CONTINUED.........

Inverness to Fochabers / Spey Bay to Aberdeen / Porthlethan to St.Andrews


BANFFSHIRE

Banffshire got its name from the Gaelic ‘Little pig’, an affectionate name for the river Deveron.


It is a small county but has over 20 distilleries. Whisky was distilled here for centuries but private distilling was banished in the mid 1700s so smuggling blossomed overnight. Illicit distilling continued in the remote glens with 200 still operating in 1824. Eventually bootleggers realised it would be more profitable to legitimise their trade and this led to the growth of distilling in the county.

Aberdeen angusThe breeding and fattening of Aberdeen Angus cattle is also widespread. Banffshire's towns and villages lie scattered along the Highland roads that were driven through the mountains after the Jacobite risings of the 18th century. These were used to transport the garrisons and their supplies and most of the modern roads follow these military routes.



Spey Bay


Tugnet Ice HouseThe village is situated at the mouth of the River Spey and was once an important centre for salmon fishing. In 1830 a brick, vaulted warehouse was built to store the salmon before it was sold. It is called Tugnet Ice House and now houses displays explaining the local fishing industry and the way in which the river mouth has changed over the years. Although commercial fishing has ceased, salmon are still caught by individual fishermen and there were several on the river bank when we were there.

Speyside WaySalmon spend most of their adult lives, about 2-3 years, in the North Atlantic, but swim for thousands of miles back to the river of their birth to spawn from November to January. It is thought that some form of in-built 'compass' may enable salmon to steer by the Earth's magnetic field, or even by the stars. In coastal waters each fish can ‘smell’ its own river.

Spey BayOutside the museum there is a rather nice display of pebble mosaic pictures.The river estuary and long shingle beach are rich in freshwater marsh vegetation, including coral-root orchid and burnet rose, and it is extremely pretty.

Speyside WayThere is a small exhibition of wild life as the area is good for viewing ospreys and dolphins.

The village is situated at the end of the Speyside Way, a lovely trail that follows the river inland for 45 miles to Tomintoul, along the route of a disused railway.



Buckie


PortgordonWe passed through the 18th century village of Portgordon, clustering round its tiny harbour. It is a very neat little place with only one shop and was once used by salmon fishermen.

BuckieStretching along the coast, from Buckpool to Portessie, Buckie is a thriving fishing port with a market and one of the few places in Scotland where traditional fishing boats are still made.

BuckieFrom the turn of the century to the 1930s Buckie was the base of a large herring fleet, but today the catch is mainly shellfish and there is a morning fish market.

There is a heritage centre called the Buckie Drifter, where the story of herring fishing is told and visitors can board a replica of a steam drifter. After having a look round the museum, we went into the café and tried a local cake called a ‘buttery’.

BuckieIn summer there are boat trips along the coast to watch bottle-nosed dolphins, which are often seen in groups of 20 or more. There are three lighthouses, one in the high street, one at the harbour entrance and one on an island called West Muck.



Portknockie


FindochtyWe passed a sheltered sandy cove with a clifftop path beside a dismantled railway, and on to Findochty (pronounced 'Finnechty’), which surrounds a sweet little bay with brightly painted houses. The coast path follows a smugglers' route westwards, past hidden coves and caves.

Bow Fiddle RockPortknockie consists of closely packed houses with interesting window designs, sitting on a cliff, high above the harbour. Following the cliff path you can see strangely shaped rocks jutting out of the sea just offshore such as Scar Nose and Bow Fiddle Rock. Preacher's Cave was used as a church during the religious revival of the early 19th century.

We went to search out the caravan site but the approach was gruesome, so we went on.



Cullen


Cullen harbourFamous for the soup ‘Cullen Skink’, this cheerful resort is built on two levels. The stew soup is traditional to the region and the word Skink comes from the Gaelic meaning essence. It uses haddock, onion, milk, butter, mashed potato and salt and pepper - made creamy and served with toast Andy likes it, I don't.

CullenWithin the square of the upper village stands an ornate market cross, dating from 1696.

The town is overshadowed by a series of graceful, snaking railway viaducts. Paths along these viaducts provide views over Cullen's lower restored village called Seatown where there is a nice beach with sand, pebbles and rock stacks.



