DAY three of my April 2023 trip began with my throwing back the curtains of my hotel room to find a thin veil of cloud obscuring the sky. The weather was warm and dry though, so I considered this natural screen against sunburn a bonus. I was, at this point, still naively hoping I’d reach the end of day six without resembling an ambulatory tomato and on day three that still looked like it was possible…
Fife Lodge Hotel
The hotel whose curtains I had I parted was the Fife Lodge Hotel, a former estate house for the Duff House Estate, built in 1909, two years after the Duff House for which the estate was named had been donated to the town of Banff.
The hotel was located towards the southern edge of Banff, which meant that I would have to re-tread my way up Sandyhill Road before I could continue on my travels. But that could wait – my walk would not be started until I had had my breakfast…
Banff Parish Church
To my pleasant surprise, I had less than half a mile of Sandyhill Road to backtrack upon, and not the infinite distance that it had seemed at the end of the previous day. In seemingly no time at all, I found myself back at the junction of that road with the A98. There, I paused to regard Banff Parish Church, which looked as though it too was having breakfast, in the form of a tower whose appearance didn’t quite match:
Designed in 1778 and by local architect Andrew Wilson and built between 1789 and ’90, the church was originally known as St Mary’s. Wilson included the first stage (i.e., the base) of its tower in his design but no more; that would have to come later. A new plan for completing the tower was drawn up in 1829 by William Robertson (1786-1841) of Elgin but not acted upon until 1849, when Thomas Mackenzie (1814-1854), also based in Elgin, oversaw its completion.
It seems pretty clear that no effort was made to blend the one in with the other.
Banff Parish Church sat at the southern end of the High Street, which forked immediately south of it. One arm of the fork headed southwest, this being the Sandyhill Road I had just come up. The other arm – the A98 – curved around to head eastwards towards Banff Bridge. This was the route I now took and heading along it took me past the turning for Duff House.
As I mentioned last time, Duff House was built for local politician William Duff of Braco (1697-1763), who was later created Earl Fife. During its construction, he fell out with the architect – William Adam (1689-1748), resulting in a bitter five-year legal dispute which Duff eventually lost in 1747. This so upset the future earl that he neither completed the unfinished work on what had been going to be to his home, nor did he ever sleep a night there.
His descendants finished the house but the 6th earl – Alexander Duff (1849-1912) – gave it to Banff Burgh in 1907 as he had married into the Royal Family and so no longer needed it. It subsequently became a hotel twice (1911-13 and 1923-8) with a stint as a sanatorium in between. It saw use as a POW camp in WW2 but fell into decline in the 1950s, requiring extensive restoration. Since 1995 it has been a gallery.
Much like the 1st and 6th earls, I elected to largely ignore Duff House. Another, less impressive and more practical building had outcompeted it for my attention, namely a branch of the Co-op that could sell me water and snacks.
The Co-op was located right next to Banff Bridge, which spans the River Deveron (Uisge Dubh Èireann).
With a shifting course and a tendency to flood, the river can be unpredictable and dangerous. This was a significant problem in the days when it could only be crossed by either ferry or ford but is much less of a challenge in modern times.
Despite the river’s occasional tantrums, Banff Bridge has stood its ground since 1779. It was designed by engineer John Smeaton (1724-1792), who had built the third Eddystone Lighthouse in 1759 and knew a thing or two about constructing a thing in such a way as not to get swept away by storms. Smeaton had just built Banff Harbour in 1775, so I guess this was probably his follow-up project. That he knew what he was doing is still readily apparent:
Actually, the current bridge isn’t entirely his doing as his 18′-wide bridge was found to be inconveniently narrow for traffic about a century after he’d built it. Scottish engineer John Willet (1815-1891), who specialised in bridges, widened it in 1881 by removing the parapets and extending it breadthwise on new arches, resulting in the bridge in use today.
Long before the bridge there were, as I hinted above, fords and ferries. Looking at William Roy’s military survey map of about 1750, there is no sign of a bridge but a ford is definitely implied. A road is shown heading south from Banff past ‘Bracco’s House’ (i.e., Duff House) before continuing on to an unlabelled island (Scury Island) and then continuing on the far side.
When the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map for the area was published in 1871, Scury Ford was still shown upon it, as was another ford further downstream – King’s Ford, situated east of Duff House – though the latter was labelled ‘disused’. That Scury ford was not so labelled suggests it was still passable.
The old alternative to fording the Deveron was to take the ferry, though this was disparaged as ‘uncertain.’ In fact, when the case for a bridge was being put forward, the ferry was made to sound positively chaotic – it was even claimed that ‘not a single year passed without some unfortunate occurrence at this ferry.’
While a certain amount of anti-ferry hyperbole might be expected from the ardent proponents of a bridge, they did have a point. The history of many of Scotland’s bridges involves replacing a ferry that had killed people and Banff’s was no exception. In 1739, it killed an annoyingly nonspecific ‘several’ of them, when it overturned after Alexander Steinson, the ferry tacksman (i.e., leaseholder), left it in the charge of a boy who lacked the skill or strength to do the job.
The First Bridge
The dry-feet-over-drowning crowd eventually got their way and the first Banff bridge was constructed in the early 1760s, opening in 1765 at a cost to the government of between five and six thousand pounds. This was extremely popular with everyone except, presumably, the ferryman.
As it turns out, the ferryman needn’t have worried. In 1768, just three years after it opened, the bridge was destroyed by floodwaters from a huge storm, which undermined its western end, causing it to collapse.
With the bridge down, Banff ‘enjoyed’ a reluctant return to relying on the ferry. Alas, the ferry continued to be the unreliable death-trap it had always been and seven lives were lost in 1773, when a sudden flood swept the ferry boat out into Banff Bay and sank it. Calls for a second bridge were naturally loud and insistent…
Temple of Venus
Since those loud and insistent voices had been quite successful, I was equally successful in crossing the Deveron unscathed (thank you voices!) This brought me to the foot of the Hill of Doune, upon which stands the Temple of Venus – a small, domed, arcaded rotunda designed as a belvedere folly (you can see it in the background in the photo of Banff Bridge).
The folly was built by William Adam as part of his work on Duff House and is intended to be seen from there (which it can be). Given that Duff’s dispute with Adam centred on the objection that the latter was building far too grandly for Duff’s needs, I am starting to see where the future earl may have had a point.
The folly takes its name from a statue of the goddess Venus that originally stood within the rotunda, but which was removed when the 6th earl gave Duff House to the Burgh. He was happy to give Banff his surplus house but not his classical love goddess!
Now that I was on the eastern side of the Deveron, I was entering the town of Macduff (An Dùn, ‘the fort’). Between 1872 and 1961, Macduff was served by the Banff, Macduff and Turriff Junction railway branch – and accordingly had its own station (Macduff railway station), which had sat upon high ground overlooking the town. Another on the same line – Banff Bridge railway station – been situated on the flank of the Hill of Doune between Banff Bridge and the Temple of Venus.
