Well rested, we left Aboyne and skirted the southern boundary of the Highlands, headed for the eastern coast of Scotland.
Along the way we stopped at Crathes Castle and Gardens, a 16th Century tower house estate in the Aberdeenshire region. The sun graced us with its glowing presence and we chose to spend our time there exploring the sumptuous gardens.
Pathway in One of Crathes Castle Gardens
These gardens were amazing and well-tended. There was everything from flowering shrubs, unique trees and immaculate lawns to topiary, fountains, sculpture and cozy enclaves.
A Close-Up View of the Castle at Crathes
Numerous trails lead off the main grounds and if I lived near here, I would definitely be interested in becoming a sustaining member and having unlimited access to all there is to offer here.
One of the Fairy Tale-Like Gate Houses that Grace this Estate
Reluctantly, as the outside experience was so relaxed and pleasant here, we eventually resumed our journey and aimed for Stonehaven.
Dunnottar Castle from a Distance
In Stonehaven, we visited Dunnottar Castle, quite unique in its access to any of the other castle sites we’d visited. After a bit of a hike from the parking area, we descended over 100 steps into a ravine that separated Dunnottar Castle, on a prominent headland, from the mainland. Then we crossed over to ascend over another 100 steps to the carved-from-stone tunnel-like passage that formed the entrance to the castle grounds.
Looking Out a Window at Dunnottar
Even though we could see the castle from the mainland, it was so much larger than we had imagined within. Like many castles, it includes sections built over a span of centuries. The earliest recorded fortified structure there dates from the 1300s but other buildings existed at that location long before. This brings the best guess for occupied structures there to over 1200 years…
Some of the Many Buildings at Dunnottar
The castle buildings themselves, seem to rise as a natural part of the somewhat unnatural/surreal looking rock formation they sit upon.
This is a Very Impressive Fortress Location!
There is a real sense of walking through time as you traverse from one stone structure to another. There are dwellings, stables ( I can’t imagine getting a horse up here), chapels and storerooms. The castle site also includes prison areas, a cemetery, a lion’s den, where an actual lion was once kept, and many other intriguing elements.
The Tower Room Where the Honors of Scotland were Once Hidden
At one time, the ‘Honors of Scotland’ (the crown jewels of Scotland) were smuggled out and kept safe in a tower here when their regular residence, Edinburgh Castle, was in danger of invasion.
Due to it’s precipitous location, you are never out of hearing range of the pounding ocean surf below. One cannot help but imaging how desperate an invader would have to be to even consider attacking this forbidding site, considering the ‘convenient’ stairs are a relatively modern addition…
I think we’d definitely return here if we could, to spend even more time exploring all this site has to offer!
Our Abode at Stonehaven
From Dunnottar, we could see the nearby village of Stonehaven where it leans into the North Sea. That was our next port of call, literally.
The Ship Inn on the Harbor at Stonehaven
Within a few minutes of returning to our car, we entered the tiny port village of Stonehaven and as our inn was one of the few public buildings on the harbor, we found it easily. The Ship Inn dates from 1771 and like everything else in Stonehaven, was made of rugged stone.
The View From Our Room at the Ship Inn
Our room overlooked the pretty little harbor with many commercial and personal boats anchored there. We settled in and took a walk around the town, following the shore for a ways, then turning inward and crossing a picturesque canal.
A Canal Through Stonehaven
The sun had left and the wind and rain moved in so we returned to our inn and had supper there, then planned the last leg of our journey, with just one night planned for our stopover in Stonehaven.
Being early risers, we made a point of waiting to leave our room until we saw sunrise come over the harbor, as we probably had the best view of that in the town!
Then we went out and walked around the harbor and out onto the pier, to experience the early morning ambiance of clamorous gulls and slowly moving fishing boats gliding out to sea. We returned to our inn for breakfast and set a course for St. Andrews, famous for its golf history, but also the home of a castle, university and cathedral.