Findlater Castle


Findlater CastleWe found the car park at Barnyards of Findlater, which was actually the mucky yard of a disused farm. A half-mile walk leads past a restored circular dovecote and on to a viewpoint overlooking the hazardous ruins of Findlater Castle which is perched on a headland.

SandendThis impressive 15th century fortress was abandoned soon after 1600. Getting across to the ruin was a bit hazardous. A family had chosen the sight to have their picnic but they were very exposed to the gathering clouds and imminent rain.

Glenglassagh DistilleryFollowing the coast road down a steep hill we came to one of Scotland's smallest harbours at Sandend. The short streets run at right angles to the sea next to a sandy beach.

Just outside the village stands the remains of a windmill and the Glenglassagh Distillery.



Portsoy


'Portsoy’ marbleThis village is well-known for 'Portsoy’ marble, a red and green serpentine that was used to build parts of the Palace of Versailles. There are restored 17th century warehouses by the side of the old harbour, and one is used as a workshop for the stone and little shop.

We parked the van at a very precarious angle next to the water and watched as a man managed to back his car into the only other vehicle parked there.



Whitehills


Boyndie BayDefinitely the best campsite of the week, this Aberdeenshire Council site runs along the shore of Boyndie Bay. There were only a few people there and we parked within a few feet of the sea. Only a line of pebbles separated us from the sandy beach.

Boyndie BayWe walked along the shore to the little fishing harbour at Whitehills, which still has its own fish market.

Red WellThere was a picnic spot by Knock Head and an ancient well that is fed by a spring containing iron salts - the water was really red.

After dinner, we watched the sun set and the tide come in. Andy went onto the beach and put rocks from the water's edge back to the shore. We watched the tide slowly covering the stones as it got dark.

sunsetA few oyster catchers were running back and forth as they searched for worms at the very edge of the sea. We slept to the calming sound of the waves. Magic.



Banff


Duff HouseNext morning, it was sunny and we went on to Banff. In the 12th century, this town was a thriving seaport and a member of the Northern Hanseatic League. It's herring fisheries have since declined, but it remains an elegant town with many town houses of 17th and 18th century landed families, while the sea-front area of Scotstown is picturesque. The harbour silted up and fell into disuse in the 1800s, leaving Macduff, on the east side of Banff Bay, to take up the role of principal commercial port along this stretch of coast.

'zero'The architectural showpiece is Duff House, designed by William Adam around 1740, for the local plutocrat William Braco, later Earl of Fife, although he never lived there. It was given to the burgh in 1906 and now houses an art collection for the National Gallery of Scotland. I thought the £5 million El Greco was pretty depressing and most of the people in the paintings looked pretty miserable as well.

Colleonard Sculpture Outside, we walked in the beautifully kept park with its golf course, sports pitches and woodland walks. A modern sculpture called ‘Zero’ (made of buckets!) graced the terrace in front of the house entrance.

Just outside the town, the Colleonard Sculpture Garden, has huge abstract sculptures created from living trees. They are a bit weird but very clever.

Banff and Macduff don't quite merge. They are separated by the River Deveron estuary which we crossed by the seven arched bridge built in 1799 by John Smeaton, whose other claim to fame was the Eddystone Lighthouse. An earlier bridge had been swept away in 1768 and then the ferry was lost in a flood.



Macduff


Doune ChurchThe town cross stands in front of Doune Church, whose clock-tower has a blank face on its westward side. The clock was designed in this way as a gesture to the people of Banff, who had moved their own clocks forward on the day of James MacPherson's execution, to minimise the chance of a last-minute reprieve. James MacPherson, a notorious troublemaker, was hanged in 1700. The song he wrote in jail, starting 'I have spent my life in rioting’ was rewritten by Robert Burns as 'MacPherson's Farewell'.

MacduffThe rest of the town is a working fishing port situated along the A98. We soon left the main road and the coastal route then followed a series of pretty fishing villages nestled in the sheltered coves.



Gardenstown


Built on a series of terraces set into the dramatic cliffs of Gamrie Bay, the village surrounds a well-maintained harbour with precipitous winding roads. We optimistically negotiated this route in the van, past a funeral being held in a church beside a steep, sharp bend. A man waiting at the church door signalled that the road was clear and waved us on as though camper vans were quite a normal site - they probably are!

