North East Coastal Trail
|From:||St Cyrus (NO745648)|
|Via:||Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Peterhead Harbour, Fraserburgh, Banff, Whitehills, Buckie, Spey Bay, Fochabers, Lossiemouth, Burghead|
|Length:||166 miles (267.1 km)|
|Old route now:||A92, unclassified, A957, B979, A92, B9077, A945, A956, unclassified, A956, A92, A90, A975, A90, A982, unclassified, A982, A90, B9033, unclassified, A98, unclassified, A98, B9031, A98, unclassified, B9038, B9121, B9139, unclassified, A98, A942, A990, unclassified, B9104, A96, (B9015), B9103, A941, B9040, B9013, B9089, B9011, A96|
The North East Coastal Trail is a route following the coast in the old Grampian region of Scotland - from St Cyrus (just north of Montrose) to Forres (on the A96 between Nairn and Elgin). It is signed with an anchor, and the 'North East' part of its name is never signed: just 'Coastal Trail'. Anchor symbols are also used to direct visitors to the small harbours and coastal spots that lie off the route, often at the end of dead ends. It appears that the route may be in the process of being rebranded, with an Aberdeenshire Coastal Route being promoted, and whilst the signs remain for the Moray part of the route described below, it is no longer being promoted in the same manner.
Mostly this route is only signed well where it has to make a turn, and the route happily takes narrow streets to serve Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff's harbours as well as minor lanes of poor quality.
St Cyrus to Aberdeen
Aberdeen to Fraserburgh
Leaving Aberdeen behind, the coastal trail initially follows the dual carriageway A90, before forking right onto the A975. Balmedie is the only settlement of any size along this stretch, and is perhaps most famous for being home to Donald Trumps Golf resort, although whether this is a good or bad association is up to you! Turning off onto the A975 however, takes the trail away from the busy main road and onto a far more pleasant route out to Newburgh with its selection of businesses strung along the long main street. Beyond the town, the A975 crosses the dramatic scenery of the River Ythan, with a bridge across a narrow part of the estuary, before turning to run through the trees on the east bank.
The cluster of houses around the sandy bay at Collieston at the end of the B9003 could almost be Hebridean in appearance, and is very picturesque on a sunny day. There are paths around the bay and along the cliffs which are worth exploring for the views. A mile to the north, the site of old Slains Castle is on the clifftops, although this is not the dramatic ruin to the north, and there is little to see. Cruden Bay is the next town to the north, with a golf course between the town and the long sweep of sandy beach on the coast. This is reached via a footbridge from Port Errol, where there is also a small harbour to explore.
'New' Slains Castle is a ruinous place dramatically sited on the clifftop a couple of miles walk (there and back) from the road. Whilst it is not recommended to explore within the ruins, the dramatic setting and fabulous architecture are well worth the walk out, to view from the surrounding fence and marvel at this enormous folly, which was extended beyond the financial means of the owners! It also inspired Bram Stoker with Dracula - he stayed whilst the castle was still occupied. The coastline either side is typical of this coast, a rugged collection of cliffs and secluded bays with a variety of coastal paths for walkers to explore.
The coastal trail meanwhile leaves Cruden Bay and continues north east on the A975, then the A90 to Peterhead. Before reaching the town, the B9108 leads out to the coastal village of Boddam, lying above the rocky shore, and with a striking lighthouse set on a tidal island, linked with a bridge across the shingle channel. Peterhead is a busy town with a vast harbour formed out of the bay. It originated as a fishing port, before becoming an important base for the North Sea Oil Industry. Times are changing again, but there is still much to recommend the town for a visit, not least the fact that it is the most easterly mainland town in Scotland, with Keith Inch, a peninsula (once an island) in the industrial harbour area being the most easterly point.
The coastal trail follows the A982 and side streets through the town, but it is perhaps easier to park up and walk around to explore Peterhead fully. Returning to the A90 to continue north, the coast is again difficult to reach by car, with only lanes penetrating the coastal dunes. For those feeling energetic, paths lead out to Rattray Head and the Loch of Strathbeg, although this is not the most exciting part of the coast! The coastal trail turns off the A90 onto the B9033 to St Combs and Inverallochy. Neither of these coastal villages are exceptional, but there are good beaches between them and Fraserburgh, backed by golf courses.
