Coast Part 5d 2009

From Latheronwheel to South Queensferry

Day 36  The Long Way Round

We woke up to bright sunshine and a near gale. Water was splashing over the harbour wall.  Last evening a man came down to look at some mooring rings on the harbour wall and he positively welcomed the fact that we were staying overnight and he told us a bit of the local history and geography.  He was a retired fisherman who couldn't keep away and had a wee bit of a boat that he moored there in summer.

Latheronwheel Harbour


This was the first day on our trip that had a definite target because we were due if possible to meet some people who would be passing through Inverness the next day.   We were only 80 miles away by GPS 'quickest route' so how difficult would that be? Plus we had driven the road from Inverness to Duncansby Head and back as a day trip before. Well at the end of the day we had done 182 miles!  It all started out easily enough. The A9 is the coast road for most of the way and we only had small detours to visit places like Dunbeath, Helmdale and Brora which are between the A9 and the sea.  Later there were slightly longer out and backs as we got down past Dornoch, but nothing outlandish.  As I said it was a nice day, if a bit blowy, as the photos for the day show.


Dunbeath, Helmsdale and Brora


Doreen doesn't remember the names of places very well (nor indeed the actual places sometimes) so it was no surprise to find as we drove towards it that she didn't remember Dornoch and the time we had spent there in 2003 on a green lawn with the dogs next to the water and then the big supermarket we went to. Trouble is when we got there I couldn't find either.  Upon our return to Salisbury a search of the old logbook and a confirmatory view on Google earth shows the place in 2003 was Dingwall.  Oops! I have confessed.


When we left the A9 at Tain for Portmahomach and Tarbet Ness we knew that this was going to be the major source of any extra miles but still we weren't concerned. When we got to Balnapaling however, we looked in vain for the Nigg ferry but it was nowhere to be seen.  As I write this I don't know  if it has permanently gone or whether it was too early in the season.  When I was looking at the waves rolling across the firth narrows I'm not sure I would have fancied the trip anyway.  An hour or so and 35miles later we stood at Cromarty on the other side of that mile of water separating us from Nigg.  The detour had taken us past oil rigs and the cruise ship Marcopolo making a stop at Invergordon.  I've seen Invergordon as a cruise destination before.  I can only suppose that everyone gets off and into coaches to go to John O'Groats, Inverness, or The Glen Morangie whisky tour at Tain. 


Tarbet Ness, Mystery Castle, Nigg Ferry?



Marco Polo, Oil Rig and the Cromerty end of the Nigg Ferry Route


As a result of that detour and then rushing with our map reading afterwards we ended up missing out the mile or so of the little road to the Sutors of Cromarty.   As far as I know that this the only significant bit of coast that we have missed in the 4000 miles so far.  (!"%$**£"!). Later in the day we sat for while at Chanonry point with binos focused on the sea looking in vain for dolphins.  This was to be our quest for the next few days at various dolphin hotspots in the Moray Firth.

36th Day - 182 Coast Miles


Day 37 Friends but no Dolphins


After yesterday's marathon we took it easy in our Inverness campsite and waited for our friends and then spent an hour or so with them over lunch, then up to North Kessock to spend an hour looking again for dolphins.  This was repeated at Fort George.  I noted that the Union flag over the Black Watch barracks in Fort George was at half mast. Later Radio Scotland confirmed the death of another Black Watch soldier in Afghanistan. 

Fort George 


After exploring the harbour and seafront at Nairn our home for the next twenty hours or so was the Culbin forest.  There are two car parks there, neither has any prohibition of overnighting.  It is also a very good place for dog walking and cycling. If the weather is fine you should walk to the viewpoint which is a wood and steel structure that takes you above the tree canopy with views across the Moray Firth to Cromarty. Still couldn't see the Nigg ferry.


36th Day - 50 Coast Miles


Day 38  More Harbours and then Dolphins!


After a lengthy morning walk in the forest we headed east again and began to notice that all the single storey cottages in all the small fishing ports were of the same basic design with large regular sized stone at the corners and around the door and window with irregular stone elsewhere and also how close the small harbours were to each other.

Little Boxes, all the Same. 



It was as if every possible place to build a harbour had been used and because of the basic shape of the geology they could only be small and thus would only support a certain number of boats and certain size of village.  I'm sure each harbour had its own particular characteristics but to a relative landlubber viewing from the safety of the shore they looked very similar.  Certainly by the time we got to Portknockie we felt all the harbours were merging into one in our minds and becoming a little boring. The only major difference was that some were still fishing ports and others had turned over to recreational use, and one or two almost abandoned.

