Scottish Coast • Day 21 • Portlethen Village to Aberdeen

Portlethen Village to Aberdeen
Wednesday 19 April 2023

17.2km • 4.5h (including breaks)
lowest: -2m • highest: 96m • total ascent 429m

See the route on OS Maps

I’ve noticed a worrying trend that all my holidays in the past year seem to have destroyed me. Or perhaps correlation is not causation and I’ve just been ill constantly. THANKS, LOCKDOWNS, for destroying all our immune responses. Overnight in my very comfortable pub room bed, I felt cold number (at least) 4 of the year coming on. I’ve worried that perhaps I’m throwing too much at myself, but that doesn’t track, because the walks themselves have not felt particularly physically difficult. I did run myself happily ragged in Paris the week before this trip, but I actually think that helped prepare me for sustained walking after having been away from the coast so long.

In any case, by morning I was feeling pretty rough. However, the sun was out again, and there was less than half a day’s walk between me and Aberdeen. I’d promised myself I’d get there this trip, and I was so lucky with the weather for this stretch. It was just too good not to take advantage of. I mean, look at the pictures! I knew that after a bit of minor road walking, I would be on an amazing coastal path the rest of the way into the city. So I had the provided continental breakfast, packed everything up, took some painkillers, and got to walking.

I got to go see the little harbour in Portlethen on the first part of the walk, as well as another cove, above which was a place that made submarines and lifeboats. The weather was disgustingly perfect, to the point where the temperature balanced the fact that I was in direct sunlight, so I was never too hot, even with a full bag, even walking uphill on the roads. I had to get past a few quarries to get to Cove where I could get back out to the sea. It’s too bad all that stuff is up against the cliffs there, because it’s probably a beautiful place to walk, but I was on the roads for less than an hour, and they were very quiet, so it was fine.

I could tell my immune system was in the gutter. The walking was ok and even the weight of the bag was fine, which I hope has something to do with all the training I’ve been doing, but I just felt wiped the way you do when your body is fighting something off. Once I got to Cove Harbour though, it was much easier to overlook the blergh. From there all the way into Aberdeen was a path along the cliff tops. I’d been on part of it maybe 15 years ago when visiting my former boyfriend’s family. He’d grown up here and used to hang out around the cliffs and coves just off the path. I sent him a picture of the post office and the views in the sun, to which he commented that they haven’t painted that post office in 39 years. I should have gone in! We all know I love a local post office shop.

In any case, this time, I got to walk the whole path. I sat and had an extended snack break at Souter Head, and I probably would have done more exploring all the rocks and things if I’d had a bit more energy. I was really enjoying the views and the fact that I didn’t have to think too much about the route though.

Right before you get to Aberdeen, you come to Nigg Bay, which is under construction as a new harbour. I later learned in the Maritime Museum that this was mostly for offshore wind farm logistics and maybe some cruise lines. It’s quite an operation, but it also meant that the path around the bay was diverted through the nearby park, and didn’t go out to the Girdle Ness lighthouse like it used to. I think I could have backtracked around the golf course if I’d really wanted to go out there, but given the fact that my life force felt like it was seeping out the soles of my feet, I opted to just continue into town around Aberdeen harbour. There was a military ship of some kind being tugged in as I came down over the hill, so that was interesting to watch. Then I wove through all the warehouse bits and the gated areas next to the harbour. There was a sign about Old Torry Village that used to be where the south part of the harbour, the remainder of which was lost in the 1970s when the oil companies expanded the harbour and quarry areas. I neglected to take a picture of the panel but there’s a little bit of info in this Aberdeen Trails leaflet.

There is obviously a ton of oil and gas stuff going on in the harbour area. But there were also fish merchants – one of which had just dumped all that morning’s ice so it smelled particularly strongly – and all manner of other things you normally see in industrial units. And as you get around the harbour to the city centre, the more central quays are where the ferries for Orkney and Shetland are.

I’d booked into the BrewDog Kennels for the night, so I went to the bar for lunch while I waited for check-in time. Buffalo wings and a pint were in order. The room itself was cool – it had a little record player with a selection of albums, a mini kitchen, a little sitting area with a massive TV, and a shower beer fridge! I went back out to get a bunch of stuff to take care of myself from Boots and sat and watched old Star Trek and Grand Designs episodes on the TV and listened to a Talking Heads record.

My original plan had been to try to get some more walking done before I went home, but I decided to take it easy instead and go to the Aberdeen Maritime Museum to learn about All The Things, then get an afternoon train home. In the morning, I took a walk out to the beach unladen by my bag to check out what was in store for the next leg. It will be nice to take a train up to Aberdeen and simply walk off to start. There won’t be many more times on the coast that I’ll be able to do that now.

I went back to check out of the hotel and drop my bag in the bar for a few hours and then got some early lunch at Foodstory before pootling around the museum for a couple hours. There’s some great stuff in there, and it was good to learn a bit of history of the area and how it’s all changed from small fishing towns to oil and now to things like offshore wind. They touched on everything from how industry has affected the local communities, economy, and marine environment, to the relation of clipper ships to colonialism, to how fossil fuels have contributed to climate change. I wish the place was bigger and (probably) better funded, because it would have been nice to see some more depth on these sorts of things. But it’s good to see it acknowledged, especially in a place that depends so heavily on money from a controversial industry. I highly recommend going there if you’re in Aberdeen. I certainly learned more about how offshore oil platforms work than I ever knew before.

I think I was extra surprised by how intensely industrial Aberdeen is. It makes sense, but I had never really thought about it when I’d been up there before because I wasn’t wandering around on my own, I was just there as a guest hanging out with family. But this time I noticed a lot more, and the museum provided a lot of insight I wouldn’t have had otherwise, so it was really worth the break there. For a city that has so much money, you wouldn’t necessarily know it walking down the high street. It just looks like your normal UK high street that’s been a bit stripped down because of the move to big modern shopping centres. And Aberdeen’s is right there in the centre between the railway station and the harbour, but even that felt a bit empty. I suspect most of the money is not in the city centre, but it’s just so strange to see this huge harbour operation that’s clearly generating a lot of wealth, and then for a lot of what’s around it to look a bit tired.

I got some soup in said shopping centre before heading off on my train, which was an LNER bound for London. Happily not too busy, so I had two seats to myself. I watched all the coastline I’d just walked in three days pass by in less than half an hour. That’s been a fairly normal occurrence on the east coast portion of this so far, but I think that may be the last time.

It took much longer to get home than expected. We were stopped in Fife for an hour or so two due to someone falling onto the tracks at a station ahead of us. I was quite uncomfortable and ill and tired, but I couldn’t really be anything but a bit sad about it given that someone had just died, so I just sat there wishing I could take my shoes off without offending the noses of everyone else on board. They eventually got us moving the opposite way around the Fife circle and into Edinburgh, and this time I even managed to get a bus home from the station. Goal for next leg of this journey: don’t get a cold.

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