On day two of our recent Aberdeenshire adventure we were awake at the crack of dawn, excited at the prospect of a full days exploring ahead, and buoyed by a forecast which suggested no rain, and maybe even dare we dream – sunshine.
Breakfast began at 9:00am – the stuff of nightmares for us, especially during the long summer days when the sun rises early.
Food eaten at an indigestion inducing speed, we were finally on the road at 9:45am – arghhhh so late!
Our road trip of choice was the delightful Aberdeen Coastal Trail and our first stop of the day was Cruden Bay, a small coastal village 15 miles north of Balmedie. We took the scenic, coastal route and barely passed another car – bliss.
Cruden Bay and Slains Castle – Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
Arriving in Cruden Bay we parked by the beach, but it wasn’t the beach we were there to see, it was Slains Castle.
From the car park we walked along a leafy path emerging a short while later in open countryside. The fields were the colour of gold, and yellow barley danced hypnotically in the wind. Wild flowers and butterflies were in abundance. It was an idyllic, happy place.
In the summer of 1894 Bram Stoker holidayed in Cruden Bay, staying at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel. During that stay it’s possible he was invited to Slains Castle as a guest of Charles Hay the 20th Earl of Erroll.
Stoker loved the region and visited many times. It’s believed that Slains inspired Castle Dracula. Dracula is one of my all time favourite novels – I absolutely love it.
But my very feelings changed to repulsion and terror when I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window, and begin to crawl down the castle wall over that dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.
Now in a ruinous and dangerous state, the clifftop castle has a sinister air to it. Standing before it, it’s easy to conjure up images of violent sea storms and otherworldly beings. Even in its hey day, it’s not somewhere you’d have rushed to spend the night. It’s definitely a house befitting of a vampire.
During its years as a home to the Earls of Erroll, it evolved from being a modest 16th century tower house, into a sprawling baronial mansion.
The boy posed willingly for photos outside. As I snapped, I remained mindful of my footing. Slains is no visitor attraction – there are no helpful warning signs to remind you that you’re a mere step away from a sheer cliff face, no information boards containing interesting facts about the castle. Nothing about Slains says visit me.
After snapping the outside we went to head inside for more photos. Suddenly the boy started bucking and twisting on his lead like Buckaroo. He dug his heels into the ground and point-blank refused to enter the building. 5 minutes of coaxing and several beefy treats later he following me inside.
No sooner were we over the threshold than we were greeted by a rodent staring up at the sky with lifeless eyes, and a large chunk missing from its side! I could almost imagine Dracula lurking in the shadows with a cruel smile twisted on his lips.
The boy and I explored a rabbit warren of inter-connecting rooms and corridors, while Mr G wound his way up a turnpike staircase in one of the castle’s towers. He reached the top and almost stepped out into nothingness!
After his heart-stopping scare he climbed down from the tower in record time. The boy and I were waiting outside when he emerged on the first floor in a room with no front wall. Relaying the tale of his knee-trembling climb into nothingness he took a step forward! “What are you doing?” I shouted. Oops, he’d forgotten he was still one storey up. Castle Dracula was toying with us like a cat with a mouse.
We hastily made our way back towards the dancing fields of barley, and stopped at the beach so the boy could cut loose for a while. He had great fun, zooming around like a lunatic.
The boy snoozed in the car as we drove to our next destination, Rattray Head. Rattray Head isn’t somewhere you’d stumble across by chance. A small sign on the A90 which reads Rattray is the only hint that the place exists.
The road to Rattray Head is something else – a real teeth rattler, and no more than a narrow, potholed, single-track lane. If you didn’t know what you were looking for you’d easily convince yourself that you’d taken a wrong turn and were driving along farm tracks. Tumble down cottages and an old ruined chapel gave the place a long abandon feel. Teeth rattled to the core we finally arrived at some lighthouse buildings, which looked oddly out-of-place with no lighthouse in view.
We parked the car and headed towards steep sand-dunes nearby – and there we enjoyed a perfect, remote beach all to ourselves.
Standing in the sea, cut off by the tide was a lonely looking lighthouse. Like almost every other lighthouse in Scotland, this one was built by the famous Stevenson family.
The boy kept a respectful distance from the sea which was crashing off the shore. He watching it for a while and I wondered what was going on inside that little noodle head of his.
