Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel “Dracula” had recently been on my mind. At the book exchange at my local station, looking for a book to read on the long train journey up to Aberdeen, I chanced upon a second hand copy. Two days later on a day of rain and low sea mist, on an exposed rocky clifftop in Scotland, my route took me past the ruins of Slains Castle and I discovered that Stoker had stayed nearby and that the castle is reputed to have been his inspiration for the novel!
The morning I left Aberdeen there was a magnificent sunrise over the North Sea. Leaving Aberdeen I walked beside main roads and eventually followed a public footpath across a golf course to the coast. I was surprised to see a modest sign over the homely and ungilded club house advising that this was the Trump International Golf Course.
Trudging along the beach I came to the mouth of the River Ythan and had to detour inland to find the first bridge. Walking head down into the wind beside the river I suddenly had the feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up to find that a seal was swimming along beside me, about ten feet offshore. Later the river opened out into a wide bay where I saw dozens more seals, all of whom watched me pass with an appraising stare.
On a grey morning of mist and drizzle I came to Slains Castle. The light was so poor, it was as though I was seeing the castle ruins in black and white; gloomily silhouetted against the mist. There was no one else around as I wandered from room to room and climbed the spiral staircase inside the broken tower. Waves broke on the rocks below, gulls shrieked; otherwise complete silence. I would not have enjoyed the experience nearly so much had I been aware of the Dracula connection at the time!
North of Slains the geology of the coast changed. Deep red granite cliffs, riddled with caves, rose sheer out of the sea and wound around bays full of rocky outcrops and natural arches. Passing through the Longhaven Wildlife Reserve I saw thousands of seabirds sitting on every ledge and shelf of the cliffs, jostling for space and constantly taking flight, wheeling and circling out over the sea. Gulls, puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes.
Next morning, in thick fog, I set off north from Peterhead. For several miles I oriented myself by following the perimeter fence of an M.O.D. facility and then walked along a rough path on top of huge sand dunes. On the dunes I saw hares lolloping over the sand and once, rising in a flurry six feet in front of me, a doe raced away into the marram grass. Later I descended to the beach and walked along the line of compacted sand left by the ebbing tide. For a few minutes at Rattray Point I enjoyed being the most north easterly person in Great Britain! (I read in respect of Rattray, that in 1888 the local dialect and vocabulary were “thoroughly Norse”, deriving much from Danish and Norwegian, a direct result of the Viking invasion of eastern Scotland a thousand years before).
After what seemed like an endless walk along the beach I eventually arrived after dark at Fraserburgh. The town had a buzz and the port looked busy; apparently Fraserburgh is the biggest shellfish port in Europe. In all the towns I passed through I saw more crocuses than I have ever seen before, gardens and roadsides everywhere were carpeted with crocuses.
At Fraserburgh the coast makes a right angle bend and continues more or less due west for 100 miles to Inverness. Once round the right angle bend I was walking beside the Moray Firth. Every few miles I passed little seaside towns, each having once had its own herring fleet moored in harbours dating back hundreds of years. I spent two nights in Banff: beautiful Georgian townhouses at its centre, the harbour was first built in 1625 and in its heyday Banff was home to a fleet of 90 fishing vessels, employing more than a thousand fishermen.
I got as far west as Portsoy, although since severe gales were forecast I took the precaution of walking back to Banff from west to east with the wind behind me!
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2017.