GardenstownWe eventually ran out of road, parked on some waste ground and walked around the harbour. It was worse going back up because a coach was parked beside the church!. There must have been a lot of mourners.

On the west side of Gamrie Bay, we could see the ruins of St John's Kirk that was founded in the 11th century to mark the defeat of an invading Danish army. The bodies of some locals are still carried to its graveyard up the steep cliff.

Gardenstown, originally known as Gamrie, gained prosperity in the 19th century through its fishing industry, although most locally owned fishing boats operate from larger ports today.

crovieA clifftop path heads north to Crovie, pronounced 'Crivie’. This village is crammed so tightly against the cliffs that there is no room for a public street! We were able to take a good photograph across the bay though.

Crovie from GardenstownGardenstown grew at Crovie's expense after the great storm in 1953, which washed away the path between the villages together with stretches of Crovie's sea defences, and a number of houses so many residents moved to Gardenstown.



ABERDEENSHIRE

- from the Old Briton word meaning "At the mouth of the Don’. This is sensationally scenic, particularly around Royal Deeside. It's one of the largest and most varied of all the Scottish counties, running from the North Sea coast to the Grampians. There is a lot of hunting, shooting and fishing, but apart from the month of October when the stalking season is in full swing, the landowners allow sensible people to go walking in the hills.

 



Pennan


Cullykhan BayTo the east of Crovie there is a rocky promontory called Troup Head but there are no paths to it. We drove down some narrow lanes to a tiny car park at Cullykhan Bay. From here we walked along a precipitous path to the Bronze Age settlement known as Fort Fiddes.

PennanThere is a sea cliff tunnel called Hell's Lum and wooden steps lead down to the lovely sandy beach. The views in all directions were lovely and pink thrift was growing on all the deserted cliffs.

There are wonderful views over to Pennan, which is surrounded by cliffs full of sea birds.

Local Hero phoneThe hotel and a red telephone box are famous because of David Puttnam's film Local Hero. The box has been photographed so often that it has become the most famous in Scotland and now has a preservation order on it! - It's a good film too.

‘Road unsuitable for caravans’! This notice put paid to our visit to Aberdour Bay, but the pebble beach of this popular tourist spot is backed by red sandstone cliffs and caves. St Drostan's Well marks the place where a 6th century missionary from Caithness is said to have landed. The Jane Whyte Memorial is in the ruins of an old woollen mill in Aberdour Bay, she single handedly saved the lives of 15 men shipwrecked when the steamer William Hope ran aground in the bay during a storm in 1884.



Rosehearty


Mounthooly DovecoteFirst, we went up to the little Mounthooly Dovecote that looked like a small castle with wooden steps.

RoseheartyRosehearty used to be a flourishing fishing port from around the 14th century until the narrow entrance to its harbour could no longer cope with larger vessels. The place now looks pretty abandoned and the caravan site was empty and vandalised. It smelt smoky and fishy and not very nice.

There is a 15th century ruin at Pitsligo Castle, but that looked pretty desolate as well. The last resident was Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, who was a fervent Jacobite supporter who was forced into hiding when his lands were forfeited after Culloden. He evaded arrest for the rest of his life, dying aged 84, still a free man.

SandhavenA little further on we arrived at Sandhaven and the first thing we noticed were the single story houses with interesting brick patterns in the stonework. Fishing activity has declined and the town has gone with it. The church was boarded up and there wasn’t any sand either. The overall aura of the place was miserable.

Along the road, Sandhaven Meal Mill sounded interesting as it has been restored as a visitor centre - but it was closed.



Fraserburgh


caravan parkThis is a large fishing port named after its 16th century founder, Alexander Fraser. The market cross, carved soon after the Union of Crowns in 1603, shows the royal arms of both Scotland and Great Britain.

Kinnaird Head lighthouseThe original harbour dates back to 1546 but most was built during the 19th century. The area is full of repair yards, boat painters and chandlers and fish are landed daily for the fishmarket. The place is horrible with abandoned buildings everywhere, grey and dingy. The caravan park is on an industrial estate – it is named the ‘Fraserburgh Industrial Estate Campsite’ and has the aroma to match.

