I ALIGHTED at Stonehaven railway station early on 13 Sep 2023, ready and eager to resume my migration southward. I had already breakfasted, prior to departing Aberdeen, and so was already fuelled up for the journey, with a particular emphasis on being sufficiently caffeinated – early mornings and I are not what you might call natural acquaintances, except when I see them from entirely the wrong end, having somehow forgotten to go to bed. Fortunately, on this particular morning, that was not the case and I was sufficiently rested as well as fuelled. No excuse, then, for not immediately getting on with it…
Having exited the station – which was opened in 1849 – I began my day’s journey by following the mainly residential street of Arduthie Road as it curved its way down towards the seafront.
Arduthie was once a separate village (and is shown as such on William Roy’s military survey map of about 1750) comprising a farmstead next door to where the station stands now, plus associated cottages, with a church, school, some additional cottages and a secondary farmstead (Nether Arduthie) to the northeast. These were still a short walk beyond the edges of Stonehaven when the relevant 1st edition Ordnance Survey map was published in 1868, but sneaky tendrils of housing had spread out to meet them by the time the 2nd ed was published in 1904. These, of course, would be the self-same houses that led me to describe the road as ‘mainly residential.’
The church – Fetteresso Church – still stands but its companions were generally less lucky in the survival stakes. It was built in 1812 to replace a predecessor located some way southwest of the station in Kirktown of Fetteresso and it has a somewhat castellated appearance, intended to reference Fetteresso Castle.
This castle, lying west of Stonehaven, was originally a 14th-century tower house on land confiscated from John Strachan by Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) and given to the latter’s brother-in-law, Sir Alexander Fraser (d. 1332). The Strachans had backed the Bruce’s rivals, the Comyns, in the succession crisis known as the Great Cause and Robert was not at all forgiving. The castle then passed through marriage from his granddaughter Margaret Fraser to Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland (d. c. 1410) and thus to their descendants, the Keith Earls Marischal.
The Keiths’ Jacobite tendencies brought about their downfall in the 18th century and the castle passed to the Duffs, who rebuilt it in Palladian style. It later passed through several owners, including Geraldine Pringle (1921-2010) – heiress to the Pringle Knitware fortune – and her husband. Today, it comprises seven private dwellings.
Arduthie Road curved south at its eastern end, terminating in a junction with Evan Road, where I turned left. A short stroll then brought me to Stonehaven’s Market Square, which was laid out in 1760 by landowner Robert Barclay, 5th laird of Ury (1732-1796), who had inherited a deteriorating estate and was determined to improve it. Today, the Market Square has become a municipal car park, which may or may not be much in the way of improvement (personally, I’m heavily inclined towards ‘not’).
Literally towering over both Market Square and Allardice Street (onto which it also faces) was the Market Building commissioned by Barclay’s son and heir, Cpt Robert Barclay Allardice (1779-1854) in 1826. He had inherited an additional estate and surname courtesy of his mother, Sarah Anne Allardice (1757-1833), who was an heiress.
The Market House, as it was initially called, was designed by Aberdonian architect Alexander Fraser (1791-1841) as a red granite structure with a central tower. This was augmented with a spire in 1856, which was constructed by an otherwise mysterious ‘Mr Davidson.’
The Celebrated Pedestrian
Robert Barclay Allardice was more usually known as ‘Captain Barclay’ thanks to his commission in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, although he also earned the unusual epithet ‘the Celebrated Pedestrian’ on account of his enthusiasm for pedestrianism, a 19th-century competitive sport that evolved into modern racewalking.
The particular occasion for which he was ‘celebrated’ occurred in 1809 and involved his walking 1000 miles in 1000 consecutive hours (by walking one mile at the start of each hour and then resting) as a wager for 1000 guineas (£1,050, equivalent to about £70k in today’s money).
Incidentally, while we’re discussing a Barclay and substantial sums of money, James Barclay (1708-1766), the first Barclay to become involved in what would later become Barclays Bank plc (est. 1690), was a descendant of the Barclays of Ury, being a grandson of Robert Barclay (1648-90), 2nd of Ury, who was Captain Barclay’s great-great grandfather.
Directly opposite the Market Building stood Stonehaven Town Hall (1878), which was fairly restrained and unremarkable as civic architecture goes.
By ‘they,’ I suppose I could mean the old burgh council or I could mean the architects James Matthews (1819-1898) and William Lawrie (1821-1887) who designed it for them. Their brief was not to create a working council chamber and/or suite of offices but rather to provide Stonehaven with a dedicated venue in which to host civic events. It’s still in use for that purpose today, so they succeeded admirably.
Next door to the Town hall were a couple of shops, above which were flats still emblazoned with the legend ‘Crown Hotel,’ though that establishment (built c. 1900) is long gone, having been converted into said flats about twenty years past. Next to that was an alley, Market Lane, which led me out onto the seafront, which faced onto Stonehaven Bay.
Indicated on the map above are the ruins of Ury House, though those ruins weren’t really his home. For one thing, he mostly lived in Oxfordshire and, for another, he sold it to the Bairds in 1854. In 1885, they tore the house down and built another, which is what still partly stands today.
It’s not clear if there was a concrete link between the Bairds of Ury and the earlier Bairds of Auchmedden but they definitely assumed that there was, even going so far as to purchase the Auchmedden Estate (which I passed through six walks previously). As such, they used the Baird boar as their arms, differenced by an engrailed division and counter-changed colours.
In keeping with my theme of the walk so far, I turned my back more-or-less towards the ruins of Ury House and walked away from them following a footpath south along the edge of Stonehaven Bay. This soon brought me to Carron Water, a river that rises in Fetteresso Forest half a dozen miles to the west of Stonehaven.
I crossed the stream by means of a footbridge and paused at the southern end of the bay to regard it spilling out over the sands and shingle of Stonehaven Beach.
Perched on a rock beside path, I found a wild dolphin likewise observing the bay.
This sculpture, installed in 2004, was created by the Scottish (but currently US-resident) sculptor Andy Scott, who specialises in welded steel artworks, often depicting animals. I’ve encountered his work before, for example, Ginger the Horse in Greenock and Rise in Glasgow, both encountered on the same walk and Fisher Jessie in Peterhead, although the latter statue was cast bronze.
The Andy Scott dolphin wasn’t alone beside the boardwalk (as such the path had become). There were also several sculptures of boats, a biplane and a lighthouse. These began to mysteriously appear from 2011 onwards, made and installed in secret by a then anonymous artist who was inevitably dubbed the ‘Stonehaven Banksy’ in comparison to the pseudonymous stencil graffiti artist.
