289. Cullen to Kingston on Spey

March 2016

Today I have a rare treat on the Scottish coast – a proper coast path! Today I will be walking along the Moray Coast Trail that, as you might expect, runs along the shore of Moray. The path starts in Cullen so I can follow it for the whole duration of this walk, which is nice.

I was staying in Elgin for this walk, at the Elgin Premier Inn, in the eastern edge of the town. When planning my coastal walks it is not unusual to find there is no direct public transport linking my planned end points of the walk. Often it is necessary to travel into a nearby town or city and change buses. That was the case today since both my planned start point, Kingston on Spey and planned end point, Cullen had a bus service but not a direct one between them, instead both buses ran into Elgin. Since that is where I was staying I decided the simplest option was to take a bus in the morning from Elgin to my start point and a bus back at the end of the walk, back into Elgin. Since the bus service to Kingston on Spey was much less frequent than that to Cullen I decided it made sense to travel to Kingston on Spey first to minimise the risk of a long wait for a bus at the end of the walk.

Since I wasn’t sure the exact route of the buses I decided the simplest option was to travel from my hotel on the edge of the town into the centre of Elgin, where both buses served the bus station. After making the most of the “all you can eat” buffet breakfast at the hotel I took the short drive into the centre of Elgin (which turned out to be entirely unnecessary) and parked in the first car park I came to, which cost £2 to park for the day which was very reasonable. From here I headed onto the main pedestrian street. I had around 15 minutes before the bus I planned to catch and ideally wanted buy my lunch and then catch the bus. What could possibly go wrong? Well finding a shop open before 9am in a town centre that sells sandwiches is actually often not that easy (shops such as Boots don’t open until 9am, convenience stores tend to open early but are often not present in the centres of town, as are supermarkets which are again usually open early often not found in the centre but in the suburbs). So it turned out to be today so having given up on finding anywhere to get lunch I now headed for the bus station. The bus station was marked on my Ordnance Survey Map but this doesn’t have street names marked on it. Still a bus station is large and easy to find. Or so I thought. The main street was pedestrianised so no chance of a bus station along that. I kept following signs for “Bus Station” but this kept directing me to the main indoor shopping centre, which was closed (it being before 9am). I tried some side streets, but no sign of a bus station.

I wandered around looking in vain for the bus station, as all the signs just kept taking me back to the closed shopping centre. Eventually taking side streets I came across it, but sadly too late to catch my planned bus to Kingston on Spey which had by now already left and it was a couple of hours until the next one. Frustratingly my difficulty finding the bus station had meant I’d already messed up my plans for the day. So now I had to make new plans. Well the obvious thing to do was to take the bus to Cullen instead and walk back to Kingston on Spey, so that is what I decided to do. The downside was that would mean a potentially long wait at the end of the walk and the risk of missing the last bus but I didn’t really have another option other than an expensive taxi or wasting the day. The next bus to Cullen was in about 30 minutes. That did at least give me time to get some lunch, as the shopping centre opened before that bus was due. Having found lunch I returned to the bus station and took the bus to Cullen, again operated by a coach which was nice.

I reached Cullen a little after 10am, today it was a rather more gloomy and overcast day than when I had been here previously and with light rain too, which was a shame. I made my way back down to the beach and this time the tide was higher, almost reaching the back of the beach.

Cullen

Cullen Harbour

In fact some of the waves were reaching the back of the beach so I decided to stick to the official coast path that ran along the road at the back of the beach instead.

Cullen

At the end of the road I had reached the Burn of Cullen which flows out to the sea here. Fortunately for me a footbridge has been provided right at the mouth of the burn which I could use to cross the burn. Inland I could see the impressive railway viaduct that once carried the railway high over the burn.

Old railway viaduct at Cullen

The railway is closed now but at least the impressive viaduct was kept and now carries a cycle path. Behind it was the much lower road bridge of the A98.

Once over the river there was a car park and club house for the golf club (as I’ve said before I think every Scottish town is required to have at least one golf course!) and it offered even better views of the impressive viaduct.

Old railway viaduct at Cullen

Down on the beach were some rather unusual rock formations, presumably harder rock left when the softer rock around it had all eroded away (I really should learn more about geology…).

