Aberdeenshire: Scotland’s Castles, Other Coast & Hidden Wonders

If you are not from the UK, an archeologist, a paleontologist, an ancient or Celtic history buff or perhaps in the oil industry,  it is unlikely you have heard much about the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland. If you are from England, you likely think it is mostly a grey, dreary, wretched place. In fact it seems a great many Scots think this too.

Sunny Day in Aberdeenshire
A beautiful and sunny day in Aberdeen Scotland Aberdeenshire 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

When I decided to drive around the entire coast of Scotland, shunning the typical “North Coast” route for one of my own making,  I was inundated with information about the route commonly known as the NC 500 . I found little about Scotland’s North East Coast beyond grumbles from my UK friends as to why I would even WANT to drive THAT coast.

The popular North Coast 500 is a lovely drive through my beloved Highlands, but you miss so very much stopping at 500 miles in. Yes you get to see the remarkable Highlands, but you miss out on most of the castles.

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NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

The NC 500 part of my journey was truly spectacular. But Aberdeen and the surrounding area (Aberdeenshire) were equally full of splendor.  So much so, I plan to do it all again next year. All of it!

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Kildrummy Castle Ruins (a true castle) Scotland 2017 Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 

Since I am currently writing about my experiences as they unfolded, we’ve now left Edinburgh. I have much more to write about that city, but for now we are about a 3 hour drive Northeast-ish of there.

I only stayed at one conventional hotel during my month long journey. The rest of the time I stayed with friends or at AirBnBs.

I stayed at Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel for two (2) nights. It was at the tail end of the season, so the hotel was relatively quiet and I got a great deal from Booking.com. It was worth every damned dime.

Although rather remote and only accessible via some extremely rural roads, that is the general nature of such a journey anyway. It’s location made access to the numerous wonders in the area fairly easy and the view, service and food were simply stupendous. If you decide to stay there, ask for Fiona.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

The hotel was built in 1900, partially from the ruins of the original 13th century castle that it now overlooks. It was turned into a hotel in 1950. Located near Kildrummy, which is fairly inland from the coast, but nothing in Scotland is really THAT far away (at least not to a road trippin’ American).

In Aberdeenshire, or let’s say the area between Edinburgh and Aberdeen (and a wee bit beyond) it seems one cannot drive more than 10 miles without bumping into an ancient castle. Now I am not talking about Tower Houses like the magnificent Castle Fraser, which is not really a castle at all, see my post about this here–> Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles I am talking about castles, real Scottish castles!

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Castle Fraser. Magnificently preserved. Built in 1636 Z plan Tower House. Not a castle. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie, Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017

Don’t get me wrong, there is a seemingly endless array of Tower Houses, Castellated Houses and Baronial House in the area. All well worth seeing as far as I am concerned. Some still in use, some well to moderately preserved and some in ruins dotting the landscape. But let’s talk castles, true castles.

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Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Magnificent Dunnottar Castle. A menacing ruin of a castle jutting up from a huge rock, surrounded by what is often a very turbulent sea. Fortified in the Early Middles Ages, the remaining buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Dunnottar is a little less than 2 miles south of Stonehaven, and you can make a day of castles and tower houses if planned well.

Castle FraserCraigievar Castle, Drum Castle and Crathes Castle (all actually tower houses by the way) are not so far away. They are all part of the National Trust of Scotland  so give them a call before you go. They are super helpful and every one of these properties have their own unique qualities.

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Crathes Castle & Gardens. The painted ceilings of this castle are wondrous. Built 1596 Banchory Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Check ahead that Dunnottar is open before you go. It is private and not attached to the National Trust. It was NOT open when I was there due to weather.

Also check schedules for events, as well as road closures along your route. Drum closes down to the public for special events and road closures happen frequently. I do not advise it, but I drove around the road closure signs after circling for too long. It isn’t uncommon for detour signs to lead you either in a circle or to nowhere, according to the locals.