In 2019, the artist eventually revealed himself as Jim Malcolm, a retired-seaman-turned-welder who was hardly self-aggrandising when he spoke to the BBC:
‘I'm nae an artist, nah, I'm just a guy that sticks metal together.’
One particular quirkily awesome detail that will be too small to discern in the photos, is that the boat crews are all stylised fish and the catch of the trawler is matchstick men.
Three of the sculptures have plaques attached. That on one boat (top left) wishes ‘the “twa Ians”’ a happy retirement from fishing in 2022. A second (top centre) references an 1865 murder aboard the schooner Nymph, while the biplane is identified as a specific Norwegian seaplane from WW2.
Nymph was a small schooner with a tiny crew of four – Captain John Greig, mate Andy Brown, tillerman John Pert and rigger Alexander Raeburnes – that set sail from Montrose bound for London in late 1865, laden with a cargo of timber. She had got as far as Lunan Bay when Greig, whose father owned the vessel, lay down for a snooze, leaving her in the hands of the other three men.
Unfortunately for Greig, what Andy Brown’s hands were actually full with was an axe, which he used to hack the captain’s head apart while he lay sleeping. The horrified Pert, probably fearing for his own survival, managed to wrestle the axe away from Brown and throw it overboard but Greig was well beyond saving.
Brown justified his actions as settling a grudge and tried (and failed) to persuade the other two to dispose of the body. Then, recognising that he would have to face the consequences, he convinced them to sail to Stonehaven, so he could he see his mother one last time before being arrested. The journey back into port took several tense hours.
Brown was subsequently arrested, tried and convicted. He was hanged in Montrose in January 1866.
Seaplane No. 346
Moving on from axes to Axis, with particular refence to escaping the latter powers, Seaplane No. 346 was an aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Navy. Piloted by Stein Abildso and also crewed by Olav Johansen and Johannas Storlid, it took part in operations after 08 Apr 1940, when Nazi Germany violated Norwegian neutrality. On 25 Apr, it got separated from its squadron and touched down briefly in Stonehaven before flying on to Helensburgh, where there was a Royal Navy base.
Norway continued to fight for another fifteen days before capitulating to the Germans on 10 Jun. Such military assets as had escaped went on to form the Free Norwegian Forces, based out of Britain, King Haakon VII having taken refuge in London
The seaplane was the penultimate sculpture on the boardwalk, followed by the lighthouse. On passing that, I found myself approaching Stonehaven Harbour.
A harbour was constructed in Stonehaven in 1607 and again in 1678, but both attempts were destroyed by subsequent storms.
In 1825, a Board of Commissioners was appointed, who spent £8,000 on its improvement (equivalent to about £620 k today), following a plan by Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), who mostly built lighthouses and so knew a thing or two about storm-proofing.
Facing onto the harbour was Stonehaven Tollbooth, the oldest surviving building in the town. It was erected circa 1600 on the orders of George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (c. 1553-1623), who needed a storehouse for use during his reconstruction of nearby Dunnottar Castle.
In 1600, the Sheriff of Kincardine – who seems to have actually been the Earl Marischal wearing a different hat – succeeded in persuading the Parliament of Scotland that Kincardine was too small and lacking in facilities to be the county town and that Stonehaven should replace it. An Act of Parliament was passed and the Sheriff’s Court took up residence in Stonehaven Tollbooth, which remained the County Buildings until a larger courthouse was constructed on another nearby site in 1767.
Today, the tollbooth serves as a local museum.
Steep Path Upwards
Stonehaven Harbour was something of a dead end insofar as edging along the shoreline went, as beyond it the terrain became rocks and cliffs and, if not careful, the sea. Fortunately, a path could be accessed behind some of the harbour-facing buildings, which climbed steeply to a road atop the cliffs. The path was concrete and provided with a handrail and, while I didn’t need the latter to help haul myself upwards, my legs definitely knew that I’d made an ascent by the time I had done it.
Upon attaining the top, I
collapsed like a jellyfish casually rested on a bench overlooking the harbour and regretted my choices admired the view.
I had been sitting for maybe three seconds when a cheerful voice bade me good morning and a woman walking a small dog approached. She observed, in case I had failed to notice, that the weather, the view and many things in general were all good. She enquired if I were walking to Dunnottar Castle, which I was, though I explained that I then planned to go quite a long way beyond it. She, for her part, was not sure where she was going as she liked to let the dog choose her path and it had yet to decide.
The dog, perhaps stung by this accusation of indecision, immediately made its mind up. It wanted to go down the path I had come up, taking its owner to the harbour via a knee-challenging descent.
Stonehaven War Memorial
My own route, I was happy to find, remained more or less level as it followed a footpath through fields, regaining the coast at Strathlethen Bay on the far side of Downie Point. At this point, I got my first glimpse of Dunnottar Castle in the distance but I knew there was a better vantage point to be had. Above the path, perched atop the 77 m high Black Hill, was Stonehaven War Memorial. The question was, did I want to leave the level path and divert up another short ascent?
Unveiled in 1923, this war memorial had its centenary this May. It was designed by local architect John Ellis (1874-1929), whose youngest brother – Gardner Ellis (1890-1915) – is amongst the 162 dead whom it names from WW1. In its position atop Black Hill, it can be seen from miles around. And can be seen from for miles, too, yielding that promised view.
Even if I’d wanted to ask a dog to direct me, there now wasn’t one to hand. And the only available alternative offered imprecise instructions:
Dunnottar Castle takes its name from the Gaelic Dùn Fhoithear (‘fort on the shelving slope’) and appears to be referenced by name (‘Dún Foither’) in the Annals of Ulster as the site of two sieges, in 681 and 694 respectively. Not that anything remains of such antiquity.
There was a castle on the site by the 13th century, which Sir William Wallace (c. 1270-1305) is said to have recaptured from the English in 1297. England wasn’t done with it however, and Edward III ordered Scottish ally William Sinclair, 8th Baron of Roslin (d. 1358) to occupy and refortify it in 1336 during the Second Scottish War of Independence (1332-1357). He made good progress but not good enough as Sir Andrew Murray (1298-1338), the Guardian of Scotland (i.e., regent) took and razed it later that same year.
David II (1324-1371), the young monarch for whom Murray had been regent, subsequently gave Dunnottar to his loyal supporter William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland (d. 1370) with a licence to crenellate (i.e. refortify) the structure.
Honours of Scotland
In 1359, it was given to the same William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, as had also gained Fetteresso Castle by marriage. His descendant, George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, would extensively rebuild the castle in the 17th century, constructing Stonehaven Tollbooth as a by-product of the project.
Amongst the Keiths’ responsibilities as hereditary Earl Marischal was the care and protection of the Honours of Scotland, the kingdom’s royal regalia. This became an unusually pressing concern in 1651, when Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) invaded Scotland in consequence of its recognition of Charles II (1630-1685) as King.
