Aberdeenshire, Castles & ancient ruins, Scotland, Things to do

Aberdeenshire (Part 1) – Scotland’s castle trail

It’s official Skye is bursting at the seams and the island’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with visitor numbers.  Who knew that the endless over promotion of the island would lead to visitors flocking there in droves!  This blog features a far quieter region of Scotland.  A region with every bit as much to offer visitors (and in my humble opinion more).  This blog (and the one that follows it) focus on beautiful Aberdeenshire home to Scotland’s Castle Trail.

Last week Mr G and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary with a short break in Aberdeenshire.  We left Edinburgh with the Wee White Dug on Friday morning, car packed to the rafters.  As we crossed the Forth Road Bridge we chatted excitedly about our plans for the weekend.

We decided to take the longer, scenic route north via Glenshee.  The A93 is one of my favourite Scottish roads.  It winds through Glenshee then Royal Deeside, skirting the banks of the River Dee.  It’s the UK’s highest main road and it’s as pretty as a picture.

We had a quick pit stop at the Glenshee Ski Centre. The boy filled his lungs with mountain air and seemed to be enjoying the view.  I stood with him, looking at the road snaking off through the glen.  I pulled on my cosy hiking fleece as the 10 degree temperature meant it definitely wasn’t a ‘taps aff’ sort of day.

Aniseed balls in Braemar!

We arrived in Braemar at lunchtime.  Braemar is a lovely village which is nestled amongst the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park.  It’s probably best known for its highland games – the Braemar Gathering.  The games have attracted royals and a whole host of celebrities over the years.

Since it had started to rain we ruled out al fresco dining, and opted to grab a take-away lunch from our favourite Braemar cafe, The Bothy.

While we waited for our order we popped into our favourite shop in the village – the traditional sweetie shop.  Much to Mr G’s disgust they had aniseed balls in stock.  Whenever I find aniseed balls on our travels, he’s forced to endure 3 days of noisy crunching as I work my way through the bag.

Braemar Braemar
Hunger staved off with homemade soup, sandwiches and a good strong coffee we headed to our first destination of the day.

Corgarff Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail

Corgarff Castle is arguably the loneliest looking castle on Scotland’s Castle Trail.  With its striking star-shaped perimeter wall, it’s also one of Scotland’s most photogenic castles.

The 16th century tower house stands on an elevated and isolated spot by the Lecht Road, which cuts through a remote pass between the villages of Tomintoul and Strathdon.

If its walls could speak it would weave an enthralling tale of murder, rebellion and turbulent times.

In 1571, the lady of the house Margaret Forbes, and 23 members of her household were murdered when the castle was set alight by the rival Gordon Clan.

In 1689 the castle was torched once more, this time by Jacobite sympathisers determined that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of forces loyal to new monarchs William and Mary.

The castle’s link to the Jacobite cause continued.  In 1715 the Earl of Mar arrived at Corgarff to recruit troops for his Jacobite army.  The Jacobite Rising of 1715 was a failure, which quickly petered out.

During the 1745 Rising the castle was used as an arms depot by Jacobite troop.  That rising was to end brutally for the Jacobites on 16th April 1746 at Culloden Moor.

After the 45 Corgarff became a barracks for Government forces stationed in Scotland, in an attempt to stamp out any further risings.

Corgarff - Scotland’s Castle Trail Corgarff, Scotland’s Castle Trail
Walking towards the picturesque castle, past a sea of wildflowers it was hard to imagine it in turbulent times.  There’s something about it though that gives me a little chill.  It looks ominous and out-of-place in its remote setting.

As we headed uphill my heart sank.  Corgarff’s star-shaped perimeter wall was covered in scaffolding.  Nothing spoils a photo quite like scaffolding, it’s the bane of my travels.

A few years ago we were met by a sea of scaffolding in Rome – the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, you name it they’d scaffolded it.  I raged as I creatively tried to photograph the iconic monuments to hide the ugly metal poles.

Below are my creative efforts to make Corgarff appear scaffolding free!

Corgarff, Scotland’s Castle Trail Corgarff, Scotland’s Castle Trail Corgarff, Scotland’s Castle Trail
The boy wasn’t bothered a jot by the building site surrounding the castle, but Mr G and I looked on in dismay only marginally resisting the temptation to tear our hair out.

Corgarff, Scotland’s Castle Trail

Glenbuchat Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail 

Our next stop was Glenbuchat Castle, another Aberdeenshire fortress set in a scenic location.

No sooner had we got out of the car than we’d spotted the sign announcing the castle was closed to the public.  Historic Environment Scotland’s champion scaffolding crew had beaten us again.  Glenbuchat was surrounded by a high perimeter fence and enveloped in a mass of the dreaded metal poles!

Once again the boy couldn’t have cared a jot.  He found a nice spot in the long grass and sat there enjoying the peace and tranquility.

