I love Aberdeenshire – it’s one of my favourite regions in Scotland. I also love a wee bit of luxury – who doesn’t? And Highland Cows – I REALLY love Highland Cows. You can probably guess my level of excitement then, when I was invited to combine all three at Aikenshill House – a five-star, luxury B&B in Aberdeenshire with a fold of Highland Cattle. Unlike regular cows, Heilan’ coos gather in a fold not a herd.
A leisurely amble through Aberdeenshire
Being compulsive road-trippers, we’d booked ourselves a short break in the tiny village of Crovie, so we could potter around Moray and Aberdeenshire for a couple of days before our stay at Aikenshill House.
Being in Aberdeenshire already, meant we’d be able to explore some of the regions hidden gems en route to Aikenshill House.
Cullykhan Bay & Fort Fiddes
When we left Crovie the sun was trying to make an appearance, so a trip to the beach seemed like a good way to start the day.
Cullykhan Bay is a small, sandy cove near the village of Pennan. The beach is lovely, but there’s more to Cullykhan Bay than sand and sea.
There’s also a collapsed cave known as Hell’s Lum (Hell’s Chimney) which resembles the inside of a chimney breast. It’s such an odd shape, that it looks man-made. It was calm when we visited, but on wild days seawater crashes into the cave and sprays out of the top, making it look like a smoking chimney.
The bay is also the site of Fort Fiddes, an ancient hill-fort which sits on a narrow promontory with sheer cliffs on either side. Dating to the late Bronze/early Iron Age, only grass-covered stones and defensive ditches survive. It must have been an impressive sight in its day, perched high on the clifftop.
The boy had fun running on the sand, peeping into rock pools, and trailing through long grass. The lack of a visible fort didn’t bother him a jot.
Saint Drostan’s Well
After creeping around cliff tops on a very short lead, the boy had earned some off lead time.
New Aberdour Beach seemed like the perfect place for him to run free. The beach is located by the tiny village of New Aberdour – home to one of Scotland’s oldest churches. The beach is rugged and remote, and although we visited on a Saturday morning there was only one other dog walker there.
The boy was delighted to be free, and he charged off towards an ornate well behind the beach.
St Drostan’s Well is a natural spring associated with Saint Drostan. Little is known about the 7th century Aberdeenshire saint, but he was believed to have healing powers. Local legend says he performed baptisms in the spring now named after him.
Holy well or not, the boy was thirsty so he lapped up some spring water to quench his thirst.
We wandered along the beach towards some red sandstone caves, which were once a haunt for smugglers.
Caves on a beach always make me think of hidden treasure. The boy hates them. He’ll hover around the entrance, but rarely musters up enough courage to venture inside.
Leaving New Aberdour Beach, we continued along the coast to visit our second fortress of the day.
Pitsligo Castle is located on the outskirts of the small, coastal town of Rosehearty.
It was built by Sir William Forbes in the first half of the 15th century. The Forbes family lived in the castle for 300 years, until Alexander 4th Lord Pitsligo (a staunch Jacobite) was stripped of his title and estate after the Battle of Culloden. He escaped capture, and spent the rest of his life as a fugitive. His one time tenants risked their own lives to keep him safe.
As we entered the castle courtyard I heard a vehicle approaching. It was a farmer on a quad bike. He’d seen us arriving, and brought us some leaflets about the castle and local history. I was really touched. It’s kind gestures like that, that make Scotland such a wonderful country to travel in. No matter where you go, you’ll always find someone passionate about their little corner of the country.
Pitsligo Castle is in a ruinous and fragile state, but it’s really impressive. It makes me sad that some of Scotland’s historic buildings have funding thrown at them, while others are left to crumble. Thankfully, Pitsligo Castle has people who care about its survival. The Friends of Pitsligo Castle are a local charity who’ve worked tirelessly for the past 20 odd years to preserve the historic gem.
As you know, the boy loves exploring castles. He seemed more excited than usual inside Pitsligo. One spot in particular had him fascinated. He nuzzled and scraped at the ground, licking his lips. Exasperated by his stubborn refusal to move I went to investigate, and caught him tucking into a pile of poo. I huckled the wee scunner away, making a mental note not to accept any kisses from him for the rest of the day.
East Aquhorthies Stone Circle
It was almost time for us to check in at Aikenshill House, but no trip to Aberdeenshire would be complete without a visit to one of the region’s recumbent stone circles. Some of Scotland’s most unique stone circles can be found in Aberdeenshire, yet they rarely get the attention sites like Callanish or Brodgar get.
East Aquhorthies Stone Circle is located in a quiet, rural spot near Inverurie.
It was chilly when we arrived, and the light was fading fast, but the place had a magical atmosphere that made you want to linger.
It’s staggering to think that 5,000 years ago, an Aberdeenshire farming community built a circle of stones that would stand for thousands of years.
Luxury and bonnie coos at Aikenshill House
We turned off the A90 north of Balmedie, and wound our way up the driveway towards Aikenshill House – a large and classy, modern build, surrounded by farmland.
