Everything you need to know for a memorable road-trip along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
Everyone has a landscape that they are drawn to, a setting where they instantly feel at home. It could be the mountains, forests, or even the bustle of the city - for me, it has always been the coast. A couple of summers ago I decided to travel around the entire periphery of mainland Scotland on a 6 week road-trip. As this was only enough time to get a taster of the many coastal gems around the country, I mentally noted all the places I wanted to return to and explore more thoroughly at a later date.
One of those places was the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, which I only became aware of thanks to brown tourist signs along the road-side. Post trip research provided little information on the route other than an online leaflet which I printed off. This seemed a bit strange given the obvious amount of investment in signage.
So last year while everyone else was off doing the North Coast 500, I opted to return to Aberdeenshire and follow the suggested 165 mile route. This was effectively the second time I'd been along this stretch of coastal road but this time I had more opportunity to visit places.
I loved it even more the second time around and made lots of new discoveries although I still didn't manage to spend as much time as I would have liked in some places - Banff being one. However, having completed the journey twice I have gotten to know it well enough that I feel confident my own suggested highlights along with the official literature will help you get the most out of the route.
There is so much diversity along this small edge of the country and I recommend setting aside 3 - 5 days so you can experience as much as possible. The following highlights are not a comprehensive guide and you should leave enough time to make your own discoveries but these are the places I think shouldn't be missed - grab a cup of tea, there's a lot to take in!
For more ideas, check out my guide to things to do in Aberdeenshire
St Cyrus Nature Reserve
HIGHLIGHTS - NATURE, BEACH, EASY WALKING TRAIL, HISTORIC CHURCH
The first stop on the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail and indeed my first stop, was the National Nature Reserve at St Cyrus. I parked up at the visitor centre where I picked up some leaflets and had a look at the board where members of the public note down their wildlife sightings. I was jealous of those that had spotted whales off the shore during the summer, and although it was unlikely I would see one as it was too late in the season, I was optimistic of spotting a peregrine due to the numerous recent comments about sightings.
One of the leaflets in the centre provided details of the Tyrie Trail, an easy circular walk of just under a mile through the reserve which is home to more than 300 plant species. I opted to follow the trail, adding in a slight detour to the Sand of St Cyrus, a beautiful beach that stretched as far as I could see in either direction, with some quirky driftwood shelters dotted along the sands.
The trail leaves from the visitor centre and heads over a bridge built by a troop of Gurkhas as a community training project. Stone markers on the ground lead the way through the reserve which was full of fungi during my autumn visit but must be teeming with wildlife in the spring and summer. Before the trail heads back to the visitor centre, it passes the Nether Kirkyard. I love exploring old churches so just had to stop off for a quick look around the atmospheric ruin which sits in the most picturesque spot below some towering cliffs. I was also rewarded with a peregrine falcon, shrieking and circling overhead. From here it is a short walk back to the visitor centre where you can share your wildlife sightings.
As you head back look out for the former ice-house which is now a quirky looking holiday home.
Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve
HIGHLIGHTS - VERY LARGE BREEDING SEABIRD COLONY, SCENIC CLIFFTOP WALK
ST CYRUS TO FOWLSHEUGH
DISTANCE - 16 MILES APPROX DRIVING TIME - 30 MINS
I didn't stop off at the Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve on my latest road-trip along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail as it was the wrong time of year to spot the vast amount of seabirds that can be seen perching on the cliff edges during the breeding season from late April until the end of July. However, I did take a walk along the clifftop path on a previous visit during the summer and it was a complete assault on the senses, thanks to the noise and smell!
The spectacle of over 130,000 breeding seabirds is a really memorable one and at the right time of year, RSPB Fowlsheugh should definitely be one your Aberdeenshire coastal stop offs. It is one of the largest seabird colonies on mainland Britain and some of the birds to look out for include guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins and fulmars. Take binoculars and you can also scan the sea below for local marine mammals. The clifftop path is fairly easy walking, just be careful of going too near the edge as it is a long drop to the sea below!