Fraserburgh itself lies at the far end of the B9033, and has a busy town centre and large harbour area. Perhaps the best destination in town is the Lighthouse museum, but there are many other attractions as well as a good range of shops and eateries. The Architecture tells of the towns past, once one of the busiest fishing ports in Scotland, but there is also a lot of new development suggesting that this town has a bright future too.
Fraserburgh to Cullen
From Fraserburgh the Coastal Trail follows the B9031 west through Sandhaven and Rosehearty and on to Macduff. Along the way it passes the famous village of Pennan, made most famous by its Telephone Box, as seen in Local Hero. This tiny village set at the bottom of a cliff is a must see even if you've never heard of the film, and the equally picturesque village of Crovie a few miles to the west is also worth exploring, although bearing in mind the tiny amount of land each village occupies between cliff and sea, it doesn't take too long!
Gardenstown lies off on the B9123, and at first is an unpromising modern collection of houses atop the cliff. However, if you take the plunge down the steep switchback road, the older village at the bottom of the cliffs - far larger than Pennan or Crovie - is a fascinating jumble of houses and boatsheds connected by narrow streets and paths. The road along the shore takes nerves of steel to drive, but there is a car park at the east end of the village in the harbour area. The coastal trail doesn't actually visit any of these villages, however, instead it sticks to the B9031 as it continues west. Beyond the Gardenstown turn, it winds down a hill, round a gulley and back up the other side. It then runs through fields, undulating gently to Macduff, with some good views out to sea.
Macduff and its neighbour Banff are pleasant coastal towns either side of the River Deveron. Both towns have harbours onto Banff Bay, with Macduff being home to a marine aquarium and Banff having a historic town centre and the Duff House Museum and Gallery set in a golf course parkland to the south of town. They are linked by a fine old bridge over the river, and with beaches at the river mouth it is a pleasant walk between the two towns. Macduff is also home to a distillery, by no means the last to be encountered as the trail continues west.
The coastal trail leaves Banff on the A98, quickly turning right onto the B9038 to Whitehills, then the B9121 and B9139 west to Portsoy. Before reaching Whitehills, the long beach of Inverboyndie Bay provides a pleasant stroll, whilst the old harbour in the village is now home to a small marina. Continuing west, access to the coast is often difficult, down narrow paths or across fields. However, the more intrepid adventurer is rewarded with a selection of cliffs, rock formations, secluded sandy coves and rocky beaches. In Portsoy, it is worth making your way down to the historic harbour, with its old warehouses and cottages. Portsoy is the last town in modern Aberdeenshire, and just a few miles west along the A98 is Cullen in Moray.
Cullen to Forres
The coastal trail crosses into Moray just to the east of Cullen, on the A98. The descent into the town takes you through the grid-iron streets of the new town, then under the old railway viaduct and into the older Seatown on the shore. As the A98 swings west, the road ahead drops down to the harbour, from where the narrow tangled streets of Seatown can be explored. There is also a long sandy beach stretching west around the back of Cullen Bay, and Cullen marks the eastern end of the Moray Coast Path, an ideal route to discover the coast in its full glory.
As the A98 turns inland, the Coastal Trail turns north onto the A942 and heads for Portknockie. The main road passes through the top of the town, whilst the B9021 plunges down the cliff to the harbour far below. A short walk to the east on the coast path, the amazing Bow and Fiddle Rock is a must see for any visitor. The older part of the village is a series of long north-south rows of houses, broken by the odd cross street, and with little garden ground between them. However, for all that, the streets are a little more spacious than others on this coast.