The Honours were removed to Dunnottar for safekeeping as Cromwellian troops were in Edinburgh. Cromwellian forces subsequently besieged Dunnottar, which surrendered in 1652 but not before the Honours had been cunningly smuggled out of the castle and buried beneath the floor of Kinneff Old Kirk!
Decline Into Ruin
Dunnottar Castle’s fortunes fell when George Keith (1693-1778), 10th Earl Marshal, supported the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and had to flee abroad when it failed. His estates were forfeited, sold and stripped and, though the Keiths subsequently succeeded in buying Dunnottar back, it slipped into disrepair. In 1925, it was purchased by industrialist Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray (1856-1927) – owner of the Pearson conglomerate – whose family still own the ruins today.
The arms of the castle’s ultimate owners, the Pearsons, are divided per fess indented, red above and gold below, bearing two suns and a demi-griffon respectively. Unlike those of the Keiths, Murrays and Sinclairs, these arms are not ancient, dating to 1894 when Pearson was made a baronet. He was later ennobled as a baron in 1910 and created a viscount in 1917. But I guess 129 years old isn’t exactly ‘new’ either.
My OS map was firmly of the opinion that the footpath that I had been following ended near Dunnottar Castle, with the expectation that I should instead turn inland up a track to the farmstead of Dunnottar Mains. But when I got to the castle, the path appeared to continue and I decided to find out the hard way if that appearance was in any way reflected in reality.
Old Hall Bay
The path started well, crossing the Burn of Halmyres on a footbridge and taking up a position at the top end of Old Hall Bay that allowed me to take the south side photo of the castle. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the good quality path went, existing purely to enable that particular vista. Thereafter the path closed in, becoming narrow, precarious and overgrown such that only a blithering fool would have persevered with it.
As I followed the path around Old Hall Bay, I found it narrowly sandwiched between the barbed wire of farm field boundaries and the sea and sufficiently deep in long grass that it meant that I had to pay careful attention about exactly how I placed my feet. This made for some fairly slow going but the path was keen that I recognise my progress and quickly graduated to being knee-deep in nettles, so that I could properly appreciate every single step I took.
The coast line was particularly convoluted directly south of Old Hall Bay, comprising three coastal landforms that the OS Name Book (used in compiling the 1st ed) described using terms like ‘bold promontory’ and ‘steep ridge.’ These were Dunnimaol, Maiden Kaim and Strabandra Knap, which I passed in not-so-quick succession.
The path, unnecessarily dramatic and difficult as it was being, had at least the grace to shun going out to the tip of these terrifying precipices but instead cut across them, for which I was grateful. Well, relatively.
The path was not so much being kind, however, as luring me into a false sense of security…
As it rounded Tremuda Bay, the path encountered a sudden steep gully, all out of proportion to the tiny and unnamed burn – or rather drainage ditch – that dampened its bottom. The path skittered unsteadily down one side and then seemed at first to disappear. There was a corresponding path up the far side , it turned out, but this was steep, precarious and hard to discern amongst all the vegetation. My patience was starting to run short by the time I climbed my way back out of it.
The waterfall was the end of another minor burn, again unnamed on my OS map. This issued from the farmstead of Gallaton, which I guess made it Gallaton Burn.
Sadly, I never actually made it to the burn as the path was blocked just before it by an impenetrable gorse thicket. Or, at least, sufficiently dense that I wasn’t going to push through it in a t-shirt and shorts, and especially not when every inch of my exposed legs was nettle-stung and therefore extra-sensitive to say, gorse prickles.
Going around the seaward side of the gorse was impossible without emulating the burn in its headlong plummet off the cliffs. This would certainly have been exciting but not particularly helpful. Going around the landward side was prevented by a barbed wire fence but this had been trampled down a short distance before the gorse, probably by others similarly disinclined to go through the middle of the thicket. I decided to bow to their wisdom and backtracked to where the fence was down, at which point I promptly tripped over it, scratching up my shin a treat and drawing blood.
At this point, my patience had entirely run out – or possibly limped off – and I came to the conclusion that I had blithered more than enough idiocy already. I chose to go around the gorse thicket by a very wide margin, by which I mean that I headed straight across the field and joined the nearby road instead. The possible delights of Thorneyhive Bay would just have to remain an undiscovered mystery, I was exploring the A92 instead!
Just south of the turning for the farmstead of Uras, I came to a curve in the road where it had been realigned. The modern A road curved smoothly to the west of a linear spinney, while the old road could be seen on its east.
The A92 wasn’t particularly busy, but an old road alignment is always tempting. This one, however, ended with a fence cutting it off from re-joining the road. I could have hopped over it, probably, but given that I had already been outsmarted by one trampled to ground level, I chose discretion and backtracked, re-joining the A-road at the curve’s start.
As quiet (for an A-road) as the A92 was, I was more than happy to turn off it at the next junction, taking a route signposted for Crawton, a tiny former fishing hamlet, to which the coast path would have taken me, had it not proven impassable.
This minor road ran alongside Crawton Burn (which had been culverted under the A-road) and past a couple of wooded hillocks, named on the map as Uras Knaps. Crawton being a dead end, I decided that I didn’t need to see it, so I turned off this road too at the first opportunity, which took me past Cowieswells farm.
I was now aiming for Catterline, a former fishing village only slightly larger than Crawton.
Kineff & Catterline
Cotbank of Hilton
The road continued to be minor country lane as I headed south upon it, with such development as there was being off it on side-roads. An example of this would be the handful of cottages and larger farmhouse that comprised Cotbank of Hilton.
When the OS 1st ed was being compiled, there was only the farmhouse – a ‘good’ one ‘with offices, yard, garden &c. attached,’ according to the Name Book, but it had gained the first of the cottages by the 2nd ed. Of course, if the farmhouse is all that there originally was on the site , then it too must have been a mere cottage at some point, given that the name of it is ‘Cotbank of Hilton.’
Both farmhouse and cottages were laid out along what had once been purely the farm access road, which was a dead end, so I merely walked past the end of it and kept going…
Less impressive in 1863, when the Name Book was compiled, was the farmhouse of Cloak, which it described as ‘ordinary’ rather than ‘good.’ Today, it has found a cunning way in which to make itself look better by comparison, by filling the fields beside it with static caravans, compared to which it is a palace.
The caravans comprise Cloak Caravan Park and are advertised online as being just a short walk from the popular Creel Inn. This sounded good to me, as I vaguely hoped to find lunch there.
St Philip’s is not particularly remarkable; it was built in 1848 by Montrose-based architect Charles Brand (1805-1885) and served the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is Scotland’s branch of the Anglican Communion. Today it serves as Catterline Community Church, a multi-denominational congregation that has come together in consequence of dwindling church-going numbers.