Burghead : Hopeman : Findochty 


We would drive a little way, dive down into a small town or village see a harbour take a photo, drive on and repeat, but were we downhearted? Not a bit because by mid-afternoon we had already been to Spey Bay and seen and heard, no end of dolphins (well probably only about three but they kept popping up).  Heard?  Yes they have a sonar buoy and this is transmitted to a visitor centre on the shore and you can sometimes hear them chirping and hear their swimming noises.  We ended up the day just past Cullen in a wild camp near what remains of Findlater castle.

Portknockie : Bow Fiddle Rocks :  Findlater Castle. 


38th Day - 77 Coast Miles


Day 39 Fishing, Oil and Gas

After having seen dolphins the previous day, today was also quite good for spotting wild life; a fox, a huge hare (the size of our dogs), a peacock in the middle of nowhere and then, outside the Northern Lighthouse Board museum at Fraserburgh, gannets repeatedly diving into the  waves.    This is getting ahead of ourselves, our first port of call was Portsoy, now I can see this place being used as a film location perhaps it was already used in 'The Onedin Line' or similar.



After some more little harbours we got to MacDuff. In the BBC's Coast programme all the fishing boats in the shipyard at the end of town were wooden, today all the ones we could see were steel.  More interesting to me than the material was their shape.  I hadn't realised how short fishing boats are compared with their draught.  They almost look like the cartoons of boats you see or a childs drawing.  Something I may have seen but never noticed before.

Fishing Boats at Macduff and Peterhead


Later we  descended into yet another harbour this time at Gardenstown only to find a furniture van nearly blocking our path on a hairpin, it was Sunday and a church congregation's worth of small cars was parked down one side of the road as well.  We were being followed by another motorcaravan who, we discovered as we compared notes at  the bottom hadn't expected us to make it past the lorry, I hardly liked to tell him that his '06 Ducato was a few inches wider than us.....but I did.  By the time we had walked the beach path to Crovie and back the cars from the church had gone and the furniture van had moved a few yards from the corner so it was a lot easier going up.  But why walk to Crovie? Well there is a road to the village but it stops in a small carpark when you get there, so long as its not high water the walk along the base of the cliffs seems attractive.  There are plenty of warning notices telling you that the path is dangerous though.  All the houses, bar a couple, are in a single line at the cliff base and face, or are end-on, to a path and then the sea. 

Corvie from Gardenstown : Corvie : Gardenstown from Corvie 


We had lunch in the Fraserburgh lighthouse museum and spent most of the afternoon there.  An excellent museum by the way, but the accompanying tour of the lighthouse would only be of interest to someone who had never seen one before.  We talked over lunch about the perils of the sea.   We have seen dramatic TV programs about the conditions that face trawlermen on a daily basis, have seen the boats close up, the harbours they use, along with experiencing a trifling part of the wind and seas that they face.  At the museum we were told about a fishing boat that hadn't made it back into the harbour just outside Fraserburgh at Cairnbulg Point.  In December 2005 all five aboard the Sovereign were rescued by helicopter the RNLI life boat couldn't get near because of the surf.  We are resolved never ever to complain about the cost of fish again.


Banff Fishing Trawler The Sovereign 


The dogs hadn't had a beach today so far, but we rectified that in a big way by first of all taking them on to the beach at  St Combs then driving to Rattray which is around 7km further down the same beach for a dune walk.  Note that after Rattray the same beach extends a further 10km to Peterhead, which makes it about the longest beach we had seen since Southampton



North Sea gas comes ashore between Rattray and Peterhead but oil comes ashore at Cruden Bay south of Peterhead not that you would know it.  Unlike the gas terminal the oil terminal is a tiny place which unless you are hugging the coast on minor roads you are unlikely to encounter.  I'm sure if it hadn't featured on 'Coast' we wouldn't have known it for the terminal that pumps all the Forties Field oil. With about ninety miles travelled we started seriously looking for a wild camp.  At once we found Aberdeenshire full of height barriers and restrictive notices.  Twenty five miles later having fallen off our OS maps again we gave up and parked by the side of the road on the wide esplanade to the north of Aberdeen docks.  After the cruising traffic died down (youngsters in hatchbacks with noisy exhausts and boomboxes) it was actually very peaceful until about 7am when it became a route to work. 