St. Andrews Castle Ruins
Parking at St. Andrews was a little tricky but once accomplished, we were able to amble about. We explored the grounds of the massive cathedral grounds and sprawling cemetery, then we passed through some of the university campus and the site of St. Andrew’s Castle; a grim edifice at the edge of the sea, that given more time might have been on our agenda.
St. Andrews Cathedral and Surrounding Cemetery
Eventually, our walk took us to St. Andrews Golf Links, where a stiff breeze was blowing from the ocean, sure to make play there extra challenging.
Pat at St. Andrews Golf Links
We pushed on, heading southward along the coast to Edinburgh, our last but hardly least, destination before we left Scotland. We returned the car to Edinburgh Airport and hailed a taxi to take us into the city. 1092 miles on the odometer and that doesn’t reflect all the additional hundreds of train, ferry and walking miles we’d put in so far!
There are Still A Lot of These in Scotland
Edinburgh is built on a series of long ‘dead’ volcanoes. There is the original ‘Old Town’ Edinburgh; that built pre-18th century, and ‘New Town’ Edinburgh; that built since.
One of the Bridges Linking the Old Town and the New Town, Edinburgh
Almost all the major buildings are made of stone. Eons of time and long-gone soot have stained much of it dark. The overall effect is not gloomy, but rather Gothic and intriguing. The city looks like, and actually has, erupted out of the ground, old and solid and somehow very inviting! There’s a mysterious medieval aura about Edinburgh.
One of Many Pipers in Edinburgh, As if There were Not Already Tons of Atmosphere!
Edinburgh Castle and Views of the City from There
We arrived at our hotel in Edinburgh, now a Marriott but once a brownstone home where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up; not the first time we’d crossed his path this trip… Sadly, in my opinion, the hotel architects did not choose to maintain any of the interior Georgian details but created an ultra-modern complex within the walls of the historic exterior. The perk our hotel had going for it, in our opinion, was its location. From this hub, we were able to walk all over Edinburgh for the next two days.
Atop Calton Hill
We visited the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriar’s Kirk and Kirkyard several times. We took a ghost tour with an underground history theme and climbed up to Calton Hill, the first public park in Edinburgh. There were an observatory and numerous monuments atop that hill and a great view of Edinburgh as well.
Street Scene in Edinburgh
We learned that Heriot’s School, situated behind Greyfrar’s Kirk and Kirkyard, was a likely inspiration for Hogwart’s in the Harry Potter stories by author J.K. Rowling.
The Elephant House Coffee Shop
Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she began to write the series. One of her favorite places to write was a small coffee shop called the Elephant House, located on the Royal Mile.
The Greyfriar’s Kirkyard was just around the corner from the Elephant House and besides it’s unfortunate proximity to the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons and the ‘necessity’ of grave robbing for anatomical study, it was also apparently a source of inspirations to Rowling as well.
Mortsafes (Barriers to Deter Grave Robbers at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard)
The burial ground has numerous very interesting grave sites, monuments and structures, including ones for William McGonagall and Tom Riddle.
Greyfriar’s Bobby, A Pub on the Royal Mile
I have to admit, that even in broad daylight, there’s something quite unworldly about this kirkyard.
Sir Walter Scott Monument in Prince’s Street Gardens
The Balmoral Hotel where J.K. Rowling Completed the last Harry Potter Book
Finally, the moment had arrived to bid farewell to Scotland. We took a cab back to the airport and proceeded to spend the next many hours traveling home. A truly wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime trip, that I will never forget!
Things we Learned:
Things are very clean in Scotland, no litter in the countryside at all. Nice.
There is no limit to the natural beauty and hospitality of the Scottish landscape and culture.
J.K. Rowling was inspired by many locations in Edinburgh, while writing the Harry Potter series.
No matter where we roam, there is still, no place like home!
Thank you for traveling with us!
Elizabeth and Pat