CCXLIV – Aberdeen to Stonehaven

Helpful MammalOVER Breakfast on the twelfth day of September 2023, I wrestled with a choice of routes by which I might head south from Aberdeen. There was a coastal path for at least part of the way to Stonehaven, and it had been my original intention to take it.  I had, however, since learnt of the existence of a mediaeval drovers’ road named the Causey Mounth, which had served as the main highway between Aberdeen and Stonehaven until the current A92 was constructed in the 1960s and 70s. This faced me with something of a dilemma; after all, I could hardly do both, now could I?


Epic Indecision

Heading south, the Causey Mounth had begun at the Bridge of Dee (rebuilt in 1723), from which it had headed southwest to Brodie Wood and then turned due south, following higher ground where possible and an artificial causeway where not, in order to avoid travellers sinking without trace in the bog of Portlethen Moss. Along the way it would pass the farms of Causeyport and Gillybrands, which had once been a tollhouse and a coaching inn, respectively. This was seriously tempting.

On the other hand, if I departed Aberdeen from its southeastern periphery, I could pass by Girdle Ness Lighthouse (built in 1833) and then follow the Aberdeen Coastal Path, with all the delights of the sounds and sights of the sea. In addition to being, well, considerably more coastal, it also wasn’t a roadway, which much of the Causey Mounth was.  Minor, sparsely-used, single-track road, admittedly, but road nonetheless.

Map showing that my starting point was Aberdeen railway station and that I had a choice of two routes.
Oh, how to choose…?

In a tremendous triumph of true indecision, I decided at the very last minute that I would do both, after all. And yet neither.  That is, I’d do parts of both routes…

Aberdeen Railway Station

In either case, I would be starting from Aberdeen railway station, which had been opened as Aberdeen Joint railway station in 1867 and which had joined the hitherto separate routes heading north and south out of the city. In doing so, it had replaced two other railway stations, namely Aberdeen Guild Street and Aberdeen Waterloo.

Wending Westwards

One thing that I had realised while failing to make any kind of actual choice, was that whatever happened, I absolutely wanted to go and find the Bridge of Dee before I departed Aberdeen. Accordingly, I went west from the station, turning from Guild Street into College Street and, from there, into Willowbank Road. This placed me in the Aberdonian suburb of Ferryhill.

Progress map showing that I had reached Willowbank Road, Aberdeen.
In general, if your ferry finds itself upon a hill, then something has gone terribly awry.
Bon Accord Terrace Gardens

Partway along Willowbank Road, I passed a small park with the not-so-small name of Bon Accord Terrace Gardens. ‘Bon accord’ is the city’s motto and is said to have been a passphrase used by Robert the Bruce and his men when they besieged Aberdeen Castle in 1308.  The castle was nowhere near Bon Accord Terrace Gardens but Aberdeen likes to get as much mileage as possible out of its motto.

Technically, the gardens draw their name from Bon Accord Terrace, the houses of which face onto the park, and which are named directly for the motto. Originally, the gardens were literally gardens for those houses but, later, they became allotments and a market garden before being remade in the 1970s into the park they are now.

Bon Accord Terrace

Built in 1823, Bon Accord Terrace  was designed by Archibald Simpson (1790-1847), who was responsible for a surprising number of Aberdeen’s buildings. The terrace, which has since been slightly renamed to Bon Accord Crescent, was built for the benefit of the Incorporation of Tailors (est. 1511), one of seven guilds that make up the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen. The other six trades are the Bakers (1398), Fleshers (1534), Hammermen (1519), Shoemakers (1484), Weavers (pre-1222) and the Wrights & Coopers (1527).

The arms of the City of Arberdeen and of its Incorporation of Tailors.

Each of the Seven Incorporated Trades has its own coat of arms and that of the Tailors looks like this. Matriculated with Lord Lyon, King of Arms in 1682, it shows a tower, representing Aberdeen, in the first quarter and a pair of scissors, an iron and a bodkin in the other three quarters, these being tools of the trade.

Holburn Street

Willowbank Road ended at a crossroads, where it met the north-south thoroughfare of Holburn Street, while Great Western Road led off in pretty much the direction that its name might lead you to expect. 

Beside this junction, I found two things: one was a branch of Sainsbury’s which displayed quite the most disappointing selection of sandwiches I’ve ever had the misfortune to be saddened by. And the other was a horse trough and drinking fountain without water.

Fidler’s Well
Fidler's Well - a combined horse trough and drinking fountain.
I might have just been unlucky with the sandwiches, but someone shut this water off on purpose.

Known as Fidler’s Well, the trough was originally erected on the quayside by prominent coal-merchant Alexander Fidler in 1857, partly as a philanthropic ‘good work’ and partly to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Dr William Guild (1586-1657), who had been principal of King’s College. Dr Guild also gave his name to Guild Street (which is not named for the Seven Incorporated Trades, although they did renovate this trough commemorating him). The inscription on it reads:

Fountain Hall 1st August 1857.  
Water springs for man and beast
At your service I am here
Although 6,000 years of age
I am caller clean and clear.
Erected for the inhabitants of the world by Alexander Fidler.
Dedicated to Dr William Guild. Died 1657, Lammas.
Trinity Hall

I failed to notice it at the time but the Seven Incorporated Trades’ headquarters, Trinity Hall, stood close by, facing obliquely onto the crossroads.

Progress map showing that I had reached Holburn Street, Aberdeen.
Its ugly, brutal exterior isn’t particularly softened by trying something fancy with the windows, in my opinion. The inset image by Bill Harrison was sourced via Geograph (cc-by-sa/2.0).
Arms of the Convener Court of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen.

Trinity Hall’s gates and lanterns bear the arms of the Convener Court of the Seven Incorporated Trades, which was originally a joint body established to resolve disputes between its member incorporations. At first glance, the design (showing one hand holding a bunch of arrows and another holding a single broken one) might not seem immediately relevant but it is actually a visual demonstration of the motto, ‘vis unita fortior,’ which roughly translates as ‘strength in unity.’


From the crossroads, I headed south down Holburn Street, which also doubled as the A9013.  On the way, it crossed over a roundabout, which connected it to the end of the B9077, and was itself crossed over by a modern footbridge connecting two parts of what could only have once been a railway embankment.

Deeside Railway

The footpath atop the embankment was, in fact, following the alignment of the former Deeside Railway, which was opened in 1853 to connect Aberdeen to Banchory. Extended to reach Aboyne in 1859 and Ballater in 1866, it was axed a just over century later, closing in 1967. A group called Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) is campaigning to get the line reopened as far as Banchory.

I already had enough routes to contend with without adopting one that was heading in quite the wrong direction.  That being so, I merely noted the footpath for what it clearly was and then continued under it.

Progress map showing that I had reached the point where the Deeside Railway path intersects Holburn Street, Aberdeen.
I was not to be derailed.
Garthdee Roundabout

Holburn Street ended at the Garthdee Roundabout, where the shops and houses of the former gave way to big box retail units. Also to be found at the roundabout was the northern end of Stonehaven Road, which quickly conveyed me to the Bridge of Dee. Perversely, this short section of road was also the A92 – which replaced the Causey Mounth as the main route south – though the two routes immediately diverged on the far side of the bridge.

Bridge of Dee

The Bridge of Dee (Drochaid Dhè) was first built in the early 16th century, funded by a bequest from Bishop William Elphinstone (1431-1514) – also the founder of King’s College – and constructed by his successor, Bishop Gavin Dunbar (d. 1532).  However, it was completely rebuilt between 1718 and 1723 and then widened in 1841, when the city’s official architect John Smith (1781-1852) doubled its breadth, enabling two-way traffic. This is particularly useful today, when it carries the busy A92 across the Dee.

