Highland cows and 5-star luxury in Aberdeenshire

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.

Crovie, Aberdeenshire

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.

Cullykhan Bay, Aberdeenshire

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.

Hell’s Lum, Aberdeenshire Hell’s Lum, Aberdeenshire

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.

Fort Fiddes, Aberdeenshire

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.

Fort Fiddes, Aberdeenshire Cullykhan Bay, Aberdeenshire

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.

St Drostan’s Well, Aberdeenshire St Drostan’s Well, Aberdeenshire

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.

Pitsligo Castle

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.

Pitsligo Castle, Rosehearty Pitsligo Castle, Rosehearty

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.

Pitsligo Castle, Rosehearty

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.

Pitsligo Castle, Rosehearty

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.

East Aquhorthies Stone CircleEast Aquhorthies Stone Circle

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, Aikenshill House

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.

The Bothy, Aikenshill HouseThe Bothy, Aikenshill House

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.

The Bothy, Aikenshill HouseThe Bothy, Aikenshill House

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.

Cock & Bull Inn, Balmedie

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.

The Bothy, Aikenshill HouseThe Bothy, Aikenshill House

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.

Aikenshill House, Aberdeenshire Aikenshill House, Aberdeenshire

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.

Highland Cows, Aikenshill HouseHighland Cows, Aikenshill House

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.

Aikenshill House, Highland CowsAikenshill House, Highland Cows

After lots of coo cuddles, we visited the barn to meet a wee cracker called Skye. She was three months old and absolutely adorable.

Aikenshill House, Highland CowsAikenshill House, Highland Cows

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!

Highland cows, Aikenshill HouseHighland cows, Aikenshill House

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.

Balmedie Beach, Aberdeenshire Scottish travel blog

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 ……….

14 thoughts on “Highland cows and 5-star luxury in Aberdeenshire

  1. I lived in Aberdeen for 5.5years before moving to NZ and Balmedie beach was a favourite place for me to stretch my legs next to the ocean. Visited the Cock&Bull a few times too. I’m sad to say I wasn’t aware of any of the other places you mention in your post. I thought I’d done the area justice when I lived there but clearly I didn’t!

    1. Balmedie Beach is lovely isn’t it. I find Aberdeenshire is the gift that keeps on giving. The more you dig the more you find. Next trip you’ll have some new places to check out too. 😊

  2. Aberdeen— I remember we went up there several times with the Sunday School on “camps”. We stayed in a big old church owned place that had dormitories and a big dining hall and kitchens. It was in Aberdeen itself but don’t ask me where. All I really remember is that it was a few minutes walk from the foreshore and a couple of times a few of us sneaked out to go down there late at night. This was a great post with terrific photographs and showcased a very different view of Aberdeen. I generally think of the city , the University and the Cathedral. I have never been in “country” Aberdeen, so thank you for sharing this.

    1. I think a lot of people picture Aberdeen when they think of Aberdeenshire. It’s a great city but it’s years since I’ve actually stayed in it. They region is incredibly diverse. It’s one of my favourites. I have such happy memories of school camps back in the day. It always felt so grown up going away without family.

  3. Oh, this place is for me! Love the hi-coos and the idea of this amazing B&B after much ancient plumbing and thin mattresses in the area . . . Ahh. Nice. Making a note to book for fall next year. Thanks for this;great post!

    1. You won’t be disappointed, we stayed in the self-catering unit but they also have stunning B&B rooms in the main house. It’s one of our favourite parts of Scotland. There’s so much to see and do in Aberdeenshire. 😍

  4. Good morning Samantha, I’ve been a lover of your wee white dog for quite some time now but this is the first time I’ve read your blog from beginning to end.
    I’m also a blogger on WordPress: ctwanderer.wordpress.com
    Clearly I’m across the pond but my mother was a Grant from Stevenston and dad: a Macintyre from Saltcoats.
    I’ve crossed the pond three times (hoping for number 4) and loved every minute. Even though I’ve just eaten my breakfast when I saw your photo of the blood puddin’ in all it’s glory, my mouth started watering.
    I’ll be following you now on WordPress.

    1. Thank you and welcome to the blog, I’m so happy to hear you’ve been enjoying it. You can’t beat a nice slice of black pudding with breakfast. It’s not to everyone’s taste but I grew up on it. I hope you manage to make trip number four soon. Maybe a wee trip to Speyside to explore Clan Grant territory? 😊

  5. I love reading about all your adventures, makes me feel like I’m there. Someday I will get to Scotland as it is on my Bucket List.

  6. I’m a little envious right now. The Bothy at Aikenshill House and surroundings look absolutely marvelous. Highland cows are my new favorite animal after our Fred, a basset hound. I’m following two of them who live here in the U.S. by the names of Hamish (of course) and Kyloe. Highland cow Christmas stickers are going on my Christmas cards this year. I so enjoy your posts of Scotland and I hope to visit your magical country soon. Husband has relatives in Aviemore which makes it a little easier. Give Casper a hug for me.

    1. Thank you. We loved our stay at Aikenshill and the coos were an added bonus. I can highly recommend a stay, it’s a beautiful part of the country with lots to see and do. Having relatives in Scotland is a great excuse for a holiday here.

  7. You show us so many wonderful places, I will not know what and where to choose when I will come to Scotland! I might have to stay a whole year to see a fraction of what I would love to see!❤️

    1. I love sharing Scotland. Aberdeenshire is packed full of incredible places to visit. You could spend a year there alone. You’ll have an amazing time wherever you end up.

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