For a long time Aberdeenshire was a part of Scotland that I didn't know very well despite it being easily accessible in less than a few hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, over the last couple of years I've been spending more and more time in the region either on weekend breaks or longer holidays. I've gotten a good flavour of the variety of scenery and attractions on offer by basing myself in diverse locations from Royal Deeside to the Banffshire Coast and the heart of Aberdeen City itself. Every time I visit, I make new discoveries and wonder why it took me so long to get acquainted with the place.
I thought it was time to share some of my favourite things to do in Aberdeenshire either during a day, a weekend or on a longer visit. This is a list that will no doubt grow after every trip as there is so much more of Aberdeenshire I've still to explore and hopefully these ideas will inspire you to embark on your own north-east adventure.
GO ON A ROAD-TRIP
Weekends are perfect for road-trips and the 165 mile long Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail can easily be completed in 2 days although you will have to be selective of your stops as there is so much to see. I've completed the route twice now and particularly like visiting the cute wee fishing villages and sweeping beaches. The journey also covers nature reserves, castles, lighthouses, historical towns and even passes by the Peterhead Prison Museum mentioned below, meaning there is plenty to do for all interests. It is an easy route to navigate with a variety of accommodation choices along the way. If you want to experience the diversity of the Aberdeenshire coast, this is the way to do it.
I've written a guide to the route with some of my top recommended places to stop along the way. Since I wrote that blog post I've been back again to visit Bullers of Buchan which I had somehow managed to miss out on previous trips and it will definitely be getting added to my recommended stops. The collapsed sea cave is easily reached by a short walk from the car park and the surrounding coastal scenery is dramatic and stunning. It's also apparently a great place to see puffins although I didn't come across any. However, I was greeted by the noisy spectacle (and smell!) of thousands of other nesting seabirds.
While everyone else is off doing the NC500, the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail offers a quieter and shorter alternative in an often overlooked part of Scotland and is an ideal length for those short on time.
The new NE250 road-trip route also takes in part of the region and although I've not yet done it myself, it's one I'll keep in mind for the future and one you might consider researching if you want to see more of this part of Scotland.
DISCOVER SOME STREET ART
Over recent years Glasgow has become famed for its street art which has really helped to brighten up the city and boost tourism. However, it now has a northern city competitor hot on its heels looking to claim the Scottish street art crown. Aberdeen has long been known as the 'Grey City' thanks to the abundance of locally quarried granite used in the architecture. Currently the city is trying to change that perception by undergoing a colourful face-lift, with bright murals now adorning numerous walls and buildings. The street art has been created as part of the Nuart Aberdeen festival which has been running for 2 years, providing a platform for local, national and international artists to showcase their work. There are free street art walking tours every Saturday until 30th September or you can do what I did and download the map of mural locations and explore the awesome artwork at your leisure.
It's not just the walls that have received a makeover, the Painted Doors project has also seen 24 doorways transformed in to works of art and I'm personally loving all the vibrant creativity in the city at the moment.
EXPERIENCE LIFE IN ONE OF SCOTLAND'S MOST NOTORIOUS PRISONS
Just to be clear, I'm not recommending you commit a crime and get locked up for the weekend! My suggestion involves staying on the right side of the law and taking a tour of Peterhead Prison to get a feel for life behind bars. The infamous Victorian built HMP Peterhead was closed in 2013 and has now been turned in to an unlikely but highly popular visitor attraction.
HMP Peterhead was originally opened in 1888 and at that time was Scotland's only convict prison, with the intention that inmates would be used as labour to help build Peterhead's harbour defences. Up until the point it closed in 2013, it had housed some of the hardest and most heinous criminals in the country including serial killers and notorious gangsters.
I found the audio tour fascinating and a chance to meet and speak to some of the prison guards that worked in this grim institution really helps to bring the prison history to life. If you're curious about the stories, inmates and punishment that made this jail in Peterhead so notorious, a visit here is a must. It's actually one of the most interesting places I've been to in Scotland and one of my top recommendations for things to do in Aberdeenshire.
About the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival
Over recent years I've developed quite a fondness for the charming fishing villages and dramatic cliffs of the Aberdeenshire coast. The scenery is very different to the wilder west of Scotland but I've found the quaint east coast settlements, steeped in history and tradition, are generally less touristy than their west coast counterparts and offer a more authentic local experience.
