Bridge of Alvah, Banff, Aberdeenshire
The grounds of stately Duff House are the starting point for a varied and historic circuit which includes the crossing of two lovely and contrasting 18th Century bridges.
The walk is better done anti-clockwise, beginning on paths and tracks in mixed woodland high above the River Deveron, then across more open, rolling farmland to eventually pass through the Macduff Distillery before concluding by re-crossing the river back into Banff.
It shouldn’t take longer than a couple of hours, so there’s plenty of time to allow a closer look at the imposing Duff House. This grand Georgian mansion was commissioned by William Duff, Lord Braco, and work began in 1735 under the watch of architect William Adam. But a series of setbacks and legal disputes slowed progress to such an extent that Duff never got to occupy his dream house and it was left to his heirs to complete the work.
The family gave up ownership in 1906 and over the years it has been used variously as a hotel, a sanatorium, and, during World War II, it housed prisoners of war and served as headquarters for various Allied regiments. It was also badly damaged by a German air raid.
By the 1950s, it had fallen into disrepair and was taken over by the state. It reopened in 1995 as a country house gallery displaying collections from the National Galleries of Scotland.
The signed route starts along the track to the right of the playing fields (there is also a large play-park to help keep the kids amused) passing a pavilion and then going through ornate gates into woodland. You can follow the path left or continue straight on and divert to see the ice house then drop down some wooden stairs to meet up with the path again.
The twists of the River Deveron below the treeline accompany you along the next stretch on the soft path to the family mausoleum where there is an information panel. From here, go right to join a track above, then turn left and follow it round as it curves left in front of a house to reveal a more open landscape with a wind farm in the distance.
The route splits in front of a large tree: go left and follow the track downhill to the beautiful Bridge of Alvah, its stony ramparts perched high above a deep, wooded gorge. The bridge dates from 1773 when it was built to link the farming communities on either side of the river.
Once you have dragged yourself away from this lovely spot, follow the track as it heads gently uphill on the opposite side of the bridge. Stick to the main line, ignoring any turns, to pass above Montcoffer House.
The track becomes a minor road, passing Mains of Montcoffer and then a few houses to reach a junction. Turn left then quickly left again and keep straight on into woodland on a grassier track. Eventually, this emerges at Gaveney Cottage, where a smoother surface leads downhill through the Macduff Distillery and out on to the A947.
The final leg is on pavement with the view ahead dominated by the elegant seven-arch Banff Bridge. This was completed in 1779 by John Smeaton – who was responsible for similar structures in Coldstream and Perth – and then widened more than 100 years later. It was a replacement for an earlier bridge that had been washed away during a flood in 1768.
I said farewell to the Deveron as it washed into the wide basin of Banff Bay and headed across the bridge, passing the golf course and the tidy Deveronvale football stadium, before making the left turn into the drive to Duff House.
The river had been a constant companion on this tranquil circuit even if actual sightings were fleeting at times but its presence and gentle rush were much appreciated on the journey.
1. Take signed track to right of playing fields and walk along to entrance gate pillars. Pass through and either go left on woodland path or continue straight on and descend stairs on left to old ice house.
2. Continue down steps to meet woodland path, turn right to reach mausoleum, then go right to join track above and head left, trending right until reaching house.
3. Turn left on track with woods on left and fields right until reaching junction at large tree. Go left and descend to Bridge of Alvah which sits above River Deveron.
4. Cross and go uphill on main track which becomes minor road passing Mains of Montcoffer. Further on, after passing some houses, turn left at junction, then quickly left again on to track leading past more houses.
5. When track bends right, leave it and go straight ahead on grassier track past fields and into woodland before reaching Gaveney Cottage where it opens out.
6. Keep straight ahead to pass through Macduff Distillery and head up on to A947. Turn left and follow road across seven-arched bridge and past golf course, then go left back to Duff House.
Time: 2-3 hours
Grading: Well-signed half-day stroll suitable for most ages and abilities around estate and farm tracks, woodland paths. Some minor roads (quiet) and pavements alongside main road. Muddy in places, good footwear advised. Farmland route, dogs should be under strict control.
Start/finish: Duff House car park (Grid ref: NJ 689633).
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Map 29 (Banff & Huntly); Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 425/426.
Tourist Information: Banffshire Tourist Hub, 7 Strait Path, Banff, Aberdeenshire, AB45 1AD (Tel: 07508 986230) email@example.com.
Public transport: Buses to Banff on Aberdeen-Elgin route (No 35).