A few weeks ago we crossed the country, heading East to Aberdeenshire with VisitAberdeenshire. It’s a part of Scotland I’ve rarely visited so I didn’t really know what to expect which made the trip all the more exciting. Over the four day trip we discovered a region steeped in history, edged with a spectacular coastline and with some of the cutest villages you’ll find anywhere.
From Lochgilphead to the city of Aberdeen takes around 5 hours but it was a stunning drive in the hot July sunshine. Watching the landscape change with every passing mile was wonderful, Scotland really is such a diverse country. We left the rugged landscape of the west, passed by the rolling hills of central Scotland before emerging into the arable landscape of the East coast.
Aberdeen tends to have this reputation of being a grey, dull city which I think is largely due to the majority of the buildings being granite. However, even though grey these buildings are striking with many featuring aspects of Gothic Architecture. Marischal College is particularly impressive. As you wander through the streets and lanes of Aberdeen you’ll find something equally impressive, street art. Aberdeen is home to an international public arts festival called NUART. There are dozens of painting located all over the cities walls which range in size, colour and style.
Since it’s early days Aberdeen has been dependant on the sea, in fact the first people settled here because of the proximity to the water. Over hundreds of years Aberdeen has been associated with every form of Martine industry imaginable. From shipbuilding to fishing to the whale oil industry of the past and oil industry of the present, Aberdeen has seen it all. We visited the Aberdeen Maritime Museum located in the historic Shiprow which gives a fascinating insight into this extensive maritime history.
At the bottom of Aberdeen, beside the beach you’ll come to a charming wee former fishing village called Footdee. It’s one of the cutest villages I’ve ever seen, it’s all built in squares, it actually feels like stepping into a film set. There are cottages of all different shapes, colours and sizes and the gardens are full of flowers and quirky signs and ornaments.
Foodee isn’t the only charming fishing village in Aberdeen, this area is littered with quaint villages. After Aberdeen he headed North to the Banffshire Coast where we discovered Portsoy. It has the most beautiful 17th century harbour which even has a nice wee sandy beach. Again, the weather was stunning so we sat in the sun, ate some of Portsoy’s award winning ice cream and watched a couple of Minke Whales pass by.
Just east of Portsoy, settled amongst the cliff, lies another beautiful fishing villages called Crovie. I think this was my favourite. There is no vehicle access to the town so it’ll really like stepping back in time as you wander along the front weaving in and out the washing lines. On our visit the sea was calm but in a winter storm living here must be pretty scary as the houses are just feet away from the sea.
Travel another couple of miles east and you’ll come to a similar town called Pennan.It’s not quite as charming as Crovie as there are cars and shops but it’s still nice. The film Local Hero was filmed here in the 80’s which makes it extra special. You’ll be able to step inside that famous phone box.
It’s not only quint villages that Aberdeenshire has in abundance, it also has some fantastic castles. 263 to be precise and on our trip we managed to visit a couple. Dalgatie Castle was the first one we visited which is home to the Clan Hay. A castle has been located here since around 1050AD but the one you see today was constructed during the 16th century. There is so much to see in the castle, including Mary Queen of Scots bedchamber. This prominent Scottish figure stayed here for a few nights after the Battle of Corrachie in 1562. If you visit the castle make sure you go to the Laird’s Kitchen, the cakes are INCREDIBLE!!
On the same day we visited Duff House which is technically not a castle but I think it falls under the same category. Relatively speaking this house is fairly new, being built in the 18th Century but it has amassed a lot of history in that time. The owner and the architect had a major fall out, it has been used as a stately home and a hotel but also as a sanitarium, an internment camp and a prisoner of war camp. The building houses some incredible artwork including a £10 million ‘El Greco.’ At the time of our visit Duff House had a ‘Romantic Scotland’ exhibition running which includes the works of great Scottish artists like Horatio McCulloch.
On the third day of our trip we visited a very unique castle. Kinnaird Head Castle is located in Fraserburgh, the castle was converted into Scotland’s very first mainland lighthouse in 1787. We were given a tour of the lighthouse and taken up to the room where the lighthouse keeper operated the light. It was absolutely fascinating, I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area! Beside the lighthouse you’ll find The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses which tells the story of Scottish Lighthouses and their keepers.
Ruined castles are plentiful here, the most famous being Dunnottar. It’s understandable why this castle is so popular. The location is incredibly dramatic, like something out of a Hollywood film. It sits out on rugged cliff, only accessible by a dramatic stair case. This rugged cliff top must hold some amazing stories. There has been a settlement here since Pictish times and the now empty ruins of Dunnottar once hosted legendary figures like William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots.
If you like spooky places then Slains Castle is the places to go. Since it was abandoned in the 1920’s it’s been left to nature which has left the building looking a wee bit battered. Situated right on the cliffs it’s fully open to the elements of the North Sea. There is something about the building which is incredibly eerie, I’m assuming it has always had the feel to it even during it’s heyday as Bram Stoker used it as inspiration when writing Dracula.
We visited so many incredibly places on our trip but without a doubt my favourite location was The Bullers of Buchan. The coastline right along this stretch is spectacular but here it’s extra special. There is a circular chasm that plummets unnervingly far down to the sea below. This feature was formed when a large sea cave collapsed after millennia of erosion by the fearsome North Sea. The turbulent waters rush into this hollow through a natural sea arch. This whole area consists of perilous sea cliffs which are home to literally thousands of sea birds. I’ve honestly never seen sea bird colonies on such a grand scale. When visiting here it’s important to be extremely careful. There are sheer drops from the tops of the cliffs, the foot paths are rough and there are no safety barriers. I would advise avoiding this area with young children or if you are not confident in the outdoors. However if you are confident and up for a challenge it’s worth it.
As mentioned the cliffs are home to thousands of sea birds including everyones favourites, Puffins. Having never seen a puffin before I was so excited to see them flapping around and with a bit of careful negotiating we got pretty close. I’m just going to leave you with a selection of images from that joyous afternoon.
If you are a bit of a ‘twitcher’ another great place to visit is the St Cyrus nature reserve which is home to a wide variety of birdlife as well as butterflies and other insects. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the reserve as I tore a tendon in my knee and was able to walk to it but from photographs online it looks beautiful.
During our stay in Aberdeenshire we stayed in some beautiful accommodation. In Aberdeen itself we stayed at Skene House Hotel which was in a really central location and ate at Howies which was only a 10 minute walk away. On our second evening we stayed and ate in the Knowes Hotel in Macduff. This hotel sat on a hill over looking the Banffshire Coast and out to sea. The food in the restaurant was delicious and the waiting staff were so lovely which made our stay extra special!. On the final night we stayed in the MaryCulter house which sits on the banks of the River Dee. This place is really stunning and has an incredible history, parts of the building date back to the time of the Knights Templar.