When I was recently invited to explore more of the area with an opportunity to attend the annual Traditional Scottish Boat Festival in Portsoy, I quickly made some space in my travel diary. The festival was founded after successful celebrations were held to mark the 300th anniversary of Portsoy harbour in 1993. It was decided that an annual festival promoting regional maritime and cultural traditions should take place in the historic fishing port and this year marked the 25th anniversary of the Portsoy Boat Festival. As I was to find out, it is about much more than just boats...
My festival experience
Although the main festival takes place each year on a Saturday and Sunday at the end of June/beginning of July depending on the tides, the party officially starts the night before. On the Friday evening I was pointed in the direction of the main marquee by a gaggle of excited chattering locals as they meandered down the winding streets towards the various festival venues around the village, while I continued to pursue the source of frantic fiddle notes drifting through the warm evening air. After tracking down my destination in Wally Green, I joined the gathered crowd for the next couple of hours while we toe-tapped to some traditional tunes by Ella McTaggart and sang along with folk legend Dougie MacLean, famed for writing 'Caledonia' which has become a bit of a Scottish anthem. As the concert ended, a fiery sunset had taken over the sky and revellers with more stamina than me moved on to continue the shindig at the late night session.
With up to 16,000 people expected over the weekend, I decided to arrive early on the Saturday morning to beat the crowds and the hot afternoon temperatures predicated later in the day.
Before I got there, I naively thought the boat festival would be a small community affair but over the years it has grown in to a major event which spreads along the harbour front and back towards the centre of Portsoy. I was grateful I'd put my comfy shoes on that day!
With four distinct areas to explore, like any sensible person I started at the food fayre. The scent of various local delicacies filled the tent from fudge to gin and coffee to cheese and I was overjoyed to discover The Isle of Skye Baking Company. Being gluten free meant I was a little concerned I wouldn't find anything suitable to eat at the festival food outlets but the bakery stand had me covered with their range of gluten free goodies including fresh bread, quiches and cakes. For a very long minute I seriously contemplated breaking my gluten free diet just so I could feast on all their delicious sounding loaves - malted barley and lavender, Stornoway black pudding, bacon, onion and tomato, and Scottish seaweed with Skye ale - they all had me salivating but I resisted the temptation. Instead I made a mental note to return later when my tummy started its inevitable lunchtime rumble.
With lunch sorted I followed the swirling tunes of the Portsoy Pipe Band as they marched down to the picturesque 17th century harbour and the heart of the festival. Historic and characterful wooden boats with colourful bunting sat anchored by the pier and coracles for hire were a big hit with boatless visitors keen to get out on the water. Personally, I passed up on the possibility of a soaking but those brave enough to venture aboard looked like they were having great fun.
Summer in Scotland means festival season and with so many to choose from up and down the country it can be difficult to know where to start. Gemma Armit, a Fife local and Scotland travel blogger at Two Scots Abroad has put together this great guide to the best summer festivals in Fife. I'm ashamed to say I've not been to any of these, however thanks to Gemma I've been inspired to check some out for myself and hopefully you will be too!
One of the sweetest things about the Kingdom of Fife is the sense of community that
spreads throughout summer in the form of its festivals. Towns and villages of all sizes
club together to entertain visitors and celebrate tradition through music, theatre, food,
sport and traditional highland dance. This guide is an insight into some of the best
Scottish summer (and beyond) festivals in the region over the water from the capital,
Crail Food Fest
Over one weekend in June, this food festival offers food stalls, educational talks, street
music and chef shows in the town of Crail. Venues include Crail Harbour,
BeechwalkPark and Crail Community Centre. Included in the itinerary is ‘Langoustine in
a Box’ which content creators from the Feast of Fife press trip say is making waves so
that is definitely one set to catch over this two-day culinary event.
East Neuk Festival
This 5-day music event is an explosion of culture set against the stunning backdrop of
Fife’s East Neuk. Expect the unexpected as churches are transformed in concert halls in
June! Previous venues include Anstruther Town Hall and Kilconquhar Church.
Byre in the Botanics
No need to worry about the typical July Scottish summer weather at this Fife festival,
artists perform under a roof during this fully seated gig. Expect a show by Midge Ure
and opera from Oliver-award winning, OperaUpClose in 2018.