Glenbuchat, Scotland’s Castle Trail Glenbuchat, Scotland’s Castle Trail
Built in the 1590s, Glenbuchat was a seat of the Gordon Clan.  You’ll probably remember them from our earlier visit to Corgarff Castle!

It must have been an impressive building in its hey day.  Today, it’s still impressive but very fragile.  Thankfully Historic Environment Scotland are taking steps to protect and restore it, so it survives for generations to come.

Glenbuchat, Scotland’s Castle Trail

Kildrummy Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail

Praying that HES had run out of scaffolding poles we set off in the direction of one of Aberdeenshire’s most impressive medieval fortresses – Kildrummy Castle.

Showing our ASVA passes (magic wee cards that get you into most of Scotland’s visitor attractions) at the castle’s ticket office/shop I enquired about scaffolding and held my breath.  Phew, Kildrummy was scaffolding free – hooray.

Kildrummy, Scotland’s Castle Trail Scotland blog
The boy tore up the path towards the castle.  Castle exploring efforts thwarted so far, he was clearly hell-bent on having a good sniff around this one.

Kildrummy, Scotland’s Castle Trail Kildrummy, Scotland’s Castle Trail Kildrummy, Scotland’s Castle Trail

Kildrummy Castle is a vast and impressive ruin.  The surviving arched window frames of the castle chapel show that this was once a big, showy affair and not your average castle.

Built by the Earl of Mar around 1250 the castle played a key role in the Wars of Independence.  King Robert the Bruce sent his family here to protect them from the advancing English army.  As the army drew closer his Wife and Daughter were sent further north and his brother Neil remained to defend the castle.  The English laid siege to Kildrummy, bombarding it relentlessly but the castle was impenetrable.  Sadly the occupants were betrayed from within by a blacksmith bribed by the English army.  He torched the castle and the siege ended with Neil Bruce being hung, drawn and quartered.

Over the next 400 years Kildrummy remained a strategic powerhouse.  In 1715 the 6th Earl of Mar launched the 1715 Jacobite Rising from the castle.  Remember we met him earlier rallying troops at Corgarff Castle?  After the rising failed Mar fled overseas and the castle fell into a ruinous state.

The boy had a ball exploring, and even got inside a big bread oven – probably hoping he’d find food.  He was extra delighted and flirted outrageously when he met a pretty female Westie who took a shine to him.

With wine o’clock looming we still had one more castle to visit before we stopped to relax.

Craigievar Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail

Craigievar Castle looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a book of fairy tales.  It’s pretty pink walls conjure up images of handsome princes, wicked stepmothers and tragic heroines.  Rumour has it that Craigievar was one of the castles that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle.  Looking at Craigievar’s pointy turrets and pink walls it’s easy to see the similarities between this modest Scottish tower house and Disney’s lavish creation.

The boy, puggled (Scots for tired) after a long day of travel and castle visits flopped down on the grass to rest.

Craigievar, Scotland’s Castle Trail Craigievar, Scotland’s Castle Trail Craigievar, Scotland’s Castle Trail
We were still an hour away from our weekend base at Balmedie, so after a potter around the castle grounds we bid a fond farewell to Craigievar and were on our way.

Cock & Bull Inn, Balmedie

Tired from exploring Scotland’s Castle Trail, we arrived at the quaint, ivy-clad Cock & Bull Inn at 5:45pm.  Mr G was in full wingey hunger mode.  When I suggested at check-in that we ate at 6:30pm he shot me a death stare.  This wasn’t going to be one of those leisurely get ready for dinner kind of evenings.  There would be no time for GHDs and shimmery body lotion.  This was going to be a get ready for dinner like you’re at a military boot camp kind of evening!

At 6:05pm washed, clothes changed and with a salvage job done on my hair and make-up, we were seated at a table in the Cock & Bull’s dog friendly bar and ready to eat.

Cock and Bull, Balmedie

It felt good to relax and my chilled wine spritzer went down a treat.  Mr G enjoyed a beer as he waited for his food to arrive. Thankfully, he didn’t have long to wait.  His battered haddock and hand cut chips with tartar sauce and absolutely NO garden peas were devoured in record time. He has a real aversion to anything green, salad like or healthy on a plate, although he’ll eat fruit like it’s going out of fashion.

My main of chicken with chantenay carrots, carrot purée, seasonal greens, haggis mash
& a whole grain mustard jus was delicious.  I savoured it far longer than my ravenous Husband managed with his dish.

For dessert we both had a chocolate ganache with golden raisin syrup, salted caramel ice cream & caramel popcorn. It was tasty, but extra rich and we were both sunk without a trace halfway through eating it.

