Walking / Exploring as I do extensively,  I recently came across an interpretation board on the path to  Findlater Castle, Cullen which fascinated me. Little did I know that my friend’s mum had researched and brought the following story of Charlie, the most legendary figure in the history of Cullen, to the fore.

This is an article written by the late Filomena Selbie (a Cullen quine) which was published in the Banffshire Journal in August 1994.

Her daughter Andrea, a friend of Doric TV has kindly submitted this true story as she thought it might be of interest to the North East fowks.

One of the many postcards depicting Charlie which were sold locally – this one by GW Findlay, Chemist, Cullen.

Probably the most legendary figure in the history of Cullen, Charlie the “hermit’, is still remembered by many who are still living in the town. One person who has been finding out about Charlie’s life is former Cullen resident, FILOMENA SELBIE, who now lives in Inverness. She has written this short history and tribute to Charlie-and to another man who will remain in the memory of Cullen folk for years to come, Tony Hetherington.

If you stand on a clifftop overlooking the lovely expanse of Cullen Bay and glance eastwards, you can see in the distance s narrow path twisting and undulating along the foot of the cliffs, then disappearing as if into the base of sheer rock silhouetted against the skyline. Beyond this point, and hidden from view, another road winds through a precipitous rock path of boulders and stepping stones carved into the cliff face. This was the road leading to the hermit.

Over the years, and with the passing of time, the constant battering by storm and the elements gradually eroded the stones until the route became very dangerous and almost impassable. Now, thanks to the great skill and magnanimity of Tony Hetherington, a resident of Cullen, the Giant’s Steps as they are called have been restored.

Single-handed and without the aid of machinery, he has replaced the huge boulders in what was a mammoth task, entailing almost 400 hours of labour and dangerous manhandling on a narrow ledge 100ft above sharp rocks. The steps have been re-routed straight up the middle of the cliff face. Sadly, Tony was tragically drowned in a canoeing accident in Austria a year ago.

This fascinating road, known as Dickie Hare, was used during the twenties and thirties by scores of tourists who flocked to see the hermit who had made his home in a cave burrowed into the base of a 5Oft high rock, a stone’s throw from the shattered wreck of the Fraserburgh boat, Artemis, close to the lovely sands of Sunnyside.

As time passed his simple shelter gave way to a two-roomed sizeable shack created from flotsam and pieces of debris washed up on the beach.

Charlie Moonie, as he called himself, found the winters hard, but with a good stock of food from a magnificent walled garden he had hewn out of the rough foreshore, he survived.

He baked his own bread on a stove he built and the fish he caught along by the rocks were sold to help him buy the handful of worldly goods he required.

Being a vegetarian, no fish was ever eaten by him, but his lively cats never refused a daily ration.

He also sold postcards of him- self posing with a fishing rod or playing his beloved violin.

Although the white-bearded hermit lived alone, he could not be called a recluse as he was very friendly and kind-hearted, welcoming visitors with a warm pleasantness which made him so well loved by all. Often he would be seen surrounded by a crowd of children listening to his many wonderful tales, and his friends would often find a fish lying on the doorstep in the early hours of & morning, when he visited the town to sell the rabbits he had trapped to the local butcher. One friend in whom Charlie confided was told that his real name was Charles Marionie and that he was a deserter from the French Army. He had jumped ship in the English Channel and made his way to Wales where he lived for some time before finally settling in Scotland.

For many years Charlie lived on in perfect contentment, but alas it was not to last, and eventually, bureaucracy caught up with him. Stories began to circulate of underhand attempts to move him out, but during these trying days he carried on as pleasantly as ever. However, the rumblings continued, and in 1933complaints were lodged against him, claiming that he was trapping rabbits on land owned by Seafield Estates, breaking up ground for cultivation purposes without permission, and causing fields to be trampled down by visitors coming to visit him. The final blow came when he was summoned to Banff Sheriff Court to face a charge of failing 10 registered as an alien when he arrived 13 years previously.

Apparently, he was unaware of this additional mandatory registration as he had already been recorded as an alien while living in Wales. A bewildered, sad, and dispirited Charlie had to plead guilty and paid the Twenty Shilling fine’. Although he was allowed to remain in his home, Charlie was too upset and decided to quit Britain and return to France. On reaching the South of England he became ill and eventually died there.

Today, if you stroll along the rugged coast and climb the Giant’s Steps, you will still be able to see the hollow in the base of the large rock where long ago the legendary hermit of Cullen lived, and you will savour the charm and wild beauty of Sunnyside and that strange mystical sense of indescribable tranquillity.

The Cullen Coastline hosts many interesting features – As mentioned in the article  ‘The Giant Step’s‘  which were single handed restored by the late Tony Hetherington.

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