Showing posts from June, 2012

Balmoral Castle

Aberdeenshire | Crathie | Castle | ★★★

Balmoral is the Royal Family's main holiday residence in Scotland, with the estate first purchased from Lord Aberdeen during Queen Victoria's reign. The castle you see today was built during the next decade: a beautiful building in Scots Baronial style, smaller than you might expect. It's worth noting that most of the castle itself (apart from the Ballroom) isn't open to the public; instead, various exhibitions and extensive grounds make up most of the package.

Location & info

📌 Balmoral Castle★★★
Off the B976 half a mile west of Crathie, G.R. NO 254950 ///
Open daily, April to early August | £12 adult / £6 child

Anything else? From the huge car park (with charge) at G.R.: NO 264949 ///gambles.goats.novel it's a 15-min walk to the castle, mostly on level tarmac.

Drum Castle

Aberdeenshire | Drumoak | Castle | ★★★★

Former home of Clan Irvine, Drum Castle has got to be one of north-east Scotland's best castles, up against stiff competition. Close to Aberdeen's city limits, the key draw is the combination of its respective parts from periods centuries apart, making it feel almost like you're visiting multiple castles instead of one. The tower house is one of the country's oldest, dating to the early 13th century and still in amazing condition considering its age. Meanwhile, the finely-furnished mansion extension is a mere four centuries old, with further surrounding buildings added even more recently. The intimate chapel stands amongst trees just off to the side, while a large walled garden well-known for its roses in summer occupies east-facing slopes on the other side.

Location & info

📌 Drum Castle★★★★
By minor road off A93 1 mi north of Drumoak, G.R.: NJ 796005 ///beyond.notices.treetop
Castle open daily, June to August; Thursday to Mon…

Findlater Castle

Aberdeenshire | Sandend | Castle | ★★

There isn't much left of Findlater Castle: just a few precarious walls and vaults threatening to collapse into the sea at any moment. But the reason to visit is the dramatic setting - on a par with any other Scottish castle, hanging grimly onto a rocky promontory above the turbulent North Sea. Coastal erosion aside, it was obviously once a formidable defensive location, surrounded by vertical cliffs on three sides and with a stone causeway complete with double drawbridge on the remaining landward edge. Paths do lead out onto the headland but you can get a good view from the main path without risking life and limb too. There's a car park fairly nearby, but visiting the castle as part of a coastal walk between Sandend and Cullen makes an even better trip.

Location & info

📌 Findlater Castle ★★
On the coast, off minor road 1 mi west of Sandend, G.R.: NJ 542672 ///recorders.congested.violinist
Always open | Free

Anything else? From the car pa…

Walk: Sandend to Cullen - clifftop caper

Aberdeenshire / Moray | Sandend | Half day walk | ★★★

Perilously-perched Findlater Castle is just one highlight of the wonderfully scenic stretch of coastline divided by the border between Aberdeenshire and Moray. This route is bookended by two of the North East's most picturesque fishing villages, with tiny Sandend at the start contrasting massively with bustling Cullen. The first half of the route mainly keeps to clifftop paths, with the second often running around rocky bays below the cliffs. A bus is needed to return to the start (or walk back the same way, doubling the distance).

📌 Walk: Findlater Castle - at your peril ★★★
Park at the finish and take the bus along the coast to the start (generally hourly, but less frequent on Sundays - check times in advance). Start at the minor road junction for Sandend on the A98, G.R.: NJ 554656 ///cello.pretty.quack. Finish at the car park in The Square, Cullen village centre, G.R.: NJ 512671 ///zoos.define.owls.

▶ 7 km / 4 mi | ▲ 150 m …


Aberdeenshire | Village | ★★

Sandend is a place made up from an unusual cocktail of components: tiny coastal village and harbour, large caravan park and working distillery. The individual parts are compact but there's no obvious centre to Sandend overall. Except perhaps its beach? Magical Sandend Bay is a gorgeous stretch of perfect golden sand, quiet outside the holiday season and providing the link on foot between houses and distillery. What the village lacks in facilities it makes up for in wonderful coastal walks, both east towards Portsoy and west towards Findlater Castle.


