After exploring the coastline south of Aberdeen in one of our previous blogs, the obvious choice for our next trip through our backyard of Aberdeenshire, was going to be discovering the coastline further north, an area known as Buchan.
The Seals at Newburgh Beach
Our trip started off in the small village of Newburgh, just over 14 miles north of Aberdeen, where we had a very special appointment with some cute and inquisitive creatures! If it was not enough that Newburgh has a picturesque estuary and nature sanctuary, with boundless sand dunes and a bracing sea breeze, the main attraction is undoubtedly the large colony of seals which call this area home.
The seal colony often numbers over three hundred, and they can usually be found on the north bank of the estuary, or on the sand stretching out to sea. Visitors are always treated to a number of seals peaking at them just meters from southern shore. As inquisitive as they are, they always seem to be quite camera shy, for as soon as you get your camera out to take an up close photo, they submerge again. It turns into a game of photographic cat and mouse!
A fifteen minute drive further up the coast took us to Collieston. The earliest recorded history of Collieston is of the arrival of St Ternan, a Columban monk on a mission to convert the local picts to Christianity. Collieston’s claim to fame during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were its ‘Spelding Teas’ – speldings are split and dried haddock or whiting.
We were not there for the speldings, however, and we were much more interested in the view of this scenic village, perched on the coast, and the interesting rock formations on the sea shore.
Next on our itinerary was the town of Cruden Bay, and the adjoining harbour area of the Port of Erroll. Interestingly, the name “Cruden” comes from the Gaelic "Croch Dain" or “Slaughter of Danes”, referring back to a battle fought between the Scots and the Danes in 1012. We may not have found any marauding Vikings on the beach, but what we did find was a beautiful sandy shoreline, stretching out before us for several miles. If only Scotland had a Mediterranean climate, these Buchan beaches would be packed. Well…maybe it’s not so bad that we don’t!
Cruden Bay boasts a gem of a restaurant and hotel, The Kilmarnock Arms. So, since it was lunch time, we had a great excuse to try out the food. In my personal opinion, the mixed grill that I ordered was the best I have ever tasted – and I have tasted many!
The Kilmarnock Arms also holds another surprise – the signature of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula! It was in this hotel that he stayed while he wrote his novel. Indeed, early drafts of his novel had Dracula coming ashore at Cruden Bay after his sea voyage from Transylvania. However, this was changed to Whitby in Yorkshire for the final published work. Today, if you ask nicely, the staff will show you the reception desk ledger with his signature.
This historical footnote brought us nicely to our next destination – New Slains Castle, just a twenty minute walk around the coast. Bram Stoker was once invited to this castle and used it as inspiration for his novel.
It was easy to see how this dominating castle, with it views out over the rocky cliff tops, perhaps during a storm or with dark, angry clouds over head, could conjure images of a supernatural Transylvania. Back to reality, and today the castle is an interesting ruin that can be walked through and around. Built in 1597, it has been in a sorry state of dereliction for almost a hundred years.
The Bullers of Buchan
A five minute drive further north, brought us to our final destination of the day – the impressive cliffs of The Bullers of Buchan. This fascinating name is thought to be derived from the French “bouillir”, meaning “to boil”. Once there it becomes apparent as to why this part of the coast got its name.
The Bullers of Buchan is a collapsed sea cave, forming an almost circular chasm (the “pot”) some 30 meters deep, where the ocean rushes in through a natural archway. When the sea is particularly choppy, the waters are said to resemble a pot of boiling water. Thankfully, the weather was much more favourable to us, and we didn’t witness the “boiling” water.
If time had permitted, this part of the coast has a scenic, if slightly, vertigo inducing
path, stretching virtually from Peterhead down to Cruden Bay. We didn’t have the hours required for this, but we did carry on a little south of the Bullers for about ten minutes, and we were treated to the equally impressive Bow of Pitwartlachie.
Don’t you just love these place names? It is even more fun when you try and say the name out loud or, even better, when I get Pamela, with her Colombian/American twang, to try! Seriously though, the Bow of Pitwartlachie is a spectacular sea arch, and well worth searching out.
With evening fast approaching, it was now time for us to head back to Aberdeen and reminisce on our coastal adventure, while making plans for our next Scottish trip, this time a bit further afield, down to Dumfries, almost as far south as you can go in Scotland.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!