Sunday, 20 March 2011

Forvie Nature Reserve & The Ythan Estuary

Wednesday 16th March

Well for the first time since starting to work part time we never walked on Friday, (11th March). In fact we were down in Ayrshire visiting Mum and Dad with the intention of walking at sometime over the weekend. However dreadful weather put paid to that plan and in the end we couldn't quite work up the enthusiasm to dig out the wet weather gear. On the up side though I had booked a couple of days holiday for this week, (difficult to believe that I still get holidays when I've got a long weekend every week, but there you go), so today looked like a good option. We decided on Forvie because we had also agreed to walk the dogs so it was on the right side of the City and it's a fantastic coastal walk.

What can I say about Forvie and the Ythan Estuary? It's an important conservation area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSI). It's an important area for wildlife, (eider ducks, terns and a whole raft of waders), as well as various rare types of flora and fauna, none of which I could list let alone pick out if I saw it. However if you want to know more than try here where Scottish Natural Heritage cheerfully lists everything you might come across as well as a whole load of things you'd probably struggle to find without professional help!

We set out from the visitor centre just outside Collieston at about 11 o'clock and followed the well maintained, if very wet, path towards the sea. After a short distance the path passes close to Sand Loch with a row of old fishermen's cottages on the far side.

Sand Loch & Fishermen's Cottages

The path makes its way around the loch to pick up the main coastal path from Collieston south to Newburgh and it's this path we followed along the clifftops with the sea on our left and the dunes on our right. The Nature Reserve was opened in 1959 and is the fifth largest dune system in Britain. The problem with dune systems though is that they are just that, large almost featureless lumps of sand covered in grass and dotted about with the occasional stunted tree. Now don't get me wrong I much prefer them exactly as they are than see them turned into a golf course by some egotistical American billionaire, but that doesn't get away from the fact that they are, after a while, fairly boring to look at and not terribly photogenic!

Forvie Sand Dunes

Fortunately there are other things to look at, not least the fantastic seascapes and bays that come into view as the path meanders south. It was pretty windy by this time and the path was at time reduced to a muddy and very wet track, so although the walking wasn't difficult, it could be uncomfortable. The dogs, of course, found the whole thing a great adventure and ranged all over the dunes and cliffs getting interested in things only dogs understand!

Coastal View - one of many

Running - no reason necessary!

About halfway between the visitor centre and the Ythan is the beautiful Hackley Bay. Although we had passed a few inlets and even a couple of small sandy areas nothing quite prepares you for sight of the lovely crescent of sand and rolling waves of the bay. It helps of course that the path is high up at this point so you get a great perspective of the whole area.

Hackley Bay, (looking south)

Hackley Bay, (looking north)

The path down to the bay is on the south side, (there is a path on the north side, but it looked decidedly dangerous so we decided that the well maintained path, complete with stone steps, was the sensible option). Here the dogs decided that it was a nice day for a swim while we drank coffee and ate chocolate. Personally I think we made the better choice!

Wet dog - Freddie

After the pick me up of caffeine and chocolate, we continued south until we reached the ruins of Forvie Kirk set amongst the creeping dunes. The Kirk was built in the 12th Century on the site of a chapel believed to date back to AD704. The area is now set out with a network of paths and information boards detailing the history of the place, including the ancient curse of three daughters set adrift by their father, the Laird of Forvie:

Yf evyr madenis malysone
Dyd licht upon drye land
Let nocht be funde in Furvy's gleby's
bot thystl, bent and sand

The village was buried by the sand sometime in the Middle Ages and when it was excavated in 1951 the foundations of 19 circular huts 2000 years old were found under the sand. The legend has it of course that the village was lost to the sand because of the maiden's curse, but we don't believe in that stuff anymore - do we?

The remains of Forvie Kirk

From the lost village we headed inland for a while along an incredibly wet track until we came down onto the banks of the Ythan Estuary just opposite Newburgh. What to say about this area? Well at the very least, when the tide is out, it's a river with great wide mudflats, but it's so much more than that. Every time we drive past it on the way to and from the boys' cottage it looks different depending on the time of day or where the tide is or if it's during the day, or if it's evening. A stunning place that hopefully will be left alone to stay that way.

The Ythan Estuary

We followed the banks of the estuary until the path cuts inland again to chop off the end of the peninsula. Although it's possible to go right out to the point at this time of year, it's cordoned off during the tern breeding season in an effort to protect the ternery. There a four species of tern that breed here although the most numerous is the Sandwich Tern - upwards of 1500 pairs - as well as a colony of 50 pairs of Little Tern, one of Britain's rarest breeding seabirds. At this time of year however we didn't see any breeding seabirds but we did see some seals basking in the sun!

Seals on the beach

The path from here wanders through some huge, bare sand dunes eventually leading out onto the beach at what looks like a weather vane in the shape of a flying bird, (I'd guess Oyster Catcher or some other small wader). Once on the beach we turned left and started on the way back towards the lost village, way back along the beach at a place called Rockend.

Bird Weather Vane

Looking north to Rockend

At Rockend, (marked this time with a weather vane of a fish, probably a salmon), we turned back up towards the lost village past the ruin of a building that was probably something to do with the salmon fishing that that went on here until recent years. From the village it was a case of retracing our steps back along the cliffs, Hackley Bay and Sand Loch to the Visitor Centre. I think even the dogs were getting tired by the time we arrived back at the car just before 4 o'clock.

Again I'd like to thank Robert Smith whose book 25 Walks in and Around Aberdeen was invaluable for some of the historical and other detail I've used in this post.


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