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All along to the watchtower

By Jenny Gillies

Let's hear a cheer for the lunchtime run! Sometimes I find it hard to drag myself away from the warm office and go through the hassle of getting organised to go out but, an hour later, when I sit back down after a blast through the woods or along the beach, life always seems better.

Knowing it would be dark well before I finished work I was champing at the bit to get outside on a bright, cloudless autumn day. I sat, waiting in Lycra, for my colleague to return and free me for a short time from the responsibilities of my desk.

A perfect choice for my lunchtime escape was this four-mile, out-and-back route. It takes a bite-sized section of the Moray Coastal Trail and heads west from the Covesea lighthouse, turning at an old coastguard lookout tower to return east.

The large car park at the Aroma Café and adjoining golf centre serves as the starting point. I headed out of the eastern side of the car park to join a wide, grassy path signposted for the beach. Here, there are trees being planted to start a small native woodland so, over the next few years, these slightly barren paddocks should start to change in character.

The path soon narrowed as towering gorse bushes closed in from both sides. Rising well over head height, they reached out to catch my bare arms and legs. Thankfully no-one else was on the path, as some prickly negotiations would be required to allow passage for both parties.

Reaching a gate in the wall to my right I chose to continue ahead, dropping down towards the dunes. A sign indicated the high-tide route of the Moray Coastal Trail going left and right, but ahead I could see the wide sands of Lossie West Beach stretching away north towards the low-tide line.

The soft dunes on the initial descent gave way to hard packed sand and I sprinted towards the water's edge, turning sharply as a wave reached inland and just caught my feet.

The beach was quiet. I waved as I passed a walker and a duo of mountain bikers, the latter's wide tyres making easy work of the sand. I was distracted by the view out north and a fort of seaweed guarding the exit to the beach caught me by surprise.

The mounds required some backtracking to breach and I was lucky to keep upright as I slipped over the slimy, reeking piles.

The path led upwards between two outcrops and up onto the hillside below Covesea village. Snaking between low gorse and scrub, it gave the perfect viewpoint to look down at the natural arches and caves along the coastline.

The best known of the caves is Sculptor's Cave, famous for the Pictish carvings around its entrance and sombre history of burial rites.

Unfortunately my brief excursion didn't leave for archaeological exploration so I ran on, the white former Coastguard tower now visible ahead.

I took a seat below the tower to appreciate the serene view, sitting quietly and feeling very distant from my busy office. Despite the early afternoon hour the sun was still low behind the rise of the land at my back and, even in the short time I was there, shadows lengthened across the short grass.

Setting off back towards Covesea the sweeping turns of the path kept the trail interesting and the approach from this direction afforded a prolonged and grand view of the sea stack in front of Sculptor's Cave. Apparently there is some uncertainty about the present stack's name – it comes from the occasion when a bungled World War II home guard practice ended with the second stack being accidentally blown up, leaving some confusion about which stack is/was which!

Dropping down again onto the beach, the lighthouse now dominated the view ahead. With a gentle tailwind I was soon below it, the cliff top above guarded by a World War II lookout post.

Heading round the bottom of the cliff I passed more caves and made one last push for the top of the rise and edge of the lighthouse grounds. Completed in 1846, the lighthouse is now owned by a community company, with volunteers manning the lighthouse when it is open to the public.

After crossing the road leading up to the lighthouse, a gate in the opposite wall led back into the tunnel of gorse. With the sun in my eyes, avoiding the thorns was even harder and I didn't emerge entirely unscathed.

A short distance back to the car and then it was time to head back to the office – refreshed and ready for the afternoon's work.

Route details
A trail of two towers – Covesea lighthouse to the Coastguard lookout tower

Distance 4.25 miles / 7km

Terrain Beach and easy path

Start/finish Covesea lighthouse/Aroma Café car park

Map OS Explorer 423; OS Landranger 28

A short, simple route on the Moray Coastal path – views, history and solitude in one quick hit

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