Aberdeen to Hackley Bay
Thursday 13 July 2023
34.16km • 9h (including breaks)
lowest: -2m • highest: 29m • total ascent 131m
I knew this would be a big push, especially for the first day back at it. When I was doing the research for this section, I’d spotted Hackley Bay on the map, but I needed to know with more certainty than a satellite image and contour map could give me if a 35k day would end in a guaranteed camp spot. So I got some local intel from a friend’s brother ahead of time. He said absolutely and sent the stunning pictures to prove it. So I decided it was worth it.
I improved my base weight by a fair margin for this trip, so if you’re interested you can see what I was carrying.
I got a bit nervy about it ahead of time as usual because it had been so long since I walked that far in a day and camped on my own somewhere I’d never been, but I was excited anyway. I got up at 5:45 to get a bus to Waverley and a quiet train to Aberdeen, accompanied by a Pret wrap, a fruit cup, and a shitty coffee. The weather coming out of Edinburgh and across the Forth was amazing, so the views were excellent, but it was grey by the time I was pulling into Aberdeen.
When I got off the train I’d planned to get fancy and get sushi at Itsu to take along for my lunch break, but I was too early, so I got some random bits from M&S instead and off I went. It started to rain as I was making my way around the port. By the time I made it to Footdee and the promenade, it was coming down solidly. But to my surprise and delight, the Foodstory hut was open, so I got a proper coffee and a massive piece of gooey chocolate cake. Perfect fuel. I sat there and scarfed it in the rain and set off properly.
It rained steadily all the way to Bridge of Don, but it was warm, so it didn’t matter. And it was big, fat, lazy summer rain, not sideways, wind-spray, attack rain, so I didn’t get very wet aside from when I was crossing the bridge and a bus chose that exact moment, almost the only time in the day I had to be on a road, to splash me with dirty puddle water.
Once I got to the beach on the other side, I took off my shoes and was barefoot til I got to Newburgh. I am convinced the secret to the survival of my feet on this day was the fact that I didn’t wear shoes for the majority, and periodically walked in the water whenever the sand wasn’t too squishy, which probably did wonders for avoiding inflammation.
The rain tapered off over the next 40 minutes or so and by lunchtime, I had blue skies. Bridge of Don to Newburgh is one long stretch of beach, mostly with huge dunes at the back the whole way, so there was more I could see going on out to see with the ships and the wind farm than on the beach or behind it. There were a few of the old World War Two concrete pillboxes half buried in the sand and covered in graffiti. And loads of gulls that kept taking off in big groups.
There had been another avian flu outbreak, so there were an awful lot of dead birds everywhere. Same as the previous year, although more gulls than gannets this time. Aside from being sad, seeing a beach strewn with dead birds is eerily disconcerting. It feels like we’re not paying enough attention to critical communication. If I had been there a few days earlier, it would have been even worse – I came in just after a big cleanup.
On the live bird front, at one point after Balmedie, these two terns were dive-bombing me and making a lot of chatter. I was probably just too close to where they were breeding, which is fair enough, but given I was in Trump golf course territory, I did wonder if his evil extended to hypnotising the local wildlife to act on his behalf. I took the opportunity to relieve myself at the base of the dunes on his property. Fucker.
This bit of the walk made me think of Alicia Bruce, a photographer who I met when I was working for the National Galleries of Scotland. She has a project documenting Donald Trump’s impact on the local community from 2006 to the present. You can see some images from the project, Menie: TRUMPED, on Alicia’s website, and she recently released a book as well, ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed‘.
I didn’t stop very long anywhere. Just short breaks for snacks and things. I was too restless to sit around, and I knew I had a long way to go. It was cloudy sun at my back and breeze all day once the rain stopped, which is ideal for walking because it was cool enough to keep a jacket on and not have to worry about constant sunscreen aside from my face.
No seals at Newburgh which was a bit disappointing, but I guess it was the wrong time of year. I snuck into the toilets in the pub and refilled my water before heading over the bridge to the Forvie National Nature Reserve. It was Eider Duck nesting season (possibly the best ducks!) so the path all the way to the point was closed, but going through the dunes was wild. It’s such a cool, otherworldly environment, and I’m glad I took the longer path even though I was absolutely shattered at that point. I walked one last stretch of Forvie beach, then up onto the cliffs for 20 minutes.
I finally got to Hackley Bay about 7ish, and it was a relief to see it. I sent G and Migle an ‘I’m alive, it’s camp time!’ message before I dropped down from the cliff path because I correctly suspected there would be zero service down there. There were some dog walkers and day trippers about, but no one was sticking around, so I safely snagged the one good camping spot.
After being unbothered all day by microscopic flying wildlife, as is often the case in Scotland, a beautiful spot with a beautiful view was plagued with midges and ticks. The one grassy spot just big enough and flat enough for a tent was also in the very back of the bay, out of reach of any breeze. So I cooked and ate my dinner (Real Turmat Thai red curry which was absolutely delicious, strong recommend) with a midge net on and then walked down to the water for some relief before diving into my tent to crash out. I had a new sleeping pad which proved its worth by being absolutely lush. Ignoring the insects, the spot was incredible. Everything was a bit damp and humid, but no rain, and a beautiful beach to wake up on and have a dip in the sea in the morning.
Songs on repeat in my head were ‘Hateful’ by The Clash, ‘The Good Times are Killing Me’ by Modest Mouse, and ‘When Will I See You Again?’ by The Three Degrees. A weird mix for sure, prompted by I’m not sure what. There were a few more, but I couldn’t remember them by the end of the day when I was writing notes. I was pretty impressed with myself for smashing this walk, but it was nothing compared to what I was in for the next day.