Aberdour Festival runs for a mammoth 10 days and is jam-packed with art exhibitions,
music, comedy, fossil walks and scarecrow hunting! The event also includes a variety of
sports coaching and challenges such as bowls, cricket, tea dances, raft racing and the
famous Donkey Brae Run.
Are you the star of the show? Check out Aberdour does Strictly this summer! Can
pampered pooch win the pet show? They’ve really thought of everything in Aberdour.
While you are there, swing out Aberdour Castle which features in the popular TV series
Outlander. Fans should check out this guide to Outlander tours and locations for more
As someone who loves to promote the beauty of Scotland, it is important to me that I do what I can to preserve that beauty for generations to come. As a travel blogger I feel a duty to set a good example by travelling responsibly and inspiring others to do the same.
I also try to use my platform to raise awareness of different conservation issues and often feature Instagram Stories showing the result of negative actions by some people in the outdoors who are damaging our beautiful environment. Recently I shared images from a walk on Bute showing the downside to all our recent sunny weather with discarded barbecues and camp fires. Needless to say whenever I share photos like this I get umpteen messages of outrage as the majority of people using the Scottish outdoors are responsible.
However there are ways even the most responsible of us are unintentionally harming the environment and hopefully this blog makes people think a bit more about what else we can all do to take care of Scotland and our planet.
I'm sure most of us are aware that marine pollution and plastic pollution in particular is one of the biggest environmental issues we are facing at the moment. Living on a Scottish island means that every day I witness the tidal trash that is deposited on the coast line and every day I feel dejected by it. Did you know Scotland has 10% of Europe's coastline, and 61% of the UK waters? This means we feel the impact of marine pollution even more than some of our neighbours.
Our surrounding seas are home to a third of the global population of grey seals; the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins; 23 other species of the world’s 82 whales and dolphins and 43% of all seabirds breeding in the EU. They also provide summer feeding grounds for the basking shark, which is the world’s second largest fish, and the endangered leatherback turtle.
I try to do my bit by going out and do little beach cleans and although sometimes it feels I'm making no difference I have to keep reminding myself that even small actions make a difference and the more people that carry out small actions, the greater difference it makes.
I also became aware of other Scottish content creators taking similar actions and thought it would be a good idea if we all got together to do a joint beach clean and also use our various platforms to raise awareness of the litter problem. Having worked with other content creators on group projects I know that we can make the biggest impact when we work together.
The idea of doing a joint beach clean received positive feedback from fellow bloggers so I investigated how we could best go about arranging one. This led to me meeting up with Catherine Gemmell, the Scottish Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society UK which is the UKs leading marine charity. During our chat I quickly realised that although a beach clean would be a really positive thing to do, it was even more important for us to understand the various marine conservation and environment issues so we could properly educate others.
Fast forward several months, a lot of phone calls, e-mails and a good dose of stress and my idea of a beach clean for Scottish content creators had grown to a full day event!
I must say I take my hat off to anyone that organises an event like this as I now fully appreciate the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes and I must give a special thanks to Nicola Holland from FunkyEllas Travel who was always there to help me out when the workload started piling up along with my stress levels :-)
Scotland is famed for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world but we tend to edit out the fact that we also have some pretty nasty beaches, including Ferrycraigs Beach in North Queensferry which was recently found to be the worst in the UK for nurdle pollution. For those that don't know, nurdles are very small pellets of plastic which serve as the raw material in the manufacture of plastic products. Spills and mishandling by industry can mean nurdles end up at sea and wash up on our beaches. Many are also consumed by marine animals and seabirds who mistake them for food.
Sitting at the foot of the iconic and well photographed Forth Bridges, I decided this was the perfect beach for our group to tackle and highlight the scale of the problem.
An amazing 40 caring Scottish content creators signed up for the event, some for the whole day and some just for the beach clean and thanks to the suggestion from Gemma Armit from Two Scots Abroad we created the hashtag #ShoreYouCare to document the day on social media.
The local DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh Queensferry Crossing are keen to support local community projects and they kindly provided space for the event which allowed me to arrange some expert speakers to give us a broader understanding of the local issues and the work being carried out by different organisations in the area.
When Wendy from Red Kite Campers got in touch asking if I wanted to take their new VW campervan away for a few days to try it out, I got pretty excited. I've been on a couple of campervan road-trips in Scotland already and I love the freedom of making up my route as I go along and parking up at the most beautiful places for a short stop or even a whole night.
