Ythan Estuary and Knockhall Castle

Today’s mission was to try and go and see a rare visitor to the local shoreline –  a humpback whale that has been sighted recently just off the mouth of The Ythan. Rather than just being a one off sighting, it had been spotted regularly all week, and it was a good opportunity to dust off the fat bike which hasn’t seen much action recently.

Seaton park fat bike

Seaton park fat bike

Taking a quick peak over Balgownie Brig, a large seal was peeping out of the water below. It suddenly submerged, then all of a sudden a massive swirl, followed by a fin veeing rapidly along the surface – a narrow escape for a salmon! They weren’t the only wildlife at this beauty spot, a scantily clad model was posing for a photographer, perhaps ‘glamour’ perhaps some kind of portfolio, looked a bit dodge so I moved along to move out of shot.

Brig O Balgownie Seal

Brig O Balgownie Seal

To chop a section off of what was going to be a long churn along the beach, I thought I’d take a shortcut along a path marked on the OS map that goes through a golf course. It starts off along a road, and ends up a cart path, partially obscured by seaborne sand in places, sweeping and winding through the hillocks of the course. It’s decent fun racing along here, one has to temper enthusiasm lest a blind corner or dip hides a buggy, sand bank, angry golfers or other crashable.

Royal Aberdeen golf course

Royal Aberdeen golf course

The on-one floater tyres are 4″ of knobbly rubber, and out of their primary elements of sand, snow and mud, create a pleasing stuka-esque howl on the packed gravel and old tarmac. It was like when you were a kid and had a stick or bit of plastic jammed against the tyre for motorbike sounds. I dare say a few stay-pressed trousers were in a flap, perhaps a sliced shot or two caused. Golfers are an intolerant and precious bunch at the best of time, but hey, I didn’t stick around to let them gather ire, “fore” as I believe they say – cranked through using a high iron (gear).

Looking back to Aberdeen across the course

Looking back along the path to Aberdeen across the course

Back of Royal Aberdeen

Back of Royal Aberdeen

Old shed Murcar Links

Old shed Murcar Links

Took a quick look at an old ruined shed, that lies between this and the next golf course (apparently 3 courses along the coast here, all look pretty similar to me) and then running out of path, decided to cross over to the beach. Underestimating how high the dunes were, 30 foot and steep, I ambled along the over-grown path until there was a bit of grass to aid a descent, and a bit lower.

Climbing down the dune

Climbing down the dune

 

Empty the shoes

Empty the shoes

Big dune

Big dune

Once away from civilisation, the beach stretches in perfect isolation for miles, with only sea birds for company.

I tack back n forth from the edge of the dunes to the water, trying to find the best traction – I try to head back from the water where possible when flocks of birds are resting to avoid chasing them repeatedly along.

Not always possible though, these oyestercatchers make a colourful splash as they wheel around my bike.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

Sanderlings are odd little fellows. Gangs of them skip along the shore poking for beasties, twisting and turning after each other like a hyperactive flock of tiny wee sheep

Sanderlings prowling

Sanderlings prowling

 

Follow the leader

Follow the leader

 

 

Sanderlings close-up

Sanderlings close-up

 

Sanderling in flight

Sanderling in flight

There are quite a few streams to traverse along the beach, most can’t easily be crossed inland where they’re deeper, steep sided, bog-bound, or trump-course-bound. They’re normally a few inches deep where they enter the sea but a couple this time were around a foot, perhaps swollen by rain or tidal action. I’d need to be careful on the way back if it was dark.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

 

Another beach stream

Another beach stream

There’s other hazards too. Some of the old war defences lie buried just below the surface with some pretty jaggy bits waiting to shred an unsuspecting tyre. It’d be a long trudge home from here.

Old war anti-tank defences

Old war anti-tank defences, in good order

 

Half buried block

Half buried block

At Balmedie, there is road access near to the beach, there’s a few folk here out kite surfing, strong wind today

Kite surfers

Kite surfers

 

Kite surfer balmedie

Kite surfer balmedie

As I’d been plodding along I’d noticed one set of footprints alone by the edge. I should have probably said ‘afternoon’ a bit further back, he just about jumped out of his skin. You don’t expect to see folk in the miles of sandy voids away from town.

Long distance beach walker

Long distance beach walker

 

Away to get a surprise

Away to get a surprise

Soon a few dots appeared afar through the haze, signalling I’d reached the destination – weekend folk were out in force for the whale. I bumped into a mate who had been there since early morning, with no whale activity.. and no food! I volunteered him a spare snickers, and got my flameless heated meal set up to cook.*

Dune lurking photographer

Dune lurking photographer

Clustering photographers

Clustering photographers

Stuck around for a while but no opportunity to bellow “THAR SHE BLOWS!”. Fortunately, there’s always the seals to entertain..