The coast at Cullen

On reaching the golf course the official coast path runs along the back of the beach, which is exactly what I did. The beach was a mixture of sand and a little shingle initially backed by a sea wall but soon with dunes.

The coast at Cullen

The coast at Cullen

Soon I was away from the town and the beach was largely empty, though I did come across a small cave at the end.

The coast between Portknockie and Cullen

At the end of the beach I had expected that the coast path would head up onto the cliffs but in fact it goes around the base of the cliffs. I hadn’t realised this and it’s not ideal because it would be impassible at high tide. Thankfully for me it wasn’t high tide though the tide was still quite high and I was just able to squeeze around into the next bay. Once around the path resumed as a proper path in the grass at the back of the bay. At the end of this bay is an impressive rock with a cave cut right through it by the sea, rather beautiful.

The coast between Portknockie and Cullen

The path now did climb up onto the cliff tops and I soon had a lovely view back to Cullen.

The coast between Portknockie and Cullen

Rounding the corner I had another beautiful rock formation to admire, this time the Bow Fiddle Rock, another rock with a hole cut right through it by erosion.

The coast between Portknockie and Cullen

I took a few photos of it, despite the gloomy weather not showing it at it’s best, it was very beautiful. Just past this, the coast path joined the road at the eastern edge of the village of Portknockie.

The coast between Portknockie and Cullen

Looking along one of the residential roads, I rather liked the symmetry of the largely identical houses with the white bricks around the window, I thought it an attractive village.

Portknockie

The coast through the village was rather pretty, with lots of rocky little headlands and pebble beaches.

The coast between Findochty and Portknockie

Rounding the corner I was soon looking down on the harbour.

The coast between Findochty and Portknockie

Once again the harbour was much larger than seemingly now needed given the number of boats inside it. In fact the harbour was split into two parts, the outer part even emptier but at the landward end there was another one of those tidal swimming pools that appear to have been once popular (to built, anyway) along this part of the coast. It was clearly now derelict which was a shame.

The coast between Findochty and Portknockie

The road down to the harbour is a dead-end so I stuck with the official coast path along the cliff tops, now the B9021. The B9021 appears to run for no more than 300 metres – hardly warrants being a classified road I thought!

Just before the B9021 joins the A98 and turns inland I can turn off and follow the coast path which now continues along the cliff tops.

This was a spectacular and very enjoyable part of the walk.

The coast between Findochty and Portknockie

The coast path hugged the cliff tops which were quite high and gave me fine views over the rocky coast below, a mixture of pebble beaches, rocky headlands and isolated rocky islets, presumably remnants of where the rest of the cliffs had eroded away over time. The cliffs were also topped with gorse bushes which gave a nice bit of colour.

The coast between Findochty and Portknockie

Ahead I could soon see the next village along the coast, Findochty. It again looked rather pretty, with a sandy beach backed by a row of cottages and a little white church on a small hill above them.

View to Findochty

All too soon the path was descending down into the village. The beach was a sandy beach backed by dunes, though did seem to attract quite a bit of sea weed.

View to Findochty

At the end of the beach I joined the coast path and followed it along roads to round the corner to the harbour. Once again the harbour had few boats in it, clearly it was once much busier.

Findochty Harbour

Findochty

Despite the gloomy weather, Findochty was another very pretty village.

Findochty

At the edge of Findochty the path continued through a small caravan park and initially at the base of the cliffs before climbing up to run beside a golf course. The top of the cliffs soon gave a lovely view over the coast ahead and indeed I could now see a very long way ahead to a distant headland, though I couldn’t work out exactly where it was, I suspect it is Lossiemouth.

The coast near Findochty

After a while the coast path dropped back down to run along the grass below the cliffs at the back of the beach. Again the geology here was impressive with the rocks a kind of slate that was lying at an angle (volcanic, I presume?).

The coast near Findochty

After a while this path at the base of the cliffs reached the golf club car park and then continued along the road past the club house. The golf club access road soon joined the A942 which then right along the front of another caravan site, which didn’t look very nice with this main road going directly past the caravans. As the caravans ended I soon found a concrete promenade along the foreshore, so I could follow this rather than the busy A-road.