The hillside atop which Macduff railway station sat, and the road leading up to it, had become known as Station Brae and, while the station had long gone the way of the dodo, the road up the brae was still there. Now, I had absolutely no need to go up this but, on the other hand, I also had no reason not to.
For once, the demise of this railway branch cannot be attributed to the
malicious incompetence blinkered short-sightedness of Dr Richard Beeching (1913-1985) and his report The Reshaping of British Railways; the Banff, Macduff and Turriff Junction branch cunningly escaped his axe by dying long before he got to hacking at it.
Almost immediately beyond the old station (and visible in the previous photo) stood Doune Church, erected in 1805, replacing a 1768 chapel, which in turn had been created to save the town’s residents the 8-mile walk to Gamrie Church. Sat upon Church Brae, as its bit of hillside is inevitably called, Doune Church dominates Macduff’s skyline, exactly as its builders intended. In 1864, it was upgraded in status from chapel of ease to parish quoad sacre (a Church of Scotland parish not coterminous with a civil one) and was physically altered and enlarged the following year.
In front of the church stood Macduff Cross, a stone cross that I mistakenly assumed must be a war memorial. It is actually much older, dating to 1783 to mark the creation of the town as burgh of barony by James Duff (1729-1809), 2nd Earl Fife. Prior to that it had been the village of Doune (from the Gaelic An Dùn), which James’s father had bought in 1732, hence Doune Church being called what it is.
Dramatic as its position atop Church Brae is, Macduff Cross wasn’t originally sited there but instead was erected in the centre of the town below. It was moved there up the hill in 1952.
Having looked upon the harbour from above, it seemed only right that I should now drop down to its level. Well, that and also that if I wanted to continue with my walk, I was going to have to do that anyway…
Macduff Harbour was begun by the 2nd Earl Fife in the 1770s, it being part of what got Doune burgh-ified into becoming Macduff. It had been extended to create two basins – East and West – by 1791, with a third – the North Basin (originally called the ‘New Harbour’) – added in 1878. It remained the property of the Duffs until 1898, when ownership was transferred to Macduff Town Council, after which some pre-WW1 work saw some remodelling, so that the North Basin now opened into the East and not directly into the sea as had hitherto been the case. A fourth basin – the Princess Royal Basin – was constructed in 1920 as an extension to the North. Some further work was done in the 1960s but the shape of the harbour as it is today is basically that from the ’20s.
As might be expected, the harbour has mostly catered to trawlers through its history, although it was also a key local centre for shipbuilding and was the last place in the United Kingdom where deep-water wooden fishing boats were built.
Unusually, it has managed to keep both those industries and is still functioning as a commercial fishing and maintenance port today. The shipbuilding side of things is catered to by Macduff Shipyards Ltd (est. 1940), who also own a facility in Buckie that I had passed on the walk before last. Their boats tend not to be wooden. I mean, of course not. The Unfathomable Horrors of the Deep would get splinters in their maws.
Close to the harbour, Macduff has an RNLI lifeboat station equipped with an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat, which goes by the name of Lydia Macdonald.
Launched in 2006, Lydia Macdonald looks like any other Atlantic 85, which is to say that she is a rigid inflatable boat painted in RNLI high-visibility orange but she is unique in one respect, which is how she is launched. There is no permanent slipway for her but instead she is vehicle-launched, having her own dedicated Scania 220 lorry with a crane arm, so the she can be driven to, and launched from, wherever she happens to be needed. I imagine that that would be great news, were Unfathomable Horrors of the Deep to be gnawing at your boat.
Beyond the harbour, the buildings became residential cottages facing out over a street called High Shore to the sea. This looked like a promising coastal road but the only promise that it was making was to continue on into Tarlair Road, which would then end at Tarlair Swimming Pools. The latter is a disused lido, which opened in 1931 and closed in 1995. Thereafter, it basically mouldered until 2013 when some restoration began but ran out of steam (and, more importantly, cash). In 2020, the Friends of Tarlair Community Group gained the lease and renovation is now under way, although it is going to take some time.
I considered making the short walk to Tarlair and back and decided against it. I had fairly dawdled through Macduff and needed to get my stride on, if I was going to actually do this walk today.
Royal Tarlair Golf Club
A handy footpath conveyed me from High Shore to the A98, passing along the edge of the Royal Tarlair Golf Club. The A-road, here named Buchan Street, was still an average two-way road, not madly busy but enough so that I was glad that it had pedestrian pavement, which was nicely offset from the road by a grass verge. On my other side, like a much bigger verge with strategic holes made in it, was the golf course, now situated between me and the sea. Now, as I have mentioned before, I have a largely irrational disdain for golf courses but this one had at least one thing in its favour:
The Royal Tarlair Golf Club dates back to 1907, although they only had a rough-and-ready, undersized course until 1923, when they were able to expand and improve it to meet the generally expected standards of the game. In 1926 they got to add ‘Royal’ to their name – which has to be officially granted and requires a club to have one of the royals as either a member or patron – Princess Louise (1867-1931), Dowager Duchess of Fife, having become their patroness.
Louise, also the Princess Royal, was a daughter of Edward VII and the royal whom the 6th Earl Fife had married. This had earnt the earl a promotion to duke, which is why, after his death, his widow was a dowager duchess, not a countess.
Regardless of how I felt about golf courses, I only had just over a third of a mile to go before I reached the end of this one, which was suitably marked by a couple of wind turbines. When I had only got two thirds that far, however, the pedestrian pavement ran out, which meant I was dodging the traffic on the A-road. This successfully distracted me from hating unnecessarily upon an innocent golf-course but also carried a non-zero risk of my experiencing a head-on collision that would not only halt my progress forwards but suddenly and excitingly reverse it to the accompaniment of squealing brakes. I would, I decided, give that a miss if it were possible and I knew that it was because I’d studied the map…
A mere quarter mile beyond the wind turbines, the B9031 connected to the A-road and that promised to be quieter. Not completely quiet, it being a tourist route designated the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, but certainly quieter than the A-road. Besides, I was a tourist.
The B9031 was part of the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail because where I was now falls into the modern administrative council area of Aberdeenshire, which does not have the same boundaries as the historic county of the same name, nor does it actually include Aberdeen, which gets its own council. Historically, where I was had been part of Banffshire, a county that today exists only for land registration and lieutenancy (the latter being basically districting for ceremonial purposes).
I kinda like the old counties, so I’m using them as my benchmark, just because. I’d be getting to the boundary later but, so far as I was concerned, Banffshire was still where I was.
Cottonhill & Silverhillocks
The B9031 was indeed quieter, with a car passing every few minutes rather than every few seconds. This was altogether less stressful and I strode merrily along passing, after about quarter of a mile, the entrance to Cottonhill Quarry. The actual quarry itself could not be seen from the road.
Cottonhill Quarry has been in continuous operation since the mid-1970s, when the current owners – a small family firm called Lovie Ltd – leased the then-abandoned quarry, which is one of several quarries that they own. Cottonhill produces slate, the others sandy aggregates. As you can tell from the fact that it was abandoned in the ’70s, it is much older than that and dates back to at least the 1870s, when it was clearly visible on the 1st edition OS map.