HIGHLIGHTS - HISTORIC CASTLE, ICONIC SCENERY
FOWLSHEUGH TO DUNNOTTAR CASTLE
DISTANCE - 2.5 MILES APPROX DRIVING TIME - 5 MINS
One of the most photogenic (and photographed!) castles in Scotland is Dunnottar and this is a popular stopping point along the coastal trail. I would love to tell you more about visiting the castle but I've yet to look inside due to bad timing on my part, something I really need to rectify.
Previously home to the Earls Marischal, one of Scotland's most powerful families, the castle has a colourful past involving some of the most famous figures in Scottish history. Today it is one of Aberdeenshire's most popular tourist attractions.
9 ideas for a romantic getaway in Scotland
With the most romantic day of the year fast approaching, many couples will be thinking about escaping on a cosy break for two. With fairy-tale scenery and atmospheric locations, a romantic break in Scotland is the perfect choice for amorous duos.
The dilemma for many is choosing which of the many stunning destinations around the country is best for a memorable getaway. I decided to turn to my travel blogging buddies that have a particular expertise in Scotland and ask for their personal recommendations on the best places for couples, I've also included a suggestion of my own.
If you're planning to whisk your other half away this Valentine's Day (or any other day of the year!) then this guide to Scotland's most romantic places by some of the top travel bloggers in the country is just what the love doctor ordered!
1. Royal Deeside - Aberdeenshire
By Victoria MacDonald - greatHerday
If it’s good enough for royalty, then it is good enough for you.
Aberdeenshire boasts the slogan ‘from mountain to sea' and up until a year ago, I had only ever seen the sea. However, should you follow the River Dee, you will be taken into the most glorious of Scottish countryside, scattered with historic villages and spectacular castles. Royal Deeside is a 40 minute drive from Aberdeen Airport and rivals the Highlands in its sensational scenery. There are a variety of little nooks and crannies in the area, all packed with history, views, activities and most importantly, romance.
Royal Deesides most famous bragging right is Balmoral Castle, where the Queen and her family spend their summer months. Balmoral Castle is a wonderful place to take a tour and a great place to play King and Queen for the day. Not too far from Balmoral lies Braemar. Braemar is a beautiful little village with incredible views and history dating back to 1059! Braemar is most famously known for the Braemar Gathering, where the Queen is often in attendance, however nearby lies Braemar Castle and amazing mountain walks including Keiloch Crag. The Braemar Lodge Hotel is a traditional, Scottish countryside hotel, boasting the perfect opportunity to get cosy under the sheets whilst enjoying the stunning views outside.
One of the most romantic little hideaways in Royal Deeside is Aboyne. Aboyne plays host to Deeside Activity Park and Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve. There is a very romantic little place to stay on the outskirts of the village named The Lodge on The Loch. The Lodge has views over the Loch of Aboyne where you can enjoy the scenery from the comfort of your own private hot-tub. Royal Deeside is also home to Alford which includes the Grampian Transport Museum and Craigievar Castle. The Burn’O’Vat, an incredible example of natures own sculptural work lies near Dinnet and is a wonderful place to walk hand in hand whilst exploring nature at its best. Should you fancy a winter warmer, Royal Lochnagar Distillery is propped up in bonnie Ballater. If you are looking for the perfect romantic getaway, it would be worth starting from Aberdeen on a romantic roadtrip through Royal Deeside which greatHerday can help you plan. Who knows, you might even meet royalty!
2. Peebles - Scottish Borders
By Patricia Cuni - Mad About Travel
One of my favourite spots in Scotland for a romantic break is the Borders, and there, Peebles. This quaint town on the shores of the river Tweed and the Eddleston Water, it does have a cute town centre with some great shops, lovely cafes and very romantic restaurants, perfect for a getaway. Last time, I stayed at The Park, a quirky and fun hotel with a winning decor and a restaurant that will have you salivating all day.
There are loads of things to do on a romantic break in Peebles. For instance, nothing better than a stroll by the shores of the river Tweed all the way to Neidpath Castle, still standing tall and strong. Or you could hike Cademuir Hill and make it all the way to the top, to admire the landscape while standing on two ruined massive Iron Age hill forts.
