Home to Scotland’s castle trail, a dramatic coastline, industrial fishing harbours and a granite city. Visiting Aberdeenshire is something we were looking forward to doing. We decided to make a weekend of it and tick a few more things off our Forty Things at 40 list.
There is SO much to see and do on the much neglected east coast of Scotland but here are a few of my suggestions:
When in castle country I think it only fair that you see at least one medieval fortress. Dunnottar castle has been on our list of places to visit ever since we moved to Scotland (nearly two years ago) and of course, I have seen possibly thousands of images of the castle on the hill but nothing prepares you for the real thing.
Once we caught our breath from going down and up the steps to the castle we spent about two hours wandering around. It’s far larger than I was expecting and many of the buildings are still in really good condition.
As we made our own way around the castle grounds we had glimpses of the dramatic Aberdeenshire coastline, through windows and over walls. But most of the time we had forgotten we were perched on a rock that was forced the to earth’s surface around 440 million years ago! Mind blowing.
Mary Queens of Scots and William Wallace had both visited Dunnottar but the castle was also home to the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) in 1651-1652. With thanks to a small garrison of men who held Oliver Cromwell and his cronies (not a technical historical term) at bay for eight months and prevented the destruction of the Honours. They can now be seen at Edinburgh castle.
On the day of our visit the weather was kind to us; moody clouds and some sunshine. But I can imagine that in winter or a stormy day this can feel like the end of the world. On that note if you are planning a visit to Dunnottar the best thing to do is check on their website to see if they are open. Because of it’s location if the wind is high or there is mist then you won’t be able to get across. If you are able to get up and down the 266 steps (each way) I do recommend that you go over, it really is a special from the inside as it is from the outside.
There is a small car park to use but at weekends in peak season you may end up parking on the side of the road. Alternatively there is a coastal walk from Stonehaven to the castle and you could catch the land train back! No inside tea rooms but there is a catering van which provides hot and cold drinks, burgers and bacon butties.
Gordon Highlanders Museum
Okay, so with this one I’m not going to lie, I haven’t actually been into the museum properly to experience it. I was there with work for one day back in August and was made to feel really welcome and after speaking to some of the volunteers and members of staff I could feel their passion for the museum. With many different family orientated events planned throughout the year it is also a fabulous way of engaging with the local younger community and their families. Activities such as trench building (in a shoe box), fundraising quiz nights and ceilidhs too.
With one hundred and thirteen years of history packed into the former (and expanded) Scottish artist’s home of Sir George Reid, the museum has a wealth of knowledge and stories from volunteers who have some connection with the regiment.
Well worth a visit and they do a nice little coffee shop which serves lunch, drinks and some really lovely cake.
Aberdeen Maritime Museum
This is a cracking place to visit for adults and children alike. Very interactive and engaging for all ages.
The three levels within the museum tell the history and relationship between Aberdeen and the sea; fishing, oil and shipping. Warts an’ all.
We tried our hand at being an ROV (Remotely Operate Vehicle) pilots on the simulator – lets just say we won’t be giving up our day jobs any time soon! It’s WAY more difficult than it looks to guide them around, goodness only knows what it would be like with a tide and in the dark!
There is no denying the hard graft that went into (and still goes into) the fishing industry. Tales of how women followed the fleet of fishing boats and travelled to find work as skilled fish gutters, and how men lost their lives in rough seas, were all hard to read.
The star of the show was a scale model of an oil rig that towered up through a central atrium from the ground floor up to the third floor. Minute detail of machinery, equipment, helicopters and of course the men and women who work on board.
We really enjoyed our visit here, learning about the Granite City’s connection with the sea and it’s use of the habour. It is free to enter but donations can be made. Just a short walk from the city centre and Union Street it really is worth a visit.
Peterhead Prison Museum
This might sound like a random place to go whilst visiting Aberdeenshire but actually it’s history is important to the town of Peterhead. Opening in 1881, prisoners were used to break rocks in a local quarry that helped build the harbour wall that stands today.
Some of you may already know that I used to work for the Police in a custody block and have many a tale to tell about dealing prisoners/detainees. Taking fingerprints and DNA samples aswell as looking after people who have been arrested for everything from murder to shop lifting. Non of my stories could match the history of Peterhead Prison Museum.
This is definitely one of my most favourite visitor attractions, for several reasons. Firstly the tour is a self guided audio tour and for me I like this because I retain more of the information given. Much better than having to read lots of information boards especially if it is busy. Wandering around the actual cells that people lived in for many years after committing serious crimes made the hairs stand up on my arms a couple of times.
Secondly, it is very well restored. It doesn’t feel like a visitor attraction. It does feel like the prisoners have just moved out yesterday. One of the added bonuses was being able to speak to one of the old prison officers who now volunteers at the museum. Not just any prison officer though, Jackie Stuart. He was held hostage during the 1987 riots which resulted in him being taken up onto the roof of one of the prison blocks with a chain around his neck! Safely saved by the SAS and now lives to tell the tale. Jackie, now in his eighties, will happily tell stories of his life as a prison officer and it really is an honour to have spoken with him.
Thirdly, the fact that this was the ACTUAL prison, where ACTUAL men were kept under lock and key for some heinous crimes. You couldn’t replicate this by building it now, you wouldn’t get the atmosphere or have that feel of history.
One place that did totally give me the heeby-jeebies was the silent cell. Outwith of the main block there is a single cell and there is nothing in there. The door is so thick but just to make sure no sound from the outside world can be heard, there is a second door. This absolutely made my blood run cold and I couldn’t even step through the door.
On a lighter note, all of the staff and volunteers are amazing, Full of enthusiasm, knowledge and a passion of the new life that the old HMP has been given. There are still lots of plans to add to the museum and plenty of events. For those brave enough there is a Halloween event….. rather you than me!
At the end of the tour you get to the tea rooms where they serve sandwiches and hot and cold drinks. A great way to calm your nerves back down!
With all our walking, exploring and photographing we stopped off for drinks and food in various places. Here are some of them:
Castleton Farm Shop – Just a few miles south of Stonehaven on the A90. I have stopped here on several occasions and they do fabulous food, hot and cold drinks and the cake. Well the cake is to die for. All homemade and the stuff Instagram profiles are made for. My favourite meal here has to have been the goats cheese salad.
Molly’s Cafe Bar – On the sea front in Stonehaven and not far from the lido. An extensive menu but THE most incredible milkshakes!
Monsoona – Just off of Union Street in Aberdeen city centre we had a lovely curry, selection of side dishes and pickles. Really tasty and reasonably priced too. Dude makes a cracking curry at home and so I am quite fussy about my favourite spiced food but this was super tasty.
All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our weekend visiting Aberdeenshire and we shall definitely be back as there are plenty of beaches, castles and coastal walks to be done. I would say that even if you think Scotland’s east coast isn’t for you, you should still give it a try. You might surprise yourself.