Leg 18 – to Fochabers

18 May 2013

It was another grey day, but not raining when I got up about 07.30 despite having done so pretty comprehensively overnight; luckily I’d remembered to put a plastic bag over my saddle seat. I have numerous plastic bags, handy for all sorts of things from saddle coverage, separating out wet stuff, to rubbish bags.

There’s something very nice about being in a warm and cosy tent with the rain lashing down and nearby waves crashing against the shore. I could have sworn it sounded more like hail at one point, however the tent again performed admirably with no leaks, and I remained cosy and dry. I was however beginning to thing the Scottish weather gods had something against me. One of the campsite wardens said the weather forecast for this corner of Scotland is never spot on, but it was likely to be more rain today.

I sat in my tent porch eating breakfast (pitta bread, cheese, apple) and watching Terns dive for fish just offshore. The sea was noticeably choppier today, with waves rolling across the bay.

Choppy sea off Fraserburgh

Choppy sea off Fraserburgh

I was packed up and away by 09.30, travelling down the coast through Sandhaven, on to Rosehearty and New Aberdour and its beach. The weather started to close in with thickening sea fog ( The Haar in Scottish), and the hills got noticeably hillier. At least there wasn’t a headwind though, just a mild onshore breeze at present.

Continuing to follow the coast the terrain got increasingly challenging, as I constantly seemed to be going up or down, with no flat bits to speak if, and it started to rain which I don’t mind too much without a headwind but it does make things harder endurance wise. At one point I stopped and took my panniers off my bike to make sure nothing was rubbing and slowing me down, even though I couldn’t hear anything. My legs just felt dead up some of the hills (bonked – cycling term for hitting the metaphorical wall). Nothing was rubbing so must just have been my energy levels and the conditions, so I had a banana and some chocolate. 

Grey coastline

Grey coastline – broken harbour wall here

I did however notice one of the struts on my Blackburn front right rack had sheared through. Not sure when that happened and will need to be replaced when I find a bike shop that stocks them. It’s aluminium so don’t think it can be welded very easily. Was quite surprised as Blackburn are meant to be very good, but must have been metal fatigue from the bumpy routes I’ve encountered. I also have a real hatred of speed bumps on a fully loaded bike, especially the really vicious ones that jump out at you as they’re camouflaged with steep gradients. The rack will continue to work for now; I can patch it up with tape and cable ties, it will need replacing in Elgin or Inverness though.

Lots of fishing village harbours

I passed lots of fishing village harbours

More hills and rain followed, but I did pass a curious farm cat, lots of sheep and lambs who were their usual suspicious selves, and had to cycle pretty fast past one farm with some large German Shepherds who didn’t seem to like me, luckily they were tied up.

Rainy and foggy day

Rainy and foggy day


Curious farm cat

Curious farm cat 


Aberdeenshire coastline

Aberdeenshire coastline – dull day but great scenery


Aberdour Beach

Aberdour Beach 

With the rain getting harder I rode through MacDuff, a big fishing port by the looks and smell of it, then on to Banff, a Royal settlement which I hadn’t realised. The latter is a nice town with a big sandy bay that sits between it and MacDuff, where the waves were again rolling in.


MacDuff – busy fishing port 



Bay between MacDuff and Banff


Banff Bay

Banff – bay looking back to MacDuff

I didn’t see anywhere particularly appealing for lunch so I decided to continue on, but wasn’t sure of the route to take. A couple of old gents, think one was called Jim, hailed me from outside a pub where they were smoking; a lot more people seem to smoke still in Scotland. They pointed me in the direction of the coastal cycle route, which turned out to be my old ‘friend’ route 1, but at least it was all tarmac and avoided the A98. They also started to give me several tips on the best route to take around Scotland, what hills I’d end up walking up, and various other things – wasn’t entirely sure what they were saying sometimes due to thick accents, me not being completely tuned in to them as yet, a bit of dialect, and the fact they’d had a few by this stage. They were very helpful though, being cyclists themselves, and using the most ‘colourful’ language I’ve heard in a while in describing certain hills (braes in Scottish), which I’d better not repeat. Had to slowly edge away bidding goodbye, as they probably could have kept talking all afternoon.

True to their word the route worked, and I was soon sailing along the coast, still in the rain, but with less hills now. I passed more wind farms, eerie in the fog, more livestock looking pretty stoic in the weather, and unsurprisingly more golf courses. I stopped in Portsoy for lunch, a delightful little fishing village I’d recommend a visit to, again reminding me of some Cornish villages of a similar ilk. Lunch was pies and a cake from the bakery, eaten down in the harbour during a break in the rain. 