On the other hand, if you’re not feeling that adventurous, you can always just check out the tower of St Andrew’s Church, the ruins of the Cross Kirk or some other historic sites. But if you are looking for something different to do with your significant other, why don’t you drive to Innerleithen and have a go at printing at Robert Smail’s Printing Works? After all these activities, make sure you have some spa treatment at the Peebles Hydro. I can’t think of a better place for a relaxing yet adventurous romantic break in Scotland.
3. The Hermitage - Perthshire
By Ana Barrera - Lovely Scotland
The most romantic walk through the woods I have ever seen is, no doubt The Hermitage in Dunkeld. As if Tay Forest was not beautiful enough, the walks, falls and all sort of delicate corners in The Hermitage make the place even more scenic. The highlights are Ossian’s Hall, Black Linn Falls and the mystical Ossian’s Cave. If you want to experience the best romantic getaway ever with your partner, take him (or her) to this amazing place in autumn (mid October will be perfect).
If you have plenty of time, Dunkeld and Birnam themselves are perfect places to wander around. Do not miss the stunning Cathedral, Beatrix Potter Garden and Exhibition, the birds and landscape at Loch of the Lowes and, most of all, the Birnam Oak trail: it will lead you to an extremely ancient tree that lies in a very Shakespearean spot beside the river.
For a romantic accommodation you can choose Eastwood House, a historic place where Beatrix Potter herself spent a few months back in 1893. Definitely not an affordable option, only advisable on special occasions and generous budgets. If you have a smaller budget, the cute Jessie Mac’s is a very nice option. A dinner at The Tay Bank –such a lovely view- can totally finish up a perfect day with your significant one.
4. The North Coast 500
By Gemma Armit - Two Scots Abroad
Head to the Highlands for your next romantic break in Scotland. The newly marketed North Coast 500 route is a dream destination for couples. From Inverness to Durness up the west coast and back around the east; couples can visit distilleries, caves, hills for wandering and fine dining (or the casual pub grub). This packed road trip takes you along winding roads, white sand beaches, the cutest of fishing villages inhabited by even sweeter people. Not up for socialising? Shy away in one of the many east coast castles; you won't find ruins like Ardvreck Castle (Loch Assynt) on this NC500 accommodation list. Although this road trip can be completed in two days (whizzing around), it is recommended you set aside at least four days to stop, relax, dine, drink, discover and even hop aboard one of the many boat tours to Handa Island for the puffins, Cape Wrath to see most northern westerly lighthouse on Scotland's mainland or even Orkney. Camping is also an option and some of the campsites are the most scenic ones you'll ever see. Unzip to the turquoise seas of Achmelvich Bay but remember the midge repellent! Nothing says sexy like bites.
5. Lewis and Harris
By Sonja Thomson - Migrating Miss
The Isles of Lewis and Harris are the perfect place for a romantic break in Scotland. They have history, mystery, and stunning landscapes that you won’t believe are part of Scotland. Walking down the beach might be a romantic cliche, but you won’t care when you’re walking hand in hand when along some of the best beaches in the world that might be mistaken for those in a much warmer locale, and would be packed with people if they were anywhere else! The Isles of Harris and Lewis are quite distinct in their different landscapes, but both have beautiful golden sand beaches, with Luskentyre in the south of Harris regularly voted one of the best in the world. While you’re there, stop by the Isle of Harris Gin Distillery to try their seaweed infused gin. To the west of Lewis you’ll find Uig, with it’s miles of sand surrounded by barren landscape and turquoise sea. It’s famous for the salmon caught there and for the historic chess set found buried nearby. Visit the standing stones at Callenish and marvel over how they might have come about, or what they were for (and channel Jamie and Claire from Outlander!). Stay in a remote location and enjoy the peace and a real escape to a isolated isle with your loved one.
MY PICK OF THE BEST
Wigtown was once the chief town of Galloway with considerable strategic and commercial importance. Today most visitors are drawn by its many book shops and annual book festival.
It is a great example of a historic Scottish town that has reinvented and regenerated itself in the face of an economic downturn. Wigtown harbour once thrived with coastal trade until new road and railway networks were built which bypassed the town and inevitably contributed towards a decline in prosperity and population.
In 1998 Wigtown was designated Scotland's National Book Town and this has led to a general revival, with many buildings refurbished and new businesses opening.
