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The ‘Sea of Stones’ is a series of shingle (or, more accurately, cobble and pebble) ridges roughly parallel to the shore line west of the River Spey and north of the Binn of Garmouth. They extend several kilometres west from Kingston towards Lossiemouth, and are about 700 metres wide. Unfortunately much of the area is obscured by forestry and rough vegetation, so the full extent of the ‘Sea of Stones’ cannot now be easily appreciated. The widest view is from the top of the Binn Hill.
Vast quantities of stones are brought down from the Cairngorms and Monadhliath by the River Spey, and are shifted constantly by the effects of wind and tide, creating an ever-changing estuary and coastline. The stones are well rounded from being rolled around in river and sea water for thousands of years. This is a very dynamic coastline, where the effects of both recession and encroachment by the sea can be observed.
The ridges of the Sea of Stones provide evidence for a change in relative sea level. During the last Ice Age, Scotland lay under kilometres of ice. The ice was very heavy, and it pressed the crust of the Earth down into the mantle which, being hot, is plastic enough for the crust to sink. The ice started retreating about 18,000 years ago, and the land has been rising very slowly ever since.
Each of the ridges that make up the ‘Sea of Stones’ is a fossilised storm beach, piled up by winter storms. As the land rose, the sea could no longer reach and rework the older ridges, and over the millennia a whole series of ridges developed, each one very slightly lower than the previous one, and further from the foot of the hill.
Directions to the ‘Sea of Stones’ Take the B9015 from Mosstodloch through Garmouth to Kingston. In Kingston turn left on to Beach Road. At the end of Beach Road turn right into the car park (NJ33496560). Leave the car park by the path at the far corner (NJ33466569), and follow the track you can see ahead of you. Alternatively you can walk along the crest of the ridge which marks the top of the beach, but this is much more uneven underfoot. When the track bends right and left and up to the top of the ridge, make a point of looking along the beach from the top of the ridge (NJ33016585).
In front and below you, you will see a row of concrete ‘tank traps’ toppled by the sea washing the stones out from underneath them. There’s also a pill box, similarly dislodged, at a drunken angle on the beach. Further away, to your left, the tank traps are still standing, but the line disappears into the stones. This shows that the coast just here has receded significantly in the decades since the tank traps were erected. At NJ32846588 note the berm with a concrete post on top, and behind it some concrete structures with safety fencing perched precariously on top. This is a disused rifle range. Beyond it, and to your left, is a series of curving ridges, which at some times of year are separated by water. These are not natural; they are where pebbles had been collected ready to be taken to the concrete plant and incorporated in more concrete defences.
At NJ32746594 look to your right, and you will see a small part of another pill box, almost buried by the pebbles. To its left, the line of tank traps continues on the inland side of the ridge. Comparing this with the line of tank traps on the seaward side further back, you can see how much the sea has encroached inland in the decades since the second world war. There is another pill box at NJ32376607, which is well clear of the ridge at present. However think about its purpose, which was to enable observers to look to seaward and spot any enemy ships that might be approaching the coast. You could not do that now, because since the second world war the sea has piled the pebbles and cobbles up to above the height of the pill box. In fact none of the next few pillboxes now has a sea view. So not only has the sea encroached at the east end of Kingston Beach, it has also piled the stones much higher than they were less than a century ago.
Carry on along the track to the sentry post at NJ32046618 and check the flagpole. If there is no flag flying, it is safe to carry on along the track. Do not go past the gate if there is a flag, it means that firing is in progress at the rifle range. The rifle range is about 500 metres beyond the sentry box. Just as you reach it (NJ31586633) there is a green signpost. Turn left, following the indicated direction of the Binn Hill, and walk along the track at the edge of the rifle range, a wide grassy strip running towards the foot of the Binn Hill. On both sides of the range you can see long ridges of grey stones extending to both sides.
From the rifle range you can return by the same route, or you can carry on to the end of the range, turn left on a track through the forest, then left again at the gate and back down to the sentry post, then right on the track back to the car park. If you want to extend your walk, there is a network of waymarked paths between here and Lossiemouth, taking in the Binn Hill, Boar’s Head Rock and Lossie Forest.
Text & images by Anne Burgess.