The Bridge of Dee, as seen from immediately downstream.
Good job, everyone! I’d give you a round of applause but you won’t hear it over the traffic.
River Dee

The Bridge of Dee spans the River Dee (Uisge Dhè), hence its name.  Or rather one of the Rivers Dee, as Britain has several of them, deriving their names from the Brythonic Deva, which was the name of a goddess and indicative of riverine holiness.

The River Dee, looking downstream from the Bridge of Dee.
No bishop would have truck with such paganism; no wonder they insisted on giving the Dee a right crossing!

Looking downstream from the bridge, as in the photo above, it seems pretty obvious that the best way to return eastwards would be to follow that lush, green parkland along the Dee’s northern bank.  But I didn’t. I’m really not sure why; I think I’d just got fixated on the thought that I should cross the river via this bridge.

Great Southern Road

Instead of heading down the north bank, I crossed the Bridge of Dee and joined the B9077 at the next roundabout. This B-road had, you may recall, begun at a roundabout on Holburn Street. Since then, it had found its own way down to the river and crossed on King George VI Bridge (officially opened in 1941) before making a hard right turn to run parallel to the river as the Great Southern Road.

Though not quite as madly busy as the A92, the B-road was a dual carriageway and could have been grim to walk beside had it not had a broad pedestrian pavement, lightly screened from in it places by some trees.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Great Southern Road, Aberdeen.
 I’d got about this far when the idea that I should have just walked along the north bank finally occurred to me.
Tullos Park

Off on my left were Inverdee Playing Fields. As I reached the end of them, and approached the approaches of King George VI Bridge, a foot and cycle path veered left, clipping the end of the playing field sand passing beneath the B9077 via an underpass. On the far side of the B-road was Tullos Park, through which I now ambled on a path that was, according to an inscribed boulder, provided by Shell in partnership with Aberdeen City Council.  Aberdeen truly is a North Sea gas and oil city.

Wellington Road

I enjoyed about half a mile of park life before it ran out, ejecting me onto Abbotswell Road. This, in turn, spat me out onto Wellington Road, which was also the A956.  Things turned a tad more industrial at this point, though that was offset by a handy Tesco Superstore, where I was able to remedy my dearth of sandwiches for later.  And also some sugary snacks for right now, because I have no self-restraint in the face of chocolate.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Tesco on Wellington Road, Aberdeen.
What do you mean the slang term ‘I should cocoa’ isn’t an inflexible imperative?
Four Bridges

Munching merrily on chocolate, I followed Wellington Road downstream until it ended and South Esplanade West took over its appointed task of conveying me seawards. Along the way, I got to see all four of the bridges that spanned the Dee downstream of King George VI Bridge.

Dee Railway Bridge, Wellington Suspension Bridge, Queen Elizabeth Bridge and Queen Victoria Bridge.
Clockwise from top left, these were: 1: Dee Railway Bridge (1848); 2: Wellington Suspension Bridge (1831); 3: Queen Elizabeth Bridge (1983); and 4: Queen Victoria Bridge (1881).
Wellington Suspension Bridge

The oldest of the four bridges, Wellington Suspension Bridge, was jointly designed by John Smith and Captain Samuel Brown (1776-1852). The latter was something of a suspension bridge pioneer, having designed the Union Bridge across the Tweed, that being the first vehicular suspension bridge in Britain (in 1820).

Wellington Suspension Bridge replaced the Craiglug Ferry, which had crossed the Dee at the same spot.

The bridge was closed to vehicles in 1984, when its newly-built neighbour, Queen Elizabeth Bridge, took over  the burden of carrying them. It remained open to pedestrians until 2002 but by then needed renovation, which it eventually received, reopening to foot traffic only in 2008.

Queen Victoria Bridge

Queen Victoria Bridge also replaced a ferry, this being the Lower Ferry across the New Channel of a Dee realigned due to harbour expansion. Part-funded by public subscription, its construction by Aberdeen City Council was prompted by the River Dee ferryboat disaster of 1876, in which 32 people drowned when the overloaded ferryboat capsized, while 44 were successfully rescued. The new bridge spanned the Dee about 500 m upstream of the Lower Ferry crossing.

It was upon Queen Victoria Bridge that I would have crossed the Dee, had I stuck with my original plan for the coastal path route.

Progress map showing that I had reached the southern end of Queen Victoria Bridge.
I’d achieved the same net result with the route I used, but it had taken me an extra 6 km or 3¾ miles.

From the southern end of Queen Victoria Bridge, I continued eastwards along South Esplanade East into the suburb of Torry. This was very much an industrial landscape comprising warehouses and silos associated with the Port of Aberdeen (Torry had been formally absorbed into Aberdeen way back in 1891.)

Ahead of me, the street ended at a gate to the docks that was not for public access, while to my left I saw this:

Aurora Power moored in Aberdeen's North Harbour.
Aurora Power? That’s a great name for a superheroine; it seems almost wasted on a ship!
Aurora Power

83 m in length and capable of a respectable 16 kts, Aurora Power is an offshore supply ship built in 2013 by Norwegian shipbuilders Ulstein Group (est. 1917). When launched, she was named Blue Power – which name, though painted out, is still visible on her hull – and owned by Blue Ship Invest, which was an Ulstein subsidiary. She subsequently had various owners and names before being acquired by Aurora Offshore (est. 2021) in 2022 and renamed Aurora Power.

Aurora Offshore is a Norwegian-based subsidiary of the English shipping company Borealis Maritime (est. 2010) and operates supply and support vessels to the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Sinclair Road

Thanks to the dockyard gates, I could not press straight on and Aurora Power was only so interesting to look at, however exciting her name. I therefore had little choice but to take a right hand turn down Crombie Place and emerge onto Sinclair Road.  This actually suited me just fine as I had reasons to want to join that road anyway.

West and East Leading Lights, Aberdeen North Harbour.
And these are two of them.
Leading Lights

The West and East Leading Lights (left and right respectively in the photo above) are harbour lights guiding ships safely into the Port of Aberdeen.  A small blue plaque on each of them informs any passing giraffes or stilt-walkers that they were erected in 1842 by the Harbour Trustees. The plaques name the Lord Provost of the day – Thomas Blaikie (1802-1861), who lived in Bon Accord Terrace – and the Master of Shore Works (Alexander Hadden) but not harbour engineer James Abernethy (1814-1896) who designed them, nor his cousin and namesake James Abernethy (1809-1879), the iron-founder who made them.

You might be forgiven, on first seeing them, for wondering why an iron founder would be making stone lighthouses but what appears to be a stone block pattern is merely a decorative flourish; the lights are fashioned from cast iron! They were oil-lit when first constructed but converted to gas in 1877 and then to electric lighting in 1928. A light-keeper’s cottage used to stand behind the West Leading Light.

Harbour entrance widening in 2013 almost saw them removed but they received a stay of execution and the 15-tonne East Leading Light was moved a few metres to keep it lined up with the entrance centre-line.  The world’s second oldest cast iron light towers, they remain in use today. Or rather tonight.

Torry Bar

The buildings around and between the Leading Lights have changed beyond all recognition since their construction, with old-fashioned warehouses giving rise to new. The one exception is not so much a survivor as a corpse somehow still standing, this being the boarded-up shell of what was once the Torry Bar, perched on the corner of Baxter Street and Sinclair Road:

Torry Bar in 2023, the 1970s and 2008.
I think we missed last orders!
Inset on the right are the pub in happier days. The 1970s image was taken from the Aberdonian history blog Doric Columns; the 2008 image is from Google Street View

Situated between the two Leading Lights, the Torry Bar named its upstairs lounge bar after them.

Monkey Bar

Apparently, at some point the Torry Bar as a whole acquired the alternative sobriquet ‘Monkey Bar’ as the landlord of the day owned a pet monkey, which he had cunningly trained to swipe any unguarded change off the bar and stash it in the till!

