Thursday June 12th 2014 - Aberdeen to Potarch - Day 1

The beginning of the walk, The Robert the Bruce statue. Although a lot of people had initially shown interest in participating it came down to two, just myself James Singer and John McCallum. John had already arrived before I did and was sitting on the bench next to the Bruce statue, loaded ruck sack beside him with Bruce Standard in hand, this was sent by the Earl of Elgin days before. We shook hands and acknowledged the job before us as well as talking about the Bruce Standard and how people had mistaken it for a Spanish flag, being Red over Yellow in colour. I produced a small wooden box with 3 sealed plastic bags within it, John asked what it was for and I stated it was for holding some earth to take from our Bruce statue in Aberdeen to the one on the battlefield at Bannockburn, so we duly spooned some earth from behind the statue into the 3 bags. Having filled the bags we sealed them and placed them into the wooden casket, they would not see the light of day until they reached Bannockburn.
    Before setting off we sat on the bench in the warm sun to discuss what we were about to do and I gave John a brief history about the statue in Aberdeen and why it came about.
   The statue was created by sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot and won the commission after voting on a short list of four. It was unveiled in May 2013 by Lord Bruce and Master Benedict Bruce – direct descendants of King Robert amid great acclaim in the city.The direct descendants also hailed the SNP's recent landslide victory in the Scottish Parliament Elections as "a long time coming" during the ceremony.
The total height of the statue including the plinth is 5.6metres [18ft 4 inches]. The Kemnay Granite plinth is two metres high and the bronze statue is 3.6 metres high. This equates to 18 feet 4 inches.
The £120,000 statue was funded by the Common Good Fund which was originally set up by King Robert. Now worth over £36 million
The common good fund was set up in September 1319 when King Robert granted the lands of Mid Stocket in Aberdeen to the people and all profits from hunting etc this was to be put into a fund to be used for the common people of the city.
King Robert was a frequent visitor to the city, residing in the palace built by Alexander II which has long since gone but was located in the Green area of the city. Bruce granted the lands because of the great support he received from the town’s people since his coronation at Scone in 1306 and after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
At this point we were lucky enough to have support from my wife Elma who was at hand to transport our heavy ruck sacks to Potarch the end of the first stage of the walk. Having loaded these into the back of the car and said goodbye to Elma we headed off towards Schoolhill with pedestrians looking on curiously.
   Being a busy time of day in Aberdeen we fairly attracted attention as we walked along plaid clad and we had not got very far before we were asked what we were up to.
   Aberdeen is home to two fabulous statues of Scottish heroes and having just left the one of Robert the Bruce we were soon upon the second, William Wallace who overlooks Union Terrace gardens. Pausing temporarily to pay homage to the hero before we made haste towards Aberdeen’s main thorough fare of Union Street creating an unlikely spectacle for onlookers.
  Having walked up to the top of Union Street it joins another main artery through Aberdeen, Holburn Street, this is a route which paves the way to the southern part of the city, before reaching its end there is stairway at an area called Ruthrieston, which allows access to the Old Deeside Railway line, it is here we start to go off road onto the pathway. To reach this one climbs a set of stairs adjacent to the right hand side of the bridge crossing the road.  This is a relatively new bridge which was installed in 2005 next to where the old Holburn station was.
    The Old Deeside Railway line has been made into a walking/cycle path with the help of funding from the Scottish government, the path takes us past numerous old disused platforms, station buildings transformed into homes and under tunnels where trains once travelled.
  The Deeside Railway Line opened on 7th September 1853 with a service between Aberdeen and Banchory. The line was extended and on the 2nd December 1859 a service to Aboyne began, followed on 17th October 1866 with a service to Ballater. The line was planned originally to end at Braemar but Queen Victoria was afraid her privacy would be disturbed by hordes of tourists at Balmoral so she bought land along the route between Ballater and Braemar to prevent this.
The Royal Deeside Line, as it became known, was a single track with passing loops but to enable a more frequent suburban service a double track was laid to Park between 1884 and 1899. This popular service was nick-named "The Subbies", because it served the suburbs of Aberdeen.
Initially the railway as far as Aboyne was operated by the Deeside Railway Company and from Aboyne to Ballater by the Aboyne and Braemar Railway Company. These companies joined to form the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1876. Following further mergers and amalgamations the line ended up being operated by British Rail in 1948. Its fate, like so many other railways, was decided by the Beeching Report of 1963. The final passenger service ran from Ballater on 28th February 1966 and freight services finished later the same year.
For the first 6 miles the path gives the impression that you are well in the country, but in fact you are still in the shadow of Aberdeen. The route continues past larger properties in the more affluent suburbs of the Granite City as it heads west through the remains of stations at Pitfodels, Cults, Bieldside, Murtle, Milltimber, Peterculter (or Culter, as its more commonly known by locals), Drum, Park, Mills of Drum, Crathie and finally Banchory some 16 miles later.
