildings now a lovely golden colour from the setting sun.

Sunset at Cullen

Sunset at Cullen

Cullen really did look a lovely little town. I headed back under the old railway viaduct to the car park where I had parked earlier, beside the A98.

The old railway viaduct at Cullen

The sight and smell of a nearby chip shop proved too tempting and I stopped for a takeway before driving back to the hotel I was staying at in Elgin.

This had been a very enjoyable walk. I had wondered how easy access was going to be on this walk so I was very pleased to find that for almost all of it there had been a path (albeit of varying quality) right along the coast. I’d also found some lovely remote sandy beaches and a couple of pretty villages with some quite spectacular scenery between them. The last path around the cliffs into Cullen had been especially spectacular and a lovely way to finish the day. Another bonus was that having passed into the county of Moray half a mile or so east of the town I had completed the county of Aberdeenshire and the county ahead, Moray, had a proper coastal path (the Moray Coast Trail) which promised to make walking the coast of Moray a little simpler than Aberdeen.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach bus route 35 : Aberdeen – Bucksburn – Dyce – Newmachar – Oldmeldrum – Fyvie – Turriff – Macduff – Banff – Whitehills – Portsoy – Cullen – Portnockie – Findochty – Buckie – Portgordon – Fochabers – Lhanbryde – Elgin. Hourly Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours on Sunday. It takes a little under 40 minutes to travel between Banff and Cullen.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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2 Responses to 288. Banff to Cullen

  1. Had a couple of nice breaks in Cullen a long while back, I remember the pet cemetery so nice to see it is still there. Een = eyes, but I’m not sure that helps much with your mysterious signs!

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