Do you know anyone who has been to Strathdon and now has a metal roadsign pointing to "Lost"? If so, Aberdeenshire Council would love to hear from you. On the western edge of Bellabeg on Donside is a junction with a minor road leading the few hundred yards to Lost. The metal direction signs from the junction were stolen so often there was even talk of renaming "Lost" to the less collectable "Lost Farm". In the end the name remained unchanged, and the latest signs have been designed to be rather more difficult to remove.
Bellabeg itself is an attractive hamlet in a truly superb part of upper Donside, forming part of the wider dispersed settlement of Strathdon. Facilities include a shop and community hall as well as a number of attractive cottages, some larger houses, a school and a church.
The village has two main claims to fame. The first is the annual Lonach Gathering, which has come to wider notice in recent years under the patronage of Strathdon resident Billy Connolly. For many this is the classic highland gathering. And it is also widely known as the home of those road signs to Lost, which makes it very good news that the name was not changed simply to thwart souvenir hunters.
Bellabeg grew where the Water of Nochty comes flowing down from the Ladder Hills to the north and meets the River Don. The original name for the settlement here was Invernochty and this is reflected in the Doune of Invernochty, an imposing motte on the west side of the village and one of the best to be found anywhere in Scotland. Developed from a much earlier Pictish fortress, this was sculpted into its current form in the 1100s to house the main castle of the Earldom of Mar, before becoming redundant in the mid 1200s when Kildrummy Castle was built some seven miles to the north-east.
The Parish Church is located on rising land on the south side of the River Don and is large enough to suggest a settlement once much larger than it is today. As recently as 1901 the population of the extensive Upper Donside Parish, of which Bellabeg forms a part, stood at 1100, though this was itself much lower than in previous centuries. By 1951 the population had shrunk to 750; by 1971 to 450; and by 1991 to 380. The simple economics of making a living in marginal and remote upland areas caused a steady drift over a prolonged period of time that may only recently have started to reverse.
The signs of this depopulation are plain to see across the landscape. Anyone following the road to Lost will find it finishes after a few hundred metres in the farmyard of Lost Farm. Yet the track that continues up the west side of Glen Nochty beyond Lost leads past Belnabodach or the town of the ghosts en route to other ruined and deserted settlements.
Likewise the road that leads up the east side of Glen Nochty from the Spar shop in Bellabeg to Glenbuchat Lodge and the west end of Glen Buchat is much less trafficked than once it was. But in what some have called "The Land of the Lost" there remain some remarkably pleasant signs of regeneration.