The TGO Challenge is a cross-Scotland walk, starting on the west coast between Ardrishaig and Torridon and ending on the East, between Arbroath and Fraserburgh. I’ve done it twice starting at Mallaig and Strathcarron and ending at Girdle Ness and St Cyrus.
Roger Smith wrote a useful guide on places to finish the Challenge but a short 1 paragraph write-up does not really get over the fabulous scenery in some of the Challenge finishing places. As an east-coast dweller, I’ve been to many of the places on Roger’s list so I thought I’d go through my photos and create a more pictorial guide on possible end-points (click on pics for a better view).
I’ll mostly focus on places between Aberdeen and Montrose as that’s where most people finish and where I’ve mostly visited. As there’s too many places between Aberdeen and Montrose to include in a single post, I’ve split it into three separate posts.
Not many challengers seem to finish in Aberdeen – perhaps because Roger’s notes suggest a lot of road walking is involved. In fact, if you use the Deeside Way, you can get from Ballater right into the heart of the city with hardly any road walking. The Deeside Way finishes at Duthie Park, one of Aberdeen’s main parks, and from there it’s less than an hour’s walk to the sea. Two end-points are easily reached from Duthie Park – Fittie and Girdle Ness.
Fittie is an old fishing settlement right by the beach in Aberdeen. You get there by following the Dee then walking around the harbour, which isn’t exactly a scenic walk. Aberdeen has a great beach and Fittie is a quirky community where the original sheds for nets are separate from the houses. Now these are often interestingly decorated. More pics of Fittie sheds here.
On the map, you won’t find Fittie but Footdee. But if you ask anyone in Aberdeen how to get to Footdee, they will have no idea what you are talking about. It’s always Fittie (Foot = Fit; Dee = ti).
Girdle Ness is, I think, a better place to finish the Challenge than Fittie. From Duthie Park, you follow the Dee to the 2nd bridge, cross the bridge, take 2nd on left and keep walking. You pass the harbour with a pervasive smell of fish from fish processing factories then suddenly you are out of the city, walking above the river estuary, with great views back to the harbour (see this post). There’s a great wee cove below the lighthouse where I finished my first Challenge.
The coast from Aberdeen to Montrose is punctuated by what were fishing villages – Findon is the first of these (see this post) but the first on Roger’s list is Portlethan. Portlethan is a modern, bland suburb of Aberdeen which you have to walk through to get to the fishing village of Old Portlethan.
Old Portlethan is about a mile from Portlethan and has a lot more character. There’s a nice wee harbour where you can reach the sea and a pub to have a drink or coffee afterwards. There’s a village shop and supermarkets in Portlethan. However, don’t try to take the train to Montrose as Roger suggests, many trains don’t stop at Portlethan. Better to get the coastal bus.
Downies is the next village to Old Portlethan and you have to walk through Portlethan to get there. No shop or pub. Nice coastal scenery but comparatively, there are better places. Probably only worth going there if you are collecting Challenge finish places. No pub or shop.
Newtonhill is another old fishing village that has become an Aberdeen suburb, although its not as big as Portlethan. This means that there isn’t the same urban walk as at Portlethan or Downies and it’s a pleasant stroll through the filed down to the old village. A pleasant enough beach that you reach by an easy path down the cliffs.
There’s a shop and pub – I haven’t been in either.
Muchalls is magnificent!
The village is on the edge of Aberdeen’s creeping sprawl which means there’s some gentrification but, as yet, no large new housing estates. You walk through the village to the road end then follow the path under the railway to the sea.
At this stage, you have no idea what is going to hit you. When you reach the sea, it’s a fantastic surprise. The views north and south are superb. Certainly, for cliff scenery, this is the best place south of Aberdeen (the Bullers of Buchan to the north are pretty good but that’ll be in a different post).
Good lunches in the Muchalls Bistro. I haven’t been there for a while and I can’t remember if it’s open for drinks and coffee or not. Buses to Aberdeen and Stonehaven.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how to get to Muchalls without a fair bit of tarmac pounding so that’s always going to limit its popularity.
Cowie is a hamlet at the north end of Stonehaven. Its principal claim to fame (if you are a geo-geek) is that it’s where the Highland Boundary Fault meets the North Sea. The Highland Boundary fault, which starts in Helensburgh, is the geological boundary between the Lowlands and the Highlands.
It’s a pleasant enough wee place but it doesn’t have any grand cliff scenery like the places further north. It’s a short walk to Stonehaven cafes on the promenade – Molly’s is quite good and fish and chips from the Bay are excellent. Quite easy to get to from the Feteresso forest.