From wilderness to accessible community space

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How volunteer power is unlocking the landscape and history of Cullen

Castle Hill offers a stunning panoramic view of Cullen Bay and, in the past, it was a place which was enjoyed by local families and visitors to the area. But the network of paths had fallen into disrepair and the hill had became overgrown with gorse, making the viewpoint inaccessible. 

In 2016, the Cullen Volunteer Group negotiated a 6-year lease with Seafield Estate and started to restore Castle Hill to its former glory. Removing gorse should be relatively straight forward, but Castle Hill is a scheduled monument, steeped in the history of Scotland. It is believed to be the place where Robert the Bruce’s wife died, and the site of a Castle visited by Scotland’s early kings. The Duke of Cumberland’s army amassed in the surrounding fields before the Battle of Culloden.

Scheduled monument status introduces a level of complexity; reams of forms had to be navigated by volunteers to obtain HES consent to reinstate the paths. Volunteers raised funds for the project through coffee mornings, crowdfunding and various grant applications.

Working from a 1949 aerial photo, the group worked closely with HES and their archeologists and set about clearing the gorse and reinstating the path network on the 8-acre site. The construction methods had to meet HES requirements. Archaeologists carried out test digs to ensure that nothing of historical importance was disturbed and the work of volunteers was closely supervised.

Volunteers were undeterred by the complexity and enormity of the task - giving thousands of hours of their time. The previously neglected and overgrown site now boasts 500 metres of paths linking to the coastal trail and a newly accessible viewpoint. Droves of visitors now make their way to the summit to take in the views. A popular destination for walkers, accessible to young mothers with prams and people with disabilities, Castle Hill is now also an important attraction for visitors to the area.

The project was only made possible by developing close working relationships with partners and local businesses. The volunteers are quick to acknowledge the significant contribution of Seafield Estate – including supplying and transporting 400 tonnes of hard core, use of the estate’s tractors and trailers to remove gorse, regular supplies of fuel and fencing materials. The Estate and the volunteer group have developed a close working partnership and it’s a real team effort that has brought Castle Hill back to life, creating a community asset that is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, accessible to all ages and abilities.

And the volunteer group didn’t stop there… next on the list was a 0.8 km stretch of the Moray Coast Trail. The path, which hugs the Cullen coastline, had fallen into disrepair and was only accessible by fit and healthy walkers. The path has now been widened and the surface built up, new benches have been situated at viewpoints along the trail where users can stop for a rest and take in the spectacular views.  

What next – extending the path route, working with the NHS to develop walks on the trail for people with dementia, story boards and an App telling the history of Cullen. Cullen Volunteer Group has big ambitions for the town and community.

Only last week, the group met with Seafield Estate and both parties agreed to work together to cut areas of community grass in Cullen that the local council no longer maintains.

Local contractors that assisted Cullen Volunteer Group with the Castle Hill Project:

MPD Properties, Buckie
Curry Contractors, Deskford    
Sievwright Brothers, Cornhill