Since I couldn’t see it from the road and it doesn’t have any exciting historical associations that I could find, I would say no more about it except that my research did turn up a Tax Tribunal case between Lovie Ltd and HM Revenue & Customs, which made me smile…
Lovie Ltd v. HMRC
In 2013, Bill Lovie, the managing director of Lovie Ltd, became aware that the Aggregates Levy – a tax on extracting aggregate materials – has a special exemption for slate. This was a bit of a revelation to him, as he had been dutifully paying the levy on slate extracted from Cottonhill ever since the levy was introduced in 2002. He therefore got a geological analysis done to prove that it was slate at Cottonhill and asked HMRC nicely for his money back.
In a move that will surprise no one, HMRC said ‘no’ and had their own expert geologist do an analysis that said that, actually, oh, no it isn’t! (I may be paraphrasing, here) and that Mr Lovie was not owed a penny. Disappointingly, their argument had some kind of actual basis; they weren’t trying try to argue that it was cotton he was digging from that hill. Understandably, this did not please him and he appealed the case to the Tax Tribunal. It is perhaps fitting that it was with near-geological slowness that things progressed but eventually, in 2020, the tribunal weighed up the evidence and found that oh, yes it is! and give the man his money.
Now, I have no particular animosity towards HMRC. Its employees do a necessary job and are generally quite pleasant and helpful so long as you remember to treat them like actual human beings and not just cogs in a money-extracting machine. But I cannot help but raise a small smile at the story of a man getting his tax back because it was paid by mistake and, while possession might well be nine tenths of the law, sometimes that other tenth wins out.
Putting Mr Lovie’s tax-free quarry behind me, I set about covering the one third-mile that separated it from Silverhillocks. This was described in the 1867-9 OS Name Book (a catalogue of place names used to help compile the OS 1st edition) as a ‘few scattered houses situate on the Coast Road between Macduff and Gamrie belonging to Lord Fife,’ and the only difference now is basically who owns them.
Mains of Cullen
Mains of Cullen stands on the site of the Castle of Cullen of Buchan and incorporates at least two of its stones into its fabric. The stones in question are inscribed ‘VB × EH’ for Walter Barclay de Tolly (1530-1587) and Elizabeth Hay, along with the Barclay arms and, one of them, the year 1574.
The arms of Barclay – a gold chevron between three silver crosses pattée (i.e. shaped like the German iron cross), all upon a blue field.
As you can tell from his owning a castle, Walter was an important local landowner, though he also had lands in Perthshire and may have used Cullen as a dower house. He was murdered in Edinburgh by William Meldrum of Moncoffer, with whom he had some sort of private feud; Moncoffer is a house a mile south of Scury Ford.
Some of Walter’s descendants migrated to Swedish Livonia in 1688, which was then conquered by Russia in 1721. This led to Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) being a Russian field marshal and Minister of War during the Napoleonic Wars.
The farmhouse appears to have been an adjunct of the castle which survived while the latter fell into ruin. The remains of the walls were visible until 1807, when they were demolished. Roy labels no castle on his map, half a century prior, only the place name ‘Colen.’
The other building visible in that last photo, in the distance on the left, is a newly-built house on land belonging to Melrose Farms. This is another family business, this time belonging to the Allan family, who purchased Mains of Melrose in the 1960s and have expanded to absorb the neighbouring farms of Easter Melrose and Newton of Melrose as well.
Mains of Melrose, which is the main farm – the clue’s in the name, really – is on its own little loop of side-road that crosses the Burn of Melrose twice. There was no real benefit to taking this loop as a diversion, except that it had no traffic at all.
No, wait… Actually, that sounded like quite a bonus.
Mill of Melrose
Turning off the B9031 put me onto a single-track road that carried me past that new-build house and then down into the valley of the Burn of Melrose to cross it on a stone bridge. The late 18th-century rubble-cored bridge is category C listed but there was no good vantage point from which to photograph what it looked like (and on it just looked like more road with low walls).
Beside the bridge stood a dull-looking cottage; this was the old Mill of Melrose (though Roy had transcribed its name as ‘Mill of Meldries’). According to the Name Book, 120-odd years after Roy, it was:
‘A corn and flour mill situate on the Burn of Melrose with dwelling house and outbuildings in the occupation of Mr McDonald, belonging to Lord Fife.’
This, I failed to photograph deliberately, as it quite failed to charm me. Instead I pressed on as the narrow farm lane began to rise slowly towards Mains of Melrose.
Mains of Melrose
Mains of Melrose was built in the early 18th century and is category C listed; Roy named it as ‘Meldries’ on his map. What I noticed about it, though, was not anything remarkable about the farmhouse so much as the barns. They were both large and several. It did not look like running out of barn space was ever going to be a problem. Except, one assumes they have so much barn space because they need it. Perhaps everything scales up? Are their barn owls as big as ostriches?
An excess of size is not a new thing, either. The Name Book describes Mains of Melrose as ‘a very large farmsteading,’ adding, of course, that it, like everything else for miles, was ‘the property of the Earl of Fife.’
At the farm, any ‘melrising’ I might have done was soon undone as the road dipped back down to cross back over the burn. The climb up the other side was steeper than anticipated and quickly deposited me, slightly breathless, back onto the B9031. Opposite stood the cottage of Blackcairns – ‘a small farmsteading,’ according to the Name Book; I’ll leave you to guess who owned it then.
I glanced back down the b9031 the way I hadn’t just come. It would have been a shorter, straight route, had I stayed on the B-road, and also more crowded. I had bypassed entrances to no less than four properties, these being Clechden, Easter and Wester Bonnyton and the Mill of Cullen.
Even back in the late 1860s, the Name Book noted of Mill of Cullen that ‘There is no mill at this place at present.’ It had nothing to note on the others beyond that they were ‘small farm steadings.’
Clechden, Bonnyton and Mill of Cullen might be small, but they’re also persistent as Roy showed them all on his mid-18th century map. He spelt their names as ‘Clachden,’ ‘Bennytown’ and ‘Mill of Colen,’ but they were there.
Yet More Melrosiness
Although I was back on the B9031, I wasn’t done yet with Melrose. I had yet to pass several more properties whose names had a Melrosy theme. The largest of these were Newton of Melrose and Easter Melrose, two places both named on Roy’s map and now part of Melrose Farms. But there was also Little Newton of Melrose and Newton of Melrose Cottage. It felt to me as if Melrose should perhaps be properly signposted as a scattered settlement, which it was not.
The B-road had other ideas about signage – it was only interested in the way onwards:
The B-road conveyed me past Easter Melrose (the buildings ahead in that last photo) and then Wester Silverford, the name of which told me that I could now expect a whole bunch of places with ‘Silverford’ in their names. A ‘middling-sized farm’ in the late 1860s, it didn’t look like it had changed much since then.
