Sands of Forvie
The Sands of Forvie is a nature reserve north of Newburgh in Aberdeenshire in the northeast of Scotland. Forvie National Nature Reserve has the fifth largest sand dune system in Britain, and the least disturbed by human activity. The dune system is an integral part of the Ythan Estuary and separated by the estuary from Balmedie beach. The reserve contains large areas of sandy foreshore, mobile and fixed dunes, dune pasture and lowland heath and the successional development of vegetation. The sand dunes are of various stages of evolution and contain marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), red fescue, (Festuca rubra), crowberry, (Empetrum nigrum), the cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix), common sedge, (Carex nigra), marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) and the invasive creeping willow (Salix repens ssp. argentea).
The reserve contains the largest breeding colony of eider duck in Britain and an internationally important ternery. The area is designated as a Special Protection Area for wildlife conservation purposes. The reserve is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. Stevenson Forvie Centre near Collieston provides information on the reserve.
Forvie was active in World Wars I and II, although very few details are recorded on the use of the area. It was incorrectly claimed there was a nine-hole golf course from 1900 to the outbreak of World War II. The course built for Lady Cathcart in 1900 was on the west coast island Uist.
The layout of Forvie and Newburgh could be mistaken for the mouth of the River Don in Aberdeen. With this is mind, defences were put in places around the mouth of the Ythan. These consisted of pill boxes, two gun batteries and anti-tank blocks built by the 143rd Pioneer Corps. From a review of vulnerable beaches from April–October 1941, Forvie appeared on this list and was identified as "blocked with mines". From the estuary to the bothy at Rockend, a strip of anti-tank landmines were laid. These were British Type C land mines weighing about 65 lbs each. Following a clear up of the area, 19 landmines were unaccounted for due to the shifting sands of the area. Mine clearance in World War II was extremely dangerous and there was a high casualty rate among bomb disposal personnel. Various techniques for clearing mines employed the use of high pressure water jets and flame throwers. In most cases the mines were laid in a hurry, and accurate records weren't taken. Mines were often found outwith any records kept. In one minefield in England, detonating one mine resulted in a sympathetic detonation of 80 others. In the years of war, shifting sands could bury or move mines up to 20 feet deep in sand making recovery near impossible.
Forvie sands was used to train the Gordon Highlanders and Highland Light Infantry in desert warfare, in addition to this Forvie Moor was used to train soldiers in the use of grenade, anti-tank grenades and 2" trench mortars. Since the war, mortar bombs have been found across the moor. Craters are still visible in the area. The soldiers training at Forvie were billeted at the Slains Lodge and buildings in Collieston.
On 3rd Nov 1940, 30 High Explosive Bombs were dropped on Forvie Links by the luftwaffe. This is listed in the Aberdeenshire Civil Defence register, however little evidence exists that this occurred. No craters or patterns indicating a bombing run can be seen.
Whilst soldiers were training there, the moor were off limits to locals. However on Sundays, the locals could use the moor. During this time, locals collected birds eggs to use as food was rationed, and there was a plentiful supply of rabbits. On Sunday 30 November 1941, three local boys found an unexploded anti-tank grenade in a rabbit burrow that the army had been demonstrating to the home guard. One of the boys, then threw it away where it exploded causing him to lose sight in one eye.
On 31 March 1941, the British steamer Melrose Abbey ran aground. On 2 April 1941 she was hit by a drifting sea mine blowing a large hole in her side, and settled on the Ythan river bed. During this time, a machine gun was posted at Forvie Sands to offer some protection for the vessel whilst plans were made to move her as she was a target for passing aircraft. The ship was refloated on 26 July 1941 and towed to Aberdeen for repairs. She was later sunk by U-356 on 27 December 1942 north-east of the Azores. Several websites confirm this sinking, but this disagrees with the information in the reference below, which states that "As for Melrose Abbey, she was released from the Royal Navy in May 1945 and returned to her former owners, the Associated Humber Lines." The second reference may help to resolve this mix-up of ship names.
Beside the pill box of Forvie, two mobile naval 4" guns were places and controlled by 942nd Defence battery.
On 26 January 1942, the SS Lesrix, which was carrying machinery, ran aground off Hackley head during a blizzard. Locals in the community aided in the rescue of some of the crew, although ten crew members were lost. A bronze medal for gallantry was given by the King to one local for his part.
During patrols on the beach and cliffs of Forvie, a dinghy was found and this sparked a search for a spy that had been landed by submarine. This spy was caught in the moray area. It was rumoured that Tillery house near Udny had fascist sympathizers, where spies and airmen were told this was a "safe house" during the war. Since there were also Norwegian army personnel in the area who patrolled the beaches, the coast guard and home guard were issued with passes to identify themselves to the Norwegian soldiers.
In 1948, the Forvie area was earmarked to be a bombing and artillery range for the Royal Air Force and Army, as a site further north than the existing area at Lunan Bay near Arbroath. Forvie was to be used for air to ground and dive bombing practice. This involved a gunnery range out at sea and an rifle range on the moor. This proposal was cancelled in 1950; records exist in the National Archives on the proposal.
- Abandoned Communities ... Forvie, and other places in NE Scotland deserted as a result of shifting sand
- Sea Trout Angling on the Ythan Fishery, Newburgh.
- Webcam overlooking the Ythan and Forvie Sands
- SS Melrose Abbey, freighter and WWII rescue ship
- Discussion on several ships named "Melrose Abbey"
- Map sources for Sands of Forvie