Frustratingly, I could find no definite timeframe for these simian shenanigans beyond vague references to it having happened in the past. Since the pub is clearly closed now, and I wasn’t anticipating clairvoyance, this failed to narrow it down by even the tiniest jot.

Progress map showing that I had reached the East Leading Light.
But thanks for ruling out time travel; that’s one less thing to consider, I guess.
Inverdee House

Beyond the East Leading Light, Sinclair Road turned into Greyhope Road, which was overlooked by a modern office building that appeared to have taken the ‘grey’ part of ‘Greyhope’ as a mandatory requirement. This was Inverdee House, opened in 2009 as the regional headquarters for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) so I guess that it’s entirely appropriate that it should try to blend in, colour-wise.

The façade is made from zinc cladding, which is a little less appropriate, on account of its bio-accumulative toxicity.

Inverdee House
Danger! Do not lick this building!
Tidal Harbour

Continuing eastwards, I found that I had left the buildings of Torry behind. I now had a series of garden allotments on my right, while on my left only a low railing stood between me and the harbour, which was also of course the Dee Estuary.

Upstream and down stream views from Greyhope Road near Inverdee House.
These were the views both upstream (showing the port) and downstream (towards the harbour mouth).
Flyer Tide

The ship on the left in the upstream image is not Aurora Power (she’s pointing the wrong way for a start) but Flyer Tide, another offshore supply ship built by Ulstein Group in 2013.

She is bigger than Aurora Power at 88 m and slightly slower (15½ kts) but has also had multiple owners and changes of name – she was launched as Sea Flyer for the Norwegian shipping company Deep Sea Supply (est. 2005). The American company Tidewater (est. 1956) acquired her this year and changed her name. Like Aurora Power, she is servicing the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Port Control Towers

The downstream image shows both the new and old control towers for the Port of Aberdeen.  The new Marine Operations Centre (2006) stands just left of centre and was designed to evoke the idea of a traditional lighthouse, presumably by an architect who had never actually seen one; it cost the port £4.5 million.

Its 1798 predecessor stands a little further to the left. This was officially dubbed the Navigation Control Centre, although more commonly called the Octagon or the Roundhouse (its tower is octagonal, so one of those names is more accurate than the other). It cost around £225, which adjusting for inflation comes out as just south of £25 k today. That sounds like a bargain compared to its replacement but, in its day, there were no radios, computers or radar and the most sophisticated method of shore-to-ship communication involved hoisting or lowering three back balls on a signalling mast or else resorting to signalling flags!

Harbour Footpath

About quarter of a mile along Greyhope Road, I was given an unexpected but welcome opportunity to leave it. An unsurfaced footpath dropped down the bank to run along the shoreline of the harbour while the road took the opposite tack and started to climb. I chose the path.

Fanatical Photographer

Almost immediately, I encountered a grinning American carrying a camera of some considerable size and complexity.

‘Isn’t it just a great day?’ he enquired, with a little more intensity than I had been prepared for.

I agreed that the weather was splendid, hoping earnestly that he had meant that and not that he’d suddenly found Jesus. Fortunately he hadn’t and I know this because, if he had, he’d have taken several photos and then told me all about it. Certainly the catalogue of what he had photographed was long and varied and perhaps best summarised as everything in sight, as he proceeded to explain in excruciating detail.

Progress map showing I had reached the harbour footpath.
Curiously, he made no attempt to photograph me; I am equal parts relieved by this and wondering if I ought to be offended.
South Breakwaters

The Fanatical Photographer assured me that the shore footpath would not meet a dead end but would take me towards Girdle Ness Lighthouse (of which he had taken several pictures).  Thus reassured, I continued on my way, passing several recipients of his photographic attention, including the 1840 Inner South Breakwater, the South Breakwater that superseded it in 1874 and the concrete South Breakwater Lighthouse that sits atop the latter and was built at the same time.

South Breakwater Lighthouse
Infected by the Fanatical Photographer’s fervour, I paused to take a photo of my own.

As promised, the footpath continued onwards around the edge of Greyhope Bay before climbing back to meet Greyhope Road just before Girdle Ness Lighthouse. The lighthouse loomed over me from behind a grey stone wall.

Girdle Ness Lighthouse
Girdle Ness Lighthouse
This one lacked a little blue plaque as neither giraffes nor stilt walkers seldom come this far.

Built in 1833, Girdle Ness Lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) of the famous Stevenson family of Scottish lighthouse engineers. Its actual construction was handled by a local building contractor named James Gibb.

The decision to build it was prompted in part by the shipwreck of the whaler Oscar, some twenty years before, even though a lighthouse would have made no difference to that incident; it was more a case of doing something in order to be seen to be doing something.


The Aberdeen-based whaler Oscar was one of several that regularly undertook the long and perilous journey to Antarctica in order to hunt whales for oil. In 1813, she was standing off Girdle Ness with other vessels with which she planned to sail in convoy, but moved closer to the shore to better facilitate the return of crewmen from shore leave (who were rowing across in boats). A sudden change in the weather brought on a fierce squall that blew her onto rocks and sank her. Alleged inebriation on the part of her crew may not have helped.

The unfolding disaster was quite visible from shore and Captain John Innes called upon onlookers to assist but there wasn’t a great deal that they could actually do. Friends and families of the sailors watched on with strangers as 42 of her crew of 44 drowned with only two men – John Jameson and James Venus – being saved. The disaster had a sizeable impact on the collective psyche of Aberdeen, ultimately leading to the construction of a lighthouse that would not have helped in any way (though it would warn other ships away from the rocks).

The Wreck of the Whaler Oscar

Unintentionally adding insult to injury, Scotland’s worst poet, William McGonagall (1825-1902) – a man without grasp of either metre or metaphor – chose in 1888 to commemorate it in nineteen verses of his thankfully inimitable style titled The Wreck of the Whaler Oscar. Of this, I can only bring myself to reproduce one verse here and, even then, I feel oddly unclean:

’Twas on the 1st of April, and in the year of Eighteen thirteen,
That the whaler Oscar was wrecked not far from Aberdeen;
’Twas all on a sudden the wind arose, and a terrific blast it blew,
And the Oscar was lost, and forty-two of a gallant crew.
Nigg Bay

On the far side of Girdle Ness lay Nigg Bay which, thanks to a six-year, £420 million construction project, is now Aberdeen’s new South Harbour (resulting in the renaming of its original harbour to North Harbour). This has created some considerable length of new quayside, protected by an entirely new breakwater.

This construction enables Aberdeen to accommodate ships up to 300 m in length, which is not only a significant improvement on the previous maximum of 165 m, but it means that the Port of Aberdeen can now handle cruise ships, which is a potentially lucrative trade.

The new north breakwater and quayside in Nigg Bay.
The breakwater’s new but not shiny; concrete and rip-rap tend not to gleam.
Open or Closed?

The work was completed in August 2023 and it had already opened to traffic, though its official opening by the Princess Royal was not due to occur until ten days after my visit.  Even so, that the harbour was finished and open for business was great news, as that part of Greyhope Road that goes past it had been closed for the duration. Now, however, it would be open for use again…

Greyhope Road closed and fenced off
Unless it wasn’t, that is.

It turned out that Aberdeen City Council had extended its road closure order until 26 Oct to allow for post-construction geotechnical investigations, presumably to ensure the works hadn’t done something unexpected. Whatever the reason, I clearly wasn’t going that way and a brief diversion would now be required…

Balnagask Golf Course

Most of what Greyhope Road encloses constitutes Balnagask Golf Course, which is owned by Nigg Bay Golf Club (est. 1955) and lays claim to being the best 18-hole municipal golf course in Scotland.  Whatever its golfing merits, what appealed to me was that it had a footpath cutting right across it that old maps suggest may have been a more substantial track in pre-golf club days.