Kinnaird Head lighthouse, built into the structure of 16th century Fraserburgh Castle, has a lighthouse museum. We really wanted to visit but all the roads surrounding it were closed for roadworks and we didn’t feel like leaving the van around there anyway.

FraserburghIn its favour, there is a large sandy bay, fringed by dunes, but it was deserted. The only people we saw were sitting in their cars staring out to sea. There is a huge cemetery – it’s probably a relief to get there!

medieval churchTo the north, St Combs takes its name from a ruined medieval church dedicated to St. Columba. Facing a rocky shore, and bounded by sandy beaches to the north and south, the village was founded in 1771, when the laird financed 20 fishermen to build houses there. It is not as bad as Fraserburgh and has a wonderful view of the gas terminal!



Rattray Head


Rattray HeadHigh, grassy dunes line miles of beach round Rattray Head. The beach is backed by the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve and a disused airfield.

The reserve attracts birds such as tufted ducks and water rails and its visitor centre at Starnafin has four hides.

Rattray Head lighthouseThe lighthouse was built on a tidal platform, with an elegant shore station behind the dunes and all that remains of Old Rattray is the ruined chapel of St Mary.

Crimond clockThe village faded out in the 1720s when shifting dunes silted up the harbour, although empty houses still survive from a later fishing settlement called Seatown.

As the weather was not very good and the roads narrow, we decided to return to walk here another time. Instead, we joined the A952 and drove through flat farmland to Crimond that has a church clock which shows 61 minutes in the hour - an error by the clockmaker.



St Fergus


TranscoCode STF – (I am reliably informed by Andy who is Currently working for Transco) - is Europe's biggest gas terminal standing among farmlands just outside the village of St Fergus. It looked pretty eerie in the foggy light with the flare stacks roaring with burning gas.

There are some 200 oil production platforms in British waters, most of which are to be found along the north-eastern coast of Scotland. Wells below the towering artificial 'islands' extract the oil from porous rock, which holds it like a giant sponge many hundreds of feet beneath the seabed. It is then pumped ashore in pipelines or loaded into tankers.

At Scotstown, to the east, tussocky dunes give way to curving sands for miles in either direction.



Peterhead


PeterheadFor a century until 1893, Peterhead was Britain's major whaling port. Today its the largest white-fish port in Europe. The story of these industries are explained in the Arbuthnot Museum at Peterhead Bay.

Peterhead Maritime MuseumAlso contained within the great Harbour of Refuge are a North Sea oil base, a lido, a marina and a camp site. The overwhelming impression is that the council is making a huge effort to improve the town, and despite the industrial nature of the harbour, it is quite pleasant.

The camp site was on the edge of the harbour and looked quite nice except for the view of tanks and chimneys.

PeterheadThe Fish House, near the mouth of the Ugie, dates from 1585 and still smokes trout and salmon. The 18th century Town House is built from the pink granite that characterises Peterhead. Nearby the Reform Monument's heraldic arms and Latin inscriptions celebrate the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832.



Boddam


Buchan Ness lighthouseEverything in this village is built of pink granite and there are quarries all around. Lobster boats still tie up in a harbour which used to be filled with herring boats. The major focus of activity is Peterhead Power Station, whose water supplies are pumped from the harbour. Buchan Ness is Britain's most easterly mainland lighthouse, set on an island and linked to Boddam by a bridge. It is a fine red and white structure built by Robert Stevenson in 1827.

Bullers Of BuchanIn the tiny clifftop hamlet called Bullers Of Buchan fishermen used to live and keep their boats at the foot of frightening cliffs where fulmars and kittiwakes nest. By the time we arrived the heavens had opened; nevertheless, the walk to see 'The Pot' was worth it. This is a huge granite cauldron into which the tide pours through a natural archway in the rock. Andy kept pulling me away from the sides when I was trying to take pictures.



Cruden Bay


Cruden BayAs the skies cleared, we reached Cruden Bay, which was transformed when the railway arrived in 1897. A palatial hotel was built, and golf courses were laid out behind the magnificent sandy beach. The effort to create a big resort did not work as the village is too remote and the railway and hotel have since been dismantled. It still remains a small holiday and golfing centre though.