Portessie

I had now reached a village called Portessie however it has largely merged with Gordonsburgh and then Buckie to form a town that stretches for almost 3 miles so I have more urban walking ahead.

When the A942 turned inland a bit the coast path continued on some grass in front of houses around to the harbour at Gordonsburgh, which was a little industrial, with a couple of large and seemingly derelict warehouses at the far end – Gordonsburgh was certainly not as pretty as the villages I had previously passed through on the walk so far.

The coast at Buckie

Cluny Harbour, Buckie

Now passing along the landward side of the area with the warehouses I soon rounded the corner to the large harbour, Cluny Harbour. From this side the warehouses said they were part of Buckie Shipyard though there didn’t seem to be much ship building going on. Happily this has since changed. The shipyard closed in 2013 after falling into administration, so was closed when I walked past. However it was sold to another ship builders in 2017 and re-opened and is reportedly booming now, so I imagine the harbour is rather busier than it was when I walked here in 2016.

The road beside the harbour was through an industrial area, parts of it run-down so was not very pretty, mostly the seafood business. It was a bit of a trudge along A-roads through Buckie, which was not very photogenic.

Rounding the corner I was now in the town of Buckie itself and continued mostly along the A990 through the town, which was not very interesting or pretty. I crossed the Burn of Buckie on the A990 and continued until at long last I had reached the edge of the town. I hadn’t enjoyed this section very much, Buckie was a large town and a rather tedious walk alongside the A990, with it’s narrow pavements, for much of the way, so it was a relief to be out of the town.

Sadly once out of the town the walk continued alongside the A990, soon crossing the Burn of Gollachy with another old disused railway bridge just inland.

Burn of Gollachy near Buckie

The walk continued beside the road to enter the village of Portgordon. The approach to the town had the feel of walking through an area that once had industry that had since been demolished and was slowly returning to nature, so I didn’t have high hopes for the place.

However it turned out to be quite pretty, with another large and mostly empty harbour backed by stone cottages.

Portgordon

Not only was I following a proper coast path here but another long-distance walk had joined me too, since this part of the coast was also the route of the Speyside Way (which ends at Buckie Harbour) and a sign by the harbour here in Portgordon informed me it was 53 miles to Aviemore along the Speyside Way and also signed the direction of John O’Groats (though did not give the mileage).

Portgordon

I followed the road through Portgordon and soon this turned to the left, as the A990 headed inland to join the A98, but a more minor road continued on the coast so that is the route I took. Another 500 metres or so further along and this road turns inland too, as does the coast path.

Portgordon

Now for much of the rest of the way the Speyside Way and coast path follow the route of the old railway line (other than to go around a gravel pit which is now on the route of the line). This is a bit inland, not a huge distance but I decided to try and find a better route, so I continued along the beach.

Sadly the tide was in and the beach was pebbles, very hard to walk on so I headed instead to the field just behind the beach and followed along the fence at the edge of the field (barbed wire, naturally).

The coast west of Portgordon

Ahead I soon reached the Burn of Tynet. This was not massive and had it been summer and a bit warmer I’d have been tempted to take my shoes off and wade through since it was not that deep.

The coast west of Portgordon

But it was March and drizzly, so instead I followed the eastern bank of the river to the Speyside Way and used this to cross the river.

Once over, I made my way back to the coast.

The coast west of Portgordon

The coast west of Portgordon

I followed the rough grass at the back of the beach once over the burn but soon the fields to my left gave way to a golf course. The edge of the course was marked by red painted wooden posts, so I followed along the coastal side of these where there was a well-worn path, which soon widened to a track.

The coast west of Portgordon

Spey Bay Golf Links

This took me to the club house of the golf course and then the edge of the small village of Tugnet.

Spey Bay

I followed the B-road through Tunget to reach the mouth of the river Spey where there was a large car park and cafe. The River Spey is one of the most famous rivers in Scotland. It is a large river (the 9th largest in Britain) and is known for both it’s salmon and whiskey. Here at it’s mouth it was a little over half a mile wide.

The River Spey at Spey Bay

The drizzle had now eased and at last some bright sky was appearing under the clouds across the bay. I was now looking at Spey Bay, a nature reserve where the Spey splits into a number of channels as it reaches the sea, creating a sort of wetland area, with shingle islands between areas of water.