That initial excitement soon turned to dilemma after dilemma. With so many rewarding journey options, I struggled to decide on a route! In the end I opted for a road-trip that would incorporate some of the best Highland scenery on Scotland's west coast. As I only had the campervan for 3 nights, I had to be selective in the places I could visit in order to reach a balance of having time to enjoy the adventure without spending too many hours behind the wheel.
The route I have featured below includes a few Scottish tourist classics with my usual mix of hidden gems thrown in. It is impossible to see all of Scotland in a few days but if you are short on time and big on scenic landscapes, my recommended 4 day itinerary should tick all the boxes. I've also included some extra suggestions if you have more time to spend.
DAY 1 - MILTON OF CAMPSIE TO GLEN SHIEL
APPROX 160 MILES
With no sign of the torrential rain easing, I decided that our planned walk in Glen Coe was best abandoned as our clothes were just about dry again after our earlier soaking at Loch Lomond.
Mr Adventures Around Scotland pulled our colourful VW campervan in to a layby near the mouth of the looming glen and we both hopped in the back, feeling quite smug that we had such a cosy shelter to wait out the worst of the weather.
The rain thrummed noisily on the roof as a pot of water bubbled away on the stove. As I poured two mugs of steaming hot coffee, I could just about make out the distinctive form of Buchaille Etive Mor through the sheets of water sweeping across the surrounding landscape. On days like this, the iconic mountain takes on a foreboding appearance as it guards entry to the gloomy glen beyond.
I've been to Glen Coe countless times and could number the times I've visited on a clear, dry day on both hands and this was definitely not one of those days!
As you might have guessed from the amount of time I spend there, I have quite a soft spot for Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland. Despite having covered much of the region there are still a few pockets that have eluded me and the stretch of the A76 from Sanquhar to Dumfries is one of those spots that I've yet to fully explore. Recently I was invited to experience a stay at Trigony House Hotel which is handily located just off the main road, in the heart of this very area. With a reputation as being genuinely dog friendly, National Pet Day seemed the perfect excuse to take our lurcher Willow away for a night at this multi-award winning country hotel.
Trigony House Hotel was the former shooting lodge for nearby Closeburn Castle which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited tower houses in Scotland. Today it is run as a country house hotel set in over 4 acres of woodland and gardens.
As we drove up the front drive, I couldn't help but think how romantic it looked with it's ivy exterior and characterful lanterns. The interior is a mix of period features and rustic country homeliness. I definitely felt more like I had arrived at a friend's home than a hotel as there is a really relaxed vibe, with guests chatting away to each other like long lost acquaintances and dogs lounging around the public rooms.
Dogs are great conversation ice-breakers and I'm sure their presence helps the conversation flow between fellow owners. During our stay there were 5 other furry companions being treated to a night away, with the resident Retriever Roxy also making a regular appearance to welcome canine guests. Having a dog is not compulsory to stay at Trigony House but I would think you would have to at least like them to stay here as they are permitted in all public rooms other than the dining room.
There are only 10 bedrooms at Trigony House and it's small size adds to the intimate atmosphere. On arrival we were warmly welcomed and shown to our bedroom which was in keeping with the homely country feel. It was light and spacious with a big comfy bed, sofa and plenty of storage space. Willow was pretty excited to find a welcome bowl on the bed with doggy biscuits, the canines definitely get looked after at this hotel. There was also a little map of the grounds showing the enclosed dog exercise areas which were perfect for letting Willow have a good run around.
Our room had a lovely view over the gardens to the hills beyond and we could hear plenty of bird song from the surrounding trees which I found very therapeutic. After a long day travelling, our room was a nice calming space to sit with a cup of tea and muse over the different leaflets and local walking suggestions.
Check out my Dumfries and Galloway blogs for more local inspiration
I'll be the first to admit that Royal Deeside is a part of Scotland that I don't know very well. Famous as a favourite stomping ground of Queen Victoria, the current Royal Family continue to enjoy their summer break at Balmoral Castle, one of many fine castles that dot the area.
The River Dee flows through the heart of the region which also encompasses nature reserves and part of the Cairngorms National Park, making it a favourite destination for lovers of the outdoors. All of this makes me wonder why, other than a visit to the Braemar Gathering, I've not spent more time getting to know this part of the country.