I have something of an irrational dislike of golf courses but not when they are rescuing me from unanticipated road closure. Thus, it was with unusually benign feelings that I found myself striding across it.

Progress map showing that I had backtracked from the fence across Greyhope Road and was now crossing the golf club.
Contrary to my usual sentiment – today, golf is a good walk rescued!
Torry Battery

Visible from this footpath or from the road but not the shoreline path I’d been on earlier, were the remains of Torry Battery. This was a ‘Palmerston Folly,’ i.e., a defensive battery erected on the recommendations of the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom. The prime minister of the day, Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), had duly ordered the construction of numerous forts and batteries to protect us from the French, only for weapons technology and geopolitical developments to make them largely obsolete before completion.

Napoleon III didn’t invade Aberdeen, so technically its mission was accomplished.

Later adapted to house more modern guns, Torry Battery helped protect Aberdeen during both world wars before being decommissioned in 1956, a frustrating four years short of reaching its centenary.

Kincardineshire Boundary

The footpath conveyed me past Nigg Bay Golf Club’s clubhouse and then out onto St Fittick’s Road. There, I turned left and headed south and, in doing so, crossed the old boundary into Kincardineshire.  This historic county does not appear on most maps, having long since been subsumed into Aberdeenshire but it still legally exists for certain purposes, namely land registry and ceremonial functions.

St Fittick’s Church

Just off to the right from St Fittick’s Road stood a cemetery and the ruins of the former St Fittick’s Church. This was founded in the 12th century and dedicated to St Fittick, which may or may not be a corrupted form of St Fiacre (600-670), an Irish priest who migrated to France.

The church was rebuilt in the 17th century, with a bell-cote dating to 1704 and a weather-vane from 1763. It was abandoned in 1829 in favour of a new, larger church on a different site. Its manse was demolished in 1964.

I had fully intended to make a point of looking out for the church and cemetery when Greyhope Road joined St Fittick’s Road but, since I hadn’t actually come that way, I managed to completely forget and miss it.

Progress map showing that I had reached Nigg Bay.
A grave omission, to be sure.
Scenic Eclipse II

I said before that one of the benefits of its harbour expansion was to enable it to berth cruise ships, well it had already made its first baby steps in that direction with the arrival of Scenic Eclipse II.

Dubbed a ‘discovery yacht’ by her owners, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours (est. 1986), Scenic Eclipse II is tiny by cruise ship standards, carrying only 228 passengers on her ten decks but is used for ‘discovery cruising,’ by which they mean visiting ‘adventurous’ locations like the Poles or the Galápagos Islands with limited and highly-conditional access.

Built in Croatia, Scenic Eclipse II was only launched in April 2023, so she is every bit as new as the South Harbour she was moored in when I saw her.

Scenic Eclipse II
Unlike the harbour, she is not only brand new, but also quite shiny.
Greg Ness

Bounding the southern end of Nigg Bay was Greg Ness, around which various maps showed the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path wending its way. The creation of South Harbour had somewhat disrupted that, though, with another breakwater now jutting out from it and buildings where none had been before. Accordingly, I was constrained to remain beside what had now become the Coast Road for a while longer. Fortunately, it had a pedestrian pavement on which to walk.

Doonies Hill

Just south of Greg Ness at the foot of Doonies Hill, the Coast Road made an abrupt turn to cross over a railway line now running beside it. On the other side of the bridge, there was no pedestrian footway but that was okay because on my side the pavement turned into a gravelled foot and cycle path. Here was the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path I was looking for!

Footpath approaching Doonies Farm
I’m glad I did this when I did; it’s going to get an awful lot more industrial…
Doonies Farm

The building ahead in the photo above is Doonies Farm.  This has been there since at least 1868, when the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map for the area was published, and probably a lot longer.

Since the 1990s it had doubled being a working farm with being a visitor attraction of sorts as ‘Doonies Rare Breeds Farm.’ As that name suggests, it specialised in farming rare and endangered farm animal breeds and had one of Scotland’s largest collections of such beasts.  While the farm was a family business, its operators were only leaseholders, with the heritable interest (the Scottish equivalent to an English freehold) held by Aberdeen City Council.

In August 2023, the council elected not to allow the farm to renew the lease. Accordingly it has now closed and was busy selling off its animals at the time that I walked past it.

Energy Transition Zone

The land on which Doonies Farm stands it going to be rezoned to create what has been branded as an ‘Energy Transition Zone.’  This basically just means an industrial estate which they hope will host renewable energy businesses as insurance against Aberdeen’s economy going down the toilet as a warming world turns away from oil and gas.

And maybe it will work like that and not just be used by oil and gas company subsidiaries to greenwash their image a bit.  Or maybe the hoped-for non-fossil-fuel investment will fail to arrive as companies not tied to the North Sea decide Aberdeen is too remote?

Either way, Doonies Farm is doomed and the green fields around it may soon see industrial units sprout up all over as Altens Industrial Estate spreads north to engulf it.

Doonies Yawns

The path I was on was straight and broad, though I think I could have taken a narrower one that clung more closely to the cliff edge. This would have undulated in and out as the four narrow inlets collectively named Doonies Yawns crinkled the coastline.  I was quite happy to stay on my straight path and wait for a larger, more serious inlet to bring the water’s edge to me.

Progress map showing that I had reached Doonies Yawns.
I’m sorry, sheep, but you’re going to get rarer round here.
Long Slough
Long Slough
Meanwhile, here’s the water. Good things come to he who waits and all that!

The inlet shown above is named Long Slough. When the OS was compiling its 1st ed maps, it described it thusly in its Name Books:

‘A long narrow creek, bounded by precipitous cliffs, the end of it is partly filled in, and crossed by the Scottish North East Railway’

The railway line did indeed run across the end of it, but there was enough space beside it for the coastal path to cross alongside. Once across, the coastal path abandoned running next to the railway and instead took to the cliff edge without getting any less broad.

Altens Haven

Continuing south above the shoreline, I ambled around the oddly-named inlets of Robin Hood Yawns and then Altens Haven, which was overlooked by the ruins of what was a fishing station and ice house associated with it. About 170 m inland was a third ruined structure, this being the remnants of what had once been Easter Croft.

Burnbanks Haven

From Altens Haven, I next walked on to Burnbanks Haven,  another inlet from which fishing boats were historically launched, in this case by the residents of Burnbanks village.  The haven was overlooked by a single dwelling, Fishing Station House, which was built in 1990 with a restriction that the occupant had to work at the adjoining fishing station, though this restriction was lifted in 2001.

At Burnbanks Haven, the broad path turned inland towards Burnbanks and Cove Bay, while a rather narrower Aberdeenshire Coastal Path continued on past Souter Head. This was technically a choice between two routes but I barely gave the inland one a second’s consideration. I was enjoying the coast path and saw no reason not to stick with it.

Progress map showing that I had reached Burnbanks Haven.
I was making the most of the coast!
Souter Head

While the path was narrower and, for some reason, greyer, it remained well-made and easy to navigate as I rounded Souter Head.

Cliff path near SOuter Head.
Of all the qualities a path might be found lacking, chromaticity is not one I expected.
Black Cove

After Souter Head came three embayments in quick succession. These were Bunstane Cove – named for the Bun Stane, a rocky islet betraying the cove’s origin as a collapsed sea cave – Well Cove and Black Cove.  It was at the latter that the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path gave up and turned inland, passing under the railway to join the northern end of Cove Bay.

I had been fully expecting this inland path development. What I had not been expecting was the existence of an alternative, in the form of a continuation of the cliffside coast path and a fingerpost pointing to Cove Bay Harbour. This was my second route choice in just over half a mile and I met it with much same attitude as I had the last one.