📌 Sandend ★★
Aberdeenshire, G.R.: NJ 555665 ///

🚶 The village is at one end of the beach; the distillery is at the other. Walks along the coast in both directions towards Cullen or Portsoy are linked below.
🚌 A bus between Aberdeen and Elgin stops just beyond the village limits, also providing access from other nearby settlements.

See & do (<1 mi away)

📌 Glenglassaugh …


Moray | Village | ★★★

Cullen's attractive streets reliably fill up with tourists each summer holiday at the slightest hint of good weather. And with good reason: this is a village famed for both its scenery and its food. The delicious haddock soup known as Cullen Skink originated here (lunch perhaps?), and The Ice Cream Shop has a deserved and loyal following from visitors far and wide. There are good views over the lower cottages of Seatown, its harbour and sandy beach (mostly covered at high tide) from the former railway viaduct, now a cycle path, and also from the higher east end of the village. There's even a well-kept pet cemetery by the coast path just beyond the human one. Don't miss the excellent walk from Cullen harbour along the coast to the amazing sight of Bow Fiddle Rock - just pushing the coastline to the east into second place.


📌 Cullen ★★★
Moray, G.R.: NJ 512671 ///mush.dive.vans

🚶 The lower and upper parts of town are a short, steep walk apart, wi…

Walk: Knock Knock... Hill's there?

Aberdeenshire | Gordonstown | Short walk | ★★★

Knock Hill's moorland rises prominently above northern Aberdeenshire's fertile farmland. 430 metres is a lot of height in these parts, and you certainly feel it on the unrelenting, direct ascent, not helped by a path littered with loose stones. Feel sorry for the poor souls who take part in the annual hill race. On the plus side, the views are stunning on a clear day, taking in large parts of north-east Scotland's low ground, coastline and the northern foothills of the Cairngorms.

📌 Walk: Knock Knock... Hill's there? ★★★
Start / finish at layby by sharp bend in minor road at Swilebog, 2 mi southwest of Gordonstown, G.R. NJ 547553 ///

▶ 2 km / 1 mi | ▲ 240 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Knock Hill (430 m, sub-2000')
Terrain: Short section of muddy track, then clear but unrelentingly steep and narrow path, rocky and muddy in places.

Route & map

Layby - Knock Hill - return by outward route

Route c…


Moray | Village | ★

Dufftown is probably the whisky capital of Scotland, and therefore the world. Although not actually on the River Spey, the village is an essential waypoint on Speyside's Malt Whisky Trail, and home to half a dozen distilleries producing Speyside whisky. World-famous Glenfiddich Distillery and little-known Balvenie Distillery are on the north side of town and both offer tours. The village itself isn't particularly exciting, but enjoying your visit here doesn't have to depend on downing drams. There's also an imposing 13th century castle and a heritage railway taking visitors 11 miles through varied Moray countryside to the village of Keith. The railway station, castle and both distilleries offering tours are all within a few minutes' walk of each other (although a little way from the centre) - combine them all for a perfect day out.


📌 Dufftown ★
Moray, G.R.: NJ 324400 ///farmed.hiring.crew

🚶 After nosing around the village centre, Glenfi…

Walk: Mighty Macdui & the Big Grey Man

Aberdeenshire | Cairngorm Plateau | Full day walk | ★★★★

It's a long way to Ben Macdui from Deeside, but this is a journey worth every step. It's also a long way up despite the high start height: Ben Macdui is the UK's second highest summit after Ben Nevis, and a much more serious affair. And it's haunted, with a ghostly apparition known as the Grey Man known to patrol the summit plateau. On a wild day when the cloud is down... well, you never know. Like many expeditions into the Cairngorms interior, this is a circuit involving a long albeit scenic approach along valley floor tracks (and another at the end of the day). But in addition there's one of the best narrow ridges in the Cairngorms, a trio of Munro summits to enjoy, and a magnificent high mountain feel on the northeastern slopes of Ben Macdui overlooking Loch Etchachan.