The building behind it with the prominent Georgian windows is Catterline’s old schoolhouse, which was built at about the same time as the church but designed by a different architect, namely John Henderson (1804-1862). Henderson also build the manse for the church.
Interestingly, Charles Brand’s brand, as it were, is still going today, his practice surviving as a subsidiary of the construction company Lagan Group (est. 1960).
According to its website, the Creel Inn is simultaneously ‘Catterline’s top seafood restaurant’ and ‘the nearest restaurant for 10 miles around,’ which is a bit of a mixed message – of course you’re the best if you’re the only one. You’re also the worst in that case!
It does seem to have a pretty good reputation for its food, though, which makes it all the more galling that I had arrived way too early for it to be open yet. My options were basically to not have lunch there, after all, or else to hang around for the best part of an hour waiting for the inn to open.
I’ve found conflicting accounts of when Catterline’s harbour pier was built, with some saying 1810 and others saying circa 1835. Either might potentially be mistaken but the most likely explanation by far for this discrepancy is that both are correct, with some catastrophic storm damage occurring somewhere in between.
At the bottom, I sat and contemplated my dilemma: should I wait for the Creel Inn to open, or should I simply press on? To fuel my thoughts, while I pondered this conundrum, I devoured that sandwich I was carrying, after which I didn’t really need the inn for lunch.
While my sandwich rendered the inn unnecessary, I feasted my eyes on the sight of Todhead Lighthouse, which perched on Todhead Point about three quarters of a mile further south. I knew that it lay at the end of a dead-end turning that I was probably not going to bother taking, but I started to wonder if I could get to it by making my way along the shingly beach?
Glancing up, I saw that I now had company, in the form of a local man come to likewise sit by the pier, so I asked if the beach would be the viable route that I hoped? It would not, I was told to my great disappointment. Oh, it would look like it was going to but then it would turn into rocks to be clambered over and then they would end at the inlet of Reath Cove, arresting my progress. And then I’d have to come back. Or, if I’d timed the tide really badly, I could drown.
I decided against drowning; it would have curtailed my walk and I hate that.
Feeling fed, rested and (importantly) undrowned, I powered my way back up the winding road and past the still-closed Creel Inn. My immediate destination was Catterline Bridge, which would carry me over Catterline Burn and permit me to continue south along the road. The OS Name Book had only this to say of it:
‘A county bridge over the Catterline Burn near Catterline.’
The ‘county bridge’ terminology is specific, indicating that this small stone bridge was part of an established ‘county road’ with a trust established for its maintenance. These were established by an Act of Parliament of 1878 but road-building really took off in the early 1800s, when a second act enabled road-builders to get some of their costs met by the government. Accordingly, Catterline Bridge could date from either the late 18th or early 19th centuries.
NCN Route 1
In addition to being useful to me, Catterline Bridge formed part of National Cycle Network Route 1, which had joined my road south from Mill of Uras, a little way north of Cotbank of Hilton, and which I would now be following south to Inverbervie and beyond.
In reasonably quick succession – my brief rest and sandwich consumption had done my pace a power of good – I passed by the farms of Mains of Catterline and Harvieston and the cottages of Braidon and Bellfield before crossing the Glasslin Burn, which was culverted under the road. Despite it being an NCN route, I saw barely a bicycle and I’m pleased to say there were even fewer cars – the latter were all on the A92, about a quarter mile west of me – leaving its predecessor clear for me to stroll down, untroubled by traffic.
I had just passed the farmstead of Fernieflatt when I became aware that the roadside verge was unexpectedly attempting to communicate:
The flowery verge is the work of Geordie Mair, who lives in one of Fernieflatt’s West Cottages and also grows vegetables in addition to his floral verge. There wasn’t a sign asking people not to pick those, but I imagine that goes without saying.
I didn’t pick the flowers; that type of roadside vandalism needs to be curbed.
Todhead Lighthouse Turning
A little further on, I came to the turning for Todhead Lighthouse, which was a mile away according to a sign at the junction. The lighthouse was built in 1897, designed by David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938), cousin to the author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) of Treasure Island fame (most of the Stevensons were lighthouse engineers; Robert was very much the odd one out).
Electrified in 1978 and automated in 1986, Todhead Lighthouse was decommissioned in 2007 and is now in private hands. As such, I wasn’t going to get to see any more of than I already had, only the same thing but closer. As I had earlier foreseen, I quickly decided that this wasn’t worth the two-mile there-and-back detour and so I continued on my way…
Adam’s & Whistleberry Castles
Some other things that I totally failed to detour to see were the sad remains of Adam’s and Whistleberry Castles. Of the latter just one small piece of jutting wall visibly survives, whereas nothing at all can be seen of the former. This alone might not have been enough to deter me, but I also could find no history for either.
They probably belonged to the Keiths, because everything did around there, and Whistleberry was a private dwelling before falling into utter ruin, but otherwise history seems to have completely passed them by.
Kinneff Old Kirk
The next dead-end turning offered somewhere neither ignored by history, nor avoided by me, namely Kinneff Old Kirk. It was here, you may recall, that the Honours of Scotland were concealed, after being smuggled out of Dunnottar Castle.
I sat and rested on a bench in the Old Kirk graveyard for all of about thirty seconds. That was about as long as it took for a horde of Aberdeenshire Council workmen to show up armed with mowers and strimmers and set about cutting the grass. I’m not in any way complaining that the local council looks after the graveyard properly, I mean, that’s great. But it wasn’t exactly restful to have a noise like the Devil’s own hornets assailing me at once from all directions.
As I could tell from the lack of angry zombies, it was clearly not quite enough noise to raise the dead. It certainly roused me, though, and spurred me to move on.
After leaving the Old Kirk, I quickly began to run out of old county road.
It conveyed me past the farmstead of Crowhillock, followed by Grange of Kinneff and Grange Cottages, before coming to an end in a junction with the A92. I suppose what this really means is that the A92 took over its alignment, but the result was much the same – the minor road I had been on ended and I was thrust back onto the A-road, which had got a lot busier since I saw it last.
The cycle route likewise joined the A-road and, had there actually been cyclists, they might have had an exciting time of it. I, at least, had a broad grass verge that I could walk on to avoid my vehicular demise.
Inverbervie & Gourdon
Old Bervie Bridge
As I made my way along the A-road, hopping between the asphalt (for speed) and grass verge (for safety) according to the closeness of oncoming cars, I started to see the town of Inverbervie up ahead. This settlement was sited on the far side of Bervie Water and, as I got closer, I found that it offered me a choice of two bridges to cross by:
I wasn’t actually paralysed by indecision whatsoever.