Between Wester Silverford and the inevitable Easter Silverford, the road dipped down to cross a small stream on an unremarkable modern road bridge with low concrete parapets. This could hardly be called anything else than Silverford Bridge (which it was), though the stream it spanned – a tiny tributary of the Burn of Melrose – appears to have no name of its own. Certainly modern OS maps do not name it and, on this occasion, even the 1860s Name Book failed to live up to its purpose, describing the bridge’s predecessor as a ‘small stone bridge spanning a nameless stream’ (my italics).
I don’t know when the modern road bridge replaced the stone one noted in the Name Book, nor do I know when that replaced the ford that ‘Silverford’ strongly implies. I would guess sometime in the late 18th or very early 19th century for the latter, if only because Roy’s map (which shows Silverford) has no road on it corresponding to the B9031. This implies the road was constructed after his day and the period suggested is when Scotland experienced a road-building boom. It would make sense to put the bridge in when the road was built.
Greenskares & Whitehill
Passing Easter Silverford, the coastal trail now passed between two low hills – Whitehill (163 m) and the Hill of Greenskares (180 m) but, as the road had climbed slowly to 142 m itself, the difference in height was barely perceptible. These too had a scattering of farmsteads shown, if not explicitly named, on Roy’s map.
Two of these – Westerton of Whitehill and Mains of Whitehill were named as ‘Wester Whitehill’ and ‘Overton of Whitehill’ in the 1860s Name Book and described as ‘middling-sized.’
Their near neighbour, Wester Greenskares, by contrast was ‘a very large farmsteading.’ The latter was owned by Alexander Wallace Gardner (1807-1871), who resided at Greenskares, which was itself ‘a small mansion.’
Afforsk & Dubford
Den of Afforsk
Having passed between the two hills, the road descended and pulled a hairpin bend as it crossed the head of the Den of Afforsk, the valley of the Kirk Burn. This reaffirmed the coastal nature of the trail by giving me sight of the sea.
The hairpin bend was quite blind and therefore dangerous but my modern OS map seemed to suggest that I could cut the corner if I dropped down a steep and narrow side road that led firstly to a small cottage and then to Westerhall and the ruins of St John’s Church. It appeared that another steep spur by the cottage would reconnect with the B-road on the far side of the bend. It did not.
Short Cut (Cut Off)
I mean, it almost certainly did once but not now. The far side of the B-road has had crash barriers fitted along its outer edge, cutting that track off, and it has become completely overgrown with gorse as a result. My options, having dropped down to the cottage were twofold – turn around now and risk my life on the blind bend, or continue on to the ruined church. Which was a dead end, meaning I’d have to come back and do the blind bend anyway.
Actually, it turns out, that last part isn’t entirely true. It’s certainly correct that the road ended at St John’s Church but there was actually a footpath that could have led me right along the coast. Granted, it’s allegedly ‘muddy’ and ‘affected by landslides’ but it is there. Not that I knew that – it wasn’t on my map, and I didn’t make the effort to walk out to the church and find out.
Kirk of Sculls
St John’s is an ancient church site, said to have been first constructed in 1004 in connection with a battle with invading Vikings. It was dedicated to St John the Evangelist, hence its name, but a more exciting alias was the ‘Kirk of Sculls‘ on account of three allegedly Danish skulls, which decorated its interior. The current ruins date from 1513. It was abandoned in 1830, when a new, more conveniently-sited church was built.
Battle of the Bloody Pits
The traditional tale of the battle goes something like this:
On the eastern bank of the Den of Afforsk is a mound upon which stood the now-vanished Castle of Findon. In 1004, this was garrisoned with soldiers under the Thane of Buchan to guard against Viking incursions. These were well-placed to watch the Vikings land and then brazenly set up camp where the church now stands, directly opposite the castle. The Thane was alarmed by this and didn’t fancy his chances attacking the invaders, though he knew that’s exactly what he was obliged to do. Thus, in order to fire his troops with religious zeal, he called upon the saint for intervention and promised to build a chapel there, should they defeat the Danes. This they did, in part by ascending the hill above the Danish camp and rolling boulders onto it. They then drove the Vikings out in a running battle.
Unfortunately for the Scots, another party of Vikings had landed further up the coast at Old Haven (where the Burn of Melrose meets the sea) and these now reinforced their comrades, leading to a renewal of battle as the Vikings attacked and retook their former encampment. But then, Scots reinforcements turned the tide again and drove the Vikings to a position on More Head where they were trapped between their foes and a cliff. The Vikings were massacred and their bodies dumped in some convenient natural hollows nearby. Flushed with victory, the Scots built the church that was promised and the skulls of three slain Danish chieftains adorned its interior.
I returned to the blind bend and somehow made it all the way around without dying from traffic. On the far side, the B9031 carried me past a couple of rather nice bungalows that occupied the site of Afforsk. This had been ‘a large farmsteading’ in the 1860s, according to the Name Book, whereas Roy didn’t show it at all.
Roy didn’t show Dubford either, which is where I reached next. Today, this is a small, scattered village, but in the late 1860s it merely comprised ‘a post office merchant’s shop and farm steading.’ Sadly, the post office shop is long gone, which was a shame, but I had a cunning remedy for that situation in the form of abandoning the B9031 and taking a left-hand turn. This would put me on the B9123 instead, that being the road to Gardenstown, where I could doubtless find some lunch.
As the main road in and out of Gardenstown, the B9123 had traffic but less than the B9031, and that had not been too bad either. Anytime it seemed like an annoyance I just compared it to my brief stint on the A98. This was absolutely no contest; ‘B’ stood for best!
The fishing village of Gardenstown started out as Gamrie but was renamed and laid out as a new planned village in 1720 by Alexander Garden (1653-1731) of Troup. He also constructed a harbour for the fishing boats. His vision proved quite successful and, three hundred years on, I was able to make my way down to that harbour. And I do mean down.
The arms of Garden of Troup were a black boar’s head upon a silver field. Curiously, the Garden Arms Hotel, ostensibly named for them, gets them wrong, showing them with a gold field. This is probably because they unwittingly copied the arms depicted on Gardenstown’s public hall, which not only made the same mistake but garbled the Gardens’ motto (vires animat virtus, ‘virtue animates our powers.’) The hotel sign gets the motto right, at least.
Hill of Findon
Gardenstown has expanded a bit since 1720, mostly up the steep hillside of the Hill of Findon. As a result, you initially enter past estates of modern suburban housing but quickly find yourself following a steep, zig-zagging road downwards. This threatened to wake the slumbering fury of knee pain and I was more than happy to divert off onto a ‘footpath’ that was actually just a flight of steps.
At the bottom, I paused to judge if my kneecap was going to blossom into a metaphorical magnolia of agony or stay a dormant planted seed of pain. While I was waiting to find out, I took in the sights of Alexander Garden’s town and the harbour he built for it…
Eli’s Crafts, Cake & Coffee
As it turned out, my knee was merely teasing me with the possibility of pain and quickly settled down again. I celebrated this good fortune by locating a café quite close to the harbour – Eli’s Crafts, Cakes & Coffee – and enjoying tea and cake. The cake was quite excellent.