Dunnottar is truly a marvel, and is a huge part of not only ancient but more modern Scottish history. This impressive group of structures belonged to the Keiths from the 14th century and was practically impenetrable until the shit hit the fan after the 1715 Jacobite rising. See my short post on the subject here–>  And then the English… 

If you wish to go a bit off of the beaten path, there are the Nine Castles of Knuckle, 2 of which are gone. From west to east, the castles are Dundarg, Pitsligo, Pitullie, Kinnaird, Wine Tower, Cairnbulg, Inverallochy, Lonmay and Rattray

  1. Kinnaird Castle (tower house) now The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
  2. Winetower (?) – preserved
  3. Cairnbulg Castle (z plan tower house) – private residence
  4. Inverallochy Castle (true castle) – ruin
  5. Dundarg Castle – ruin
  6. Pittulie – ruin
  7. Pitsligo (keep) -ruin
  8. Lonmay Castle (gone)
  9. Castle of Rattray (gone)

True castles in Aberdeenshire to note. Click on them for further info. Some quite obscure.

Cluny Castle – Z-plan Castle – Built 1604 – Private Residence – South of Monymusk

Corse Castle – L / Z plan Castle – 16th Century – Ruin – Three miles NW of Lumphannan

Coull Castle – Fortress –  13th Century – Ruin – South of Coull

Findlater Castle – Courtyard Castle – 14th Century – Ruin – Sandend

Inveralochy Castle – Courtyard Castle – 13th Century – Ruin – Inverlochy Inverlochy Castle Hotel looks like a great place to stay.

Kildrummy Castle – Castle of Enciente – 13th Century – Ruin – Kildrummy

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Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 (quite a sunny day too)

Lauriston Castle – Courtyard Castle with later additions – 13th Century – Private Residence – St Cyrus (right outside of Edinburgh). A beauty with fantastic gardens and views. Lots of people walking dogs! Lots of wonderful little benches and hideaways.

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View from Lauriston Castle. True 13th century courtyard castle with additions. Private residence. Look, another sunny Aberdeenshire day! Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Toluqon Castle – Courtyard Castle – Built 1589 – Ruin (Historic Scotland) – Pitmedden

Scotland, ALL of Scotland, has so much to do and so much to see. Plan your journey well and be open to making changes as you go.

Scotland is just a beautiful place. Its diversity is as unique as is its history, its flora and fauna and its people.

Closing yourself off to one part of this country, to me, is like getting a glimpse of a small corner of a masterpiece and calling it a day, never getting a full view of all that you could have seen.

The Standing Stones

Wailing wind chastens the prehistoric stones. Monoliths older than the advent of time.

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Standing Stones, Ring of Brogdar, Stromness, Scotland Monoliths

Stoic and secure they pay no heed to the powerful, shrieking force.

After millennia of standing against much harsher arguments, they show no sign of submission. Not even a sway.

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Orkney Island Stones, Ring of Brogdar

Throughout Scotland stone structures and stone configurations have for millennia, been impervious to the bellowing, bluster and fury that so readily berates them.

 

Monoliths ignorant of time are surely unaware of the weathers provocation.

Orkney Monolith Scotland
Orkney Monolith

For thousands of years they have stared out onto wonders of which we will never know.

The Orkney Islands have stood the test of time, rivaling even the rest of Scotland’s abundant prehistoric, ancient and similarly historic sites.

Will the recent, invasive and violent invasion of tourists coming by the bus load, be their first truly triumphant adversary?

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Skara Brae, Stromness, Scotland Orkney Islands

Surrounded by an often raging sea, the weather changes with the scurrying of an Orkney vole. One moment glorious in its vivid serenity, then deadly in a torrent of blustering wind and rain in the next.

Standing stones, Viking relics, faery hills and even some crofts, seem untouched by the taint of time.

Scrubby and mostly flat, with exiguous tortured hills and dales, this chain of small, mostly sea level, snippets of rocky land, holds fast against the elements that appear to wish to push it into the sea.

Sunken ships, burial mounds the caustic tides of Autumn and Winter, churn into the Spring and Summers “Celtic” clear blue skies.

There is nowhere to hide when the glorious yet petulant sun makes its play, and a serene sea is almost ever a cautionary tale to the oncoming furious wake.

Resilient is Scotland. Battered, torn and bleak, yet seemingly always hopeful.

The land represents the people, as the wind represents the rain. More than 5000 years of cohabitation on one land creates a unique commonality between land and man. One not known by many.