39th Day - 116 Coast Miles


Day 40 Doreen's Birthday, plenty of fish but no Mars Bars

We woke up on Aberdeen sea front after an excellent nights sleep but it is used as a commuter route so we were quickly up and on to the beach.  What a place to wake up on your birthday.  This was not a wild camp we would have necessarily chosen and certainly not one to do if you can't take precautions or are at all nervous of wild camping.  First of all we didn't use our silver screens, we have an internal curtain behind the cab.  We stayed up late, I sat reading in the front of the van so it didn't look as if we were necessarily staying. Central locking was 'on', the van was ready to drive in about 3 minutes from waking and we slept in our tracksuits rather than under the duvet.  I know risk assessments are an anathema to some people (silly 'elf and safety) but  I did a risk assessment and having thought about the risks, limited them by taking some control measures, hence we had that good nights sleep.  Simples! 

Virgin beach :  After dogs had run a bit on it

 Ready for off at 8am 


Its a cliche to say a port is 'bustling'. Well that is an accurate description for the docks at Aberdeen we went as close to the harbour as allowed and came through Torry to a car park overlooking the Dee and harbour mouth.  This car park had my 'favourite' type of barrier, the width one.  Unlike a height barrier when you make a width barrier you have to allow a bit extra for lack of skill so a bit of careful driving gets a panel van into a place that was intended only for cars.  This is where we had breakfast watching oil support vessels arrive and leave.

Breakfast alfresco:Nearby Girdleness  

 Harbour Entrance without bustle


We had a fairly easy target for tonight, Arbroath. Doreen had decided that her birthday was going to be celebrated in a restaurant at Auchmithie near Arbroath and what was going to be on the menu?   Arbroath Smokies of course.  A few places to get to first including Stonehaven.  Now Stonehaven is where the deep fried Mars Bar was invented but luckily we had to leave before the chippy opened, because if it was open I would have had to have one.  It's like why you climb a mountain: because it's there.


Still on the subject of food at lunchtime, I said to Doreen that I really fancied a beer, she agreed and we went into the fishing village of Gourdon just past Inverbervie.  She had asked for a lager and a packet of crisps (well it was her birthday) and took the dogs into the small garden.  So in I went, "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps" (boom boom).  The lager was poured and the barman said you can have the crisps of course but if you come into the main bar you might find something you would like better.  On the bar was a cardboard tray brimming with smoked fish; kippers, peppered mackerel and lemon mackerel; help yourself.  Well we both helped ourselves and a local customer fed Jake and Lottie two kippers each.  Trouble was he took a fancy to Jake and in between feeding the dogs and himself he kept on stroking Jake's head, it took three days of shampooing to stop him and the van smelling of kippers.  So if you go into Gourdon on a Monday or Thursday lunchtime (the days one of the smokehouses operates) the pub there has rather good free bar snacks.

The snack that got away


Well there were more ruined castles, more lighthouses but we'll keep with the food theme for today apart from one mention of the largest permanent yard sale near St Cyrus nature reserve, you can see it on Google earth!  Don't bother with the nature reserve, they have height barriers.  We did see a very large buzzard (or eagle perhaps) riding the thermals on a ridge nearby though.


Ruined Castle : Another Lighthouse : Yard Sale 


So on to Auchmithie.  In 'Coast' they interview a woman on the beach collecting seaweed for her restaurant and in another episode you see Smokies being made on the beach  That is at Auchmithie where the Arbroath Smokie was invented, like champagne it's now protected by EU regulation. If it's not made within 5 miles of Arbroath it's not a an Arbroath Smokie .  We found the restaurant quite easily, The But 'n' Ben, and made an evening booking.  If you like seafood and Smokies in particular then this is a place to go, it is listed in all sorts of guides so we were lucky to get the booking.  (Closed on Tuesdays).  They don't serve seaweed, it was the mother of the owner on the Coast piece, as her daughter-in-law says, I think its awful stuff and we don't serve it other than for presentation.   We liked their prices, described by the owner as honest.  A starter and main course each; Arboath Smokie, Smokie soup, Salmon in Orange sauce, Smokie pancake, Dry martini, glass of wine, sparkling water, coffee and a Lagavulin malt £42.  Doreen pronounced herself satisfied with her day, even if the campsite in Arbroath had petty rules and a down on motorhomes. (they had to look it over before we were allowed to enter in case it was 'homemade'!)

40th Day - 89 Coast Miles


Day 41 Tae Bonnie Dundee*


*Yes I know 'Bonnie Dundee' is a person not a place.