📌 Walk: Mighty Macdui & the Big Grey Man ★★★★
Start / finish at car park (charge) on minor road at Linn of Dee, 6 mi west of Braemar, G…

Walk: Ben Chonzie by a road less travelled

Perth & Kinross | Crieff | Full day walk | ★★★

Ben Chonzie's lumpy, undramatic profile gets a bad rep amongst walkers despite its accessible, southerly location. The hill is normally climbed from Glen Lednock: a short and straightforward route, but with few distinguishing features. Instead, consider approaching from Loch Turret on the southeastern side for more visual interest; the approach around the reservoir is surrounded by craggy hillside which can be explored on the return route. The section beyond Lochan Uaine can be a bit of a mudbath - at least it's only brief.

📌 Walk: Ben Chonzie by a road less travelled ★★★
Start / finish at car park at Loch Turret dam, minor road end 4 mi northwest of Crieff, G.R.: NN 821264 ///retiring.foggy.jumps

▶ 16 km / 10 mi | ▲ 940 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: Ben Chonzie (931 m, Munro); Meall na Sèide (757 m); Càrn Chòis (786 m) | Features: Loch Turret
Terrain: Good track to Lochan Uaine, then only intermittent paths to Ben Chonzie: …

Ganavan Sands

Argyll & Bute | Oban | Beach | ★★★

Rusting swings, a new housing development and a caravan park all nearby... Ganavan Sands certainly isn't your typical West Highland beach. But keep your eyes firmly out to sea (or to the north) and there's a wonderful outlook over the islands of Lismore and Mull - especially alluring at sunset at the end of a clear day. It's only a few minutes' drive from Oban, but amazingly the locals seem to take it for granted: the beach was deserted when we visited on a calm June evening. Best at low tide, though there's always some sand above the high water level.

Location & info

📌 Ganavan Sands ★★★
End of Ganavan Road, 2 mi north of Oban, G.R.: NM 862328 ///cackling.nature.await

Arduaine Garden

Argyll & Bute | Arduaine | Garden | ★★★★

With a stunning, sunny and sheltered location overlooking Asknish Bay and the island of Shuna, Arduaine is one of our favourite Scottish gardens, protected from harsh winters by the warming maritime influence. It's renowned for its rhododendrons but there's far wider appeal than that with plants from all over the globe: South America and East Asia in particular. They're spread around a beautiful site with areas ranging from hideaway walkways to ponds, immaculate lawns and shady woodland. The out-of-the-way location adds to the peaceful feel: visit early or late in the day and you may get the place pretty much to yourself.

Location & info

📌 Arduaine Garden★★★★
By the A816 at Arduaine, G.R.: NM 796104 ///
Open daily except over Christmas & New Year period, but probably best in late spring / early summer | £7.50 adult / £5.50 child / free for National Trust for Scotland members

Walk: Kilmartin Glen - trip back in time

Argyll & Bute | Kilmartin | Half day walk | ★★★

Kilmartin Glen is often described as an open-air museum, and the best way to explore many of its main Neolithic and Bronze Age sites is by walking from Kilmartin village. Most immediately obvious is the spectacular linear chain of burial cairns stretching down the glen, but stone circles and standing stones also form part of the package, with rock carvings in the wider area. Start by visiting the Kilmartin Stones and also the village museum for a good overview of the region, then work your way south and prepare to be amazed by the sheer number of sites. Allow a few hours for the places on this route; if you're hungry for more then there are plenty of other sites nearby, many looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

📌 Walk: Kilmartin Glen - trip back in time ★★★
Start at car park outside Kilmartin Church, A816 in Kilmartin village centre, G.R.: NR 835988 ///

▶ 7 km / 4 mi | ▲ 30 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Easy