This morning we were greeted by a blanket of dense fog shrouding the countryside. Visibility was limited to the steading with even the cows in the next field moving with an ethereal ghostliness through the mist.
This gave us an opportunity to make a leisurely start to the day anticipating that the fog would burn off by mid-morning. Time to catch up on blogging, photo transfers from camera or phone to computer which proved to be easier said than done as we juggled between various MacBook, iPhone, Nikon camera and Android tablet to download and exchange data with each other.
Breakfast in the conservatory which, naturally, is always the warmest room in the house, then choosing an activity for the day using our collection of brochures, books and maps. What to do is only a challenge because there is such a smorgasbord of things to do in the Banffshire and Aberdeenshire region; we are definitely spolit for choice!
The forecast predicts a fine day so we load up the backpacks with provisions for snacks and a packed lunch and get ready to head out to Spey Bay, the home of the Dolphin Centre and a section of coastline with frequent dolphin and whale sightings.
By late morning the fog had finally dissipated and we set out under overcast skies to again follow the Coastal Route where we had left it yesterday at Banff, rejoining today at Portsoy, a 17th century fishing village which still has the original harbour first built in the late 1600s.
The buildings clustered around the harbour are of a similar vintage and you could imagine that you had stepped back in time if not for the trappings of modern life existing cheek by jowl with the historic. The sky remained overcast and the wind was brisk requiring a wind-proof jacket on top of the base layer, t-shirt and fleece I was already wearing but there was no sign of rain at least. We strolled around the new harbour, and then the old, and climbed the hill overlooking the bay to the north where stands the remains of a ruined building - a solitary wall inset with a single window - and took some photos before returning to the car and continuing the journey.
Passing through Portknockie and Buckie we travelled along winding and undulating roads through farmland and along coastal strips as the day brightened and blossomed into sunshine and blue sky, until we reached the little settlement of Spey Bay at the mouth of the River Spey.
The carpark to the Dolphin Centre was full with many people taking advantage of the beautiful weather to engage in a spot of whale- and dolphin-watching, and the cafe was doing a cracking business with quite a few people dining al fresco. We found a picnic table and ate our packed lunch before having a quick look at the Dolphin Centre exhibition and grabbing a cold drink for the upcoming walk.
The walk we had chosen was a 2 hour ramble starting at the Dolphin Centre, walking inland a little way to follow the Spey Way and skirt the golf course then turning back to the cross the links and return to the starting point via the beach. The route took us through forest as well as open patches of grass around the golf course and we had, at one point, to cross the fairways with the added adventure of looking out for any golfers and, more importantly, any flying golf balls! Once across that particular hazard, we arrived at the edge of the beach which is bordered with mounds of shingle; huge pebbles that make walking treacherous with the risk of a turned ankle at every step. Fortunately the tide was out and we were able to walk along the beach, making use of the firmness of the wet sand.
Our guide book had mentioned the shingle and had advised utilising the sand but what it didn't say was that eventually there is no sand - it becomes nothing but rolling hills and dales of pebbles! From hereonin the walk became something more of a slipping, sliding, stumbling progression and we still had at least a kilometre to walk. I have to say that walking on a pebble beach is the most exhausting and uncomfortable thing I have ever done. It was like walking through snow on a steep hill (but worse) as the loose pebbles shifted underfoot at every step. It was also quite stressful on feet and knees but we had no option but to trudge on with our goal in tantalisingly in sight but still far away. We were grateful for our sturdy hiking boots otherwise it would have been a nightmare rather than merely an annoying inconvenience. To add to our discomfort the day had become very warm under a bright sun with not a cloud in sight so we sweated and stumbled along accompanied by intermittant curses from one or the other of us! As soon as we were able we crossed the mounds of pebbles to reach the grassy path above and trudged our weary way (but with a lighter step!) back to the Dolphin Centre. I had wondered at the start of the walk at the predicted time of two hours but it was quite clear by the end of the walk why the pace would be so slow. Bloody shingle beaches!
Sitting on the grassed area near the carpark Alex recovered with an ice cream and lemonade, while I drank copious amounts of water, glad to have solid ground under us again. Then it was back on the road again to Fochabers and to the outskirts of Elgin before doubling back to Keith and the road home.
Pizza and garlic bread for dinner! Alex discovered that Pimm's pre-mix with strawberry and a hint of mint was revolting so I bit the bullet and finished it off - if you drink it quickly it's not so bad ;) - I also finished off the last of the Romanian Red. After watching some bad TV including a really awful Scottish soap I bailed and went to bed. No bats tonight - and no Northern Lights. Still, you can't have everything.