There are some places that we both wanted to visit but for some reason had bypassed before.  Dundee is one of them, I have known about it for the 3 'Js'  Jute Jam and Journalism and of course for the Tay Bridge disaster but the fact that Discovery is berthed there was fairly recent news to me.  So as we left Arbroath we agreed that we would spend most of the day in Dundee, and it was bonny.  The weather was against us, it was lovely, not quite the day for being inside museums but we gave the dogs a run at Barnhill between Monfieth and Broughty Ferry and headed into 'Discovery Point' near the Tay road bridge and we bought joint tickets for Discovery and the Verdant Works (a former jute factory) and that is how we spent our day.  A little disappointed that after Discovery did her Antarctic voyages, she had been modified several times in her long life, so little apart from the hull was original, but it's still a great ship. 


You can walk between the two attractions but rather than that we first went to Dundee Law, the volcanic plug at the heart of Dundee. From the viewpoint at the top (572 feet) the city and the two Tay bridges are laid out before you.

Tay Bridges


Verdant Mill is more than just an industrial museum, it's also a museum of Dundee life from the start of the jute industry to the present, taking in quite a bit of Indian and Bangladeshi industry and culture too (where jute is harvested and where the Dundee built jute factories are now), with mentions of jam (Keillor) and journalism (DC Thomson) as well.  I sort of knew what jute was but only 'approximately' and it was fascinating for us.  Especially so as we have been to New Lanark (Cotton mills with enlightened ownership) and could compare the two.


Six hours is not long to give  a city but I think we got a taste of it.  One thing we did miss was the statue of Desperate Dan striding through Dundee with Minnie the Minx from the rival comic aiming a catapult.  Like Minnie we also had a spot to aim at.  However when we got there the road was closed for that night only, so we looked at a couple of wild camp possibilities before settling for a CS some way inland.


Looking back at Dundee


41st Day - 66 Coast Miles


Day 42 St Andrews and more Harbours

I suppose the attraction of St Andrews for Doreen, and the reason why I wasn't allowed to just speed through it yesterday evening, is the royal connection, most recently with William (My wife is an ardent royalist).   So fairly early on we got into St Andrews in time to see the first golfers of the morning making their way back from the 'Old Course' to their nearby hotels.  Golfers, it has to be said, you look total prats in that gear, we fail to see how any of that fashion makes you better golfers.  Actually  I have a problem with golf in general, they occupy too much of the coastline.  Try as they might with prohibition notices though, the land of most links golf courses doesn't belong to the golf club, so you are entitled to walk it but when you try you don't half get looks.  Actually the old course belongs to the citizens of St Andrews and they could, if they wanted, hang their washing out to dry there.   I doubt that they would, the golf brings them a lot of revenue.  The icecream was overpriced, as were the loos but setting aside my proletarian remarks and reservations, I liked St Andrews.  Not because they invented the fudge doughnut there, (like the deep fried Mars Bar I resisted the temptation), nor because a woman came up to us as we sat, people watching outside a cafe, and said, "what wonderful hair" - to me!  No, because it was old and populated with eccentric people and eccentric shops.

St Andrews


We could have (expensively) paid to park and walked the dogs on the west sands at St Andrews next to the golf course but there was a weight restriction notice and we were already receiving the attention of a regimental looking traffic warden who I had seen touching a forelock to some golfers, so we didn't stay.  By the way do not park 'outwith' the diagonal parking meter bays in St Andrews as there is a hefty penalty for letting any part of your vehicle stray beyond the box.  Instead the dogs got their beach at Cambo sands whilst we watched a surf board/kite combination (I'm sure there is a proper name for the sport) zip up and down in the wind, and there was plenty of it. 

Cambo sands


Anyway, apart from some annoyance at Fife Ness because a golf course prevents you parking near enough to the lighthouse to get a decent photo, we were soon into harbours again.  Crail, Anstruther Easter, Anstruther Wester, Pittenweem. St Monans, Elie well with names like that it would be rude not to visit them all.  So as usual we did.  After passing Fifeness and turning into the Firth of Forth every time we looked out to sea we saw some aspect of the Isle of May.  At Elie we stopped for a pint and a dog walk at Sauchar Point before booking into a campsite a mile or so away or it would have been a mile or so if we hadn't had a golf course in the way!

Anstruther Easter (Skinfast haven) and Pittenweem

Sauchar Point : Elie  (note the hair)


The structure you see at Sauchar point was constructed as a summer house and changing room for a Lady Anstruther to go lounging and sea bathing.  

42nd Day - 44 Coast Miles


Day 43 The end

We have a feeling we are running out of steam.  Although Berwick or Newcastle was our aim, more and more we are talking about ending it at Edinburgh.  After six weeks in a small motorhome with two dogs, little things start to irritate and we think the weather is about to break.   So last night we more or less decided to head south once we crossed the Forth Road Bridge, at least it is motorway the whole way from there.   Although it might have only taken us four more days to Newcastle, it might take a lot longer and we want to go and see puffins either at Farne or Coquet so unless there is a change of heart or weather forecast that is what we will do.


