I'm firmly of the belief that some of the finest agates in Scotland, and indeed the world, can be found in Lunan Bay. The beaches south and north of the imperious Red Castle, which overlooks Lunan Water, can be productive, especially if the wind and tides are right. In such conditions, the sand is shifted back out to sea, and the true extent of the shingle in the area can be appreciated.
Agates can also be found sparingly on the rocky inlets north towards Boddin Point. There are shingle banks here in which generally isolated specimens may be discovered. It must be noted, however, that these locations are only accessible at low tide, and tide times must be consulted before an expedition, as the shore here is steep and the road distant. The railway cutting north of Red Castle is a historic location, although now the stream is heavily overgrown, and the area close to the bridge is steep and difficult to access. The area where the stream runs across the sand can be sparsely productive if searched at the optimum time.
There are a few dedicated collectors who live in the area, and so the shingle is well picked-over, although this should not discourage anyone with a keen eye, an imagination, an ability to walk as far as it takes and most importantly a will to succeed.
I myself have encountered a couple of the local agate enthusiasts and I have very much enjoyed their company. It takes one to know one, as they say, and this is no more true than from one agate collector to another. I can remember one particular conversation with a chap who must be among the most experienced of Lunan agate hunters, where while in mid-flow of conversation he proceeded to pick up a small carnelian nodule from close to my boots. "You're not very good, are you?" he said good-naturedly. I concur, I will be better! This kind and passionate man was generous with his time, his knowledge, his humour and his agates. He does not use the but I will take this opportunity to salute him, and the fine couple living nearby to Red Castle who kindly allow me and many others to search for agates on the beach they themselves own. Lunan Bay is unparalleled in beauty.
Agates from Lunan are highly varied, although if you visit briefly on a single occasion in average circumstances, you will likely only find many blue-grey onyx agates which predominate in the area. Occasionally sardonyx is encountered as well, and more often there is the familiar sight of fortification patterns above the level banding. Sometimes these are also in colour, but it takes patience and perseverance to accumulate any exceptional examples.
Stalactitic agates occur, and in colour too, but rarely. In perhaps 20 trips to the area, each time with 2 or 3 hours of collecting I have only one example. However, they are well worth the time and can be truly spectacular. Sagenite also occurs, and I would say that as with St Cyrus, it is a speciality of the location. Sagenite found at Lunan can be highly coloured, with intricate fortifications within the inclusions of crystals. Nodules containing such markings can be large as well on occasion, 6 or 7 centimetres in my experience.
The highest quality Lunan agates often tend to show an orange and red translucent skin, are highly waterworn and often with fractures which can vary from minimal to catastrophic. The interiors can show a wonderful mix of deep reds, pumpkin oranges and candy pinks, and occasionally also include areas of grey blue. Generally, the larger specimens show less variation of colour, whereas the smaller (and correspondingly the least damaged) nodules can also include dark greys and deep browns. In fact, the predominantly rich brown agates from Lunan are a personal favourite, the colour is not dingy at all. Markings within the aforementioned orange/red nodules cover the full spectrum of varieties found in the area. They may be completely filled with level onyx banding, but more often show some fortification also, generally always in the upper portion of the stone. Best of all, however, are those that appear filled with many eyes, or tubes which are generally visible in the outer skin of the agate and the highly intricate stalactitic stones in these colours are amongst the finest to be found in Scotland.
Occasionally fine moss agates occur at Lunan. From the single specimen I have, I observe that within intricate banding including eye-like tubes, inclusions of a green moss-like material are displayed. This "moss" is more finely rendered than in similar moss-agates from further north at St Cyrus, although as I have said I have only a sole specimen to go by thus far. Sometimes agates exhibiting no onyx banding can be found in orange, red, brown, pink and yellow. Occasionally these pieces too can be larger but generally, as you may have guessed, there will likely be a quartz centre in these stones. Due to the action of the sand and wind smaller nodules found here can be naturally polished and I have 3 examples of this phenomenon, one of which is truly perfect and may remain in its untouched state, despite betraying suggestions of exquisite fortification banding. Most agates here are between 2 and 5 centimetres in diameter but occasionally reach 7 or 8 centimetres.
Travelling further south towards Ethie and the more picturesque Ethie Haven again takes one into rockier, and indeed more perilous territory. From my own investigations, agates are scarce here. I have read of the existence of inland locations in the general area of Ethie House presumably where the andesite outcrops again but personally I prefer to be on the shore.
What may be the finest beach in north-east Scotland has the distinction of being one of its most rewarding agate-rich locations, and is well worth a visit, even if you are more inclined to find a place in the sand to appreciate the view, rather than exploring the long sandy reaches of the coastline here and discovering the wonderful gemstones therein.