Portlethen Shore - A Labour of Love?
After Joseph Johnston and Sons relinquished their lease on their salmon fishing franchises in the northern Kincardineshire coasts, the salmon fishing bothy, storage shed, blondin shed, and associated lands came up for sale in 1981. Very quickly my father John, and brother Ron, made an offer to the seller which was immediately accepted.
John wanted to continue utilising the bothy shed and lands, with an eye to using them as a base for his new building venture, as well as the likelihood of continuing with his inshore fishing projects on a part time or hobbyist basis.
Ron’s interest was more practical – he wanted an independent place to stay and moved into the bothy in 1981, making it his official place of residence. In those early years there was no permanent source of electricity or hot water and it would be a number of years before these basic necessities became available. At the same time some major internal and external work was made on the bothy itself to make it watertight and fit for habitation. The first couple of winters may have been uncomfortable but eventually the bothy evolved from a temporary working base into permanent living quarters and Ron continues to live there today.
The new owners wasted no time in planning and developing the area around Portlethen Shore and its immediate surroundings; primarily they wanted to build a permanent road from the shore head (at the existing turning point) that would allow vehicular access around to the bothy at the east of the shore. There already existed a single path that allowed access by foot but the plan was to expand the width of that path, which would entail cutting further into the existing banks and flattening out any dips and troughs so that a uniform track would follow the sweep at the top of the shore from the turning point until it reached the bothy. It was a big task for two individuals with no experience of civil engineering to take on but take it on they did.
Before I continue I should point out that prior to 1982 there was vehicular access from the village to the shore head and at the shore head was a turning area and perhaps parking space for two or three vehicles. From the shore head there were two further paths; the upper path was the aforementioned one that led to the bothy, whereas the lower path, another single track path, led directly down to the shore itself, within ten yards there were four anti-tank blocks which the path passed between before twisting around to a series of steep stone steps that led directly on to the beach. There was a third path, this path was built for the convenience of the salmon fishers and began near the bothy, also leading steeply and directly on to the beach, the route of this path lay immediately behind where the boats at the eastern half of the beach currently lie today.
None of these single paths exist today in their original form and they have been superseded by one road that can allow vehicular access from the shore head to the bothy. Halfway along this road there is a new path with a less steep gradient ending in a series of large boulder steps before the pebble shore is reached. However before this current road and path developed there was a lot of hard work and toil involved which I will endeavour to describe in the following paragraphs.
Work started on the construction of the new bothy road in 1982 and diggers were brought in to excavate the existing banks and work precariously from a position nearly 100 feet above sea level. It wasn’t just a case of digging out swathes of earth from an existing bank and making a flat track as the logistics of the area made it difficult to manoeuvre; Where to put the excavated earth? How to ensure that the boats and winches on the shore were protected from earth slipping down the slope? How would they know that the working area was firm and safe for a digger to work on? How to prop up and secure the road from landslides as it developed? Was there going to be unseen problems in respect to underground water and drainage? Would there be any damage to the neighbouring field or fencing?
Whatever pitfalls were discovered, by the end of 1982 there was a track running between the shore head and the bothy that was wide enough to allow a car to drive from one side to the other. Of course, during the construction of this road the two existing paths that led from the bothy and the shore head into the shore had now been covered in earth and the old anti-tank blocks that had been a common sight for many years had been almost completely buried. It was essential that, as the road was being constructed, a temporary path had to be built that would allow boat owners access to their craft and this was duly done and made permanent and safe over the following years.
The project was deemed a success but as with any construction project scars were left, the area around the road and the braes would look bare and unattractive for a number of years until nature took its natural course and plant life returned. My mother, Anne, along with my father and brother helped nature on its way by planting flowers and saplings as well as repositioning the clumps of grass, wild flowers and even the best looking weeds. The reason for this was two-fold; to make the area look more attractive and to bind and firm up the new earth foundations.
I’m sure that for a few years some villagers probably looked on this new construction as a blot on the landscape and a step backwards and it wasn’t until plant life returned to the bare areas that most people would have been pleased by the look as well as by the outcome – safer and wider paths to the shore and the bothy beyond.
The new road construction, however, highlighted, or possibly even exacerbated hidden problems and none more so than the run of water that spilled down the existing shore road and neighbouring field, particularly following a heavy fall of rain. As a result there were many landslides that resulted in part of the new bothy road being washed away and slipping down the bank into the shore or alternatively the banks at the side of the road collapsing and causing a blockage. On occasions of severe rain it was possible to experience both at the same time.
Anne kept photographic records of some of these landslides which occurred at various points along the new bothy road and, on a couple of occasions, along the existing old shore road – once near the village itself and on another occasion halfway down the shore road near a new parking area constructed area. The landslides in the photographs occurred between 1983 and 2001. I believe that there may have been a lot more than the nine different landslides that were photographically recorded by Anne – maybe these weren’t quite so serious?
Rather than give a blow by blow account of all the landslides that occurred I’ll let the photographs tell their own story. Each and every landslide that has occurred has been repaired by John and Ron and included additional remedial work.
The last landslide (and let’s hope it is the last) occurred in 2001 and as a cure for this landslide, which occurred in an awkward place near to the village, John built a bridge! He was ably assisted in this project by another old age pensioner and neighbour, George Craig, who lives 50 yards from where this final landscape occurred.
I’ll quote directly from my mother’s notes to close off this particular chapter of my family history.
“All the landslides at the shore have been caused by water coming off the fields, apart from the first at the ‘turning area’ and the fourth, halfway down the shore road, which were caused by heavy downpours running down the road. All have been repaired by Johnny and Ronald. Sometimes Johnny had to go into the fields and repair field drains himself, as he knows the locations of all the springs and drains. After Graham Shand took over at the Mains of Portlethen, Johnny got him, in 2004, to dump a load of stones above the dip in the field – where the notorious ‘corner’ is. Let’s hope that, and all the work that Johnny has put in, cures it for all time”.