When I had rested, refuelled and refreshed, I considered my next move. If at all possible, I preferred not to simply retrace my steps south up the Hill of Findon. Heading west to St John’s Church would essentially be going backwards, so there was really only one way left to go.
The coast path to Crovie (pronounced ‘crivvie’) is impassible at high tide and potentially dangerous due to falling rocks but, so long as isn’t high tide and rocks are not actually falling, it is an easy-going stroll. It quickly carried me around that headland, above which the terrain was straddling the boundary between the concepts of coastal slope and cliff. This was The Braes.
On the far side of the headland, the path became a sort of promenade. Beside it, at the near end of the bay in which Crovie sits, a cairn-like memorial sat beside the path. Atop the stones perched a boiler head from the cargo freighter SS Vigilant.
Vigilant was a wooden steamship, launched in 1874. She was carrying a cargo of coal when she was driven aground on Crovie Shore after suffering engine failure during a storm in 1906. Brave rescuers from both Gardenstown and Crovie helped all six crewmembers get to safety.
Braving the Elements
Crovie is tiny, just a single row of houses perched on a ledge between the foot of a cliff and the sea. This is, as one might imagine, a precarious existence and its original, late 18th-century, inhabitants didn’t pick it as their first choice of location – they had been cleared off land elsewhere to make way for sheep.
The houses are exposed to the elements at the best of times. 1953 brought anything but the best of times, with the storm and spring tide combination that resulted in the North Sea Flood. Several houses in Crovie were destroyed, prompting some villagers to leave, but Banffshire County Council’s suggested solution of just bulldozing the rest was not at all well received. A campaign was mounted to save the village, which was eventually successful.
In 2018, the village suffered again at the hands of nature, when a landslip closed its only road in and out. Aberdeenshire Council, which must have been wishing its predecessor had gone ahead with that bulldozing, kept the road closed for an entire year while they tried to stabilise the hillside. Or possibly, while they thought about stabilising the hillside – the residents biggest gripe seems to have been the months of apparent inactivity during which they lacked vehicular access.
Mutt & Jeff
I found one other story about Crovie, a spy story, that resonates well with a previous one from Portgordon, while underlining the shocking ineptitude of the Abwehr in WW2.
In 1941, a couple of Norwegian-born spies – John Moe and Tor Glad – landed there by dinghy and asked fisherman Francis Reid where the nearest police station was. As they set off along the road route to Gardenstown, Francis nipped along the coast path and got the police station first. The two men were quickly apprehended but that was okay, because they were trying to turn themselves in; they weren’t nearly as attached to the Nazi cause as their handlers had hoped and wanted to become double agents.
MI5 was only too happy to oblige – in fact, they caught and turned a staggering 120 German agents during the war and would eventually learn that they had actually controlled every German agent in Britain. The pair were codenamed Mutt & Jeff, after a pair of popular cartoon characters of the time. Over time, MI5 came to distrust Glad and had him interned but that was fine because they simply had someone else pretend to be him while making reports to the Abwehr.
More Onward Options
I wasn’t aware of a footpath leading out the other side of Crovie, though now I think there was probably was one as part of Troup Head is RSPB land, with the only Scottish mainland gannet colony. That sounds like the sort of thing there is a footpath to.
At any rate, my map didn’t show one, so I headed slowly up the shockingly steep road that had been closed throughout 2018. At the top of the initial climb, I found myself with two options. I could take an unclassified public road that would lead me back to the B9031. Or I could take an unmade private road that would do the same, only less pavedly.
The Private Road
The asphalt surface of the public road would undoubtedly have been easier going but the dusty, gravelly private road felt like it would be more interesting. As if to prove the point, it immediately dropped again by 20 m in order to cross a small stream in the ravine of Lightnot Den. A castle – Lightnot Castle – is said to have stood overlooking this burn, the home of the Thane of Lightnot. If so, nothing of it now remains.
Having crossed Lighntot Den, the road then climbed 30 m and turned right as it rounded the northern flank of Wind Hill. This brought it past the cottage of Stonehouse (a ‘small farm steading’ in the Name Book) and then to a junction. Here, if I turned left, I would cross Crovie Den and head north to Crovie Farm. Alternatively, if I kept going straight on, I would pass a cottage called Mink Howe and then follow the road to Stonewells farm.
Mink Howe is named for a gully which it faces onto. The cottage is relatively recent, by which I mean it’s been there for at least a decade but I’m not sure how much longer than that. Beside it, the private road ended at a gate, which was unexpected. Except, of course, it didn’t end, or it would have been a fence and not a gate.
A little further on from that photo, the green lane that the road had become suddenly made a hard right turn and climbed 70 m up the side of Wind Hill, offering views of Gamrie Bay. While the views were welcome, this was warm work and the hill was failing to deliver on the promise of its name.
Almost but not quite on the summit of Wind Hill stood the farm of Stonewells. This was described as ‘ordinary-sized’ in the Name Book and that still seemed a pretty fair description. Like all farms, it needed a vehicular access road, which meant that the green lane ended when I reached its yard.
Protston & Middleton
From Stonewells, I followed its access track southeast, until it joined the public road at Protston. This had been ‘a large farm steading’ in the 1860s, as had Middleton, which I passed next after crossing Troup Burn. They didn’t seem overly massive to me, but they both were still definitely farms.
At Middleton, I returned to the B9031 and headed east. This brought me in short order to Jacobshall. When the Name Book was compiled, Jacobshall had been ‘a large farm steading’ tenanted by William Wernham, the factor of the Troup Estate. Today, it’s still pretty sizeable, with a collection of barns to rival Mains of Melrose.
As factor, Wernham administered the estate for its owner, Col Francis W Garden-Campbell (1840-1895). He seems to have also tenanted Troup House, which suggests that the colonel didn’t live there himself. Col Garden-Campbell definitely had a London residence – in Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge – as that’s where he died; possibly he preferred to live (and die) down south?
The Troup House that the colonel wasn’t living in was a country house built in 1770 but which no longer exists, it having been demolished when his heirs built a new one in 1897. The replacement is a three storey, asymmetrical affair with harling that is – for no discernible reason – pink. I would have been tempted to go take a look at it but the house is now a boarding school for children with special needs and gawking at that could be open to all kinds of misinterpretation.
The buildings shown in the photo above are roughly two thirds of Nethermill. On the left, occupying a small headland, are Nethermill Cottages. On the right, adjoining the B-road is Nethermill farm. By any standards, Nethermill – even taken as a whole – is hardly a significant settlement but I was still excited to have reached it.
Where the road dips down before reaching either set of buildings, Tore Burn flows down to the sea and that is the historic boundary where Banffshire ended and Aberdeenshire began.
On the left of the road, where its starts to dip, you’ll notice an empty field. In the days of the first two OS map editions, a cluster of four cottages stood there, forming a final hamlet on the Banffshire side. This was Dubston and it vanished off the maps sometime in the 1920s.