While the 1935 Jubilee Bridge seen in the background above was doubtless a fine bridge – it was George V’s Silver Jubilee that it was named for – the 1799 Old Bervie Bridge was quite a bit older, and I’m usually a sucker for an old bridge. I let the A92 do its thing on the newer bridge, while I crossed Bervie Water on the older. And thusly, I entered Inverbervie.
There was actually a remnant of an even older bridge below it – a stub of central pier from Bervie Bridge’s 1696 predecessor – but that was reduced to more of an unhelpfully singular stepping stone than any semblance of a bridge.
Hercules Linton Memorial
Once across Bervie Water, I let a short street called Cowgate return me to the A92, which now doubled as King Street, which was clearly the high street. Where Cowgate and King Street met, I found a bench undisturbed by the cacophonous susurration of council grass-cutters, but instead overlooked by a witch.
The specific witch was Nannie Dee, antagonist of the 1791 poem Tam o’ Shanter by Robert Burns (1759-1796). In the poem, she chases Tam, who has spied upon her coven, and she tears the tail from his horse while trying to catch him. Her clothing, during this encounter, was a ‘cutty sark’ or short chemise, which brings us to the point of why she can be found in Inverbervie.
Nannie was the rather obvious choice for the figurehead of Cutty Sark, a tea clipper launched in 1869 and named after her. The clipper was designed by shipbuilder Hercules Linton (1837-1900), who was not only born in Inverbervie but who also died there in the same house. He is commemorated by a replica of the figurehead.
Nannie Dee Figurehead
Linton’s memorial in Inverbervie is a Nannie figurehead allegedly based on his original design sketch, but the artist is frustratingly anonymous. It was unveiled in 1997 and replaced an earlier 1969 memorial which is actually really fitting…
The thing about tea clippers is that they were the fastest cargo ships of their day, designed to get the tea to market as fast as possible but not at all designed to last. The typical working life of such a clipper was about 25 years, so it’s pretty much a miracle that Cutty Sark is still with us, albeit in a dry dock in Greenwich in London.
Wooden figureheads don’t generally last 157 years either, or at least not unscathed, so the clipper’s original figurehead, which was carved by Frederick Hellyer (1822-1906) and also based on Linton’s design sketch, has long since decayed and been replaced many times. Her latest iteration, by Andy Peters – who is probably Britain’s only remaining full-time figurehead carver – was installed in 2021 and, like the others discussed, based on Linton’s sketch.
Inverbervie (Inbhir Biorbhaigh) dates back to at least the 12th century and probably a lot longer as the earliest forms of its name begin with Brythonic aber rather than Gaelic inbhir (both meaning ‘river mouth’) and the Gaels spread east into Scotland from Ireland between the 5th and 10th centuries.
Inverbervie was made a Royal burgh in 1342 by David II and gained a castle – Hallgreen Castle – in 1376. It used to have a harbour (which was improved by Thomas Telford in 1819) but shingle deposition at the river mouth had rendered that unusable by 1830. Arguably its greatest attraction today, to go by online opinions, is a fish and chip restaurant close to the Linton memorial: The Bervie Chipper won an award in 1997 and is apparently still basking in that glory. Not that I would know, though; chippies aren’t typically open at the sort of time I ambled through the town.
Montrose & Bervie Railway
At Bervie Church, NCN Route 1 peeled off from the A92 and headed down a side-street called Kirkburn. Naturally, I followed suit, keen to find out where it was sneaking off to. The answer was the pebbly shore of Bervie Bay and the start of a lengthy coastal cycle path of suspiciously little gradient.
The path was, of course, a disused former railway line, in this case the Montrose & Bervie Railway (M&BR), which was opened in 1865 and closed to passengers in 1951, long before the Beeching Axe. It was Dr Richard Beeching (1913-1985) who did for its last goods trains, though, with complete closure in 1966. The tracks and station building are long gone.
In theory, the line passed in front of Hallgreen Castle but in practice the castle was completely screened by that wall of trees in the ‘goods yard’ photo, so for me it was more like ‘wallgreen.’
The original 1376 castle was built by the Dunnets and would later be incorporated into a 16th-century tower house constructed by the Raits. The latter arrived in the area after Sir Alexander de Rait, who had previously lived in Rait Castle near Nairn, murdered the Thane of Cawdor circa 1405 and was forced to flee south to the protection of the Keiths.
In 1425, Sir Alexander’s son Mark Rait married the Dunnets’ heiress and so acquired Hallgreen castle. His descendants would then own it for a further ten generations until 1724 when Isobel (née Douglas), the widow of bankrupt William Rait (1674-c. 1717), was forced to sell it to creditors. The castle subsequently passed through various owners, including the Farquhars, who will crop up again shortly.
The arms of the Raits of Hallgreen were a black engrailed cross upon a gold field. Any similarity to the Sinclair arms (a black engrailed cross upon a silver field) appears to be coincidental and the difference in field colour is more than sufficient to distinguish them as separate arms.
Horse Crook Bay
As is usually the case with foot and cycle paths upon former railway alignments, the going was easy south of Inverbervie. The path was clear and there was no discernible gradient as I made my way along the edge of Bervie Bay and then Horse Crook Bay beyond it.
Almost before I knew it, I could see houses ahead and suddenly the path deposited me onto the streets of Gourdon, a small coastal fishing village. The track bed of the M&BR had long since turned into Queen Street with numerous houses along it and no hint of the old station but NCN Route 1 didn’t want to go that way, instead veering off via a side street to take a different route to Gourdon’s harbour.
The harbour was built in 1820 for James Farquhar (1764-1833) of Hallgreen Castle to a design by Thomas Telford (1757-1834). It was then enlarged and improved in 1842 as Telford’s harbour could only berth eight boats, but Gourdon’s fishing fleet ballooned to 27. A breakwater was added in 1859, which was later enhanced by new east and west breakwaters, constructed in 1958 and 1970, respectively.
The village’s fleet has long since contracted now but one of its two basins still serves as home port to a small number of trawlers, while the other serves leisure craft, meaning it’s not quite dead yet.
In front of the harbour, from a landward perspective, stands the Farquhar Memorial, erected in 1871 by another James Farquhar (1805-1875) of Hallgreen Castle – he was the nephew of the harbour-building one and had inherited the estate.
The sad occasion requiring memorialisation was the death of his fourth son, Lt William Farquhar RN (1841-1864), along with 98 of his shipmates, when HMS Racehorse was wrecked in the Yellow Sea off the coast of Shandong. The circumstances of the sinking were a mixture of misjudgement and misfortune:
Firstly, Racehorse struck a rock in clear seas and good weather – a subsequent court martial admonished her captain, Cdr Charles Boxer RN (1784-1855), who had survived, for making insufficient allowance for the current – but then a sudden gale blew in and swamped both the wreck and the ship’s boats trying to re-float her, drowning almost a hundred men.