Fishing netsLobster boats use the harbour, there are salmon nets offshore and some were put out to dry. There is a monument in the main street to the pioneering Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, whose solo flight in 1914 from Cruden Bay to Stavanger in Norway was the first across the North Sea.

Slains CastleBram Stoker was a regular visitor to Cruden Bay, and it was there, in 1895, that he thought up the chilling story of Dracula. The novelist is said to have drawn inspiration for the book from the eerie clifftop ruins of Slains Castle, built in 1597with a suitably ghoulish appearance.

After failing to find a pleasant campsite on the coast, we went inland to Mintlaw where we stayed at Aden Country Park. The park has a wildlife centre and a farming heritage centre. The campsite was all but deserted and we took a stroll into the parkland during the evening.



Collieston


ColliestonWe began the day with a new map and parked in an old quarry, where a heap of what looked like junk turned out to be a modern art sculpture!

modern art sculptureAn amphitheatre of cottages encloses the harbour which used to be noted for 'speldings' - salted and sun-dried whiting.

The rocky inlet called St Catherine’s Dub took its name from the Santa Catarina, a Spanish ship wrecked in 1590 while bringing arms for the Earl of Erroll's failed rebellion.

ColliestonThere is a fine viewpoint north to Slains Castle and south along continuous sands to the chimneys of Aberdeen. Collieston was a haunt of smugglers, one of whom, Philip Kennedy, was fatally wounded in an ambush by excisemen in 1798. He crawled to the Kirk of Slains and died in the churchyard, where he lies under a non-committal gravestone. Helicopters were flying overhead between Aberdeen airport and the oil platforms.



Forvie National Nature Reserve


Nature ReserveA new visitor centre in the reserve describes this fascinating area of cliffs, beaches, salt marsh, mud flats and sandhills. The reserve, which has some of the largest dune systems in Britain stretches from Collieston to the mouth of the River Ythan, with fulmars, kittiwakes and herring gulls on the cliffs near the remote salmon-fishing station at Rockend.

Pink footed gooseThousands of greylag and pinkfooted geese winter there, together with the greatest concentration of eider ducks in Britain.

We went to the new visitor centre that now houses the font from the ruined Forvie Kirk - all that survives of a lost village engulfed by windblown sand in 1413. Footpaths from the car park on the reserve's western side lead to the site.

NewburghCrossing the Ythan estuary, we came to Newburgh, a pleasant village whose main attraction seemed to be a front garden full of gnomes.

Just off the A90 at Balmedie, glorious beaches have attracted the construction of a country park and a rifle range but they don't allow caravans in their carpark! Sometimes this becomes irritating as we are not sure when a campervan is classed as a caravan.



Aberdeen


AberdeenTwo bridges cross the River Don, which flows through the Aberdeen suburb of Bridge of Don. The early 14th century Brig o' Balgownie, reached from a row of restored cottages, is closed to road traffic. Instead, we crossed the later Bridge of Don, from where we could see a tanker out at sea.

FootdeeAberdeen’s popular seaside resort area is to the north, between Seaton and Footdee, pronounced 'Fittie’.

We drove along the promenade where the beach is punctuated by groynes. It was high tide and plenty of joggers were out and about in the sun.

Fish, granite and oil are for many, words that sum up Aberdeen, standing on the banks of the Dee and the Don. It is Scotland's third largest city and the capital of the North Sea oil industry.

HarbourThe harbour is crammed with oil-platform supply vessels and ferries running to Orkney and Shetland. Aberdeen is also a fishing, fish-processing and general trading port.

There are extensive public parks such as Hazlehead, with its giant maze and Duthie Park, with its Winter Gardens. The silvery granite is evident in much of Old Aberdeen's imposing architecture with its narrow cobbled streets.

Provost Skene's HouseExamples are Marischal College, part of the University, with a neo-Gothic frontage and St Machar's Cathedral, a fine 15th century church. The Maritime Museum is in Provost Ross's House, while 16th century Provost Skene's House contains the city museum.

Girdloners LighthouseWe crossed the Dee and drove round the southern boundary of the harbour, where Girdloners Lighthouse stands on the promontory at Girdle Ness. This area is a golf course but the three public car parks have height barriers so there was no stopping.

The coast road runs out of town on the landward side of the railway and through Cove Bay which is a small a fishing village.



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