As someone who has always rejected electronic reading devices in favour of paper and print, I was pretty excited to spend a day in this paradise for book lovers. I visited all but one of the main book shops in the town as it was closed at the time and thought I would share a round up of my top picks. Each book shop has its own charm and unique speciality so it really is worth setting a full day aside so you have plenty of time to browse around each one.
Some of the bookshops in Wigtown have cafes and most of the town's cafes have books so there are plenty opportunities to grab a refreshment, with or without some reading material.
I was also delighted to see that several of the shops had signs saying that they welcomed dogs which is a bonus for owners like me that sometimes struggle to find dog friendly indoor activities on holiday. I must say that so far, I have found Dumfries and Galloway to be the most dog friendly region in Scotland and this is one of the reasons I keep going back. On a side note if your business welcomes dogs, a sign on the door is really helpful as dog owners aren't mind readers! I can guarantee that if I can take Willow somewhere with me, I will visit and spend money - other dog owners will do the same which can only be good for your profits.
Anyway I digress, as promised, here is my pick of Wigtown's book shops...
This is Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop and the oldest in Wigtown, with approximately 100,000 books spread over a mile of shelving! I could easily have spent days browsing the row upon row of books on every subject. Had the fire been lit to combat the chill, I might even have been tempted to move in permanently.
While the books take centre stage, their theatrical setting wouldn't be out of place in Diagon Alley. Wandering through the tardis of rooms is like stepping into a magical book filled world with a flying violin playing skeleton to welcome you and lots of quirky nooks and crannies to discover or hide away in! Needless to say I couldn't resist the temptation of so many wonderful reads and left with my bag a good bit heavier and my purse a good bit lighter.
It might come as no surprise given the topic of my travel blog that I am a big fan of Scotland and photos from my home country. What might surprise you is that I'm not actually a big fan of spending too much time online and I would rather relax with a cup of coffee on the sofa and flick through a book of photographs of Scotland than flick through my Instagram feed.
So when I got the chance to check out three new photography books by Scottish landscape photographer, Allan Wright, I couldn't wait to fire up the coffee machine, wrap myself in a cosy blanket on the sofa and indulge in one of my favourite past-times.
I'm always in awe of super talented photographers with a portfolio of stunning shots, although I'm fully aware how much time, practice and patience goes into producing the perfect image.
Allan has been taking travel photographs for a long time and this shows in his work. If you want to be inspired by beautiful shots of Scotland then his set of books should be gracing your coffee table in 2018.
This year he has published three books which can be purchased through The Scottish Bookstore and thanks to Allan, two of my lucky readers will also have the chance to WIN a set each (see below).
This is bound to be a popular choice given the sheer love of the Isle of Skye. A mixture of iconic locations and rugged landscapes, fans of Skye and Scotland are sure to fall in love with this book. Although primarily full of images, there are also some personal anecdotes interspersed throughout. There is also a handy map of Skye at the beginning with the locations of each image marked on it which makes it great for some Skye travel inspiration too.
With approximately 100 images printed on high quality glossy paper, I personally think this is a real bargain at £18.00. I've certainly seen similar quality books retail at a much higher price.
Regular readers of my blog will know I'm a huge fan of Galloway which is a really underrated part of Scotland. By coincidence I'm actually off on another trip there tomorrow although I could only dream of capturing images anywhere in the same stratosphere as Allan!
Allan is based in Galloway so it is no surprise that he has dedicated a book to the area. It is printed in the same style as the Skye book and although there are no anecdotes, there are more images (approx 135). Being a local, he is obviously an expert on where to go for the best shots and I will certainly be using this book and the handy location map for some inspiration on my upcoming visit.
Again this is for sale at £18.00 and provides a great snapshot of the diversity of Galloway which is bound to leave you planning your own visit to the region.
The Now Glasgow book is published in a different style to the Skye and Galloway books, with bright and bold images. The photographs are not so much cityscape, but rather a story of the city told through the architecture, recognisable landmarks and the personalities that make Glasgow such a friendly and diverse place. It also features lots of the amazing street art that decorates many of the buildings and walls.