Progress map showing that I had reached Black Cove.
I think I’ll do more by the shore!
Poor Man & the Graves

Within minutes of setting off along this new path it became quite apparent that the excellent condition of the path up to that point had been down to maintenance given to the official Aberdeen Coastal Path. This path, not being part of that route, was rougher underfoot and  increasingly overgrown as it passed the rock known as the Poor Man and the inlets called the Graves. The OS Name Book had this to say about the latter:

‘A number of small rocky creeks & fissures on the Shore, near the Cove village, where a ship had been wrecked, and all hands found watery graves.’
Crawpeel Shore

On drawing level with the former site of Cove Bay railway station – opened in 1853 by the Aberdeen Railway and closed to passengers in 1956 – I found myself hopping over a burn, after which the path got really overgrown. It was no longer a case of plants encroaching from each side but more one of wading through thigh-high undergrowth. A good proportion of this vegetation came in the form of nettles, and these gave me cause to regret my choice of wearing shorts due to hot weather.

Having been scratched, stung and generally caressed by all manner of leaves, I stumbled my way past Crawpeel Shore and emerged onto a road (Balmoral Brae) that led down to Cove Bay Harbour. A handy bench near the roadside offered me the chance to sit and rest but I quickly concluded that I would rather do so sat beside the harbour.

Cove Bay Harbour
Cove Bay Harbour
Yes, I’ll sit down here; it seems a peaceful spot.

Actually, as it turns out, the harbour has not been peaceful in recent years, having been the centre of a protracted legal battle with a spot of malicious arson thrown in for good measure!

Legal Dispute

Cove Bay Harbour in its current form was built by landowner Alexander Kilgour (1852-1921) in 1877, although the cove in which he built it had been used to land fishing boats since at least the 1790s. Imagine the fishermen’s shock then when, in 2014, they received legal notices to remove their boats and equipment on the basis that it was private land and its owner wanted them gone! One of them, Jim Adam, subsequently told a court that he had been ‘stunned’ by the letter, having personally fished from the harbour for approximately 50 years!

The owner in question was a consultant plastic surgeon named Pralhad Kolhe, who had bought a house overlooking the harbour in 1992 and then part of the harbour itself in 2001. That part included both the harbour pier and Balmoral Brae, which is the only road access. He subsequently blocked the latter with boulders but was forced to remove them by court order as public access rights are not to be trifled with in Scotland.

The fishermen fared less well in court than those simply wanting to visit. In 2018, the courts concluded that the fishing boats’ use of the harbour had never been formalised with any landowner from Mr Kilgour onwards and was merely an informal arrangement. As such, there were no legal protections and Mr Kolhe had every right to evict them off his land. In addition to receiving this adverse judgment, the fishermen also found themselves landed with a £45 k legal bill.

Arson Attack

The following year (2019), five fishing boats that had not yet been removed suddenly caught fire overnight, destroying them. The storage shed was also burnt down to the ground. This was treated as arson by the police but, while the incident was certainly convenient for Mr Kolhe, the police seemed more inclined to link it to other arson attacks that had affected the Aberdeen South Harbour expansion; i.e., someone just had a thing for burning harbours.

Progress map showing that I had reached Cove Bay Harbour.
The fire was clearly no accident; everyone knew it smelt fishy.
Old Cove

I rested for a while beside the harbour, reasonably confident that no one would mistake me for a boat and have me evicted or flambéed. When I was ready, I re-ascended Balmoral Brae to Balmoral Terrace and then Stoneyhill Terrace, climbing all the while towards the railway line.  This was Old Cove, the original part of the village.

Isie Caie Memorial

At the top of Stoneyhill Terrace, I found stones, which should not be surprising given its name. These particular stones, however, were a granite base supporting a lump of marble that in 2017 was fashioned by Brazilian-born Aberdeen sculptor Albertino Costa into a memorial to one of Cove Bay’s former residents.

The resident in question was Isabella ‘Isie’ Caie (1880-1966), who would carry fish from Cove to Aberdeen Market in a creel carried on her back. She was the city’s last such fishwife.

Rather than carve the stone in a studio, Costa chose to do the work in the open air on the quayside where the fish were landed. Ironically, Pralhad Kolha gave his permission for this, even as he was trying to evict the successors to Isie’s fishermen from that same quayside. The sculpture was commissioned by Cove in Bloom.

Isie Caie memorial, sculpted by Albertino Costa (2017).
I don’t much like it but they do, which is what matters.
Cove Road

I crossed over the railway line (which is still the Dundee-Aberdeen line, even if Cove station is long gone) and then followed Cove Road almost the whole breadth of the village. I was trying to reach a route south that would not be a dead end and I found one in the shape of Cairnbeg Road, which angled back sharply before meandering southwards.

Blackhills Quarry

Cairnbeg Road carried me out of Cove Bay passing firstly Rigifa Farm and then Blackhills Quarry.  The latter, which had utterly obliterated the former farmstead of South Blackhill, was operated by Leiths Group (est. 1977), a family company which has four subsidiaries and is headquartered at Blackhills Quarry.

Blackhills Quarry provided much of the building material for Aberdeen’s South Harbour and also donated the granite base upon which the Isie Caie sculpture stands.

Progress map showing that I had reached Blackhills Quarry entrance
The Black Hill for which the quarry is named now resembles a big crater. The edges still rise away from the road but quarrying has scooped out its summit.
City Limits

In passing south of Blackhills Quarry, I crossed the modern southern boundary of the City of Aberdeen (which has included Nigg since 1891 and Cove Bay since 1975).

I was now back within the modern Aberdeenshire council area – the city is administered separately from the surrounding area – although historically, the county was Kincardineshire before the 1975 reorganisation of local government in Scotland.

Findon & Portlethen

North Mains of Findon

The road – a narrow country lane – led south past the farmstead of Blackhills of Cairnrobin and then described a half-loop to the west as it crossed first the Diney Burn and then the railway line, returning me to the seaward side of the track. There, it headed south-eastwards briefly before turning due south at North Mains of Findon. It had to turn, really, as otherwise it would have run slap-bang into a second quarry. Findon Quarry to be exact.

Road approaching North Mains of Findon.
The quarry lay dead ahead here, but remained quite unseen. Consequently, I continued to enjoy the unscenery.
Findon Quarry

A little further on, I came to the turning that accessed Findon Quarry. The quarry is operated by Miller Plant Ltd (est. 1968) and held little interest for me in itself. Branching off its access road, however, was another to Seal’s Cove Shooting Ground, a clay-shooting ground that has occupied the clifftop since 1975. This didn’t interest me in itself, either, but my map suggested there might be a footpath onwards, if I could avoid being accidentally shot.

The Trio

I paused at the turning to consult my map and was immediately by a trio of women in an adjoining field who asked me if I were lost. I truthfully replied that I was not, in the sense that I knew where I was right now, but that I was checking where to go next.

The Trio, it turned out, were firmly of the opinion that where I went next didn’t want to be down the quarry turning. They were not at all sure that the potential footpath still existed, and were sure it would be waist high in nettles if it did.  Not to mention the ‘getting accidentally shot’ thing. I concurred and stayed on the road, passing Middleton of Findon and then entering Findon village proper.


Findon is a fairly small village with a historic reliance on fishing and fish preservation. So much so, in fact, that it gave its name (in Scots form) to a type of smoked fish, the Finnan Haddie. This is cold-smoked haddock using peat and green wood.

Popular in Aberdeenshire since at least the 1640s, the Finnan Haddie took London by storm in the 1840s, when railway links made it possible to transport the fish south before spoiling.  Some culinary authorities cite the Finnan Haddie as the fish to use for Cullen skink, which is one of my favourite foods. Had I passed somewhere to sell me some, I would doubtless have stopped for it. Alas, I did not.

