Volunteer power is currently unlocking the landscape and history of Cullen. A 1.5 kilometre stretch of shoreline path, hugging the breathtaking coastline at Cullen, is due to open this week thanks to the Cullen Volunteer Group.
Before the Cullen Volunteer Group took on this project, the path was inaccessible and almost non existent in places. Today, it is a wide, even surface, with proper drainage and surfacing with wonderful places to sit and even have lunch, surrounded by incredible views.
‘We actually had to stop work on the weekends’, says Stan Slater, chair of the volunteer group. As the path became accessible, more and more residents started to use it, making working on the last bit of the job harder to do. But Stan and the other volunteers wouldn’t have it any other way.
The path is for people. ‘This is also about the health of the community’, says Stan who tells us about the many people who now use the path, but couldn’t before.
In fact, as Stan takes us on the walk, we are met by a stream of residents who testify about how easy it is to use the path and enjoy the vista. We meet a man with severe arthritis in both knees who is quick to thank Stan and the volunteers for making this path possible. ‘I would have never been able to walk here before, he says. Further down the track, we are met by another couple, asking who is responsible for this transformation. When they hear it is a volunteer group, they are amazed.
This is all about volunteer power. Stan reckons thousands of volunteer hours have been put into this path project. Much the same dedication and hard graft was given to their earlier project -- reclaiming the Castle Hill to become an accessible place for walkers, visitors and residents alike. Part of the success lies in their good partnership working -- with funders -- Agrifund and Paths for All -- as well as with partners Scottish Natural Heritage and the Seafield Estate. The support locally for this volunteer project is palpable. The diggers and equipment are on loan by a local company. Sales of the community calendar have also helped, along with numerous coffee mornings and events held on their behalf.
The path is lined with handpicked stones, the attention to detail and care is everywhere. As we walk, Stan tidies wee stray stones that have not found their place. The path has been a labour of love. Love for Cullen.
As we walk, we are stopped by more people wanting to know what the volunteers are doing. We meet other volunteers too, including a lady who cleans the public toilets in the summer. ‘It’s for the glamour’ she laughs, but stops to talk to Stan about how the path and the project are changing things for the better.
Not only are there parts of a stunning landscape now accessible, but the history of Cullen is also being told. The group have plans to put additional display boards along the walk to tell the story of the area.
The volunteers know and love the place and are keen to share this pride with others. As we continue walking, Stan points out the incredible array of birds, the movement of earlier earthworks, places used in wartime for target practices, and the sites of long-gone bothies. Stan even knows a special place to find sea glass.
He pulls small bits of dark blue glass from the stones. ‘This one is from a medicine bottle.’ He laughs, ‘...when I was a kid, smashing some glass, I never thought I’d come back to find it as sea glass forty years later…’
Stan and another volunteer, Barry Addison, have worked closely on these two projects; two childhood friends, who left Cullen during their working lives, but have now returned, and want to help and celebrate their community.
‘As kids we used to play with toy diggers here’, says Stan, who now acknowledges that this time it’s with the real thing.
Barry has led these projects in both planning and execution and has been out most days working, digging and running the back-hoe. He is joined by others who have committed literally months of time. Volunteer Alex Dodd is laying in some of the final drains. Alex has worked on each and every drain making sure the path stays in good shape and is stable for years to come. Stan calls him the ‘engine’ of the team. ‘He has done more hours on it than anyone else. Not bad for someone in their 70's’, says Stan.
Stan is also working with the NHS to develop walks on the path for people with dementia. ‘It is also about health...people would be stuck indoors watching t.v and now they’re out walking.’
We ask Stan how other communities could do what they are doing. ‘It takes a core group of about 5 people’. After the Portsoy Boat Festival, we are going to meet with them to see if they could do what we are doing…there could be a Volunteer Portsoy Group, a Volunteer Findochty Group and Volunteer Portgordon…’
When asked what the next project will be he laughs and says ‘a holiday’, but we know that this is not the case. As we end the walk, Stan points out a special place in the distance...a place with a forgotten history... He smiles…and in an instant we know what their next project could be…watch this space.
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