Coastal wanderings: Aberdeen to Portlethen

The Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail stretches for about 160 miles from Cullen in the north to Montrose in the south. I have walked bits and pieces of it on days out but never in any kind of systematic way.  As a national trail, it is not well documented – there are (not very good) maps available from the Aberdeenshire Council website  and Gil Campbell has written briefly about it on his blog of walking around the Scottish Coast. But there isn’t much freely available information on blogs and the web about the good and not so good bits.

So, I thought maybe I should walk the path and write a guide. Living in NE Scotland, I can get to most sections easily and it seemed a reasonable objective to do a series of day walks along the trail. Then I looked at the maps. Not good. Far too much of it doesn’t actually follow the coast but is on minor and sometimes not so minor roads. So, walking the whole trail is not for me. Instead, I decided to do a series of posts over the next year or so on the off-road bits of the trail and on some of the places along the way.

I started by taking the bus to Aberdeen, Scotland’s oil capital, and walking from the Union Square bus station. After walking through the busy harbour and the fish processing factories at Torry, you suddenly leave the city and the coast opens out in front of you. As you go up the hill towards the lighthouse, you can see an old wharf and windlass on the left which is where I joined the coastal path. You get a good view here back into the harbour.

From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour
From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour

The path follows the coast with the Girdle Ness lighthouse on your right. I stayed on the beach past a wee cove where I finished my first TGO Challenge and the giant foghorn to Nigg Bay. The official path is on the road up the hill but I stayed low and made my way around the grassy cliffs. The path is a bit tenuous here and if you don’t like steep grass, it’s best to avoid this bit. I then made my way up the the top of the cliffs and joined the marked path to Cove.

Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013
Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013

Foghorn at Girdle Ness light
Foghorn at Girdle Ness light

Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light
Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light

This is an absolutely delightful section along the cliff tops. The coastal scenery is fabulous  – it was like a school geography lesson come to life with all kinds of coastal features – stacks, geos and caves. It’s easy walking and there are places you can get off the path for a break.

Sea stack
Sea stack

 

A geo - a narrow cleft in the cliffs
A geo – a narrow cleft in the cliffs

Sea cave near Doonies Farm
Sea cave near Doonies Farm

I stopped for lunch on the cliff tops about a mile outside the village of Cove.

Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.
Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.

Instead of following the marked path to Cove, I stayed on the coastal path to Cove harbour. Then it’s up quite a steep hill into the village, where there’s a shop and a pub. I met a coastal backpacker here, walking from Stonehaven to Portsoy to complete his last section of his east coast walk and we chatted for a while.

The path leaves the coast here and you walk through the village, past the school to a minor road on the left where the trail continues. After you pass the quarry, this road is pretty quiet and I followed it to the village of Findon. A random food fact about Findon is that it’s the home of ‘Finnan Haddie’, a type of smoked haddock that used to be very popular. It has now been eclipsed by the better known Arbroath smoke and you rarely see them nowadays. There’s no smokers left in Findon.

At Findon, you can get back onto the coast by turning left where the road takes a sharp right turn. This takes you down the hill to Survival Craft Inspections, a company that checks out oil rig lifeboats. The orange boats give it a rather surreal feel, like something out of a science fiction film.

Survival craft
Survival craft at Findon

It’s quite hard to find the path here – I was directed to it by a couple of workers. It basically goes round the company’s yard then down some overgrown steps and across a bridge back to the cliffs. It was good to get back to the fabulous coastal scenery.

From here, it’s only a short walk to Old Portlethen. Remarkably, this was a fishing village at one time, with a tiny harbour in a rocky cove.

Portlethen harbour
Portlethen harbour

From here, it’s about a mile up the hill to Portlethen, a modern Aberdeen suburb. After passing the station, I caught a number 7 bus back into Aberdeen and then home.

Aberdeen to Portlethen: About 19km

8 thoughts on “Coastal wanderings: Aberdeen to Portlethen

  • September 16, 2014 at 8:08 am
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    Good post Ian and good luck with the guide book. This area brings back some memories for me as i used to spend time at Duncan cabs place at Nigg. Happy days.

    Reply
  • Pingback: Finishing the Challenge Part 1: Aberdeen to Stonehaven « Daunerin' Aboot

  • February 18, 2015 at 12:35 am
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    Thanks for sharing your experience. I have been searching for informtion on coastal walks in Aberdeenshire since I moved to the area about a month ago, and am looking forward to undertaking this particular adventure. About how long did it take you to reach Portlethen from the Harbour in Aberdeen?

    Reply
    • February 18, 2015 at 9:33 am
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      I think it took me about 5 hours from Aberdeen to Old Portlethan village then another 30 minutes or so to get back to the bus stop. But the weather was good and that included quite lengthy breaks for photography and lunch

      Reply
  • March 17, 2016 at 5:22 pm
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    Hi Ian,
    I’ve already walked from Scarborough to Aberdeen along the North Sea coast and intend to continue further north this year. I know about the Moray Coast Path higher up but I can’t seem to find anything from Aberdeen northwards. I intend to stay in Aberdeen and use the bus,
    Any advice would be welcome,
    Cheers,
    Ian Bell.

    Reply
  • September 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm
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    hi Ian,
    I am currently walking the North sea trail in small pieces during my spare time, and Im finding information on the Aberdeenshire coastal path between Aberdeen and Cullen scarce. I’ve discovered the not so good maps on the council website, can you provide further information on this area of walking.

    thanks
    Shane

    Reply
    • October 11, 2016 at 11:42 am
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      Hi Shane,
      Earlier this year my brother and I walked the section from Aberdeen to Peterhead as part of our long term East Coast walk. Up to now we have walked from Scarborough to Peterhead. This section was easy to organise as there is a regular bus service which follows the coast all the way. However, some sections were more difficult than others due to poor signage and lack of path maintenance, although it was still a great walk, despite the problems. My brother contacted the Council about this and received a positive response from the Ranger Service. The Council maps are OK for a general view but I would recommend OS maps for the actual walking. The worst section was from Collieston to Whinneyfold where the path was no more than a narrow sheep track. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem but as it hugs the clifftop it felt a bit dangerous so we resorted to climbing the fence and walking in the adjacent fields at some points. You can contact me for further info if you require it, including a good website by a chap who is walking the whole coast of Scotland,
      Cheers,
      Ian.

      Reply

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