Another Corner Turned
In a week when I left the shire of Aberdeen and entered its neighbour Moray, I’ve been stung, pricked, scratched and bitten more times than I can count. Foggy and sultry weather has contributed to armies of assorted flies being out in force on my thistley route. In places, with no clearly defined footpath, I’ve gingerly waded through knee high grass wet with dew, barged through thigh high gorse and felt early morning cobwebs break on my face. Walking has been full of the unexpected, including the Crimond church clock face showing 61 minutes!
Arriving in Peterhead I was just able to see a busy fishing port before the Scottish haar (fog) rolled in and blanketed the harbour within minutes. Fishing has been the repeated theme this week and it’s easy to see why fishing communities are so tightly bound; the sea is their livelihood, but for many also their grave. Referred to as ‘fishers’, life afloat can be dangerous and during the week I stumbled across many memorials.
Where Peterhead can claim it’s the easternmost point of Scotland, Fraserburgh is claimed to be the biggest shellfish port in Europe. Walking into the town one senses that its pulse is driven by fish. Full of fishing vessels of all shapes and sizes, the port has numerous supporting services scattered along the quaysides. The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses is also in Fraserburgh where it proudly boasts the 18th century Kinnaird Head lighthouse - the first to be built on mainland Scotland. It sits on top of Kinnaird Castle, built two centuries earlier.
Fraserburgh marked an important turning point for me: I’m now walking in a westerly direction towards Inverness, before my final push north up to John o’ Groats. Since that Fraserburgh turn I’ve passed through many little fishing villages squeezed between high cliffs and a narrow foreshore. The traditional dwellings in these villages have the same distinctive features. Each is a single storey, squat, stone built ‘hoosie’ with a chimney at both ends, a central front door and a single window left and right: plain and tough with the gable end often facing the sea. All look ready for anything the weather or sea might throw at them.
In one such village, Gardenstown, I was reminded of my Royal Naval Reserve roots when I saw that a Victoria Cross plaque had been laid for Joseph Watt, an RNR skipper, who died in 1917. At another village, Findochty, I noted nearly all the names on the WW1 memorial were followed by RNR (T). The (T) denoted that they had been in the Trawler section of the RNR. These men had joined from fishing villages and served on trawlers fitted out as minesweepers for mine clearance operations. Serving at home and abroad, the section suffered heavy casualties and losses.
A complimentary industry to fishing is that of building and maintaining traditional fishing boats. Today, the order books at boatyards in Macduff and Buckie are all reported to be looking very healthy for the next few years. I saw young apprentices refurbishing various trawlers as I walked through Macduff on an extremely hot afternoon. I was glad to sit at nearby Portsoy’s harbour edge, sampling some of the town’s award-winning ice cream. Later, at Cullen, I could have sampled the famous Cullen Skink (fish soup with a smoked haddock base) but decided the two probably wouldn’t be a good mix for a walker’s stomach!
By now I’d joined the Moray Coastal Trail (50 miles) which will take me closer to Inverness. Along the way at Portgordon I learned that the town’s claim to fame was the capture of three German spies. The story goes that they were landed there in 1940, but only got as far as the railway station before being arrested by the local ‘Bobby’!
It was also at Portgordon that I saw my first signpost pointing to John o’ Groats; what it failed to show was the distance!
See Photo Album Numbers 34 - Another Corner Turned; Something Fishy; Lunch Pit Stop; Above Gordonstown