Thursday 21st April 2022

A small section of the Moray Coastal Trail – Cullen to Findlater Castle (6.3 miles).

Mairi decided on this walk today. We didn’t realise it was another section of the Moray Coastal Trail. All the information we had said that the Trail ended in Cullen. However once we started this walk we saw sign posts that indicated we were still on the Trail. We later spoke to a couple who informed us that it went on to Sandend.

We took the car and parked at the square in Cullen and set off down to the harbour.

We passed this unusual train.

Just beyond the harbour the track started. We passed this mess which is a pet’s cemetery.

Once more we were blessed with fantastic weather. It was very sunny but colder than the last two days. I put on my body warmer.

I don’t know can the reader make out what is written on this signpost. It informs that we are on the Moray Coastal Trail.

The Salmon Bothy looking West in 1884

The hill in this picture called the “Maidens Pap” was removed to form part of the embankment opposite the Cullen Golf Club for the new railway in 1884. The house was also removed and a new Bothy House built to replace it.

It too has now gone but you will still see evidence of it.

Look for the water well, this is where the men went to collect fresh water.

An Ancient Cave Dwelling

The most interesting cave dwelling in Cullen will soon be no more. At the western horn of Portlong Bay, through the centre of a conical hill called the Maidens Pap, runs a cave formed by the decay of part of the mica-schist rock whose decay-has been accelerated by the long continued action of the sea waves. The mouth of the cave is now considerable above sea level at the highest tides. The rock is tilted up almost at right angles and the present quarrying operation in connection with the railway works show a perpendicular section of the cave. Several days must elapse before the cave is completely opened up. On former occasions an ancient quern, bronze ornaments, and other objects have been obtained from the cave and a few days ago large quantities of shells together with bones and part of a deer horn with about double the ordinary thickness were secured. The horn was at the bottom of several feet of gravel in a recess inner cave. The workmen are intelligent and carrying on their work with care. The cave was once a noted resort of smugglers.

Aberdeen Evening Express 1884

This wreckage in the following photo is the Salmon Bothy.

At this point we ascended and descended quite steep and exposed steps.

I didn’t get the greatest photo of the steps.

by the People of Cullen
in Remembrance of
Tony Hetherington 1949 – 1993
Who built these steps singlehanded
in 1987

It is quite a feat.

We came on to Charlie’s Cave.

Cullen Caveman
Andrew Saunders

When you hear that the kindly-looking man in this picture lived in a cave near Cullen you might be mildly interested. But when you find out that this mystery man had lived there for 13 years after deserting from the French navy in World War One, the tantalising aroma of a good yarn starts to tickle the nostrils.

Charlie Marioni did not enjoy French naval life so one day, when his ship was berthed at Plymouth, he took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed. After lurking around the South Coast for some months while eluding capture, he started to make his way over to the East Coast before heading north. He used the name of Moodie as an alias.

He must have seen a lot of coastline on his travels but there was something about the cliffs two miles east of Cullen on the southern shore of the Moray Firth that took his fancy. There was a little crevice in the rocks, too small to really be called a cave, but Charlie Marioni decided he had had enough of wandering. The spot had sufficient potential, he felt, to become home. In its favour was a supply of spring water.

How he fed himself while establishing his toe-hold in this remote place is not known. But it was November, 1920, so it would not have been easy. Piece by piece he collected driftwood from the beach and built a shed-like structure which had a door with a round window upon the front of his crevice in the rocks.

Scavenging from shipwrecks along the beach, Charlie gathered about him a stove and other kitchen equipment, and he made some furniture from driftwood. He asked no-one for permission to set up home, but as he did no harm, nobody complained. Sadly, this was not always going to be the case – unknown to Charlie someone had noted his presence and was unhappy about it.

Charlie found that the soil round about him was fertile so he planted potatoes and other vegetables to feed himself. He ate fish freshly caught by himself, and stewed rabbits which he snared on the cliff faces, so life became a little more bearable. As can be seen in the picture, the vegetables were grown on raised beds kept in place with stones. Everything was neat and tidy. Now equipped with something to trade with, Charlie went into Cullen and started to earn a few pence selling his vegetables.

No-one, it seems, is alive today who remembers talking to the man, but he was such a famous character in the area that there is a wealth of anecdotal information. Although Charlie was not a talkative type he was well liked. Once people got to know him from their bartering in town, they started to call on him in his cliff home while they were out walking. Cullen folk really took to him, and his reputation even spread beyond the boundary of the town.
People began making special trips to see him. He responded by buying himself a fiddle and was reputed to be pretty good. Another of his enterprises was to ask the local chemist to take some photographs of him outside his cliff home. Charlie had the photographs duplicated so that be could sell them to interested visitors. Some of the photos are still in existence and show Charlie playing his fiddle or stroking his kittens.

The kittens were his only company during the stormy winter nights when the wind rattled his rustic door and the salty spray penetrated every piece of clothing. They grew to be his closest friends. When you live in a shed fixed to a cliff on land that belongs to someone else, you need all the friends you can get.

Then trouble began brewing on Charlie’s horizon. The shed was built at the bottom of the cliffs, while at the top there was land tenanted by a Mrs Murray who had been uneasy at his presence from the outset. As the trickle of visitors became a regular stream she became increasingly cross at the disturbance to cattle and crops on her farm. Supported by the local estate, which owned her land, a complaint was made to the authorities that an illegal unregistered alien had set up home without permission.