Bereavement begets Barometry
The granite memorial erected by James not only bore inscriptions, family arms and engravings as one might expect, but also a supremely practical element in the form of a barometer, providing valuable meteorological data to Gourdon’s fishermen and other seafarers. So, not only did it commemorate the needless death of his son in a terrible shipwreck, but it also actively helped other seaman prevent their own similar demises!
The coat of arms depicted on the memorial is quite hard to make out but it shows the arms of Farquhar (a black lion on silver between three red left hands) impaled with those of Sladen (a gold horse’s head between three crescents on a blue and silver barry field). Anne Sladen (1806-1862) was James’s first wife and William’s mother.
Old Coast Road
While the Farquhar Memorial barometer wasn’t quite warning me of any storms, it was pretty much in agreement with the now-clouded skies that some amount of rain was on the way. Time then, to cover some more distance and to get as far as I could while the going was still dry…
Interestingly, the cycle path wasn’t following the railway alignment here but was running alongside it on what had been the old coast road before the likes of the A92 had been built (it was shown on Roy’s map circa 1750). The railway alignment was still visible as a low, linear embankment running through adjacent fields. The cycle path, meanwhile, had become an unsurfaced but still quite serviceable track.
Benholm & Johnshaven
Haughs of Benholm
For the most part, such farms as I passed, like Nether Knox, were either on the inland road that had been built later (probably in the early 1800s) and which was now the A92 or, like Middle Knox or Tillygrain, were on the next road in from that, which Roy had shown as the main road route in his day (the coast road being a more minor one).
The one exception, for obvious reasons, was a row of fisherman’s cottages called Haughs of Benholm. A ‘haugh’ is a piece of flat land, usually flood plain, near a river. The river in question in this case was the Burn of Benholm, which I would be crossing imminently.
Haughs of Benholm was the scene of a shipwreck in 1878, when the schooner Gem, which was carrying coal from South Shields to Wick, ran aground on the rocks there.
Unlike Cdr Boxer, Her master – W Cormack – at least had the excuse that the shipwreck had occurred in thick fog. Unfortunately, the results were still fatal; two of her six crew were drowned as the vessel was swamped.
Spanning the Burn of Benholm was a twin-arched stone bridge that suggested a greater prior substantiality to both the flow of the burn and the importance this old coast road once had. This was Bard’s Bridge, taking its name from nearby Point o’ Bard.
Bard’s Bridge does not appear to be listed, and I could learn very little about it. It is presumably of a similar age to its counterparts upstream – Old Benholm Bridge (1774) and Birnie Bridge (1729). It was partly rebuilt in 1987, following damage by storm flooding, which raises the whole ‘Ship of Theseus’ issue as to whether it’s technically still the old bridge or not. And if it is, can it be repaired infinitely?
Continuing south along the cycle path, I soon passed by the grounds of Brotherton Castle (again, screened from sight by trees). The castle is not very old, as castles go, having been built for Hercules James Scott (1823-1897) as a baronial mansion in 1867, replacing a previous structure.
The Scotts had owned the estate for a couple of centuries at this point but their ownership was to ended with Hercules’ daughter Anna Katherine Scott (1868-1948). After her death, it passed to a niece who promptly sold it to Charles Alexander.
Charles had a son who was a pupil at Lathallan School near Fife (est. 1930) and, after a disastrous fire at the school in 1949, he rented the castle to it as a replacement site. This proved a successful arrangement and he sold it to the school the following year. Lathallan School has remained there to this day.
Johnshaven is a coastal village whose economy was historically based on fishing and flax and was already a sizeable fishing village when the railway arrived in 1865. That, and the construction of a proper harbour pier in 1871, then helped spur its further growth and development. Construction of council housing expanded the village in 1927 and 1932 but the latter half of the 20th century brought swift decline. The closure of the railway doubtless had a chilling effect on top of the fishing industry collapse that was in progress nationwide.
Apparently, rocks at the mouth of Johnshaven harbour make it a dangerous passage in bad conditions. That sounds to me like missing the point of a harbour, which is to provide a safe haven, whether John’s or otherwise. This one sounds like a bit of a mad gamble – if you make it inside then you’re safe! And, if not, you’re sunk!
Despite the rocks, a small number of boats still stubbornly base themselves out of the harbour, so Johnshaven’s fishing industry is still clinging on by its fingernails!
The M&BR had swung inland while heading south from Johnshaven, not that I could have followed its alignment anyway as that was mostly overgrown or ploughed under. The cycle route dealt with this by simply re-joining the A92, but that was not a solution that I was willing to embrace.
Roy’s 1750 coastal road had continued south along the shoreline and my OS map suggested that such a path still existed as least as far as Seagreens Cottage. I was quietly hoping that it would continue further than that, if it hadn’t fallen into the sea in the last 270-odd years. The path in question began as a road called West Street…
West Street started well as the metalled road shown above. It quickly lost its tarmac surface but continued as a serviceable macadam roadway as far as the former farmstead of The Narrows. Thereafter, it diminished to a grassy track. This was still quite easily walkable but I found myself hoping it wouldn’t keep deteriorating in quality at the rate it seemed to have established!
East Mathers Lime Kilns
As if to show me that it wouldn’t be bossed about by a mere mammal, the path promptly downgraded again to become a narrower footpath but I was expecting that, because the change from track to path was indicated on my OS map. What wasn’t indicated, because the OS stopped labelling it from the 2nd ed onwards, was this. Or rather these:
Lime kilns, used to convert (or calcine) limestone to quicklime (calcium oxide) for various industrial uses, typically took a whole week to cycle through loading, firing, cooling and unloading, so even if I had manifested the super-strength required to carry a whole kiln’s worth of limestone, I’d have had to schedule a bit of a delay while the process worked through.
Looking at these particular kilns, they seem to have suffered a bit of wear and tear since their construction in the early 1790s. It looks like they could do with their brickwork repairing, which is a little ironic as being an ingredient in mortar is one of the many applications to which quicklime can be put.
Home Guard Lookout
Probably not entirely unconnected to their current state of disrepair is the fact that these particular lime kilns were converted for use as a lookout by the Home Guard during WW2.
The path came to what my map said was its end at Seagreens Cottage, where it joined the end of the road to that cottage. However, I was pleased to see very definite signs on the ground that the footpath continued, stretching around a small bay to Miltonhaven Seaside Caravan Park, next door to Milton of Mathers.
Mill of Mathers
The caravan park occupies the site of the old Mill of Mathers, whose buildings can still be found tucked behind the static caravans. This was a water mill, powered by Lauriston Burn.
