One of Scotland’s most photogenic castles is Dunnottar Castle which sits on a cliff face not far from Stonehaven in the north east of Scotland, there is also one of the most photographed harbours in Scotland and as it was due to be sunny all day it made for an ideal day trip. The journey from Edinburgh to Stonehaven was pretty straight forward, I took the Inverurie train from Edinburgh Waverly which took just over 2 hours to reach Stonehaven and then when in Stonehaven the best way to get around is by walking.
The train station in Stonehaven is a bit outside the town centre so when I arrived I had a 15 minute walk to reach the Market Square in the town centre. It is quite easy to get to the town centre as there are sign posts which point the way so I did not even have to use Google Maps! My first destination was the oldest building in Stonehaven, a 16th century former stonehouse called the Tollbooth which is now a free to visit museum, it looks out over the harbour and it was less than a 10 minute walk from Market Square.
The museum is all on a single floor and it is not your typical museum, for a start there is some Celtic music playing on an old record player as you enter. Then inside there is a jumble of different objects covering the walls, it looks more like a jumble sale than a museum and there are even some items which you can buy! The museum covers everything from historical to geological information on the town. This includes information on the famous fire festival which takes place in Stonehaven each year, involving a 25 minute parade of people throwing homemade fireballs around their head!
The museum is quite small so it did not take me long to walk around but it was worth the visit, afterwards I decided to explore the harbour area. The harbour has town at the back and a cliff face on the far side and there are a couple of small beach areas where dogs and children were playing. I walked from one end to the other and up the far wall to get some of the best views before taking a break on one of the the many benches for a well earned rest.
The harbour area has multiple restaurants and places to stay with bed and breakfasts and hotels offering many harbour view rooms. I was surprised by the quality of food options and after a bit of looking finally went for lunch at the Ship Inn where there was outdoor seating looking out onto the harbour. I got a some meat sliders and a bottle of Peroni and although it was not cheap it was excellent. The sliders were venison, meat and pork with black pudding served with chips and they tasted amazing, I could have eaten another plate full and the view outside was pretty decent too!
After lunch I started the walk to Dunnottar Castle which is around a mile and a half from the harbour but is easily reached via a coastal path which passes through golden barley fields along the cliffs and the castle slowly comes in to focus as you walk. At around the half way point of the walk is the Stonehaven War Memorial, built in 1922 in honour of the soldiers of the first world war and designed to resemble a ruined Greek temple. It was worth the mini detour to see the monument and a good chance to pause to enjoy the panoramic views on offer.
After spending some time at the memorial I continued to Dunnottar Castle and it did not disappoint, it sits upon a cliff face on a round rock with the sea all around and as I approached I was not quite sure how I was going to get into the castle as there appeared to be no land access! As I got closer I notice a winding staircase which lead down the cliff to sea level and then a path leads up from the beach climbing back up the cliff face to the castle entrance.
The castle is known to be one of the most picturesque in the country, I have been to loads of castles and perhaps only Eilean Donan matches it for the wow factor. The steps to the castle lead up to the ticket booth through the main gate, past a couple of rooms and then you climb further to a museum area and to where Wallace’s Postern where appartebly in 1297 William Wallace entered the castle and surprised the English garrison.
After William Wallace captured the castle in 1297 he then burned it to the ground, the last action the castle saw was a siege by Oliver Cromwell’s army who were looking to capture the crown jewels of Scotland in 1652, but when the castle surrendered the jewels had already been smuggled out.
There is a surprising amount to see in the castle as the grounds extend out onto the cliff and there are dozens of rooms to explore from a small garden to luxury bedroom suites which had fantastic views but my highlight was the fact that they had their own brewery in the castle grounds which was a way of purifying the water (sounds like my kind of thinking).
After taking the opportunity to get some more good pictures from outside the castle (there is a good viewpoint just outside the castle to the right), I decided to take an alternative route back to Stonehaven. I started by heading out towards the car park area where there was a food van for anyone looking to catch a bite to eat and continued to the main main road. The alternative route goes via Dunnottar Woods but it requires a bit of a trek beforehand, this starts on a farm road which was not far from the car park. Although I had checked the route before I started I was unsure if I was on the right path as there is not footpath for the first 30 minutes or so just a small single lane road which leads to a B road where you cross onto a small overgrown footpath then take a left to the entrance of Dunnottar woods.
In the woods there are multiple routes which you can take and I went for the more direct red route which cut through the woods. This is signposted intermittently by posts with a red band on them which usually appear just at the point when you are questioning if you are going the right way or not! A main attraction along the way is a shell house which randomly appears, it dates back to around 1820 and apparently they reckon it was built for children’s amusement but it looks a little like a witches grotto to me!
The walk through the woods terminates just outside the town centre and it makes for a nice detour off the beaten track. After I arrived back in Stonehaven I still had a little time to kill so I headed to the beach which you can get to via a nice walkway which leads from the harbour all the way to the beach. At the beach there are more fantastic views to enjoy and also an award winning fish and chip shop where you can get a fish supper to eat on the beach which was recently voted by the Lonely Planet as one of the top 100 food experiences in the world (just watch for seagulls stealing your chips!).
I then headed back to the train station to catch my train home, I had a Virgin train one the way back which was great as they have more comfortable seats and power sockets attached to each seat pair. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Stonehaven, although the main attraction is the castle there is so much to see there and it is a very peaceful place to visit and they have some excellent food to enjoy too!
Garmin Step Count: 20,000 steps
Transport: Train: Edinburgh to Stonehaven – £11.80, Stonehaven to Edinburgh – £10.20 / Attractions: Dunnottar Castle: £7, Tollbooth Museum: Free, Stonehaven War Memorial: Free, Dunnottar Woods: Free / Lunch: £13.75 (ex drinks)