Cock and Bull, Balmedie Cock and Bull, Balmedie
After dinner we found a couple of comfy sofas and chilled with some drinks by an old range fireplace, hatching our road-trip plans for the following day.

Taking pride of place on the fireplace were a couple of Wally Dugs.  These iconic white dug ornaments were once found on mantlepieces the length and breadth of Scotland.  Not to be outdone, the Wee White Dug settled on the hearth to add to the inn’s wee white dug display!

Cock and Bull, Balmedie Cock and Bull, Balmedie

Later, back at our room we fought an unwinnable battle with sleep.  Our afternoon of Aberdeenshire air and castle exploring on Scotland’s Castle Trail had exhausted us – we were soon fast asleep.

You’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you, and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies. – Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Sunset Song)

Until next time ……….

Scottish travel blog

32 thoughts on “Aberdeenshire (Part 1) – Scotland’s castle trail”

    1. Thank you so much. It sounds like you have lots of exciting plans to make. East Lothian is a beautiful region and it sounds a great fit for the lifestyle you describe. There are so many beautiful places in Scotland you could choose.

  1. Love, love. Craigievar is on the front cover of my new novel, Golden Rod. I took liberties with the legends and location – fiction after all. One of my favorites.

  2. Congrats on your wedding anniversary! What a great way to celebrate…and I especially appreciate your willingness to share your adventures with your readers! As always…a treasure trove of photos & prose. God bless.

  3. Lovely and informative as usual.photos are great but do like the wee man sitting on the hearth thank you

    1. Thank you – You’ll love Braemar it’s a lovely village and the area is beautiful. Stay tuned as I’ll be back with more from Braemar in my final Aberdeenshire post which will cover the village’s castles. Needless to say we retraced our steps back home adding more castles along the way! 😜

  4. Indeed, most photographers (like me) tend to favour the west coast of Scotland, but the east coast has much to offer – a few years back I did a commissioned shoot at Catterline and the surrounding coast, up to Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven – a lovely part of the world and one I intend to revisit!

    1. It’s stunning and so many amazing spots for photography – I have a huge soft spot for the east being an Edinburgher but I do adore the more rugged west too. We’re spoiled in Scotland.

      1. That’s the one I want to visit if ever I get to go back. I have been to Scotland twice and left my heart there, have Scottish grandparents on my Dads side.

  5. That was my old neck of the woods before I emigrated. Eaten in the ever reliable Cock & Bull several times. Hope you managed to see the seals at nearby Newburgh – guaranteed sightings on the north shore of the Ythan river mouth.

    1. It’s a beautiful area. Always had a soft spot for Aberdeenshire. We didn’t go seal spotting this time round but I love when we catch a glimpse of them. 😍

  6. Again a great post and great photographs. When we went to Iona many years ago, the central tower was a mass of scaffolding – which was annoying – probably necessary but still annoying. Interesting comments about Skye. I was reading about an upsurge against tourists in a number of places in Europe that are being overwhelmed and a tourist bus was attacked in Milan. When we went driving along the Great Ocean Road about two years ago, there were many, many tourists and at the site of the Apostles (great limestone blocks in the sea off the shore) – one could hardly move for tourists – mainly Chinese, or Korean. LOL Selfie sticks everywhere….

      1. Something has to give. It’s not sustainable when the infrastructure isn’t in place to cope. Venice is a nightmare these days. I’m surprised the bridges don’t collapse under the weight of tourists. Maybe they need to limit numbers per day at certain spots. Who knows?!

    1. Mass tourism while it brings in revenue also brings a lot of problems. Skye is plagued by Instagram tourists who add nothing to the economy. They drive round the island snapping the same old photos then leave without spending any money. It’s a shame as I believe you should always stop for lunch or coffee at least. The abbey on Iona is regularly covered in scaffolding. Lovely island though. 💕

  7. last trip to Scotland was in part on this highway – stayed in the Fife Arms in Braemar – left a bit to be desired there Saw the Queen drive by as were waiting for entry into Balmoral store and grounds. Flooding in the area kept us off hiking trails. it is such an incredibly beautiful country. thank you for your lovely photos!

    1. I’m glad the Queen popped out to welcome you. I think the Fife Arms is being removed top to bottom just now. The area was hit by terrible floods early last year. Swept away a whole chunk of road and a beautiful old castle almost topped into the river but thankfully it was saved.

      1. that is excellent news about the Fife Arms. It is such a beautiful building and the staff were great. I remember thinking that if i had the kind of money it would take to refurbish it, it would be a fun and thoughtful project. i found their website which describes their vision and progress. Opening next year. We were there, i think in September 2015. Thankfully, no roads washed out, though the river was boiling!

  8. My goodness, how I do look forward to your posts.
    This Texas boy (man) has been numerous times to the areas you describe, especially Aberdeenshire. Your post give me only longings to return and stay longer.

    Thank you!


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