The existence of the caravan park and its need to cater for its visitors was doubtless to thank for the substantial iron-railed concrete footbridge that conveyed me across the broader Finella Burn. On the far side of the caravans, I crossed over Lauriston Burn via a second, smaller footbridge before continuing on what was still a definite and walkable path towards Tangleha’ Cottages.
While today ‘Miltonhaven’ lives on as the name of a caravan park, there was once a substantial village of that name upon the shoreline. As the fishing industry boomed, it grew to be one of the largest and busiest villages in the district, that growth being boosted in 1750 when Robert Scott of Dunninald (1705-1780), a former MP for Forfarshire, opened a limestone quarry there, with a lime kiln at Milton of Mathers.
Unfortunately for the future existence of the village, the mass of limestone that Scott was blasting, quarrying and calcining was the natural breakwater that protected Miltonhaven from the full wrath of the sea. Its industry helped double the village in size as newcomers flocked in for work but also pretty much doomed it.
Storm of 1792
In 1792, a massive storm swept away part of the village. In the aftermath, a sea wall was built and quarrying resumed, with new lime kilns built near East Mathers (the ones I passed earlier). But Miltonhaven never recovered and, over time, further encroachments swallowed the rest of it. The quarry closed for good in 1836 and the village disappeared from the maps not long thereafter.
Roy’s map of circa 1750, when the quarry opened, does not show Miltonhaven at all, while Aaron Arrowsmith’s map of 1807 shows ‘Millton of Mathers’ as a place. By time the 1st ed OS map for the area was published in 1865, most of Miltonhaven had been swallowed by the sea with just a few cottages left standing right on the shoreline.
A little further on, overlooking the promontory of Milton Ness, I came to Tangleha’ Cottages. This little terraced row was built to house some of those displaced from Miltonhaven but it never realised the hope that it would grow into a proper village; instead it was nearby St Cyrus that absorbed the incomers and grew in both size and prosperity.
Tangleha’ was another opportunity to join the road but I was happy to keep pressing along the coast. I had passed a couple of footpath signs that seemed to indicate that the path would keep going to St Cyrus and I was keen to find out if that were true.
There wasn’t much in the way of an actual path as I headed away from the cottages, but that hardly mattered because I was offered a broad swathe of grass above Milton Ness upon which to walk. This seemed like pretty good going, I thought. Oh, more fool I!
As I rounded Milton Ness into Montrose Bay, the path began to climb. Admittedly, it wasn’t doing this for the fun of it – the land was rising up from the flat shore at Milton Ness to form a coastal slope that would be 100 m high by the time I got around to St Cyrus.
While it climbed, the path became narrow, precipitous and, once again, knee-deep in vegetation. The long grass was a little alarming, with its constant threat of tripping me headlong over the cliff, but that was okay because grass was only half the vegetation in my way. The other half was sort-of trying to be helpful.
Rock Hall Fishing Station
As the path climbed higher towards Rock Hall Fishing Station (now a B&B), it became increasingly precarious until I was fairly sure it had long since fallen over the edge and I was now just picking my way between fenceposts. I was not at all surprised when I encountered a sign warning me that the section of path that had once passed between the building and cliff was closed due to erosion. Indeed, I had already made up my mind by that point to walk in the adjoining field instead.
It took me a moment to find the exit from the field, which was further inland than expected, but once I had, I weighed up my options: I could either go by road or I could risk some more of this footpath, which resumed on the far side of the fishing station’s access road.
Well, I thought, I can’t get any more nettle-stung than ‘completely.’
Kaim of Mathers
The path continued to be interestingly precarious, but not quite so insanely dangerous as the stretch between Milton Ness and Rock Hall. It still required a lot of attention as to where – or, more accurately, in which clump of nettles – I placed my feet. As a result, I totally failed to look out for the ruins of Kaim of Mathers Castle, which were perched even more precariously than was I.
Not much more than a stub of ruined tower remains of this 15th-century castle, which was supposedly built by David Barclay, 4th laird of Mathers (d.1448), to protect him from the wrath of James I (1394-1437). As for why James was wrathful? David and various others including his brothers and son, George Barclay (d1458), had murdered the sheriff, Sir John Melville of Glenbervie (d. 1420), and then boiled him, making him into soup. I mean, I can see how that might make a King tetchy; it’s more than a tad disrespectful.
The arms of Barclay of Mathers look a lot like those of Barclay of Ury, which isn’t surprising as the Ury Barclays were a cadet branch of the Mathers ones. Barclay of Mathers used this ‘crosses in chief’ arrangement with a silver chevron and their Ury offshoots changed their chevron to ermine.
Shortly after Kaim of Mathers, the path turned inland at the edge of a gulley, before becoming wooded and descending rapidly to an arched stone bridge over Woodston Burn. Directly across the bridge I found a sign telling me that the path onwards was closed for my safety. This enraged me at the time.
It did not enrage me, I hasten to add, because they had dared close a footpath; that happens all the time. It enraged me because it seemed like such a spectacularly stupid place to put the sign. It was in a place where I could only possibly have got to it by already walking a third of a mile of cliff path from Rock Hall. Why not put the sign there, so that I wouldn’t have done that? Now, if I were to take heed of it, I would need to backtrack that same third a mile and then make my way onto the A92.
Later, I realised that the burn was the boundary of the St Cyrus National Nature Reserve and they had erected it right on the edge of their land, because that’s the bit of path they had the authority to close. Putting a sign at the access to the path would involve liaising with the local council, though I wouldn’t have thought that was that hard.
Regardless of the stupidity or otherwise of the sign, I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to backtrack. I’m much happier with the sea on my left and I certainly didn’t fancy the A-road, even in comparison to the Total Nettle Experience I had been getting. My sentiments were, I decided, fully in agreement with whoever, having come here before me, had graffitied quotation marks onto ‘closed.’
The closed path was neither scarier nor particularly more dangerous than the not closed path. Which is to say, I stumbled through the knee-high nettles in a state akin to abject terror, but that’s because I have terrible balance and no head for heights – it was always going to scare me.
I stumbled off the path at Woodston Fishery, past a sensibly-sited sign closing the path to anyone going the other way, and wondered what the fuss had been about.
Much like its counterpart at Rock Hall along the coast, the old fishing station at Woodston is now a B&B, although I think it had only just become one, opening the previous month.
In 1863, when the relevant OS Name Book was compiled, they had had this to say about it:
‘A cottage dwelling with some offices, and fish house attached, Situated on the edge of the Heughs of St Cyrus tenanted by fishermen, and forming part of the estate of Woodston.’