Today, where it stood, the B9031 continues more-or-less straight on (ignoring its undulation in the vertical plane), which is the result of 1970s road-straightening. Prior to that, the road had veered left to cross Tore Burn closer to the shore and the old road is still there, though closed to vehicular traffic at one end. I think you can see where this is going (and it’s not ‘straight on’).
Bridge at Nethermill
The Bridge at Nethermill was built in 1719 allowing travel between the two counties with dry feet for the first time. This means that the bridge had been standing for roughly thirty years when Roy drew up his map but, disappointingly, he dies not show it. One can only assume he thought whatever track then passed for a ‘road’ was too minor and poor quality for inclusion.
When first built, the bridge was known by a different name, that being the Bridge at Auchmedden. It had been a joint effort by Alexander Garden and his Aberdeenshire neighbour, James Baird (1676-1720) of Auchmedden. This cooperation was fairly remarkable because they sat on opposite sides of the most glaring political division of the day – Garden was a loyal Hanoverian while Baird was a committed Jacobite.
The bridge was renamed after the failed Jacobite Rising of 1745, probably in 1750 when James’s son William Baird (1701-1775) was obliged to sell the estate to George Gordon (1722-1801), 3rd Earl of Aberdeen. William, having been on the losing side of a rebellion, was at this point taking refuge with his brother-in-law, William Duff of Braco in the newly-built Duff House in Banff (he was married to Duff’s sister).
Mill of Nethermill
Beside Tore Burn and Bridge at Nethermill stood the final third of Nethermill, the cluster of buildings that once formed the mill that gave Auchmedden its new name.
The now redundantly-named Mill of Nethermill was originally a corn mill built by the Bairds shortly after the bridge – the miller’s cottage was erected in 1722 while datestones in the mill itself say 1742 and 1841, indicating subsequent rebuilding – although an earlier mill seems to have existed on the site.
Today, the mill site comprises a pottery, shop and associated holiday cottages. I was more than happy to buy a cold drink and an ice cream and enjoy them on the benches outside; the weather was getting pretty toasty.
When I felt sufficiently rested and ice cream-cooled to continue, I returned to the B-road and past Nethermill towards Pennan.
Pennan is a shoreline-hugging village much like Crovie but slightly larger and it had been my original plan to have a rest stop at the Pennan Inn. Now, however, after pausing for ice cream at Nethermill, I was having second thoughts, I didn’t need another rest stop just yet and, if I took one anyway, I just wouldn’t get anywhere.
While Pennan’s inn and cottages cling picturesquely to the shore, there are four buildings on the B-road, overlooking a crossroads. These include a former smithy, schoolhouse and coastguard station, all now cottages, a third cottage and Auchmedden Church (1882). This crossroads was my last chance to decide to go down to the village proper.
Den of Auchmedden
Just under half a mile on from Pennan Crossroads, the road dipped to cross another gully, this one being the Den of Auchmedden. From there, the road climbed 40 m to the farm of Mains of Auchmedden. Now, admittedly, 40 m isn’t high, but the road was determined to climb it as quickly as possible.
Mains of Auchmedden
Mains of Auchmedden was, pretty obviously, the main farm of the old Auchmedden Estate. The Name Book noted it as being ‘a very good substantial dwelling house with offices attached’ and commented on its proximity to the ‘old castle ruin.’ The castle in question is Auchmedden Castle, which was home to the Bairds.
The castle was built in the late 16th century, probably soon after the Bairds acquired the Auchmedden Estate in 1568. It fell into ruin after their departure in 1750 and was plundered for stone. No visible signs now remain of it.
A folk myth became attached to the castle that poet and alleged prophet Thomas the Rhymer (1220 to 1298) had prophesied that ‘there shall be an eagle in the craig while there is a Baird in Auchmedden,’ and it was noted that, after the Bairds had departed that a pair of eagles nesting in a nearby crag also went.
The two problems with this are that (a) Thomas died over 250 years before the Bairds took possession of Auchmedden (although I guess the counter-argument is that if he really was prophetic then of course he would predict that) and (b) eagles do as they please. Falsely associating fabricated prophecies with Thomas was quite popular Scotland, as it was seen to lend them an air of credibility.
Curiously, despite the alleged prophecy about eagles, the Baird coat of arms does not feature them but instead sports a golden boar upon a red field. As heraldic animals go, it has the advantage of actually being native (unlike, say, lions) and is visually distinct from the Scottish heralds’ favourite template, which is ‘three of something on a field.’ It is interesting, though, that the Bairds and their Garden neighbours both had boar-related arms.
About half a mile down the road from Mains of Auchmedden was Auchmedden Cottage, a small, white-walled holiday cottage that allegedly has a bus stop outside. I say ‘allegedly’ because there is no physical bus stop sign, nor does the cottage have its name on it. I guess it’s one of those things where if you know, then you know, otherwise you’re not stopping there.
Notions of cheating aside, one reason why I would not be catching the bus was that I already planned to go where buses do not. This started with my turning off the B9031 and onto the unpaved access road that led to East Mains and Pennan Farm. Not that I had any intention of reaching either of those. No, I was more interested in another track that branched off from the access road to head east.
This particular green lane was probably just wide enough that you could force a bus down it if you wanted to. Y’know, just because.
Old County Road I – Pouk Howe to Aberdour
Pouk Howe Ponds
I am pleased to say that no buses forced their way through as I ambled down the green lane.
The pond shown above is the largest of a series of artificial ponds made by damming in a shallow ravine called Pouk Howe (this one is right at the end of it). They were dammed to drive a mill at New Aberdour.
At Pouk Howe Ponds, the character of the lane changed, becoming less green and more dirt road again. The cause for this appeared to be a gate leading into a field that looked like just any other, though 1st ed OS maps show that another track used to run across it and meet up with the access road to Pennan Farm. That path, and this one heading eastwards, had once formed a coffin path between Pennan and St Drostan’s Church.
Before Auchmedden Church was built in 1882, the inhabitants of Pennan used to walk about three miles to St Drostan’s– either the old church in Aberdour before 1818, or its replacement in New Aberdour after that. The coffins of Perran’s dead were also carried along that path, hence its designation as a coffin path.
Although it has long been superseded by the B9031 as a main route for traffic, the 1st ed OS map shows a milestone further along it, which betrays the importance that this old road once had. When it was complete, it began on what is now a footpath from Pennan to Pennan Farm, cut across on a now-vanished track to the Pouk Howe Ponds and then headed east to Aberdour. I would now follow that last part.
A quarter of a mile beyond Pouk Howe, the farm access road veered off to the left towards the farmstead of Clinterty. From there, another farm access track would pick up the corpse road alignment, essentially causing the farm road to make a U-shaped diversion to the farm. The original alignment persisted on the ground, though, as a footpath that was only slightly overgrown.
This was perfectly lovely but painfully brief, coming swiftly to an end by spitting me back onto the farm track beside a cottage that wasn’t on my map. Fortunately, the surprise of the latter distracted me from disappointment.