They say 'People make Glasgow' and the images in this book reflect the different backgrounds and characters that make up the population. It also captures the humour, warmth and creativity that makes it such a welcoming city to visit.
Again the book can be purchased for £18 and contains approx 230 images!
I may only just have discovered Allan's work thanks to these books, but I can firmly say I'm now a fan and will no doubt be enjoying his images for many years to come. These are an excellent addition to my growing Scottish travel book library and although I was provided these books for the purposes of a review, I can honestly say I love them and I think you will too.
If like me, you aspire to improving your photographic skills then you might be interested to know that Allan also runs photographic workshops, you can find more details on his website.
WIN A SET OF ALLAN'S BOOKS
COMPETITION NOW CLOSED - WELL DONE TO THE WINNERS
JULIE CAMM & DAVE
To celebrate the launch of his books and since it's almost Christmas - Allan has kindly provided 2 sets of his book for a little competition. Yes, that's right 2 lucky readers will each win a set containing the Skye, Galloway and Now Glasgow books worth £54!
Please note that the competition is open to UK entries only.
Entering is super easy all you have to do is -
Yip, that's all you need to do, told you entering was super easy!
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
About Caol Ruadh
Entering the enchanted grounds of Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park (pronounced 'Col Ru') feels a bit like stumbling out of a rabbit hole into a strange world beyond.
The sculpture park is an outdoor gallery which displays and sells work created in Scotland by established artists. I've visited a few times over recent years and have observed dozens of unique artwork by a variety of designers on each occasion, including pieces by famous Scottish artists Andy Scott (creator of the famous Kelpies) and Rob Mulholland (creator of 'Still' the popular mirror man that until recently stood in Loch Earn).
Around every corner is something mysterious and wonderful, sometimes natural, sometimes man made but always a delightful surprise.
The gardens are a wonder of their own, with stunning views across the Kyles of Bute and access to the scenic shoreline. Rustic summerhouses, a characterful boathouse, walled garden, wildlife pond and tennis court are just some of the architectural jewels.
About the Clydeside Distillery
Last week I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors at the new Clydeside Single Malt Whisky Distillery which has just opened in Glasgow and offers tours, a shop, a cafe and of course a chance to sample a few drams. It is one of the first malt distilleries to be built in Glasgow for over a century.
Situated on the banks of the River Clyde just along from other popular city attractions including The Riverside Museum and the SSE Hydro, it forms part of an ongoing regeneration of the area. The Clydeside Distillery is housed in the characterful Old Pump House with a contemporary glass extension occupied by two giant copper stills. The building itself is a perfect representation of the old and new connections that tie the location, owners, production methods and Glasgow's whisky heritage together.
The distillery is able to produce up to 500,000 litres of spirit each year although you will have to wait several years until its first lowland malt will be ready for release. If you are in Glasgow and want to find out more about Scotch Whisky then this is a must visit. Whisky aficionados may be more interested in the history of Clydeside along with the growing revival of uisge beatha in the city.
Dating back to 1877, The Pump House with its distinctive clock tower that now houses Clydeside Distillery is situated at the historic Queen's Dock on the River Clyde. It is by no coincidence that this location was chosen as the latest venture in the very impressive Morrison family whisky portfolio,
The distillery chairman, Tim Morrison, is the great grandson of John Morrison who originally built the dock in 1836. John Morrison later partnered with Thomas Mason to form Morrison and Mason, a civil engineering and building firm that was responsible for building some of the most significant and notable structures in the city including Glasgow City Chambers.
The Pump House was originally designed to provide hydraulic power to operate the swing bridge servicing the commercial dock which witnessed the export of whisky with ships destined for all continents of the world.
Glasgow was once significantly involved in the production of whisky in Scotland and home to countless whisky distilleries with associated blending houses, bonded warehouses, bottling plants and cooperages, although very little evidence of this remains.
The history of the production and export of whisky in the city is told through a short film and self guided tour at the Clydeside Distillery.
How to prepare for a winter road-trip in Scotland
As someone who undertakes frequent Scottish road trips at all times of year I have had the misfortune of experiencing more than one winter weather setback. Having been stuck in snow blocked roads, caught behind road accidents and diverted by landslides I've learned a few techniques that have helped make life easier by careful planning to avoid similar situations and helping me survive endless hours in the car after been caught up in unavoidable incidents. As the weather starts to worsen I thought I would share with you some of my tips for planning and surviving a winter road trip in Scotland.