So, what are the Heughs of St Cyrus, you might reasonably ask? The Name Book was ready with the answer:
‘A considerable range of precipitous cliffs situated between the village of St Cyrus and the sea coast.’
Sands of St Cyrus
I was just about done with precipitous cliffs at this point, and familiar enough with the tingly caress of the stinging nettle that I reckoned myself an expert and needed no more practice on that score. In addition to the options of cliff path and road, Woodston Fishery also offered a steep path zig-zagging down to the beach below and I took it eagerly.
I didn’t care about the rain, which was light anyway. I joyfully walked along the beach for a bit, before switching to a sandy track near the foot of the aforementioned Heughs.
As I followed the track through the low dunes at the foot of the Heughs, I started to pass small, stone fishing bothies. These appeared on the OS maps in the 2nd ed, having not been shown in the 1st. I was happy to see them now, as it meant I was literally on the right track and I knew that I would soon reach my next landmark…
Nestling between the Heughs and the low dunes that back the beach, St Cyrus Nether Churchyard was the site of the village’s mediaeval church of Ecclesgreig (Ecclesia Cyrici – St Cyric’s Church). This may have dated back as far as the 9th century but was definitely in place by 1178 and remained in use until 1632, when a successor was built at the top of the cliffs.
The cemetery continued to be used for a long time after, still being in use when the OS Name Book was compiled in 1864. The church’s remains were still visible as late as 1875 but there is no visible sign of them now.
As I continued along the track it became ever more road-like until it passed by St Cyrus’s Old Fishing Station – in keeping with the running theme, now a B&B – and spat me out onto the road beside the reserve’s car park and visitor centre.
Since I could, I sat there for a bit, being gently rained on, and took a rest.
In the course of this, I entered into a text conversation with a friend of mine about, amongst other things, the abundance of nettles and the extreme unlikelihood that I would now reach Montrose before dark. The latter was a good realisation in a way because, if I’d had any chance of racing the sunset, I’d have felt compelled to try. But having accepted that was hopeless, I now could just go steadily and rely on my torch of eye-melting brightness to guide me at the end.
I set off westward along a country road that was also NCN Route 1, the cycle route having parted company from the A92 in St Cyrus, then come to find me. This conveyed me past the farmstead of Nether Warburton and then Nether Warburton Cottages, where boundary weirdness happened on the early OS maps.
Today, the boundary between Angus and Aberdeenshire is sensibly the River North Esk. Well, near the coast at least. Prior to 1974, the boundary between Angus and Kincardineshire (which is now part of Aberdeenshire) was sort of mostly the North Esk except for where it suddenly lunged north or south because it felt like it. At this particular point, it ran just south of Nether Warburton Cottages, jumped over the road to grab Waterside Cottage, and then ran straight down the road as if fleeing for the safety of the river.
Sick Man’s Shade
As if the old boundaries weren’t weird enough, a field behind Waterside Cottage rejoiced in the name Sick Man’s Shade. A quantity of prehistoric human bones were unearthed there when ‘when the road was made and the small bridge built near Pathhead,’ or so John Stevens of Commieston told the OS Name Book compilers.
North Water Viaduct
I knew I was reaching the end of this particular road when I passed Eskview Farm and saw the North Water Viaduct looming overhead. This was built to carry the M&BR and so opened in 1865. Closed in 1966 and refurbished in in 1996, it now carries NCN Route 1 across the river.
Accessing the viaduct involved first going under it and then, just before the road I was on terminated at the A92, ascending a steepish cycle path to reach the top of it. With almost perfect timing, the sun set while I was up there, meaning I had maybe twenty minutes of useful twilight left.
Lower North Water Bridge
From the North Water Viaduct, I had an excellent view of its older sibling, the Lower North Water Bridge, built to carry the new county road in 1775. Its pleasing arches are the work of a trio comprising successful architect John Adam (1721-1792), renowned civil engineer John Smeaton (1724-1792) and an otherwise obscure local stonemasonry contractor, Andrew Barrie of Montrose.
On the south bank of the North Esk, the cycle path surprised me by dropping back off the railway alignment and running alongside the A92 instead.
The reason became apparent moments later however, in the form of a side-road to Kinnaber and associated farmsteads which must have once had a low bridge across it. Either because it was cheaper than replacing the bridge, or because a low bridge would no longer suffice, they had simply skipped that bit and crossed the road on the level.
Kinnaber was a 17th-century mansion incorporating the remains of an earlier building. It was one of the holdings of the Graham Earls of Montrose.
The arms of the Graham Earls of Montrose quartered their family arms of Graham of Montrose – three gold scallops on a black chief over a gold field – with three red roses on silver. The latter were arms of augmentation representing their Earldom of Montrose. The Grahams of Montrose were a cadet branch of the Grahams of Dalkeith, whose arms had used the same chief and gold scallops but with a silver field underneath.
NCN Route 1 re-joined the railway alignment in Kinnaber Woods and followed it down to Montrose Waste Water Treatment Works, beyond which the old alignment had basically been obliterated by development. With daylight now failing, I followed the works’ access road and a short section of cycle path until suddenly I joined a surprisingly broad asphalt surface. I knew a disused airfield when I saw one; this could only be the former RAF Montrose!
I was sorely tempted to stick my arms out and run around making aeroplane noises as if I were six. Sadly, the twilight had now failed and I needed one hand to hold my torch.
Opened in 1913, RAF Montrose was the UK’s first operational military aerodrome although obviously it wasn’t an RAF station then, five years before the formation of the Royal Air Force. Rather it was an air station of the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC), though it became RAF in 1918 when the RFC was absorbed into the new armed service. It closed in 1920, reopened in 1936 with the spectre of a second war looming, and then closed for good in 1952.
I followed the tarmac around until I started to see bright lights ahead. There was a football ground to my right, Broomfield Park, but that wasn’t the light source. Rather it was a car sat outside it, whose lights shut off as I approached, then flipped back on as it hastily departed. I’m not at all sure what I interrupted – sex, drugs, rock’n’roll? I was too far away to tell – but it was pretty clear that those involved didn’t think they ought to get caught doing it!
Meandering through Montrose
I sort of followed them in their getaway, insofar as the cycle path also took the same route out, spilling me onto a lit street. It then wanted to go looking for another stretch of M&BR alignment, as that curved around the eastern edge of town. I wanted no such thing. I required Montrose railway station (opened 1883) on the East Coast Main Line, which still very much exists. But before I required that, I had an even stronger requirement for hot food.
This being so, I abandoned the cycle route and struck off through the streets of Montrose, finding my way to the High Street and a fish and chip shop that was actually open. Then, munching merrily away, I went to find myself a train to return me to Aberdeen. Which I duly did.
Another day’s walk was accomplished!
This time: 28½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,404 miles