More wind farms in the fog

More wind farms in the fog


Break on a bridge

Break on a bridge


Portsoy Harbour

Portsoy Harbour – lunch stop


Portsoy Harbour 2

Portsoy Harbour – marble shop in background


Portsoy panorama

Portsoy Harbour panorama


Portsoy - colourful rocks

Portsoy – colourful rocks

Resisting the temptation to stop for a pint in one of the good looking pubs, I continued on to Cullen, home of Cullen Skink, one of my favourite soups. Having just had lunch I didn’t stop, and pedalled on to Buckie via Portnockie and Findochty, feeling increasingly damp.


Cullen – home of Cullen Skink

There are a lot of ‘historic’ fishing villages along this coastline, as displayed proudly on the town or village sign you pass on the way in. In fact they all seemed to be historic fishing villages so no need for a history lesson on how people earned their keep on this stretch. Trying to stay close to to the coastline I switched on and off route 1 a few times, but didn’t go down into absolutely every historic fining village as would have taken ages and I’d have got a lot wetter; did a fair few though.

Made it to Spey Bay, a bit of a bleak looking place, especially in this weather, reminding me of Pevensey Bay down in East Sussex, close to my parents. Didn’t see another soul out in the rain, even on the golf course. I could have camped there however the two old fellas in Banff had recommended Fochabers, just inland, which has a good campsite and would be more sheltered. It was also on route as I planned to visit my godfather down in Aberlour the next day, whom I haven’t seen for years.

I cycled through Fochabers noticing that the Highland Games were on tomorrow at Gordan Castle, just outside the town and an unexpected bonus I’d definitely have to take advantage of; can’t miss a Highland Games out on this trip. I found the campsite and pitched up quick in the rain, bundling everything minus my bike into my tent, before having a hot shower which rejuvenated me. I still did’t feel like cooking in the rain so elected to head into town for dinner, where hopefully I and some of my stuff would dry out; everything had got a bit damp, but I reckoned I’d have a good sort out, washing session, and dry things at my godfather’s the following day. I would also need to look up a shop in Elgin or Inverness to get a replacement front right pannier rack, and perhaps a kick stand. I’ve noticed a couple of dents on my bike frame from when it’s fallen over, although one I’m not sure how got there and is a little worrying, so a kick stand might be a good plan. Any suggestions?

Fochabers campsite

Fochabers campsite


Fochabers campsite 2

Fochabers campsite 2

I had dinner at the Gordon Arms Hotel, as recommended by some fellow campers here for the Games, and my Dad who I found out used to frequent the same establishment when stationed at Lossiemouth quite a number of years ago now – at least 45 anyway. Cullen Skink, Venison Casserole and a few pints of Red Cuillen (from the Isle of Skye) followed, which was all top notch. The Cullen Skink was especially good, and very welcome after a wet day. Dad will be pleased to know the place is still going strong, and probably be a bit jealous!

Over dinner I chatted to a group from the Veteran Scottish Cycle Club, out for a long weekend consisting of a few day trips, eating hearty Scottish fare, plus the odd pint; my sort of sustenance regime anyway. They had been to Cullen earlier but hadn’t been impressed with the Cullen Skink there, so I was glad I hadn’t stopped. Really nice group of gents with great senses of humour, and offering so good advice for the rest of the Scottish leg. They also did a collection for the Big C for me. Jim offered to help me out if I encounter any difficulties in the Glasgow area, thanks Jim, and good luck all of you on your next cycling venture.

Gordon Arms in Fochabers

Gordon Arms in Fochabers


Gordon Arms in Fochabers 2

Gordon Arms in Fochabers 2

Spent the rest of the evening chatting with a few of the other patrons in the bar, including a Scottish couple touring by motor home who made a donation, an American couple over from Texas who were also loving Scotland, and a great group locals, all of whom were very friendly. The evening ended with a whisky and a walk back to the campsite in the rain, during which I took a wrong turn accidentally and ended on a 10 minute detour; I blame the latter group of locals and the whisky.

Post a 60.5 mile day and a great evening I fell asleep pretty rapidly, looking forward to the Highland Games in the morning.

Mileage total now standing at 1183.5, approx.

3 thoughts on “Leg 18 – to Fochabers

    1. Bike around Britain Post author

      Hi Dave,
      Depends on the site, sometimes the smaller sites have somewhere I can put my bike out of the way, or I just lock it to something secure, like a big tree!
      Or I can take it with me and lock it close to the restaurant/pub, without any panniers on it. Haven’t had any trouble so far.

  1. Pingback: Self Propelled | Bike Around Britain

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