North East 250: Day two
I took four days to drive the new North East 250 circular route. Here are the details of day two.
Aberlour to Banff
Distance: 45 miles
The route heads north through Speyside visiting Rothes and Fochabers to reach Spey Bay in Moray. Blessed with sunshine and mostly blue skies I was keen to reach the north coast and “see the sea”.
Spey Bay is famous for dolphin watching and while there was no sign of these beautiful creatures when I visited (too early in the season?), the gently lapping ocean on to a vast pebble beach and beneath a vibrant blue sky made me smile. I love a sea view and I was excited to be on a beach for the first time in a long time.
It felt like spring was definitely in the air, although there was still a chill easterly wind.
The Scottish Dolphin Centre is found at Spey Bay.
The NE250 route hugs the coast heading east. The coastal villages and towns, including Buckie, Portknockie and Cullen, are attractive and if I hadn’t been late to meet a friend I might well have stopped I each for a wander around the streets.
My company for the day was to be Kay, who I met through Glasgow Triathlon Club and who moved to Turriff last year. We had planned a coastal run and then to visit further attractions en route to Banff.
Kay is originally from Banff so she made an excellent guide.
Our run from Cullen – which I very much want to return to because it is a great wee coastal town – took us along the shoreline, sometimes on the beach, sometimes on a headland and always with breath-taking views.
I have no idea how many times I exclaimed at the seascape and marvelled at the many amazing geological features, including sea stacks and arches. We headed to a cove to take a closer look at a slanted arched rock formation known as the Whale’s Mouth.
Close to Portknockie is another sea arch, Bow Fiddle Rock. It resembles a fiddle bow.
(It would be possible to do two short walks, one from Cullen to the Whale’s Mouth, and another from Portknockie to the Bow Fiddle Rock, if you do not fancy a longer walk or run.)
We were thrilled to be out in early spring sunshine, running and chatting and generally feeling uplifted by the fabulous coastal scenery.
We were also somewhat surprised to come across a vintage Ford car as we made our way back to Cullen. It turned out to be part of a NE250 rally tour from Discover Fraserburgh Tourism Group. They were delighted to hear that I was driving the new route in a campervan.
I have no idea how far we ran but by the time we returned to Cullen it was lunchtime and we went in search of something to eat. The cafes in Cullen were full and we headed back to a car park and beach under an old viaduct for a coffee and cake served from a shiny metal caravan, an Airstream, called Coffee at the Kings.
A castle, a house and a high bridge
The afternoon’s plan was to visit Findlater Castle, a ruined castle between Cullen and Sandend, and Duff House at Banff.
Findlater calls for a short walk from a car park off the main road. (Look carefully for the sign.) The building appears to have been taken over by the land around it and much of it is sunken or covered in grass.
With care you can explore a little, although there are big drops to the sea and beach below.
Kay and I were enthralled by the tranquil and strangely eerie atmosphere. The views along the coastline were, again, breathtaking.
Historic Duff House – which serves as a museum and part of the National Gallery of Scotland – holds many fond childhood memories for Kay and she seemed thrilled to be able to guide me on a walk, first to the old ice house and then to the Bridge of Alvah. See Walk Highlands for the route.
She kept repeating that she didn’t remember the bridge being so far but that the view would be worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed the brisk hike (Kay doesn’t do slow) through rolling countryside to the 17th century bridge, which sits high above a superb gorge of the River Deveron.
The location was so peaceful and pretty that we lingered a while taking photos and enjoying a wee rest.
Wester Bonnyton campsite
Wesert Bonnyton offers lovely views over the sea and provides a traditional caravan park set up. Everything was clean and functional. The owners were welcoming and helpful. They plan to upgrade the park to include more touring hook-up points.
Banff Springs had such a vast menu we took about 20 minutes just to choose the meal. It is a casual place to dine and the food and service was good. As we left, a wedding party was spilling out the entrance to a smoking area close to the hotel. It wasn’t oppressive, rather amusing.
Others things to do
- Craigellachie Telford Bridge.
- Cardhu Country house.
- Fochabers Folk Museum and Heritage Centre.
- Moray Monster Trails, near Fochabers.
- East ice cream at Portsoy.
- MacDuff Aquarium.
See North East 250.
Also checkout Introduction to North East 250.