Location: Portsoy and Sandend


Grade: Low level coastal walk

Distance: 5.5 miles/9km

Time: 3-4 hours

Coastal Villages of the Sun

IT’S said that the villages of the Moray coast are amongst the sunniest in Scotland and although Portsoy and Sandend are not technically in Moray I’m sure the sun, when it shines, doesn’t demarcate between man-made geographical boundaries.

Even in winter’s dreary gloom, seaside villages between Nairn and Fraserburgh are often bathed in golden light. That’s probably why the Moray coast became such a popular holiday destination for Victorian visitors, many of whom described their surprise at the mild climate and early harvests of north-east Scotland.

The Moray Coast Trail runs between Forres and Cullen and the two villages linked in this walk, Portsoy and Sandend, lie just a few miles to the east of Cullen and can easily connect to the Moray Coast Trail via well established footpaths.

As it happened we chose a cloudy morning to leave the old harbour at Portsoy, but with the promise of better things to come. Portsoy was established as a burgh as long ago as 1550 and the old harbour was built around that time. In 1692 another harbour was built by the Lairds of Boyne, and this one had a huge protective breakwater using vertically standing stones, which were thought to stand up to storms better. Seems to have worked – the harbour you see today is more or less the one that was built in 1692.

We wandered past the two harbours and their old warehouses. Most of the houses in Portsoy are clustered around a network of lanes that climb uphill from the harbour towards the newer part of the town and the busy A98 and we followed one of those lanes, ambitiously called High Street, for a short distance before turning off to the right at a sign that pointed out Footpath to West Braes.

This path climbed out of the village and within minutes we were walking above broken cliffs with the remains of a former seawater swimming pool below us.

The main track actually bypasses the headland called Redhythe Point, but we followed narrower paths that clung to the clifftops, offering good views of surging seas and gulls.

The various paths all came together eventually at a grassy track with a gate – this track climbs steadily eastwards towards Redhythe Farm and is the route we would eventually follow back to Portsoy, but first we wanted to visit the tiny community of Sandend.

We turned right at the path junction and dropped down to Sandend Bay, passing an old military pill box on the way, one of many that still lie rotting on the Aberdeenshire and Moray coasts. A long and sandy beach took us to the village, a pleasant old-fashioned kind of place with a row of houses looking out onto the beach.

We enjoyed a spot of lunch in the sunshine sitting at one of the picnic tables that fringe the beach. We did consider walking the extra few miles along the coast to Findlater Castle but some dark-looking clouds in the south put us off that idea. Instead we wandered back across the beach, climbed back up by the pill box to the path junction we passed earlier and made our way past Redhythe Farm to a minor road that carried us back into Portsoy, where Shore Street took us back to the old harbour.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 29 (Banff & Huntly)

Distance: 5.5 miles/9km

Time: 3-4 hours

Start/Finish: Portsoy old harbour (GR: NJ589664)

Public transport: Bus 35 (Stagecoach North, Elgin-Aberdeen) calls at Portsoy. Details from www.stagecoachbus.com

Information: Elgin TIC, 01343 542666.

Route: Leave the harbour and walk up High Street to take a footpath that runs off to the R (signposted to West Braes). Follow the path, turn R at a path junction past some houses and go straight ahead at the next junction. Continue past the old open-air swimming pool, and eventually turn L past a car park. Beyond follow a track that climbs gently towards a house. Once past the house follow a grassy signposted track off to the R and follow this track along the coast, past some ruins, and on W along the clifftops. Follow the track all the way to a stile and beyond to a vehicle barrier that crosses another track. This will be your route back to Portsoy. Drop down R to cross the beach and visit Sandend before returning to the junction. Continue past the vehicle barrier to Redhythe Farm and back into Portsoy.