Now a broad farm track, the coffin path continued through the farm of Bankhead, just beyond which an open gateway offered up a view of Old St Drostan’s.
Bankhead is so named because it perches above a steep bank, that being the side of a gully through which runs the Dour, the stream that Aberdour is the mouth of. The corpse road zig-zagged steeply down this bank, passed behind the ruins of Old St Drostan’s and crossed the Dour via a bridge. On the far side was Mill Farm – named because a corn mill – the Mill of Aberdour – once stood close by; the mill disappeared off OS maps in the 1950s.
Old St Drostan’s
The ruined church visible today was built in the 16th century and abandoned in 1818, when the present church was built in New Aberdour, just over half a mile to the south, This was doubtless way more convenient for the residents of New Aberdour but it added another mile onto the round trip made by parishioners from Pennan.
St Drostan, whom the church is dedicated to, and supposedly founded by, is frustratingly lacking an any kind of firm historical details and the hagiographies disagree. He was supposedly a companion of St Columba (521-597), the evangelist who spread Christianity in Scotland. When Drostan died in (presumably) the early 7th century, his relics were buried in this church. Somewhere. Needless to say, exactly where has been lost.
Old County Road II – Aberdour to Rosehearty
Unclassified Coast Road
At Mill Farm, I rejoined the public road network and struck east along a single-track, unclassified road now known to its friends in Aberdeenshire Council as unclassified road 144B. This was, in times long past, when the coffin path was important enough to get milestones, a continuation of the same. Like the coffin path, it was, in fact, part of an old County Road between Banff and Fraserburgh. I was quite happy to follow it.
To my right, low hills rose slowly, concealing from the farms of Mains of New Aberdour and Bonnytonhill. To my left was the sea. The sun was still shining, there was no traffic. It was glorious.
The first Dundarg Castle was built in 13th century by the Comyns but demolished by Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) in 1308, two years after he became king; the Comyns had consistently been his enemies and the Bruce had murdered one of them – John Comyn of Badenoch (‘the Red Comyn’) – in 1306.
A new one was built in 1334 by Henry de Beaumont (d. 1340), an Englishman who had lost Scottish lands in the Scottish Wars of Independence and who was married to Alice Comyn (1289-1349), Countess of Buchan. This castle was promptly slighted by Sir Andrew Murray (1298-1338); he was married to Christina Bruce (c. 1278-1357), Robert’s sister. Because that’s what mediaeval war was: family feuding writ large!
Today, just part of the gateway remains, while a modern but castly-looking house also stands on the site (the latter built in 1938).
Almost immediately beyond the turning for Dundarg Castle was that for the cottage of Bridestonefold. This has always been a small dwelling and was described as ‘a crofter’s dwelling’ in the OS Name Book. It gets its name from the Bride Stone – a small outcropping of red-splashed rock that then stood by the roadside between the cottage and Quarryburn, but of which I could see no sign.
The story goes that a bride was passing by on her horse – why isn’t specified, perhaps she was travelling to or from St Drostan’s – and managed to pick exactly that spot to fall off her horse, killing herself by falling onto the rock.
Quarryburn & Quarryhead
I don’t know what happened to the Bride Stone but, given the next farm was Quarryburn (a ‘good farmhouse & outbuilding,’ said the Name Book), one wonders if it just got quarried. Quarryburn’s name is pretty self-explanatory – its sits near the head of a small burn that runs down to Quarry Head, which in turn gets its name from a millstone quarry on that headland.
The farm of Quarryhead, which is actually on that headland, is equally obviously-named. The same cannot be said of Egypt
Egypt was a couple of crofts in the 1870s and looks to be small cluster of cottages today. Its etymology is uncertain and perplexing and probably results from an anglicised Gaelic name merging with a vaguely similar-sounding name that people heard frequently in church.
Ironhill & Stonebriggs
Apparently, if I rejected Egypt for insufficient pyramids, I wasn’t allowed to benefit from the blessings of Ra, either. The sun disappeared behind an ominous cloud and, before I could get my raincoat halfway out my bag the heavens opened. The downpour was sudden and brief but surprisingly thorough. Now cold, wet and spluttering, I made my way past the farm of Ironhill, noting to myself that it was bound to get rusty.
Just beyond Ironhill was the farm of Stonebriggs (‘a commodious farmhouse’), where the inundation ceased abruptly. It sat in the flank of Gallows Hill, a 75 m high hill upon which stands the Hanging Stone, because it’s good to explore the varied ways in which a rock can help kill you.
Poukburn & Lord Pitsligo’s Cave
Meanwhile, directly north of Ironhill was another farmstead, Poukburn, named for a creek close by on the coast. Also close to Poukburn was Lord Pitsligo’s Cave, so named because after Jacobite Rising of 1745 was crushed at the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the attainted Jacobite Alexander Forbes (1678-1762), 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, took to hiding in it, while disguised as a beggar with the alias Sanny Brown.
Before long, I came to a crossroads, beside which sat the farmstead-turned-cottage of Craigiefold. Here the old County Road met the B9031, onto which I now turned. Just as it had carried me away from Macduff, so now it would carry me into Rosehearty (Ros Abhartaich).
Overlooking the crossroads was a curious tower, which turned out to be Mounthooly Doocot (i.e., dovecot), Mounthooly being another, larger farm, northeast of Cragiefold. The doocot is square. With decorative battlements and bears a datestone inscribed ‘1800.’
Having rejoined the B9031, I followed it as it curved around past Braco Park (‘a superior farmhouse’ in the Name Book) and into Rosehearty.
As I entered the town, a second tower caught my eye, facing out onto the sea. This was a bombing range control tower built for the RAF in 1994 as an upgrade to a bombing range they’d been using since the 1950s. The range closed in 2000 and, two years later, Rosehearty Tower hit the house market as a 4-bedroom conversion.
Pitsligo Parish Church
The Pitsligo (Peit Shligeach) of which Alexander Forbes was lord, is actually the name of the parish. It is said to have been separated from Aberdour in 1633 after the minister of St Drostan’s preached a sermon denouncing the ‘three pits of hell, Pittullie, Pittendrum and Pitsligo.’ Alexander’s great-grandfather, Alexander Forbes (d. 1636), 1st Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, was so incensed that he built his own church at Peathill. In 1890, a new church was built next door, replacing it, which served until 1997.
This left only Rosehearty Church, built in 1882. This had been a United Presbyterian Church, a denomination schismatic from the Church of Scotland. Following a series of reconciliations, compromises and inevitable new schisms, most of what had been the United Presbyterian Church became part of the United Free Church in 1900 and then merged back into the Church of Scotland in 1929. As a result of all this, it is now Pitsligo Parish Church.
I passed this church on my way into the town and found myself quite taken with its decorative stonework:
Originally founded by a group of shipwrecked Danish fishermen in the 14th century, Rosehearty was developed as a fishing village by the 1st Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, presumably in the 1630s when he was angrily building his church and also extending and altering his home, Pitsligo Castle (built 1424). In recompense for his investment, the fishermen were obliged to give him one fifth of their catch.