A couple of miles to the west, Findochty is the next village, with the B9020 running down to the harbour. The cliffs are much lower here, meaning that the cottages can cluster along the shore in a jumble of narrow alleys. The village church sits prominently above the harbour completing the picturesque qualities of the village. The A942 continues west, past the Strathlene Country Park, once a busy tourist resort with a Lido and other attractions, but now only the Golf Course and Caravan Park survive, albeit set on a stunning coastline with a small beach.
The large industrial port of Buckie is ahead now, although the pretty 'suburb' of Portessie comes first, the road running along the rocky shore, with a jumble of cottages set below the cliffs and some larger properties in the streets above. On a clear day, the distant shores of Sutherland and Caithness can be seen on the horizon, across the Moray Firth, and with the sun shining the rocky shore and houses behind seem to glow. All too soon, however, this coastal idyll is overtaken by the factories of the local fishing industry and other business premises. Some may say it is a blot on the landscape, but at the same time it is helping to preserve an ancient industry, and keeps hundreds of people living and working in the area.
Rather than follow the A942, a short detour south onto the parallel East Church Street takes you into the delightful shopping area of Buckie, with shops, cafes and restaurants. Turning right at Cluny Square then drops you back to the shore, with the A990 to the left taking over the Coastal Trail. This leads westwards once more, the industrial zone quickly left behind and then Buckie itself, with the road returning to the shore, running below the cliffs to the south. Port Gordon has a more urban feel than some of the other villages on the coast, but it isn't that big, the harbour lying tucked away behind houses near the centre.
As the A990 swings inland, the Coastal route sticks to the coast on an unclassified road, before it too turns inland, crossing the old railway and winding through fields. It then turns right onto the perimeter road of an old airfield which lead to Nether Dallachy and so Spey Bay. This tiny windswept village sits on the dunes at the mouth of the mighty River Spey and is home to the Scottish Dolphin Centre. A mile to the west lie the twin settlements of Kingston and Garmouth, but it is a long drive inland on the B9104 to cross the Spey - the old railway bridge is now open to pedestrians and cyclists, and the short walk is worthwhile to see both the bridge and the river.
The B9104 runs south to the pleasant town of Fochabers, and across the Spey Bridge on the A96 is Mosstodloch, home of Baxters Foods. Fochabers is the larger settlement with a range of shops and so on as well as the Gordon Castle Estate to the north. From Mosstodloch the B9105 leads all the way back north to Garmouth and then Kingston which, like Spey Bay, sits in the dunes on the shore. Both are pretty villages worth wandering around, and the large shingle and sand banks should be climbed to see the Moray Firth beyond.
The Coastal Trail then follows unclassified roads back to the A96 at Lhanbryde, but rather than heading into the historic city of Elgin, with its Cathedral, Castle Hill, Shops, Distilleries and riverside park, the trail follows the B9103 north once more to Lossiemouth, with its vast beach and harbour. The large square in the town centre seems a million miles from the coast just a couple of streets away, but the roar of jets from nearby RAF Lossiemouth are never far away! Midway between Elgin and Lossiemouth on the A941 is Spynie Palace, the historic Bishops Palace, and also from Elgin, the Malt Whisky Trail can be followed deep into Speyside.
The Coastal Trail now follows the B9040 west along the coast, with stunning views across the Moray Firth to Easter Ross and Sutherland on a clear day. The small village of Hopeman with its harbour is quickly passed, although a little detour down to the shore is always enjoyable, and then the town of Burghhead surmounting a rocky promontory is reached. The harbour lies on the south side of the headland, with a visitor centre at its tip, projecting out into the sea. The B9089 then takes the coastal trail inland to Kinloss where the ruins of the ancient abbey are worth exploring.
The final leg of the trail is now ahead, with just a couple of miles of the B9011 taking us into the fine town of Forres. The Pictish Suenos Stone lies at the entrance to the town, and the Nelsons Tower lies in wooded parkland nearer the centre. However, no journey along this coast is complete without visiting the pretty village of Findhorn, set on the magnificent natural harbour of Findhorn Bay and with a vast beach and dunes to the north along the coast. For the return journey to Aberdeen, why not head further west through Nairn to Inverness, and take the Highland Tourist Route through the mountains.