The River Spey at Spey Bay

The water was flowing incredibly quickly and it was a really extremely beautiful sight. I was quite taken watching the waters really rushing out to sea, swirling all about, whilst ahead the sun was nearing the horizon over the village of Kingston on Spey, my destination for the day.

The River Spey at Spey Bay

I was also feeling I was nearing the Highlands (which I guess I was). Looking a little to the left I could now see some mountains (or at least, large hills), the Grampian Mountains perhaps (just above and to the right of the bridge below)?

The River Spey near Spey Bay

The tops of some of them still had quite a covering of snow on them. I had done a number of walks before in March before but this was the first time I could recall seeing any snow, an indicating that I’ve now come a long way north. Watching the river Spey flow rapidly below these snow covered mountains was absolutely wonderful. (Note the snow covered hills/mountains on the horizon below).

The River Spey near Spey Bay

Whilst I was only half a mile away from Kingston on Spey as the crow flies I needed to cross the Spey and that meant heading inland. It was a struggle to drag myself away from the beautiful view but I knew it would soon be getting dark, so I didn’t have too long to linger.

The Speyside Way and coast path now followed the eastern bank of this impressive river so at least I could continue by the coast.

The River Spey near Spey Bay

The river continued to impress. A little inland the shingle islands disappeared and now I had a several hundred metre wide channel of very rapidly flowing water with the branches of fallen trees poking above the water. It looked deep and I imagine I was seeing the river in spate, at the end of winter and with the snow on the mountains and hills melting and flowing into the river. The sight of this huge volume of water moving at such speed was a really awesome sight and really gives an indication of the power of nature. The sound too was also quite something.

After a mile or so of walking the path had taken me back to the old railway line and it’s the bridge that once carried the railway line that is now the closest bridge to the sea I can use to cross the river.

Spey Viaduct

Whilst it’s a real shame the railway has gone at least the bridge was kept so I was still able to cross the river here.

Spey Viaduct

The bridge, known as the Spey Viaduct is mostly made of metal and not far short of half a mile long. Today much of the surface is just wooden planks and you can see the fast flowing water below you through the gaps in the planks.

Again I was rather taken with the view from the bridge, the sound and sight of the rushing water not far below me and the snow covered mountains and hills beyond, both looking out to sea and inland. For the first time on this walk I felt the Scottish Highlands were now close.

The River Spey from Spey Viaduct

The River Spey from Spey Viaduct

The River Spey from Spey Viaduct

Again it was a struggle to tear myself away, but I had to get on.

The River Spey from Spey Viaduct

The Spey Viaduct near Garmouth

At the end of the viaduct a minor road went over the railway and I followed the steps up this, to leave the route of the old railway again and now followed the road into the centre of the village of Garmouth.

Garmouth

This was a pleasant enough little village and I continued north through it along the B9015.

For some reason, perhaps to avoid the B9015, the official coast path diverts a little inland here to follow paths and minor tracks a few hundred metres away to the left of the B-road. However beside the B-road was a narrow path in the grass so I stuck to this instead, since it was the closest to the coast. It was hardly a busy road, it only went to Kingston on Spey ahead, a small place and so there was little traffic and in fact it was single-track in places.

Beside the road to my right was the river Spey again and I could see it had been much higher recently, with the grass all browned and much of it covered with debris from the river that had been washed up.

The River Spey near Garmouth

Soon I reached the end of the road, Shore Road at the coast having rounded the river Spey. I then turned left along Beach Road and found the bus stop and turning area. As I hoped the bus times printed at the bus stop matched those I had printed off from the Stagecoach website and confirmed what I thought – I had 45 minutes until the next (and last) bus of the day.

A long wait was what I was trying to avoid this morning really but of course missing the bus had put paid to that. So I turned along the a track from the bus stop that took me down to the shingle beach. I’d wait here for the bus, resting on the shingle back, it was far nicer than sitting in the bus shelter for 45 minutes.

The Moray Firth at Kingston on Spey

To my left the beach ran for miles and miles and was backed by woodland and I could just make out the town of Lossiemouth at the far end. Out to sea I was admiring the snow-covered hills in the distance.