It remained a small village for the next half-century, until Charles II raised it to the status of burgh of barony in 1681 (that being a Scottish type of chartered town, contrasting with a royal burgh).
As the herring boom developed in the 19th century, Rosehearty was highly prosperous and in the running for developing into this section of coast’s biggest port. Alas, in 1865, the Formartine and Buchan Railway ran a line to Fraserburgh – Rosehearty’s neighbour and rival – guaranteeing the growth of Fraserburgh prospects and diminution of Rosehearty’s.
I followed the B9031 as it made its way, lined with stone cottages, through the centre of Rosehearty. This brought me to The Square – which is definitely oblong – and felt like it ought to be where the town’s shops are, but wasn’t (a post office and convenience store are sited elsewhere in Rosehearty). Instead, it sported numerous stone cottages – several faced with Aberdeen bond – all residential apart from one, which had become the Davron Hotel.
I paused in The Square to decide if I was thirsty enough to go looking for the shops.
The coat of arms on the fountain is not the royal arms (which you might expect of a Jubilee fountain) but those of Forbes of Pitsligo as shown on the seal created when Rosehearty became a burgh in 1681. The arms quarter those of Forbes (three white bear’s heads wearing red muzzles on a blue field) with the white cinquefoils on blue of Fraser to show the Forbes of Pitsligos’ descent from a Forbes younger son wed to a Fraser heiress.
I decided that I could wait for a cold drink. I preferred just to press on…
Rosehearty to Sandhaven Core Path
Heading east from Rosehearty, the B9031 ran right beside the sea. I had been expecting this but what I had not been expecting was a surprisingly new-looking pedestrian footpath sandwiched in between them. This made for easy going and I strode happily along it until I started to find sections where it was so new it wasn’t finished yet.
It turns out that Aberdeenshire Council had started improvement works in March and I had turned up right at the end of that in April.
Pittulie & Sandhaven
The path carried me past the ruins of both Pitsligo Castle and the Pittulie Castle, once home to the Frasers of Philorth. Pittulie was probably built in 1596 upon the marriage of Alexander Fraser and Margaret Abernethy of Saltoun in 1596. Margaret was the daughter of Lord Saltoun, so this was a status-boosting marriage and their descendants inherited the Saltoun title.
Sir William Forbes Bt (1739-1806) bought the castle circa 1787. A successful banker and grandson of the cave-dwelling Lord Forbes of Pitsligo’s sister, he had set about purchasing much of the land lost when his lordship was attainted for Jacobite treason, forfeiting his estate. Clearly, he also fancied owning the castle next door.
His grandson, Sir John Hepburn Forbes Bt (1804-1866) can’t have been quite so keen as the castle was abandoned sometime around 1850 and so mouldered into ruin.
In addition to being a castle, Pittulie was the name of a village. The Name Book described it as lying halfway between Rosehearty and Fraserborough and noted that it lacked a harbour. Today, it is merged to its only slightly larger eastern neighbour, the ‘straggling’ village of Sandhaven, which did have a harbour back in the 1860s (which was built in 1840) and still has it, today.
As pits of hell go, Pittulie was decidedly lacking in hellfire, brimstone and demons. It did have a bunch of low stone cottages, which was lovely. So did Sandhaven, into which it shaded imperceptibly, and many of these sported the distinctive Aberdeen bond pattern.
Sandhaven Meal Mill
A typical early 19th-century Scottish meal mill in terms of size and appearance etc, Sandhaven Meal Mill is extremely atypical insofar as its till has all its milling equipment, including the electric motor that replaced its water wheel as a source of power in its latter years of operation.
In its electric incarnation, the mill survived as a commercial concern into the early 1980s before eventually closing. It has since been restored and is now a museum.
Something that I could see from the road, unlike Pitullie Castle, was its third and final companion pit of hell, namely Pittendrum. This was originally a castle and then a farmhouse (as Mains of Pittendrum), a private residence and now, as Pittendrum House, is available as holiday accommodation.
The current building was erected in 1734 as laird’s house for George Cumine (1696-1767), who owned both Pittulie and Pittendrum estates (Cumine is a variant form of Comyn). George was an ardent Jacobite and only prevented from going off to die at Culloden with the rest of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s supporters by his wife, Christian Guthrie. Having failed to dissuade him with words, she then poured boiling water on his foot and so detained him through injury!
Their son, William Cumine (1721-1790), having not been scalded, did go to fight (and lose) for the Jacobites and managed to survive, though it meant he had to go into hiding in Edinburgh afterwards, named by a ‘true bill of high treason’ in 1848. He somehow managed to not forfeit everything as a traitor and inherited Pittendrum upon his father’s death but could not afford to keep it. In 1787, he sold both it and Pittulie to Sir William Forbes.
As descendants of the Comyns, the Cumines’ arms retained the three golden garbs and blue field of their ancestors, differenced by the addition of a gold chevron placed between the garbs. A carving of these arms once graced Pittulie Castle (which they had acquired) and has since been removed to the farmhouse of Mains of Pittulie .
As I made my way along Phingask Shore, I found that the core path had metamorphosed into a more typical type of pedestrian pavement with a kerb. I also found that I was regretting my decision not to hunt down a drink in Rosehearty and this drinklessness was thematically underlined when I passed the site of the former Glenbuchty Distillery, which was in business between 1825 and 1860. Today, its site is occupied by Glenbuchty Cottage and a rather nondescript shed.
With my thirst mounting, I was absolutely delighted to spot an enormous Asda supermarket on the other side of the B-road. Well, technically, it wasn’t on the B-road but on a ‘big box’ commercial estate (developed in 2013), with access onto the A98, but there was a footpath connection and I took it. Moments later, I had a cold drink in my hand.
My thirst having been quenched, I decided not to double back onto the B-road but instead continued into Fraserburgh via the A98.
Fraserburgh, popularly known as ‘the Broch,’ was named for and by the Frasers of Philorth, who bought the lands it stands on in 1500. More correctly, it was re-named (from Faithlie), this occurring in 1592, four years after raising it from village to burgh of barony and thirteen since building its harbour. It got a temporary promotion in 1601, becoming a burgh of regality – a chartered town status intermediate between burgh of barony and royal burgh – but burghs of regality were then abolished in 1746, reverting them to the lower status. Burghs of all kinds were officially abolished in 1975 but Fraserburgh is still clearly a ‘town.’
At its outer edge, along the A-road, it was looking less ‘historic burgh’ and more ‘modern urban sprawl,’ with industrial units on one side and modern flats and bungalows on the other. But, uninspiring as that might be, I was happier walking on this A98 section than I had been on the bit outside Macduff.
The Final Stretch
Having been warned off the dangerous rocks of the A98, I steered a new course by diverting onto Gallowhill Road and then Mid Street, which duly led me through this town. These streets were characterised by stone houses of various shapes and sizes – initially semi-detached but then increasingly terraced and turning into shops towards the harbour. My day’s walk ended in Saltoun Square, a stone’s throw from the harbour.
This time: 25½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,283½ miles