Gourdon Heritage Walks
The below information has been copied verbatim from a leaflet produced by the "Gourdon & Inverbervie Village Enterprise" many years ago. Some of the information may no longer be correct, but it has been reproduced as a curiosity as well as still being a pleasant and educational manner to find your way around the village!
"As a historic seaport and active fishing community, Gourdon’s life and livelihood is firmly linked with the sea. On these Walks, enjoy your own voyage of discovery through the village, with something of interest around every corner!"
The Harbour Walk
An easy walk taking ½-1 hour, suitable for all abilities. Remember always to take care at the edge of the harbour!
1. The display featuring the lifesaving surfboat “Maggie Law” is housed in the former Coastguard “Apparatus Shed”, previously used for storage of lifesaving equipment.
Cross William St. to the slipway at the Gutty Harbour.
2. The slipway was used for the launching the Gourdon Lifeboat and for hauling it from the water after completion of a mission. Note the two timber bollards which assisted in this process.
3. A short distance to the left is the former Lifeboat Station, a scene of great activity at the start of a callout. The high, red doors would be opened and the boat rolled forward to the street, then hauled (manually in the earlier days, later by tractor) to the slipway. Note the small door which prevented crowds rushing into the building before the boat was ready to be mobilised. The ventilators along the side walls created a cross-draft to keep boat and gear dry during storage. Note the initials RNLB on the stonework facing the street.
The Lifeboat Station operated from 1878 until 1969, with the first motor vessel being introduced in 1936. The rocky, exposed coastline between Inverbervie and Johnshaven claimed many shipwrecks in the days of sail - almost one per year throughout the 19th century.
Return to the slipway and follow the harbour wall ahead. Take care, especially with small children, buggies and wheelchairs, as the ground slopes towards the unprotected edge of the harbour.
4. Here you may find stacks of creels - traps which are baited and set on the sea bottom to catch crabs and lobsters. The construction changes as new materials become available. Traditionally, Gourdon’s crab creels were made of wood in place of netting. A new, performed plastic trap has recently been introduced to catch the large, spiral-shelled “common whelk” for which there is a developing demand.
The mural, by local schoolchildren, decorates an old salthouse, where salt from Cheshire was stored for use in the preservation of herring. The large building beyond was originally built as a granary. Its seaweed corner is painted white, and carries the lower of two “leading lights”, which are a vital aid to navigation in the narrow harbour approach.
5. Around the corner, beside JS Boyle’s herring curing station of 1896, is the Farquhar Monument, commemorating Lt. William Farquhar RN, lost at sea off the coast of China in 1864. His name was given to nearby William St. His parents, Mr and Mrs James Farquhar of Hallgreen Castle, Inverbervie, were generous benefactors to Gourdon, helping to fund the harbour improvements, the railway and many other causes.
The Monument, built in Persley granite from Aberdeen, also houses an “Admiral Fitzroy” barometer, source of vital information for generations of fishermen.
You are welcome to explore the quaysides, but do take special care for your own safety. Please avoid stepping on nets, ropes, etc., and keep a safe distance from ongoing work activities.
6. The main Harbour was constructed in two phases. The landward part of built ca. 1819 to a design by the great Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford. The larger, seaward part was added in 1842. This was a time of busy trading by sea to and from Gourdon. Coal and lime were imported, and grain exported, hence the experience of granaries nearby for storage of cargoes awaiting shipment. Through the 19th century, herring fishing expanded, bringing intense quayside activity in landing, gutting, and packing the fish in brine.
In the 20th century, Gourdon fishermen were among the first to introduce motor vessels in place of sail. Long-line fishing became a speciality, with haddock, codling and whiting being the main species landed. This method of fishing peaked in the mid 20th century, when 30 local boats plied the coastal waters, and Gourdon line-caught haddock enjoyed an unequalled reputation. It was an arduous way of life, involving the whole family. Each fisherman took to sea a line with up to 1,200 hooks. Mussels were used for bait. These first had to be shelled, and each hook then skilfully baited with one or more mussels, and the whole line stored in such a way that it could be taken to sea and set without tangling. The whole task was done at home by the womenfolk. It took around 8 hours to complete, and involved starting work well before dawn.
Line fishing in the traditional manner was last practised here as recently as 1992. The fishing methods used today include trawling (for “whitefish” such as cod, haddock and plaice), gill-netting (for cod) and creel fishing (for shellfish).
Before leaving the Farquhar Monument, notice the storm gates installed at the inner entrance to the Harbour. These can be closed whenever a combination of wind and tide threatens to cause a heavy swell.
Continue along William St. (formerly Shorehead) to the West Pier.
Here you may be lucky enough to see a boat’s catch being landed. Although daily auctions of fish no longer take place here, fish-processing continues to be a vital part of the local economy, with much of the fish now brought in by road from the markets at Aberdeen and Peterhead. A number of “fish-houses” in the village prepare fish for sale, and you may notice a tempting aroma escaping from the rooftop ventilators where smoked fish is being prepared!
Long ago, the women of Gourdon walked to the Fish Cross in Montrose (a 24ml/39km round-trip) to sell the catch. Today, local vans serve a wide surrounding area, and “the Gourdon fishman” is a regular and welcome visitor to many communities.