It should go without saying to make sure your car has a winter service each year and before you set off make sure your oil, antifreeze and windscreen wash is topped up. It is better to use winter specific windscreen wash and carry an extra bottle as the salt and grit from the roads generally means you have to clean your windscreen more than normal. Check your tyres, including your spare and ideally take out some road-side assistance.
Here are my five other tips to help you plan ahead and potentially avoid any travel setbacks
1. if you are planning a long trip in a rural area then it is sensible to make sure you have a full tank of fuel as delays or diversions can lead to a longer than planned journey and petrol stations in rural areas can be hard to come by and have limited opening hours. It is useful to make a note of petrol and garage locations along your route in case you do encounter any problems.
2. Check the weather forecast not just for your destination but also your intended route as the conditions in Scotland can be dramatically different even over short distances. Before setting off I always check the Traffic Scotland website for any incidents or road closures and I personally recommend downloading the Traveline App which will keep you up to date with all road and transport information.
3. If you are not familiar with your route and don't have access to a SatNav then printing off a map of the general area you will be travelling to will be helpful if you do have to take a diverted road and need to work out new directions.
4. Let someone know your route and your estimated time of arrival as in rural areas you may not have a phone signal to let them know you are delayed. If you don't turn up when expected it will be easy for them to check for any incidents that may have caused your setback and if you do run into trouble without a phone signal at least someone will know where to look for you!
5. Make sure your mobile phone is charged up and that you have stored any emergency numbers you might need such as your vehicle recovery company or insurance company with your membership numbers.
Most of all allow extra time for your journey so you won't have to rush in difficult driving conditions, pay attention to roadside information boards and try and stick to main roads that will be gritted and clear of snow.
There are a few things that I would recommend keeping in your car throughout the winter as a survival kit if the worst does happen. Hopefully you won't need them but from personal experience being stuck for hours it is best to be prepared! Things I have in my own survival kit include
Thanks to Peter Johnstone for leaving a comment with these additional suggestions
Thanks to Val for also suggesting
Before setting off I also fill up a flask of hot water which can be used for drinks to keep warm with a couple of sachets of hot chocolate.
Camping and glamping in Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula is a bit off the usual tourist trail in Scotland, yet as I discovered, it has so much to offer. Its compact size makes it ideal for exploring over a long weekend which is exactly what I did.
There are quite a few accommodation choices in Kintyre, however I opted to stay on the campsite at Machrihanish Holiday Park. This was partly due it's location, partly due to the reasonable cost and more importantly the fact that it is dog friendly. I also decided to leave the tent at home and upgrade from camping to glamping in one of their cosy wigwams. All the wigwams have lovely open views across the fields to the water in the distance. The views from the wigwams are probably some of the best in the holiday park as they don't face onto anything.
The holiday park has several different options including camping, glamping (wigwams and bell tents), lodges and static caravans. There are also touring facilities for motorhomes, caravans and campervans.
Machrihanish Holiday Park Location
Machrihanish is on the southwest coast of the Kintyre Peninsula and makes a great half way point to stop off if you are spending a couple of days exploring the area.
If you plan on eating out, The Old Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant is a short walk from the holiday park or Campbeltown is approx 4 1/2 miles away with a choice of places to eat. If you plan on self-catering then Campbeltown also has numerous local shops and 2 supermarkets.
There is a regular bus service between Campbeltown and the holiday park if you don't want to drive.
The holiday park itself is next to the golf course and a short walk from the beach and as you can imagine it is a pretty and peaceful location. As the west coast of Scotland is famous for its sunsets, in the evening I headed a little further south along the coast from the campsite and found the perfect viewpoint just past the sea bird observatory (approx 5 mins in the car).
Get more ideas for your trip in my guide to Kintyre
Follow my Scotland travel adventures on social media
If you have found my blog useful and would like to support me in creating future Scottish travel content, you can by me a coffee on my Ko-fi page. All 'coffee' donations are hugely appreciated