Scottish Coast • Day 20 • Stonehaven to Portlethen Village

Stonehaven to Portlethen Village
Tuesday 18 April 2023

20.56km • 6h (including breaks)
lowest: 1m • highest: 78m • total ascent 543m
Swim near Doonie Point

See the route on OS Maps

Today absolutely made up for all the road nonsense of yesterday. It had everything – sun, dramatically-rolling-in haar, non-deadly challenges to solve, a dip in the sea, not one but two dogs happily demanding scratches, and very little straying from the actual coastline.

I was pretty wrecked when I woke up, but the only thing for that is to start moving. I stocked up on lunch things in the Co-Op and had an ok second breakfast in a cafe (sadly no black pudding, so had to go for bacon, which was mediocre) before heading back out to the beach promenade to start, where a very excited golden lab begged me to come say hello with a very waggy tail and a lot of leash-straining. So: scratches!

It was properly sunny now, so I doused myself in sunscreen before climbing up the hill to the cliffs north of town. I skirted around the golf course before dropping down to Skatie Shore to put my feet in the water and have my first snack of the day. Last year this had been where I planned to camp, and it definitely would have worked. It’s nice to confirm my map research for potential camping spots is sound. I considered a dip here as there were some really nice hidden rocky inlets, but it was so early in the day I decided I’d try to find somewhere later on.

Back up to the golf course and on past the end of it, I got to walking around farm field edges along the cliffs. The east coast mainline runs very close to the sea here, so my goal was to stay on this side of it as far as possible. It was the same deal as the day before, I’d try to go as far as I could based on what I’d seen on my map and read about other people’s routes, but if at any point it got dangerous or impassable, I’d go back and work out what to do. There are lots of places where there are farm track overpasses from the coast side to the land side of the railway, and none of them looked gated on the satellite view, so I at least had various escape points if I needed them.

My first challenge of the day was barbed wire fence. There was a burn to get over between fields, and steep walks down and up, but on both sides the fields were fenced along the top. On the burn side between the fences, there was an obvious little path where people had beaten their own route across, so I knew that part would be straightforward, but I’m not one for climbing fences if I really don’t have to. This one was not electric, which is the big hard no, and it was reasonably low, but my brain gave up on the barbed wire too fast and I decided to go back down the field, over the railway, and try to cross the burn on the other side where there was a wood gate that looked more climbable. The problem was when I got there that there was no really safe looking route down to the burn, which I hadn’t been able to see from the other side because the railway was in the way.

I considered my options for a minute, looked back across at the barbed wire, and decided I’d have to find a way to get over it. So back I went again to assess the situation. I picked a spot where someone had put a rock on the field side, covered the wire with my sitting pad, chucked my bag over to the other side first, and got myself over. The path down and up over the burn was no problem, and I was able to use the corner supports of the next fence and my sitting pad to get me over unscathed again. This was all relatively easy in the end, it just took a bit of calculation. I probably spent about 40 minutes on this back and forth because I didn’t take enough time to consider how it might actually be fine. I congratulated myself at the top for not getting barbed and made my way around the next field. The only other fence I had to go over for the rest of the day was a very low electric one, which I think must have been to keep rabbits out or something. Easy to step over but I was extra careful anyway, because that stuff freaks me out. Eventually the fields actually had a little path around the outside of them (thanks, farmers!) and I was just plodding along enjoying the sparkly sea and the amazing cliff views.

I spotted a little beach around 1.30 that had a path down to it. I think this had been another one of the places I marked as a possible camp spot, and someone had actually built an incredible little beach hut down there. It was a perfect time for a dip and my Co-Op hoisin duck wrap lunch. I made my way down and put my swim stuff on and charged into the water to bring my core temperature back down to something sensible. There was no wind down there so I didn’t even get cold when I got out to change in the sun. I ate my lunch and recharged my phone while I dried out on a bench in front of the beach hut. And just as I finished and started considering the upcoming route, I looked up and noticed the haar was coming in. A good point to pack up and start moving so I wouldn’t get cold. By the time I got back up to the cliff tops two minutes later, visibility was so low I couldn’t even see the sea anymore.

A buffering cloud is surely better than langoliers. Happy to have these nerds watching out for me.

I wandered the paths around the farm above the beach, met a peacock on a fence, and found a gate to cross the last fields before having to go through Muchalls and Newtonhill on the other side of the tracks in order to get back down to the sea. This was ok, just a short walk through some new-build housing and back over the railway. I met an older man walking his dog who told me about the route ahead. His dog was some kind of pug, and not a fan of me. There was a lot of barking. No scratches for you, buddy.

Once I got through the town, there was a path down to the little harbour, and then back up again around Cran Hill with great views out to the sea. I met a golden retriever on this path who was also very eager to say hello, so more scratches were distributed. There was some farm track to walk the rest of the way, via a tiny town called Downies where there was a path out to some rocks in the sea. I didn’t go all the way down there, but I had a seat on the bench overlooking them for a little break before the last 20 minutes or so walk into Portlethen Village.

I’d booked into a room at The Neuk pub and when I arrived about 5pm, the landlady May told me she’d switched me into the room with the bathtub when she’d seen I was a woman on my own. What a hero! I am not normally a bath person, but on this day I, and my legs, were happy to go off-brand. The room was lovely, the windows had great views out to the sea over the fields, the bed was possibly the most comfortable I’ve had in any hotel situation recently, and the bath and shower were amazing. I had steak pie and a pint in the pub downstairs while I read my book, and then went to bed early with the windows open again.

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