The village of Rattray was once a Royal Burgh with a busy harbour. Trading ships regularly docked there.
In 1720 a fierce storm hit, burying the village in sand, cutting the harbour off from the sea and forming Loch Strathbeg. Maybe a few thousand years from now another storm will unearth the lost village of Rattray, just like Skara Brae on Orkney.
As we approached the coastal village of Pennan the road began to twist and turn, gaining height, then sweeping dramatically back down to sea level. The landscape was stunning. We parked above the village in a tiny car park that didn’t offer too much in the way of protection between us and a steep drop!
We headed into the village on foot, snapping photos as we went. Pennan consists of a single row of whitewashed buildings directly on the seafront – it’s unbelievable pretty.
Clean washing fluttered in the fresh sea air, and I could see Mr G casting an envious eye at the prime drying spots enjoyed by the residents of Pennan. To say Mr G is obsessed with drying washing would be the understatement of the century. He’s fixated by drying washing outdoors, and is constantly checking the forecast to see if it’s going to be a good drying day!
It was lunchtime, and we were hungry but Pennan’s only eaterie, the Pennan Inn isn’t dog friendly.
All was not lost though – the sun was shining, it was warm and our setting was spectacular. We decided to eat a decadent and non-conventional lunch of cakes and buttered pancakes from Pennan’s newest addition – Coastal Cuppie. A pretty turquoise coffee kiosk with a sitooterie. If you’re wondering what a sitooterie is then let me explain. Sit oot means sit out – a sitooterie is Scots for al-fresco seating.
If you ever find yourself in Pennan I can thoroughly recommend Coastal Cuppie, the service is friendly and the home-baking incredibly good.
Stunning location, pretty village and fab cake, could Pennan get any better? Well actually yes, pennan is not only all of the above it’s also a movie set. For anyone who loves Bill Forsyth’s 1983 movie Local Hero quite as much as I do, this is THE village where the inn and iconic red telephone box are located.
The boy posed for photos beside said iconic red movie star, and I’d have to say on this occasion his star was eclipsed!
Crovie, pronounced Crivie is a few miles west of Pennan. Like Pennan it’s a pretty coastal village, which sits at the foot of a cliff right on the edge of the sea.
There are no cars in Crovie as no road runs through it – my idea of heaven as cars are as annoying as scaffolding when you want to take photos. We parked above the village and snapped photos, admiring the view of the row of tiny cottages below, with their colourful pan-tiled roofs.
Heather was beginning to bloom on the clifftop. I love when the heather blooms as the Scottish countryside becomes a riot of pink and purple tones.
Crovie is easily one of the prettiest villages in the UK. A visit is like stepping back in time to a bygone era. On a sunny, blue sky day it makes you want to linger, maybe even move there and turn your back on the rat race forever.
In the village we passed an elderly lady sitting outside a cottage, staring out to sea. She was as brown as a berry, weathered by a combination of wind, sea and sunshine. As we passed she spoke and I nodded, smiling enthusiastically, but she may as well have been speaking Swahili as her accent was indecipherable to me. I’ve heard many thick Scottish accents on my travels, but hers was the first to completely stump me.
In 1953 Crovie was devastated by a violent storm and all but abandoned – that is until its potential as a highly desirable holiday destination was realised. It was then extensively restored, and today many of the cottages are holiday lets.
There was time for one more stop before hunger got the better of us.
Fyvie Castle sits in vast grounds with tree-lined avenues, pretty flower beds and an ornamental lake. It has a rich history which dates back 800-years. Like all good Scottish castles it’s steeped in myth and legend, and boasts the likes of Robert the Bruce and King Charles I amongst its visitors.
We enjoyed a wander in the castle grounds and snapped some photos, but our view of the castle was obscured. Not by scaffolding or cars this time, but by dozens of mingling wedding guests. Scaffolding, cars or wedding guests dolled up to the nines, the effect is just the same.
Dining on chips and champagne in Balmedie
Tired after our long day out, we grabbed take-away suppers from the fish and chip shop in Balmedie. White pudding for me (and a wee taste for the boy, as he’s a big white pudding fan) and red pudding for Mr G. We devoured our suppers by the rolling sand dunes of Balmedie Beach. After our unconventional lunch our take-away dinner hit the spot perfectly.
Our perfect day ended with a gorgeous rainbow/sunset combo – another wonderful day on planet Earth.
Until next time ………..