From the West Pier you may wish to return to your starting point, a short distance back along William St., or perhaps take the opportunity for refreshment at either of the two inns along the way. Alternatively, the West Bay Walk and Harbour View Walk each offer a ½-1 hour or so of further rewarding exploration.
West Bay Walk
This is not difficult, but you will be glad of strong footwear for the first section of road which is rather stony.
Beyond the harbour, take the stony track beside the sea wall.
This embankment carries the Low Road along the coast towards Johnshaven and beyond. This route is an ancient link between the coastal settlements, and today makes an excellent walking and cycling route. Beside it runs the trackbed of the “Montrose and Bervie Railway”, which opened in 1865 and enjoyed a colourful, if commercially undistinguished, career until its closure in 1966.
8. The shoreline here is known as the Ware Hole, after the large amounts of seaweed, or “ware” which accumulate here in stormy weather. Ware was traditionally valued as a fertiliser for farms and gardens. This is a good spot to look for eider duck swimming and diving among the rocks.
Ahead, on the promontory at Whitehouse, once stood another granary, situated just within the boundary of a former country estate yet convenient for the harbour at Gourdon.
Before Whitehouse turn right, across the old railway, to the cottages of West Bay.
Imagining the scene here before the construction of the railway and sea wall, it appears that this was a natural bay, with the seashore being much closer to the houses than it is today. The old sea cliffs rising above are beautiful by primroses in springtime. Here and there you may spot a daffodil or two, relicts of times not long past when, incredibly, some of these slopes were cultivated. Here too, Gourdon folk once climbed to the road above by a path called the Partan Roadie, with crabs (or “partans”) bound for market.
9. Further on, by the roadside, look for the Cald Well, a spring at the foot of the braes, now issuing from a pipe. Before Gourdon gained a piped water supply, this constant and accessible water source was of great importance to the village. Indeed, there is a theory that the original settlement of “Gurden” was situated at the West Bay.
A short walk now brings you back to the Harbour and your starting point.
Harbour View Walk
This route climbs to the upper part of Gourdon, rewarding the energetic walker with views of the village and coastline. Three flights of steps are included.
Starting from the Farquhar Monument, cross William Street and continue up Bridge Street (directly opposite). At the far end, climb the steps leading left up Brae Road. (Beware of traffic at the top as there is no footway).
10. The top of the steps offers a good view over the Harbour, Whitehouse and the West Bay, with the slopes of Gourdon Hill rising above.
Turn right to climb Brae Rd., keeping to the right-hand side to face oncoming traffic.
11. The circular white pillar contains the upper Leading Light. As would be expected, the view from here is straight out through the harbour approach. At low tide you can see how the channel is hemmed in by rocks on either side, and you may glimpse the dangerous Couts rocks, directly in line with the channel.
Near the road here is the Mission Hall, a place of worship affectionately known as “The Fluke Kirkie”, after the fund-raising efforts of a local woman selling the small flatfish (“flukes”) normally cast aside by the fishermen.
Continue up the road for the short distance to Bank St.
(The shop and public toilets are located further up Brae Rd, within walking distance. The Cemetery, more easily reached by car, is further on. Situated overlooking the sea, it contains 19th and 20th century gravestones of artistic and family history interest, many connected with fishing families.)
To continue on the Harbour View Walk, follow Bank St. to the far end of this cul-de-sac, descend the double stairway between two modern cottages and turn left along the terrace.
12. Harbour View Terrace offers a peaceful opportunity to gaze out over the roofs of Gourdon, leftward along the braes to the South Craig, out over the Harbour, and along to West Bay beneath the slopes of Gourdon Hill.
The rows of grey roofs some distance to the left of the Harbour comprise the Selbie Works, now sadly closed. Before its closure in 1997 this was the last working flax-spinning mill in mainland Britain, and the last in a line of such mills in Kincardineshire stretching back over 200 years. Gourdon flax yarn was used in high quality linen goods and formerly in more everyday products such as tarpaulins. Julie yarn was also produced for use in a wide variety of products, from car seats to carpets.
Descend the steps to Queen St., turn left and then immediately right, along the walkway at the end of the caravan park.
Near here stood the railway station, which until 1951 provided a steam passenger train service to Montrose. The last train to call here was a special, locally organised excursion preceding the line’s closure in 1966.
Go straight ahead, down Arbuthnott St.
Landowners in Kincardineshire since the 12th century, the Arbuthnott family were exporters of grain from Gourdon Harbour, and their granary once stood in Clover Yard, on the right.
Mowatt’s Lane reflects another local family name. Appropriately, James Mowatt, who lived nearby, was the builder of the “Maggie Law” in 1890.
On reaching William St. at the fish-house, turn right to return to the “Maggie Law” building.
A short walk now brings you back to the Harbour and your starting point.
The advice of Mr Robert Gove and Mr and Mrs Roy Souter, in the preparation of this leaflet, is gratefully acknowledged.
The Maggie Law Martitime Museum would also like to thank Oscar Barnett for kindly transcribing the information from the original leaflet.