  On this stretch of path we encountered numerous people all enquiring about our endeavour, even two sprightly gentlemen who were keen long distance walkers who said they would have joined us had they known of the walk, sadly we had to leave them behind before heading into the country proper.
     Heading out from Peterculter the path changes for smooth to hard core as well as some narrow sheep trail looking tracks. It was interesting to see above the old embankments some farmers had cordoned off their fields using the sleepers from the old tracks. Between Culter and Banchory the route is for the most part in place but it changes several times from hard core to tarmac and there is a brief spell on the main A93 at Drumoak and again at Crathes with a few small detours onto quiet roads. At Crathes the path passes the back of the old Smiddy ( Blacksmiths ) at Milton of Crathes the path runs alongside a rebuilt section of rail track which runs for over 2 miles westwards towards Banchory with the help of private and lottery funding. Milton of Crathes station is now the headquarters of the Royal Deeside Railway Preservation Society, which also provides a tourist attraction with their steam locomotive.
Crathes Castle station, located 1/4 mile to the east of Milton of Crathes (57.0575°N 2.4163°W), was opened by the Deeside Railway in 1853 for the private use of the Laird of Crathes. In 1863 Crathes Castle was renamed Crathes and became a public railway station, a role it retained until the closure of the railway in 1966.
   Heading further west the path takes us to Banchory, one of the larger villages on Deeside, the path takes you through a small housing estate then veers left under another old railway tunnel which takes you out in the centre of Bellfield Park.
 The name Banchory is thought to be derived from an early Christian settlement founded by St Ternan. It is claimed that Ternan was a follower of St Ninian. Tradition has it that he established his settlement on the banks of the River Dee on what was later to become the kirkyard of the medieval parish of Banchory-Ternan. The village and parish retained the name until the 1970s. Relics associated with St. Ternan were preserved by hereditary keepers at Banchory until the Scottish Reformation. Two early Christian cross-slabs survive in or near the old churchyard on the site of the early church. One is built into a corner of the 'mort house' in the churchyard, and shows two crosses incised in a worn pink granite slab. The other is a ringed cross in relief built into the wall facing the main road outside the churchyard.
  Banchory is also the birthplace of James Scott Skinner (5 August 1843 – 17 March 1927) was a Scottish dancing master, violinist, fiddler, and composer, over 600 of his compositions were published. The best known is "The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord". A local landmark overlooking Banchory is Scolty hill; a hill topped by a tower monument, a memorial to General Burnett who fought alongside Wellington.
  After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce gave land to the de Burnard family, a local family who lived on a Crannog or loch dwelling at the Loch of Leys.
Robert the Bruce appointed Alexander de Burnard the Royal Forester of Drum and presented him with the ancient Horn of Leys as a badge of office.
For the next 250 years the de Burnard family continued to live on the Crannog but in the sixteenth century decided to build Crathes Castle as their new home.
The ancient Horn of Leys, which marks Robert the Bruce's gift to the family is on display at Crathes Castle. Sir James Burnett of Leys donated Crathes Castle, gardens and surrounding woodlands and fields to The National Trust for Scotland in 1951 and the Castle now forms part of the North East of Scotland's Castle Trail.
Although the land at the Loch of Leys has been drained the location of the crannog is still clearly visible.
   To continue following the Deeside way route takes you out of Bellfield Park down Dee Street ( B974 ) crossing the bridge over the River Dee just passing the arched entrance to Blackhall estate to where there is a stairway leading to Scolty Hill and wood. To begin with, the walk is along an unclassified road to the Scolty forest walk car park this is on tarmac and changes to forestry track after reaching the carpark the track continues through the Scolty Wood and Blackhall Forest, this seems like an endless feeling path which is quite sole destroying until you reach the high point where the track meets the old military road between Strachan and Potarch, from this point is all downhill to Potarch approx. 3 miles. As the path winds down towards Potarch a view of the bridge comes into view about 2 miles out and an indicator of a mile to go is the crossing of the last footbridge. The last 500 yards is indicated when you have to cross from one side of the road to the other the final few hundred yards goes through the trees until the path opens up to expose the Green at Potarch.
 Here we set our camp for the night, having done this same route during an organise kilt walk event the whole day was a stark contrast to that where everything from first aid, catering to entertainment, but thanks to our support team of my son James and wife Elma for setting up our tents, it was immensely appreciated after walking 28 miles and having aching and blistered feet. Even a couple of cold beers laid on, what more could one ask for. Well I suppose the weather remaining dry was a bonus.

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