Portsoy to Cullen

By James Carron

Historic harbours, quiet sandy beaches and an ancient castle are just three of the reasons to walk this north east coast route.

Few things can be more bracing than a good coastal walk, with crashing waves on rugged rocks, long swathes of golden sand and picturesque little harbours being the main ingredients for an enjoyable day out. The route between Portsoy and Cullen has all three, plus an historic cliff-top castle to explore. Set off from 17th century Portsoy harbour and within minutes you're in open country, enjoying fine views. On the rocks below seabirds dodge the rising tide, while butterflies flutter over the purple heather on higher ground.

Rest in the harbour village of Sandend before continuing on the coast to Cullen, stopping off at Findlater Castle. This fine family walk can be combined with some serious sunbathing or sand castle building in the summer.

Leave Portsoy harbour on Low Road - to the right of Shore Inn - and follow it to the next road junction. Turn right and head up the hill, past The Square. Go straight up Cullen Street and turn right on to Marine terrace, following a sign for the swimming pool. The narrow roadway leads on to the coast and a path strikes out above the open-air pool. It meets a track which climbs past a white cottage to a junction. Turn right and a grassy track leads to the coast, narrowing to become a path as it curves left past an old wartime look-out post. It continues around West Head, cutting a course through a thick carpet of heather and gorse, as waves lap against the craggy rocks to the right. The path meets a fence, crosses a wooden gate and continues to a gate at the top of a grassy track.

Turn right and follow the track to a wooden kissing gate. Beyond this, steps lead down to a wartime bunker concealed in the dunes at the east end of a spectacular strip of golden beach. Head around the bay to Sandend, a tightly packed cluster of cottages perched above a tiny harbour. Aim for the roadway, turn right and, a few yards on, a coastal path walk sign guides you up a driveway to the left.

The track leads to Findlater Cottage but, before the house if reached, cross a stile on the right. Negotiate a grassy strip of path to the next stile on the left, cross both this and a second stile a few yards on and head through the field, following the fence to a concrete stile on the far side. The path climbs over open land, before crossing another grassy field. A section along the top of the cliffs leads to Findlater Castle.

The castle was built in 1455 and its well preserved remains are worth the short detour from the main path. It was constructed by Sir Walter Ogilvy of Auchlevin to strengthen his coastal defences and the cliffs below the solid stone walls plunge straight into the sea. A viewpoint board is provided with plenty of historical information.

From the castle, the path widens and skirts alongside an open field, curving right and dropping to a secluded sandy beach. The path takes a lower level, running above the rocky shoreline. It skirts around another sandy beach before curving into the next bay where rock climbers are sometimes to be found, brushing up on their skills. Steps lead round Logie Head and, if you're doing the walk in summer, keep an eye open for Red Admiral butterflies skipping over the heather and thistles.

The path passes a deserted stone building before rounding the next headland to arrive in Cullen. A track leads past a small graveyard to emerge at the harbour where a fine sandy beach nestles between solid walls of stone.

Head towards the village and relax on the triangle of grass overlooking the harbour and the sea. This is a fine spot to watch fishing boats chugging along the Moray coast, a reminder of the busy times on which these harbour towns were built.


Distance 7.5 miles/12km.
Map OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 29. ;
Start Portsoy harbour, grid ref 591665. ;
Finish Cullen. Parking: On harbourside at Portsoy, next to public toilets. ;
Grading A relatively easy coastal walk on path and track. Some sections can be overgrown and if you plan to wear shorts, pack a pair of over-trousers as nettles and thistles line the path on a couple of narrow sections. Keep dogs on the lead due to animal grazing.