Progress map showing that I had reached Findon.
That Tesco Sandwich I’m carrying’s not quite the same thing but I’m suddenly glad that I bought it.
Findon Shore

I allowed Findon Road to carry me into the heart of the village and then turned off into Old Inn Road (as its name suggests, the inn it once possessed is no more, so no Cullen skink for me there!). From there, I embarked upon a private road snaking down to Findon Shore and an industrial site belonging to Survitec Group (est. 1920).

Survitec make personal survival equipment and lay claim to being the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of liferafts, marine evacuation systems (MES) and offshore rental PPE. Their Findon site supplies and repairs life-saving craft for the North Sea oil industry. It more-or-less occupies the same site as a long vanished chapel and well, both named for St Ternan, a missionary to the Picts.

St Ternan’s Chapel

The timeframe of St Ternan’s life is uncertain, with different historians placing him in the 5th or 6th centuries. He established his monastery in Banchory, west of Aberdeen, but a chapel dedicated to him was erected on a site between the Survitec site and the sea. Its foundations persisted until the 19th century, when Robert Walker (1802-1872), the tenant farmer of Mains of Portlethen, had them dug up and removed.

St Ternan’s Well

The holy well associated with St Ternan was likewise located on a steep bank of the coastal slope, south of the main Survitec building. It may or may not still be there, depending on whether it has succumbed to erosion, but would likely be precarious to get to if it is.

Friendly Receptionist

Survitec is at the literal end of the road but I had wandered down there in search of another footpath, which my map showed leading onwards over the Burn of Findon.  I became decreasingly certain of its existence as I approached the factory so called into its reception just to double check.

A friendly receptionist assured me that it very much did exist and that it was ‘lovely’ and gave me directions to follow a path concealed behind a large industrial unit, on which I would not be run over and killed by a forklift.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Survitec site at Findon SHore.
Excellent! Bring on the footpath loveliness!
Burn of Findon Footpath

I quickly discovered that when the Friendly Receptionist had said ‘lovely,’ what she had actually meant was ‘almost impassably overgrown.’  To begin with, it was merely knee-high and annoying but quickly became quite a challenge. A sensible mammal might have backed out at this point but I didn’t want to be defeated by an excess of lush green loveliness.

Various views of the Burn of Findon footpath.
Clockwise from top left – 1: Looking straight own down the path towards the Burn of Findon and steps up the far side; 2: A sign of worse to come? (There was some path erosion but it wasn’t too bad); 3: Footbridge across the Burn of Findon (that, at least, was easy to traverse); and 4: Anti-tank cubes at the top of the steps (I suspect they may have slightly over-estimated German tank climbing capabilities!)
Broad Haven

I reached the far side with whole a new set of scratches and nettle stings all over my be-shorted legs.  While I waited for the pain to subside, I enjoyed the view of Broad Haven and May Craig and finally ate that sandwich.

May Craig in Broad Haven
I’m not sure if this view made it entirely worth it, but it definitely mitigated matters.
Mains of Portlethen

A rough track led from the cliffside towards Mains of Portlethen, the farmstead tenanted by Robert Walker during the 19th century. The current farmhouse dates from his time but incorporates stones from its predecessor, one of which is dated 1630.

Portlethen Castle

The previous building was variously known as Portlethen House or Portlethen Castle, being a tower house structure. This had been built by Robert Buchan (d. 1659) but failed to save him from hostile attention from the Presbyterian Covenanters as a Royalist and Episcopalian during the 1639-40 Bishops’ Wars. Portlethen House was plundered and Robert fled abroad with his son in 1640 ahead of William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal (1610-1671) arriving in the Aberdeen area with a Covenanter army. The Earl Marischal promptly ordered all ships in Aberdeen to have their sails stripped to prevent any other opponents from escaping, specifically citing Buchan’s flight as a reason for that order.

Fleeing to Sweden, Buchan – who was experienced in the pearl-fishing industry –found employment with Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, Count of Södermöre (1583-1684) teaching Swedes that craft.

The Portlethen Estate then passed through several hands and, in Robert Walker’s time, belonged to a woman named Rosa Ann Taylor née Bertram (1823-1901), he of course being her tenant.

Progress map showing that I had reached Mains of Portlethen.
I could flee to Sweden but that seems like overkill. Think I’ll just go to Portlethen

Portlethen is the modern town that sprang up next to Portlethen railway station (which was opened in 1850, closed in 1956 and re-opened in 1985). It contrasts with the original Portlethen – now known as Old Portlethen or Portlethen Village – which lies on the coast two thirds of a mile to the east. Old Portlethen is, of course, older, and appears on William Roy’s military survey map of circa 1750, a century prior to the railway showing up (and is probably much older than that).

The Green

Modern Portlethen is officially a town but largely lacks the structure one would expect of one, being more like a sprawling suburb with no centre of its own.

I followed Bruntland Road from Mains of Portlethen, across the railway and then across the town, all the while wondering when I might find the town centre. Its closest analogue proved to be a small square called The Green with a parade of shops nearby. One of these furnished me with a cold drink and an ice cream, which went some way to blunting my mental criticism of Portlethen’s uninspiring sprawl.

Progress map showing that I had reached The Green in Portlethen.
When one has an ice cream, everything is chill.

From Portlethen, I could have headed south to Newtonhill via Downies and another no-doubt nettly footpath over the Burn of Daff. And such had been my plan until breakfast that morning, when I had decided to mix’n’match routes. From The Green, I headed southwest to cross the A92 close by the site where an old smithy and sawmill once stood.

Getting across the A92 alive and intact was a challenge, but I had the patience to wait for an unusually large gap before risking life and limb.

Causey Mounth


On the far side of the A-road, I followed an unclassified country lane westwards to the access road for Old Bourtreebush farmstead, which I knew to follow the route of the Causey Mounth. A little further on, opposite the cottage named Compulsion Lodge, was a newer house called Greenacres. A footpath running beside its fence followed the alignment of the Causey Mounth heading south.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Causey Mounth at Greenacres
Okay! Let’s do this!

My Causey Mounth experience started with a broad, clear path alongside Greenacre’s fence but this became an overgrown mess once I was past that property. I pressed on for 150 m, breaking out of tree cover and forcing my way through the undergrowth until I suddenly found myself on a metalled road surface. A mossy one, initially, it was true, but a metalled road surface nonetheless. This part of the Causey Mounth had been the access road for the now-dilapidated Berryhill Cottage and still was one for the larger Berryhill House.

I paused on this roadway to make a phone call, which would later poignantly turn out to be the last proper conversation I would ever have with my mother, and raided the bramble bushes flanking the road for their delicious juicy goodness.

Four images of the Causey Mounth nera Berryhill
Clockwise from top left – 1: The path alongside Greenacres; 2: Barns and yard of Berryhill Cottage; 3: The Causey Mounth; and 4: Blackberries – Berryhill was well-named!
Hilton of Cairngrassie Standing Stone

Off to the east at this point and peeking over a far wall, was the 2m Hilton of Cairngrassie Standing Stone of which I took no photo.

Progress map showing that I had reached Berryhill on the Causey Mounth, level with Hilton of Cairngrassie
Not because I tried and failed, you understand, but because I was too busy shoving blackberries into my face to even think about bothering.
Elsick House

About a third of a mile south of Berryhill, I passed over a crossroads on the western edge of Cammachmore and, accordingly, a number of cottages sprung up around the road.

A side-turning offered me the chance to visit Elsick House, a mansion that was owned by the Bannerman family since 1367 and has now passed, through a sole heiress – Ethel Bannerman (1868-1947) – to her great-grandson, David Carnegie, 4th Duke of Fife (b. 1961). The duke normally resides in Kinnaird Castle near Brechin and Elsick House is available for hire as a venue for wedding and events.

