First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Forvie National Nature Reserve lies on the Scottish coast north of Aberdeen. This spectacular reserve contains nearly two thousand acres of sandy beaches, open moorland, estuarine mudflats and a great wilderness of ancient green sandhills that stretch away south from the Visitor Centre at Collieston.
On a brisk, windy day with a cloudy sky hurrying rain showers out to sea, the dunes looked dun and drab as we followed the coast path among their shaggy camel humps. But that first dull impression gave way to astonishment at the richness of their flora – spatters of white heath bedstraw, stout northern marsh orchids with richly purple flower heads, pink streamers of ragged robin, wild pansies with lower lips of cream and yellow. Lichens, mosses and heather combined to lay a subtly-coloured foundation for these floral glories of the sandhills.
At North Broad Haven a sour fishy whiff heralded a teeming colony of kittiwakes. We lay on the cliff edge above a guano-whitened sea stack where a row of cormorants sat on a line of untidy nests. The nestlings craned their heads up to rub the throats of their parents, stimulating them to regurgitate the fish they’d brought back in their crops.
Down on the beach at Rockend we strode south on firm sand to the boundary of the ternery. Here sandwich, common and little terns have their summer breeding ground; and once we had crossed the dunes and were perched looking down on the Ythan Estuary, we could see them lined up head to wind in hundreds on the mud flats. Beside our homeward path along the river a great congregation of eider ducks lay moulting, the males with green neck flashes and black toupés with centre-partings like 1920s cabaret cads.
Eiders flock to Forvie in their thousands in spring to nest on the moors behind the dunes. These handsome, bulky birds gobble the estuary’s mussels whole, grinding them small in their gizzards. Forvie NNR offers the eider a place of safety, as it does the terns, the wild flowers and the dunes that have been growing and shifting along this coast since Stone Age man came hunting here.
Start: Forvie NNR Visitor Centre, Collieston AB41 8RU (OS ref NK 034289)
Getting there: Bus 63 (Aberdeen-Peterhead) to Collieston Cross (1½ miles).
Road: Forvie NNR is signed off B9003 Collieston road (from A975 between Newburgh and Cruden Bay).
Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 421. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Visitor Centre follow ‘To The Reserve.’ Through gate; turn left along gravel track towards line of cottages (Red Route or Heath Trail, with occasional waymark posts). Along right side of Sand Loch to coast (036281); right along dune path above sea. In 1½ miles, descend to beach at Rockend (023265). Continue along beach for ¾ of a mile to rope barrier at ternery (014253). Turn right into dunes past tern sign on pole; follow Dune Trail to Ythan Estuary (009254). Right up estuary path for 1 mile. Opposite info shelter, turn right (005269). Follow Dune Trail posts for 1 mile to Forvie Kirk ruin (021266); then follow ‘Hackley Bay’ to coast (023265). Left up coast for 1¼ miles. At Red Route post (033276), left inland on Heath Trail. At marker post at far side of small loch, don’t turn right; keep ahead. At ‘Shortcut’ post bear left; at next post, fork left (032284) to return to Visitor Centre.
Accommodation: Thistle Aberdeen Airport, AB21 0AF (01224-725252; thistle.com)
Forvie NNR: Visitor Centre, 01358-751330, nnr-scotland.org.uk