The Moray Firth at Kingston on Spey

I had that coast still to come and it really bought home to me how far north I’ve now come, sitting here and looking over snow covered hills ahead of me, it is the first time I had seen anything like this in Britain.

As the sun dipped towards the horizon a small amount of the sky was free of clouds, giving a little bit of sunshine just before the sun finally set.

The Moray Firth at Kingston on Spey

This was enough to illuminate a shower out to sea and give me a little rainbow, a lovely end to the walk, especially as the rain (just) missed me.

The Moray Firth at Kingston on Spey

Rainbow over the Moray Firth at Kingston on Spey

Eventually I had to drag myself away (actually it wasn’t too much of a struggle because it was getting cold now) and head back to the bus stop and just as I was arriving I saw the roof of a Stagecoch bus appear as the bus then turned around at the bus stop – it had arrived nearly 10 minutes early!

Still I was pleased to see it and I could get straight on the bus and wait. This, the last bus, was only going as far as Elgin Bus Depot in Elgin, not the town centre. I suspect it was really that having run a service from Elgin to Kingston on Spey the bus then had to get back to the depot in Elgin for the night so they figured they might as well run it in service. This meant I could only go as far as Elgin Bus Depot not the town centre. As I suspected the bus was quiet and for most of the journey I was the only passenger on board. Sadly a poster on board the bus informed me that this bus service would be ceasing entirely at the end of the month and being the only passenger I guess I could understand why, but at least I’d managed to do the walk before the bus stopped running (though it has been replaced with a less-frequent service operated by the Council).

It turned out the bus depot was only about about 200 metres from the hotel I was staying at. In fact the bus I’d taken to Cullen in the morning had also passed the hotel so if I’d have done my research better I could have left the car at the hotel and avoided the drive into the town centre in the morning. Now I had been deposited at the edge of the town, I now had to walk another mile or so back to the town centre to get the (hired) car. It was awfully tempting to just walk back to the hotel and leave the car there for the night, but that would just put off the walk until the morning, when I’d want to get on with another walk so I persuaded myself to continue into the town centre to get to the car. Of course I hadn’t paid enough attention as to exactly where I’d parked in the morning and it took me a while to find the car park and car. Having done so, I drove back to the hotel.

This had been a really good walk. The first few miles as far as Buckie were lovely with some really pretty villages and spectacular coast in between. Sadly Buckie was not so nice and it had been a bit of a boring section of pavement-pounding through that town and the villages that have joined onto it. However reaching and crossing the river Spey was a real highlight and a wonderful way to end the walk. I hadn’t realised just how beautiful that river is and I rather fancy the idea of coming back to walk the rest of the Speyside Way in future too as I suspect it will be really lovely (I’ve not yet done so – but I do still want to).

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

It is necessary to change buses in Lhanbryde (or Elgin bus station,  but this takes longer) and the bus to Kingston on Spey does not run at weekends.

Stagecoach bus route 35 : Aberdeen – Bucksburn – Dyce – Newmachar – Oldmeldrum – Fyvie – Turriff – Macduff – Banff – Whitehills – Portsoy – Cullen – Portnockie – Findochty – Buckie – Portgordon – Fochabers – Lhanbryde – Elgin (Bus Station). Hourly Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours on Sunday. It takes around 1 hour between Cullen and Lhanbryde and 1 hour and 10 minutes between Cullen and Elgin.

Moray Council bus route 334 : Elgin (Bus Station)Lhanbryde – Urquhart – Garmouth – Kingston on Spey. 5 times per day Monday – Friday only. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Kingston on Spey and Lhanbryde and around 45 minutes between Kingston on Spey and Elgin.

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

This entry was posted in Moray and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 289. Cullen to Kingston on Spey

  1. The light in those last few pictures is absolutely gorgeous! I’m glad you liked Findochty. My father was a probationer minister there (Methodist) from 1953-1956 (before my time, I was born in 1957). He would have preached in all those villages, so the names are very familiar to me. He talked about them often yet, strangely, never visited again until he retired in the 90s. In fact, the first time was when John and I took him and mum to Cullen for a weekend. After that they started going on their own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s