I double-checked my itinerary and getting married wasn’t on it. I thus decided not to visit Elsick House and continued on my way.

The arms of Bannerman, Carnegie and the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Fife.
Shown here are various arms associated with Elsick House. The arms of the Bannerman baronets of Elsick are pretty self-explanatory, showing a banner. Ethel Bannerman married Charles Carnegie, 10th Earl of Southesk (1854-1941), whose arms were a gold covered cup upon the breast of a blue eagle. Their son could reasonably have quartered the arms, though I’m not sure if he did, but their grandson inherited the title of 3rd Duke of Fife from an aunt. His arms were complicated with quarters showing (1) Fife; (2) the Royal Arms of his grandmother, Louise, Princess Royal; (3) Duff of Braco and Skene quartered; and (4) Bannerman, with the Carnegie eagle in an escutcheon over all. The 4th duke initially bore the same arms but matriculated a new set of simpler arms with Lord Lyon in 2017. These simply comprise the lion of Fife and Carnegie eagle, with all other references removed.
Approaching Gillybrands

Ahead of me now was Gillybrands Farm. While this is a farm steading today, it used to be a coaching inn servicing the needs of travellers on the Causey Mounth. It served in this role from at least the 12th century and was still in business (as Jeally Bran’s Inn) in the mid-18th.

My approach to Gillybrands Farm was momentarily curtailed while I parsed the meaning of some roadsigns they’d put up. I was pretty sure I knew what they intended, but that was not what they’d actually achieved…

Erroneous Instructions
The signs erected by Gillybrands farm and the two actual signs they;ve butchered in the process.
Pedestrians prohibited in road ahead!

It seems most likely that they meant to warn drivers to slow to no more than 15 mph and to beware of pedestrians in the road. But the thing is, that’s not how our road signs work. There are a bunch of surprisingly systematic  design principles and one of them is that warning signs are triangular and signs giving orders are circular. In particular, circular signs with red borders are prohibitive in nature, such as the speed limit admonition to not go faster than stated.

Gillybrands Farm’s sign has taken the icon from the ‘pedestrians in road ahead’ warning sign and put it in a red circle, making it functionally identical to the ‘pedestrian access prohibited’ sign. As to why those two signs don’t use the same icon anyway? No idea. Perhaps drivers respond better to warning signs with children in them?

Gillybrands Farm

Of course, if the farm road is private and not public, they can use whatever signage they like. I quickly concluded that they hadn’t actually meant to ban walkers and so wended my way onwards, past the farm.

Gillybrands Farm
You can tell it’s no longer a coaching inn by the woeful lack of coaches.
Burn of Elsick

Directly south of Gillybrands Farm was the Burn of Elsick. This small stream was crossed by means of a short but sturdy stone bridge, substantial enough to bear farm traffic. It was also capable of carrying visitor’s cars and this was good because, on its far side, a new unsurfaced road – not shown on my map – stretched across a field to connect the Causey Mounth with another road and, through it, the A92.

The metalled road having ended at the bridge, the Causey Mounth was looking a little more verdant ahead, though thankfully not so much as it had been between Greenacres and Berryhill Cottage.

The Causey Mounth between Gillybrands and Windyedge - an unmade track.
It’s a dual carriageway for very narrow cars!

For just over the next third of a mile, this unmade track climbed gently and, in some places muddily, towards its 101 m summit at Windyedge. As it rose, I started to see shiny white new-build houses peeking over the hilltop ahead on my right.  This was the brand-new development of Chapelton of Elsick, which I would be passing soon enough.

Chapelton of Elsick

Chapelton is a new town being built by the Elsick Development Company (EDC) on land owned by the Duke of Fife, who is also the EDC’s director. They have planning permission for over four thousand houses in four neighbourhoods, along with an assortment of accompanying shops, offices, parks and schools.  What I was passing was only the first phase of construction, comprising the first 250 homes.

Progress map showing that I had reached Chapelton of Elsick.
These Elsick houses aren’t quite so grand as the main one.
Newtonhill Distant

Bordering the Chapelton development on its eastern edge was an access road leading to Nether Cairnhill farm, which occupied the south-eastern corner of the site. As I made my way along this, the lie of the hills allowed me a glimpse of Newtonhill.

Newtonhill distant
And thanks to my eclectic route choices, this was as close as I would get.
Pheppie Burn

At Nether Cairnhill, the road diminished to a track, which continued onwards to the Pheppie Burn.  No sturdy stone bridge was provided here. No, vehicles would have to ford the stream, should they venture this far.

Footbridge and ford acropss Pheppie Burn.
Pedestrians got special treatment, in the form of this simple but functional footbridge.
Burn of Pheppie

The building ahead in that last photo was the farmstead Burn of Pheppie, which looked to be in a derelict state.  The Causey Mounth continued past it as a stony track but one seldom used to judge from the grass sprouting up along its centre.  The said track ran for a couple of hundred metres before emerging onto a corner of the public, surfaced road.

Progress map showing that I had reached the public road between Burn of Pheppie and St Ternan's.
I guess, technically that makes it a T-junction, but one of the T’s arms is tiny.


St Ternan’s

By joining that public road, I had committed myself to the last 200 m of Causey Mounth that I would be doing. This was enough to convey me to St Ternan’s Episcopal Church, built in 1831 and extended with the addition of a chancel in 1870. The latter was designed by Alexander Ellis (1830-1917), who had been an apprentice to John Smith in Aberdeen.

St Ternan's Episcopalian Church, Muchalls
Smith apparently taught him nothing about blending with existing structures.
Pedestrian Paradise?

I was aware that, south of St Ternan’s, the Causey Mounth would quickly become a series of indistinct farm tracks across fields to Bridge of Muchalls. I didn’t fancy traipsing across fields much, so I opted for a different plan and followed the road around until it met up with the A92. Here, for the second time, I risked life and limb to dash across to the other side.

Floral verge, Muchalls.
Did I perish? Is this paradise? (No, but it is an impressive floral verge).
Muchalls Village

On the eastern side of the A92, I found the village of Muchalls.  This was a former fishing village composed partly of traditional stone cottages and partly of more modern bungalows and houses. I thought the former worthy of a photograph.

Some cottages in Murchalls
Say ‘cottage cheese!’

Sandwiched between the A92 and a railway line that no longer serves it, the village was pretty but lacking amenities, though mostly it gave me what I’d wanted, which was a chance to stave off walking by the A-road. I thus walked the entire length of Muchalls, passing as I did so the site where its station (1850-1950) once stood; of it, nothing now remains.

Marine Hotel

Also gone is the Marine Hotel, which started out as the Muchalls Inn but developed through the 19th century and by 1908 had added a golf course to its seaside resort offerings.  The golf club went by the wayside in 1959, with development of the A-road eating into its green and the hotel was a derelict shell by 1997. It was demolished in 2003. New houses now stand upon its site.

Richard Henry Brunton

One unexpected claim to fame that Muchalls has is that it was the birthplace of Richard Henry Brunton (1841-1901), the ‘Father of Japanese Lighthouses.’ A civil engineer who had taken employment with the Stevensons and unexpectedly found himself sent to Japan in 1868 to consult on a programme of lighthouse-building. Brunton oversaw the design, construction and staffing of 26 lighthouses around the Japanese Archipelago, 22 of which remain in use today.

Accepting the Inevitable

Eventually, I had little choice but to make my way back to the A-road. I was pleased to find that it had a pedestrian pavement so, while I might still be deafened by traffic noise, I shouldn’t be run over unless something went properly awry.

I rejoined the A92 opposite a track that could have taken me to Muchalls Castle. I had vaguely considered taking this little detour but, in the moment, I decided that my feet were tired and I felt no need to risk automotive oblivion by crossing the A-road yet again.