B&B owners James and Shona, and daughter Sara were waiting to greet us. After five minutes of chat, it felt like we’d known them for ages. They gave us a quick tour of our accommodation, then left us to settle in.
The Bothy, Aikenshill House
When I picture a bothy, I imagine a tiny, remote cottage with no mod cons. The Bothy at Aikenshill House is about as far removed from that as it’s possible to get. It’s a luxurious two bedroom, two bathroom, self-catering unit, with a huge open plan lounge/kitchen, plush furnishings, quality fixtures and fittings, and palatial marble flooring throughout. Having just spent two nights in a creepy converted church in Crovie with a temperamental hot water tank (think freezing cold showers in November), it felt like we’d hit the jackpot at Monte Carlo when we checked into The Bothy.
The Bothy is without a doubt one of the most amazing places we’ve stayed on our travels around Scotland. It’s luxury with a capital L.
I felt like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City when I spotted the walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom. It even had a wee light that went on automatically when you opened the door. “This is mine” I announced in a tone that let Mr G know his muckle size tens wouldn’t be joining my dinky size fours inside the posh wardrobe.
Our en-suite bathroom had a large, rainfall shower, white fluffy towels, and toiletries by Arran Aromatics (a favourite of mine). There were handy extras too, like a mini sewing kit and nail file.
The bed looked comfy and inviting. After a long day, I was tempted to hop in and curl up under the fur throw for a lazy night in front of the TV. We were hungry though, so loafing would need to wait.
Dinner – The Cock & Bull Inn, Balmedie
Despite Aikenshill House’s rural location, finding somewhere nice to eat dinner isn’t a problem. The popular Cock & Bull Inn is only a two-minute drive away. The inn is a dog-friendly favourite of ours, so it was good to be back in the neighbourhood.
A lingering respiratory bug had obliterated my taste buds and appetite, so I kept it simple with a bowl of veggie soup and some skinny fries with peppercorn sauce. I managed a white wine spritzer too, as luckily I could still taste wine – phew.
Mr G had been struggling with the same pesky bug, but nothing robs him of his appetite. He wolfed down a large portion of fish and chips in record time.
We finished with ice cream, then headed back to The Bothy to begin loafing in earnest.
Back at The Bothy
Fleece onsies on (yes we’re THAT cool), we slumped in front of the fire – the boy with his favourite baby of the week, Mr Fox.
Having played the role of designated driver earlier, Mr G rewarded himself with a chilled bottle of Peroni (or three).
We’d been on our feet rambling around Moray and Aberdeenshire for three days, so it was nice to relax somewhere luxurious and cosy.
A delicious farmhouse breakfast
The bed at Aikenshill House was the comfiest I’ve ever slept in. With crisp, fresh linen and an insanely comfortable mattress, it was like sleeping on a cloud.
We woke the next morning feeling refreshed, and excited that we’d soon be meeting the Aikenshill coos.
First things first though. James was cooking us a hearty breakfast over in the main house.
We were seated in a beautiful dining room for breakfast. It was delicious, and set us up for the day ahead. Stornoway Black Pudding, haggis, juicy vine tomatoes, eggs with perfect dipping yolks and a fat sausage were all devoured.
We were fit to burst, but when James delivered a local delicacy to the table we couldn’t refuse. Butteries (also known as rowies, or cookies if you’re from Peterhead) are synonymous with Aberdeenshire. They’re made with flour, butter, lard, sugar and salt, and resemble a morning roll that’s been driven over by a steamroller. Your arteries won’t thank you for eating one, but ignore your arteries – they’re delicious.
Meeting the Aikenshill Highland Cows
Breakfast eaten, it was time to meet the Highland cows – yippee. After the Westie, Highland Cattle are my favourite Scottish beasties. They may look intimidating but they’re lovely, placid beasts.
There are nearly 40 Highland cows living at Aikenshill, but each and every one of them has a name. They’re well socialised with humans, and it’s obvious that they’re loved.
We met the girls first. I was in my element being able to pet the big hairy beasties. I was surprised at how playful they were. We watched one wrestle with James, and it was just like watching a dog play fighting.
The Wee White Dug observed the coos with a wary curiosity at first, but a fine friendship soon blossomed. So much so in fact, that slobbery kisses were shared.
After lots of coo cuddles, we visited the barn to meet a wee cracker called Skye. She was three months old and absolutely adorable.
Having fussed over the girls it was time to meet the boys. They charged across the field to say hello as soon as they spotted us. I always imagine heilan’ coos are all boys called Hamish. There wasn’t a single Hamish in the fold at Aikenshill, but there was a Donald sporting a familiar presidential hairdo!
We loved our stay at Aikenshill House, but it flew by far too quickly for our liking. A luxury B&B in a beautiful part of Scotland, with Highland cows – it really doesn’t get any better than that.
Well actually it does – there’s also a stunning beach right on the doorstep of Aikenshill House.
After saying goodbye to our fabulous hosts, we took the boy to Balmedie Beach for some crazy running and stick wrestling – before heading home to Edinburgh.
Huge thanks to James, Shona and Sara for their warm hospitality. Although our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……….