The Coast below Aberdeen
Travelling north from Tayside, you enter the region known as the Howe of the Mearns, noted for its ochre-red soil and productive agricultural activity. 'Howe', in old Scots, means a flat area surrounded by hills. The Howe of the Mearns is really an extension of the fertile Vale of Strathmore stretching north-east from Coupar Angus in Perthshire to Stonehaven on the Kincardineshire coast.
Long sweeps of sandy beach characterise the coast from Montrose to the village of St Cyrus after which the shoreline rises into ragged, red granite cliffs interrupted by small fishing communities that have germinated in the tiny coves. St Cyrus occupies a headland above the beach and is chiefly distinguished for its nature reserve, favoured by many unusual wild flowers that grow on the south-facing hills and dunes.
Springing from the Grampian Mountains, the River North Esk empties into the North Sea at St Cyrus Bay and otters can be seen around the mouth of the river. Seals are other regular offshore visitors. A peculiar method of salmon fishing is employed here using vertical nets hung on stakes and stretched out into the sea. These create a unique photo opportunity.
Johnshaven and Gourdon are grey little fishing villages to the east of the A92 descended into via steep roads that lead to the shore. Further along the A92 is the larger village of Inverbervie, referred to as 'Bervie' by the locals. Its main historic claim to fame is that David II and his 16-year old French wife were beached here after being chased by the English. The king bestowed a Royal Charter on the town for his safe deliverance but, unbelievably, the town misplaced the document and had to apply for a replacement. The 'Bervie' fish and chip shop is one of the best in this area and often wins national prizes for its fare.
Carry on along the B967 west from Inverbervie to the village of Arbuthnott. This area, from Inverbervie to Stonehaven and inland to Arbuthnott and Drumlithie is effectively captured in the literary trilogy, the Scot's Quair, written earlier this century by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His books, especially Sunset Song, contain some of the best prose ever written about rural Scotland. Gibbon's real name was James Leslie Mitchell and his tombstone still stands at Arbuthnott Church, which is referred to as the 'Kirk of Kinraddie' in Sunset Song. An excellent little museum called the Grassic Gibbon Centre has opened in Arbuthnott. There is a reasonable cafe and gift shop while an inconsiderable fee is payable to wander round the Gibbon exhibits. Continuing inland on the B967 (which joins with the B966) you find the entrance to the village of Fettercairn, which is quite remarkable. Triumphant, red sandstone Victorian arch forms the ingress, built in 1861 to commemorate the visit of the royal party of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Besides the arch, Fettercairn comprises of little more than a rather enchanting square with several roads leading off to other more rural charms. The nearby creamy white buildings seen to the west are Fettercairn Distillery, Scotland's second oldest whisky distillers established in 1824. Old Fettercairn is a pure single malt well worth sampling while you watch the video presentation, which also contains useful information on the farming communities of the Mearns as well as history of the village itself.
The north route out of Fettercairn, the B974, leads to a large Victorian mansion called Fasque, home to one of the best known of Britain's former Prime Ministers, William Ewart Gladstone. The house was built in 1809 and is an exceptionally well-preserved emporium of Edwardian family life.
Continuing up the same road past the Clatterin' Bridge, an old wooden bridge beneath which passes a rushing burn, a steep climb leads to Cairn o' Mount. A car park - vantage point at the top gives spectacular views of the Howe of the Mearns to the south and east while barren, eerie moorland exists to the north. This road continues north towards Banchory and Royal Deeside or, alternatively, take the B966 northwest from Fettercairn towards Stonehaven.
Before entering Stonehaven, a diversion to Dunnottar Castle, a mile or two south on the A92, is essential. There is a small car park off the road and a short walk leads down towards the cliffs and castle. Sheep inhabit the grassy headland before you reach the castle promontory and add to the photogenic appeal if you can persuade one to stay in the frame long enough.
Ruined buildings appear in the distance but it is on reaching the edge of the steep embankment that you fully appreciate the magnificence of this fortified promontory. A wide chasm divides the castle rock from the mainland, a militarily advantageous approach that must have proved easy to defend. Wild, rock-infested seas surround the other three sides creating a virtually impregnable fortress.
The site has a long history dating back to the Picts who built a fort here followed by early Christians who erected a chapel. Dunnottar has seen many attempts to overpower it including that of William Wallace in 1297, when he tried to burn out an English garrison.
The castle's bloodiest tale was when 167 Covenanters, including 40 women, were imprisoned and tortured for their allegiance to the cause.
During the Cromwellian period the crown, sceptre and sword of the Scottish Regalia or crown jewels were dispatched to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh Castle to avoid destruction. When Cromwell's men had Dunnottar surrounded with the purpose of finding the Regalia, two local women escaped with them hidden in their clothing and later buried the precious jewels at nearby Kinneff Church. There they lay under the flagstones of the church for 8 years until they were returned to Edinburgh Castle to be sealed away and almost forgotten about for a further 111 years.
More recently Dunnottar Castle was taken over for
Zeffirelli's film production of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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