Since I never went to see it, inset is a public domain photo by Anlace, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Muchalls Castle

The castle began as a 13th century tower house built by the Frasers of Muchalls. It was sold to the Hays in 1415 and acquired by Alexander Burnett of Leys (d. 1619) circa 1600.  He began building the 17th century castle that now stands, incorporating the older construction into the design, and it was completed after his death by his son, Sir Thomas Burnett, 1st Baronet of Leys (d. 1653). Thomas was a leading Covenanter in the region and instrumental in pressing Aberdeen to accede to the Covenant rejecting royal episcopalianism.

It left Burnett ownership in 1882 and passed through several owners including the prominent judge James Robertson, Baron Robertson (1845-1909), who retired there. It spent some time operating as a hotel but is now a private home again.

The arms of Fraser of Muchalls, Hay and Burnett of Leys.
The Frasers of Muchalls were heads of Clan Fraser and used the undifferentiated three silver cinquefoils on blue of the clan. The Hays of Muchalls shouldn’t have used the undifferentiated arms of Hay, being a cadet branch, but I could find no record of their own arms, so they may have done so anyway (or they may have used a variant I’ve just not found mention of).  The arms of the Burnetts of Leys eschew the ‘three things on a field’ template in favour of a black hunting horn below and three holly leaves in chief, all upon a silver field.
Muchalls Mill Viaduct

I can’t pretend that walking beside the busy A92 was my favourite part of the day, but it had stiff competition from the thigh-deep nettle sections for being my least. In hindsight it can’t have been all that terrible, as I made no effort to take the next side-track under Muchalls Mill Viaduct to Easter Muchalls and Mills of Muchalls.  Not that doing so would have been much help, route-wise, but it would have certainly been quieter while trying to find a way onwards.

The viaduct under which I did not pass was built by the Aberdeen Railway and opened in 1850 along with the rest of the line.  It was rebuilt in 1886 by A&W Smith of Glasgow, who replaced its wooden trusses with plate girders.

Muchalls Mill Viaduct
I’d say there’s no point going under there but there would be one – Doonie Point, to be precise.
Bridge of Muchalls

A little further on, the A92 crossed the Burn of Muchalls, by which I really mean that the burn was culverted beneath it. An alternative bridge, of the early 19th century stone arch variety, was theoretically available about 80 m west in Bridge of Muchalls hamlet. However, much as I love an old bridge, there was no special provenance to this one to make crossing the A92 twice again a prospect worth serious consideration.

Traffic danger aside, I was also feeling quite tired. I find that I have many ideas for exciting diversions, unusual routes and items of quirky interest while planning my walks with a map but that fatigue, disinterest and discomfort often mean that, on the day, I simply don’t care enough to do them.

Old Road Alignment

Drawing roughly level with Castle Rock of Muchalls – said to have once been the site of a hill fort, though no remains can now be seen – I saw some more recent signs of things past in the form an oxbow of disused road, betraying where A92 roadbuilders had smoothed out an older alignment.  There wasn’t enough of it to follow, but I recognised it for what it clearly was and that made me quietly pleased.

Gravelly Path

No sooner had the old oxbow ended than the modern A92 alignment decided to teach me a lesson about taking properly paved surfaces for granted.  A smidgin south of Cortins Croft, the asphalt pedestrian footway diminished into a narrow gravelly path.  This was less than ideal and worried me that it might yet disappear altogether. Fortunately, it never did, but I resolved to get off the A-road as quickly as possible as it was now feeling less safe.

Accordingly, I zoned out a bit as various farmsteads and dwellings passed me by – Hillhead of Cowie, Blackhills, Auquorthies, Westport, Limpet Mill and Logie. This was only about a mile and a third but it seemed to be taking forever! Finally, by Perthumie Bay, I reached the turning for Stonehaven. A milestone that once stood here (according to old OS maps) would have told me, were it still there, that I had just two miles left to go.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Stonehaven turning.
Now to bypass the Stonehaven Bypass


Den of Cowie

The turning that I now so gladly took had itself been the A92 at one time, before being relegated to a mere side-road when the Stonehaven Bypass was opened in 1985.  It descended into the wooded valley of the Den of Cowie carrying southbound traffic from the A-road.

It had, of course, been two-way in its original form but road planners had dealt with that in a simple yet effective manner, by placing a barrier down the middle and restricting traffic to a single one-way lane.  The other was given over to cyclists and pedestrians.

Old A92 road, now the southbound Stonehaven turning.
A minute ago, I was on an awkwardly narrow path; now I have half the road to myself.
Two-Way Traffic

Near the end of the Den of Cowie, two-way traffic resumed by means of allowing northbound traffic that far, but that far only, and then looping it back around. The only obvious reason for doing this was to allow traffic to access a Scottish Water site next to the loop without having to go onto the modern A92. Or just for giggles, I suppose.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Den of Cowie. Also illustrating the road layout lopoping northbound traffic south again.
Or it could be a cunning plan to repeat the Highland Clearances by letting people come down south but never go back north.
Aberdeen Road Golf Course Railway Bridge

The disappearance of the cycle/footpath was not favourite but I only had to dodge traffic for 300 m, in which space I only encountered a couple of cars. Thereafter, proper pedestrian pavement resumed, which was all the better to convey me under this:

Aberdeen Road Golf Course Railway Bridge, with Stonehaven distantly visible under its arch.
You might see only a railway bridge, but I see a portal to the mysterious, magical world that I hope Stonehaven to be.
Castle of Cowie

Just as with Narnia, stepping through the portal took me to a land where time moved at a different pace. I know this because, while getting anywhere on the A92 had seemed to take an age, my almost-a-mile amble along the Aberdeen Road somehow took no time at all. On the way, I passed the remains of the Castle of Cowie, said to have been a royal hunting lodge kept in the care of the Frasers of Touchfraser & Cowie. Very little is now left of the castle, just a small amount of masonry close to the shore.

The Frasers of Touchfraser & Cowie bore arms showing the usual Clan Fraser silver cinquefoils on blue (representing strawberry flowers or ‘fraises’), except that they bore six of them (ordered top-down as three, two and one) and not the simpler three-cinquefoil design that would be favoured by most of their descendants.


In quick succession, I then passed the 19th century Cowie House (now a boarding kennels), Mains of Cowie farm and Cowie village itself (now a suburb of Stonehaven).

Progress map showing that I had reached Cowie.
It says it’s ‘Cowie’ on the map, but I’m not seeing any cows.

It never was to do with cows, of course. The name ‘Cowie’ is actually from Gaelic colldha, meaning ‘hazel.’

Cowie Bridge

In no time at all, I found myself approaching Cowie Bridge. This stone-arched crossing was probably erected in 1827 by Aberdeen’s prolific city architect, John Smith, as he advertised at that time for contractors to build a toll-house for it.  If so, it replaced an earlier bridge, erected in 1732 and designed by the prominent mason and architect William Adam (1689-1748).  It was widened for modern traffic in the early 20th century.

By reaching the bridge, I had also reached the southern end of the Causey Mounth.  Its northern end was the Bridge of Dee so I’d basically done both ends plus a stretch just south of the middle. I was happy with that.

Cowie Bridge
This bridge isn’t making me cross; no, quite the opposite!
Stonehaven Railway Station

Having crossed Cowie Water, I took a sharp right and started climbing up a hill, aiming for the station (opened in 1849) that I knew I’d find up there. I arrived to find a twenty minute wait for my next train, which gave me just long enough to find a shop and something food-like to tide me over to dinner. Then, munching merrily, I was whisked away to Aberdeen.

Map showing that I had reached my destination: Stonehaven Railway Station.
But, tomorrow, I’d be back…

Hasteful MammalThis time: 24½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,375½ miles

Combined map showing the whole route

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