Charlie had lived in his cliff-side home for 13 years, untroubled by the authorities who, it seemed, had turned a blind eye to his unorthodox lifestyle. In return, his influence in the area had been wholly benign. But once his presence was officially notified, the authorities had to do something. Despite a strong expression of support from Cullen people, Charlie received an unwelcome visit from the police and was arrested. He appeared shortly afterwards in front of Sheriff More at Banff Sheriff Court charged with falling to register as an alien.

Although Charlie led the life of a beachcomber he managed to put on a good show in court, appearing in a smart suit and tie. To give Sheriff More his due, it appears that he had considerable sympathy for the hermit, especially when he heard from witnesses how well he had behaved.

Nevertheless, Charlie was fined 20 shillings and ordered to register himself in Banff as an alien. He had come to court with £20 in his wallet, money he had saved up over the years of trading, so the fine was not a problem. But the jolt to his peaceful existence was. Shaken by the rude intrusion into his life, Charlie decided it was time to move on. He told some friends in Cullen that he intended to return to France, but before he left he had a sad duty to perform.

It would have been cruel to leave his only two companions, the cats, to fend for themselves on the beach, so he kissed them farewell and drowned them both before walking dejectedly down to the railway station to leave Cullen for ever. What a lump must have risen to his throat when he saw the crowd of well-wishers who had gathered to see him off.

As soon as he was gone someone made sure he would never return – his home of 13 years was burnt down.

Charlie went to Leith to see the French Consul about the possibility of returning to France. It would seem that the answer he received was unpromising because he never went. The last heard of the poor old man was that he was in an internment camp in England, where he died four years later.

Today, visitors to Charlie’s old haunt can still see the remains of his vegetable beds, and his water supply is trickling yet. Of his home all that remains is a black stain where the fire finished it off.

Sunnyside Beach.

We rested at the East end of Sunnyside Beach.

And then went up the track towards the castle.


The ruined castle you see before you dates from the 15th Century, possibly incorporating elements of a late 14th Century structure, although it is thought that this has been the site of a stronghold since at least the late 13th Century. The reconstruction drawing, illustrates the Findlater Castle of c.1455 when Sir Walter Ogilvy of Auchlevin was granted a licence by King James II to add to and strengthen the fortification of his “Castle of Findlater”.

The Castle rock, which sits c.l5m (50ft) below the level of the mainland cliffs from which it is reached, is surrounded by steep cliffs, reaching heights of c.27m (90ft). In two places the rock is cut across, each gap having once been spanned by a-bridge. Access to the Castle was restricted to foot traffic, thus a forecourt was formed on the mainland. The main Castle building is on a palace plan, built against the west side of the rock. The main floor is level with the summit of the rock and raised above two tiers of vaulted structure.

In the mid- 16th Century, possession of the Lands of Findlater passed from the Ogilvy family to the Gordons resulting in a bitter feud between the families. Alexander Ogilvy disinherited his son James Ogilvy of Cardell (Master of the Household of Mary Queen of Scot) in favour of Sir John Gordon son of the Earl of Huntly and a suitor for the the hand of Mary Queen of Scots.

These were very unsettled times and in 1562, with powerful lords vying for control of Scotland’s destiny, the Gordons rebelled. During this time Findlater was held against the forces of Mary Queen of Scots. The rebellion was short lived: on the 28th October 1562, the Gordons were overwhelmingly defeated by the Queen at the Battle of Corrichie (Hill o’Fare, near Banchory). The Earl of Huntly died on the battlefield and Sir John Gordon was captured. On the 31st October 1562, in Aberdeen, Sir John Gordon was beheaded in the presence of the Queen and her half-brother, the Earl of Moray.

Following these dramatic events, Findlater Castle was repossessed by the Ogilvies, but abandoned mid-1600s in favour of a new residence, Cullen House at Cullen.


Mairi and I went out to the castle. The main path had a “Footpath Closed” sign but we took a smaller path which was quite exposed.

We came back to a cold Anne. I suggested we continue walking to Sandend which seemed to be just a mile away to get this part of the trail finished. The idea was not warmly received. So we headed back and had our lunch at the same place we rested at the East end of Sunnyside Beach. What primroses are out all along this walk.

We took a wee diversion at the end round the back of Cullen.

Another bit of this Trail completed. An extra one!

So now we have done

1. Forres to FindhornSaturday 14th March 2020 (unrecorded)
2. Findhorn to RoseisleTuesday 16th November 2021
3. Roseisle to BurgheadSaturday 19th December 2020
4. Burghead to HopemanFriday 9th October 2020
5. Hopeman to LossiemouthFriday 23rd July 2021
6. Lossiemouth to Lossie ForestThursday 30th December 2021
7. Lossie Forest to KingstonThursday 24th March 2022
8. Kingston to PortgordonWednesday 20th April 2022
9. Portgordon to BuckieSunday 17th April 2022
10. Buckie to PortessieSaturday 16th April 2022
11. Findochty to PortknockieSaturday 4th September 2021 (unrecorded)
12. Portknockie to CullenSaturday 30th August 2014
13. Cullen to Findlater Castletoday

We have just two small sections to do and we will have completed the Moray Coastal Trail.