We started the day by filling the van up with water, just in case we go on, and giving the dogs what might have been their last beach walk for a while at our campsite at Shell Bay.  It was again sunny but windy. This part of Fife is less prosperous and we found quite a few places that were down at heel but at least in the sunshine they looked their best.  We came up this coast from Edinburgh as far as Leven one day eight years ago and it seemed very run down, but it was a dull old day then, with some rain. The little harbour at Dysart was very pretty but some road works at the car park prevented us stopping and so we went through Kirkcaldy and made a stop at the Pettycur harbour Kinghorn.


Pettycur looks out on to  Inchkeith island and across to Edinburgh.  We spent some time with binos identifying various Edinburgh features, Arthurs Seat, Castle, Observatory, Salisbury Crags, Carlton hill, Leith docks, (but we couldn't spot Britannia) before taking the dogs down to the sands.   There is a campsite here but looking at from our parking place it looked like it was all mobile homes .  At least we commented they all had a view. In Arbroath the slope was so gentle and the wall and railway embankment so high all they got to see was the end wall and roof of the home in front.  Later as we drove by we could see a nice little touring part but it was right next to the main road and it was also revealed there were plenty of mobile homes that didn't have much of a view.

Pettycur:  A campsite?, The Beach, The Harbour


In our seaside book they mentioned Silversands Beach at Aberdour as a must see.  Well we were disappointed, compared to the beaches we had seen it was small and not particularly pretty.  We left the dogs in the van and went for a walk around about Hawkcraig Point, perhaps to find a lunchtime pint or one last fish lunch before leaving Scotland.  Well we did find a restaurant but declined the prices and the pretentious menu.  Found a worn out jetty and some climbers on the nearby rocks along with a view of the Forth Rail bridge peeking over the hill.

Hawkcraig Point


I don't know what we expected to see at Dalgety Bay, it is just off of OS map Sht 66 so we were relying on our road map, as I said don't know what we expected but what we got was middle class suburbia and designer foreshore, we passed quickly on to the more natural Inverkeithing and then parked up under the Rail Bridge at North Queensferry.  They are doing something to the bridge, probably painting it as well, but as we heard it its the road bridge that's in more danger.  They have planted microphones so they can hear the individual strands of the suspension cables breaking.  Last chance to change our minds, no, well nothing for it but to head homewards across that bridge.  When we stopped at the C&CC site at Moffatt eighty miles later we were secretly pleased to hear that rain was forecast. 

Forth Bridges 


43rd Day - 48 Coast Miles 


A summary of Part 5

Mileages: We did less than I expected on the actual coast and more on the islands.  The 'finish' mileage back to Salisbury was higher than I expected due to stopping 'Coast' at Edinburgh rather than at Newcastle. Totals 1924 coast miles, 662 Mull, Skye and Orkney miles, 910 Start and finish miles. This makes a total of 4609 coast miles so far since Southampton and we haven't finished with the coast yet in 2009.

Average Mileages: Ignoring the start and finish days our average mileage was 60.14 miles per day. Ignoring Island days it was 60.13 m/d our target was 60 m/d. This result was unexpectedly close. I only did the sums at Cape Wrath and at the end and did not 'fix' the result.

Days: 45 days away (44 Nights), the best part of six and a half weeks, was too long in a 5m motorhome with two dogs to say nothing about the effect of our absence on the allotment and the garden. We had 32 coast days, 11 island days, 2 Start and finish days

Nights:16 nights in campsites 26 wild camping.  Four campsites on the trot at the end rather skewed the result.

Weather: Scotland again delivered up a dry April/May, it was windy and cool at times but the overall impression was one of sunshine. The statistics: 27 days with no rain at all, 2 days with a lot of rain, 5 days you would call dull, 11 days mixed.

Some miscellaneous facts:Number of hours of TV watched 0.  Number of DVD films watched Frank 1 Doreen 2. Number of distilleries visited 1 Frank 1 Doreen 0 (thats when she watched the extra film) Winner of the Crib championship Doreen.

Best: Walk: to SandWood Bay.  Beach: Waullkmill Bay (Orkney).  Best wildlife moments: Meeting some stags and seeing our first ever Eagle.  Best Tourist Attractions: Discovery Museum Dundee=Maes Howe (Orkney)    Best View:  Old Man of Hoy=Sunset over Cullins.  Best Drive: Over the Pass of the Cattle to Applecross.

Will be be back? Well what do you think!