Recently, I was invited to stay at Mill of Dess Lodge on the Lower Dess Estate, and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make a proper acquaintance with Royal Deeside.
Lower Dess Estate is situated next to the pretty village of Aboyne between the town of Banchory and the village of Ballater which means it is centrally located for exploring the region. Lower Dess is a relatively small estate on the north side of the River Dee which offers peaceful river walks and fishing on the doorstep.
Nearby Glen Tanar Estate has numerous walking and biking trails through Caledonian pine forests and acres of wilderness. If you prefer something different the estate also runs Land Rover safaris which from my experience in other parts of the country, can be a really fun way to get off the beaten track.
If castles are your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with so many just a short drive away. Some of the best local castle choices are Craigievar, Crathes, Drum, Kildrummy, Corgaff, Braemar and of course Balmoral, although check the opening hours and days for each castle as they do vary depending on the time of the year. For the complete Scottish experience, you can combine a castle tour with some local whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery which runs tours and tastings.
Of course, you could just spend time exploring the pretty towns and villages that dot the river or follow the Victorian Heritage Trail which takes in many regal castles, estates and landmarks.
I've listed the things I got up to during my visit at the bottom of the page if you need any more ideas.
On arrival we were welcomed by Anna, the Lodge Manager, who gave us a quick tour before showing us to our bedroom. By luck Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I had the entire place to ourselves which made our stay even more special.
The lodge has 10 bedrooms, a sitting area and a dining room. You can stay on a bed and breakfast basis (as I did) or book the entire lodge and even organise private catering if you prefer to eat in.
As you can see from my photos, the decor has a light and contemporary feel with some bright touches and a rustic nod to the local wildlife. The lodge is furnished to a high standard and was spotlessly clean, it really did feel quite luxurious.
Regular readers of my blog will know I love taking in the history of the places I visit around Scotland. When you live in a country that is littered with countless historical physical remnants spanning many millennia, it is only natural to acquire a curiosity about the past.
Edinburgh is a city woven with tales from bygone times and has more stories to tell than most places, from the characters that lived there to the events that have helped shape it as one of the most iconic cities in the world.
With so many historical layers, it can be hard to get to grips with all the elements that make up the fabric of Edinburgh which is why a unique 101 guide has been devised to help visitors and locals out. At the weekend I popped over to Scotland's capital to find out more and have devised a 1 day itinerary for those wanting to delve deeper in to Edinburgh's past.
The story of Edinburgh in 101 objects
How do you easily convey the history, culture, heritage and everyday life of a city as complex as Edinburgh? You create a unique visitor experience that captures the imagination of course!
In this case 101 objects and curiosities from across the city have been chosen to tell the story of 1000 years of Edinburgh's past. A handy map shows the location of each object and discovering them is a bit like a treasure trail, complete with a tick list to keep track. It is then up to you to delve a bit deeper and find out the significance of each discovery.
The project finishes at the end of March 2018 so the upcoming Easter weekend is a great time to explore the trail. This is Edinburgh website currently has a page dedicated to the Edinburgh 101 experience and maps can be picked up around the city. You can also upload your discoveries using #Edinburgh101 on social media.
I personally found it great fun and managed to visit 15 of the objects on my day out, some were easy to find and some took a bit more of an effort. If you fancy following in my footsteps, here is my suggested itinerary although I've deliberately not given too much away about the background of every object as doing your own research is all part of the fun...
My suggested #Edinburgh101 itinerary
Stop 1 - St Giles' Cathedral
First stop of the day is one of my favourite places to visit on the Royal Mile as it is an oasis of calm among the hectic hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. St Giles' Cathedral was founded in the 1120s and is free to visit. It has some beautiful stained glass windows, ornate carvings and runs a rooftop tour on certain days. It is also home to the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle.
There are 2 objects inside the cathedral, The National Covenant (object 77) and The Ceiling of the Thistle Chapel (object 85) which is stunning and a must see in my opinion.
Outside the chapel on the pavement is The Heart of Midlothian (object 1). The heart shaped mosaic marks the site of Edinburgh’s old Tolbooth where debtors were said to spit on the pavement at the main entrance as they left. Spitting on the heart is a tradition that continues today although I personally think it isn't the most pleasant of customs to keep going!
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.