Ythan estuary seal haul out

Ythan estuary seal haul out

Seals n pill box

Seals n pill box

 

 

Bike se-a-lfie

Bike se-a-lfie

The sound they make together is an other-worldly wail. There’s a lot of jostling goes on, should have probably shot a wee clip of video.

Curious seal

Curious seal

Sitting by the Ythan for a while, with the whale-less crowds, this cheeky pup pops up for a look

Curious baby seal

Curious baby seal

It should be noted that this photo was taken with a 30x zoom (about 4m away from where I was sitting) and that it popped up out of the water – I didn’t approach it. Some other important info for those that aren’t aware re seals*

The weather turned and it sent the crowds hurrying back to the nearby car park. But not before I answered a few queries on the bike – part of the rules of fat bike is that when at rest, you WILL be asked about it, still a novelty up these parts.

crowds in the rain

crowds in the rain

I’d pretty much made my mind up that a combination of darkness, rain, a string headwind and soft sand meant I’d be better heading inland for the home leg, despite the extra distance. Passed this old boat wreck

Ythan estuary boat wreck

Ythan estuary boat wreck

Stopped for a bit to watch these arctic terns. Quite cool how they hover and then plunge into the water

Arctic tern hovering

Arctic tern hovering

Damn tricky to get a snap, pretty quick

Arctic tern hovering

Arctic tern hovering

POW-splash

Arctic tern dive

Arctic tern dive

Sun breaking through the rain

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Bright sun breaking through the rain and the canopy of this farm lane

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Final stop of the day – Knockhall Castle – at first glance it’s more of a house. I stupidly plow through an overgrown meadow to reach it before realising the lane cuts across ahead and goes right past it

Knockhall Castle from SE

Knockhall Castle from SE

 

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Knockhall Castle from NE

Knockhall Castle from NE

 

Knockhall Castle from NW

Knockhall Castle from NW

 

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A gun port to stop loitering

Knockhall Castle gun port

Knockhall Castle gun port

Through one port and out the back

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Some bits are teetering

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Knockhall Castle from W

Knockhall Castle from W

Getting darker, better head onwards. I’d planned on heading further West across to the Formartine and Buchan way, but instead will take the back roads

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This field is swarming with swallows/swifts, dozens swooping, not long til they leave

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Skies are storm torn. Tough going heading into the wind, but at least not wind and sand

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Park up to find my head torch and rear light. What’s this old ruin..

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Ach, in for a nosey

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Combination of old and recent stonework. Apparently this old farm steading called Wateridgemuir dates back to the 1800s.

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There are signs of activities, some bits nearby are cleared, but others still overgrown

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Subsequent googling shows there’s possibly remnants of a water wheel in a subterranean space, though unclear if this was built over by a recent housing development nearby.

Creeping through old buildings is spooky in the twilight, all of a sudden big booms and cracks startle me.. fireworks .. in August.. in the middle of nowhere. Guess it’s somebodies birthday at a nearby farm or something.

Onwards, a long slog through the back roads, with only the occasional rest to forage some wild rasps.

Finally back in town, heading through Seaton park I notice this odd shape for the first time.

Seaton Park sculpture

Seaton Park sculpture

I startle a couple of deer and foxes while going through the park with the headtorch before it runs out. Being out of student term, there’s not much footfall at night currently.

Night deer

Night deer

 
Here’s a 3d ‘fly through’ of the route:

 


 

* Trekmates flameless cooker – a metal tray and plastic container, which houses a single-use chemical sachet that heats up when ripped open and water is added. Lighter than a stove/gas for a meal or two, but only heats rather than boils. Useful to ‘cook’ inside a cold tent, in extreme wind, or even on the move (it’s a sealed container, where a bit of steam comes out). Takes just over 10 minutes to do it’s thing.

Weight for 1 meal: container 340g + heat sachet 65g = 405g, versus stove 200g + gas 250g + pot 100g + windshield 100g = 650g

 

* Seals are wild animals, and need to rest up i.e ‘ haul out’ on the sand. Folk shouldn’t approach close to these ‘haul out’ sites, or to any seal resting on land, in fact it can be a criminal offence to do so. This applies doubly so if you have a dog, it should be kept on a leash and at distance. Baby seals are often left on the sand while the parent forages; they should be left alone. There are fenced off areas at the Forvie Nature reserve at the mouth of the Ythan, that you shouldn’t enter at designated times of the year, to avoid disturbance to both seals and nesting birds.

 

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