And just like that March arrived in the blink of an eye. With March came another Scottish road-trip. Using the town of Cullen as a base three wonderful days were spent exploring the Moray Firth coast.
And it’s off to Cullen we go
Leaving a foggy Edinburgh behind, we headed north – the fog followed.
Cairn O’ Mount, Aberdeenshire
When we reached the Cairn O’ Mount pass in Aberdeenshire the fog was like pea soup. We were surrounded by stunning scenery but couldn’t see a thing.
It didn’t stop us going for a wee ramble though. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t meet another soul.
Dess Waterfall, Aberdeenshire
Back in the car, we hadn’t gone far when a glimpse of rushing water sent us scrambling down a wooded slope.
Dess Waterfall was worth the slightly precarious descent. It’s not Scotland’s biggest waterfall but it’s awfy bonnie.
After misty mountains and tumbling waterfalls came history.
The Peel Ring of Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire
Some castles are easy to picture in their heyday, while others require imagination.
At first glance the Peel Ring of Lumphanan looks like an unremarkable hill. If you look closer though you’ll see it’s surrounded by a boggy ditch (moat). The top of the hill is flat too, making it an excellent place to build a fortified dwelling.
A wooden fort (thought to have been the home of Macbeth) once stood on the hill. Archaeologists later dated the site to two centuries after the king’s death (at the Battle of Lumphanan) in 1057.
Despite not being the home of a king, the Peel Ring of Lumphanan is worth visiting if you like exploring lesser known spots.
Rhynie Pictish Stones, Aberdeenshire
Being in the heartland of the Picts, it seemed appropriate that we check out some Pictish art. In the late 1970s one of Scotland’s finest Pictish stones was unearthed at Rhynie. The stone known as Rhynie Man, depicts a bearded man carrying an axe.
Rhynie Man is in Aberdeen now, but you can still see Pictish art in Rhynie.
Below are Pictish stones dating from the 6th to 8th centuries AD.
Huntly Castle, Aberdeenshire
Huntly was our final stop before Cullen. On the edge of town stands Huntly Castle – a huge Renaissance pile, which was once the home of the powerful Gordon, Earls of Huntly.
A castle has stood on the site since the 12th century. The original, a modest wooden affair, evolved over the years into the grand fortress that survives today.
A cottage by the sea in Cullen
We arrived in Cullen mid-afternoon and headed to our accommodation to settle in. We were staying in a lovely part of town know as Seatown.
Seatown is a tightly packed maze of short, narrow streets lined with cottages. Originally fishermen’s cottages, they’re now highly desirable homes and holiday lets. Hemmed in by the sea to the north and by the towering Cullen Viaduct to the south – Seatown is about as perfect a location as you’ll find in Scotland for a holiday by the sea.
127 Seatown, Cullen
I was right – It was amazing, and spacious too.
Downstairs there was an open plan lounge with two large sofas and a wood burning stove, a fully equipped kitchen with dining table and a utility room.
An enclosed yard at the back of the property was an ideal spot for al fresco wine drinking on warm summer evenings.
There was also an en suite master bedroom, with a huge comfy bed located downstairs.
Upstairs, were two twin bedrooms and a bathroom.
The cottage was beautifully decorated and kitted out to a high standard throughout. It’s not often you’ll find Denby tableware in a self-catering property. There were thoughtful extras too, like biscuits for the boy and homemade shortbread and butteries for us.
A relaxing night in Seatown
After a busy day we were keen to unwind over a home cooked dinner – preferably one I didn’t have to cook. As luck would have it there was a small hotel in Seatown with a dog-friendly bar and a menu full of old favourites.
The Royal Oak Hotel was exactly what we’d been looking for – friendly service, relaxed ambiance and good food. It was a hit with the boy too. He was offered biscuits on arrival, which he snatched greedily.
I chose traditional steak pie and Mr G opted for breaded fish and chips – both were delicious.
We finished with a tasty key lime posset, served with coconut shortbread and berries.
The rest of the evening was spent back at our accommodation, relaxing and hatching plans for the days ahead.
Exploring the Moray Firth coast, Moray
After tucking into porridge and butteries for breakfast, we were ready to spend the day exploring the Moray Firth coast.
Covesea Beach, Moray
The boy loves the beach, so we made Covesea our first port of call. Covesea has a long stretch of sand that’s overlooked by a lighthouse (a Stevenson lighthouse obviously).
As we headed to explore a cave on the beach, Mr G began scrambling up some rocks towards a WWII pillbox.
If he can find something to climb (preferably with an unprotected drop), he’s there with bells on. I hung around long enough to take the obligatory conquering hero photo before the boy and I toddled off for a look inside the cave.
Rocks climbed and cave explored, we were leaving the beach when we heard a roar like thunder – what on earth?
Duffus Castle, Moray
Duffus Castle is a mighty medieval ruin that sits on an artificial mound known as a motte. It’s surrounded by a water filled moat, which is a haven for wildlife. It’s a great place to combine history with a country stroll, so that’s exactly what we did.
After looping round the castle, we crossed a footbridge into it. As we stood in the grounds enjoying the view, the calm of the morning was shattered by a loud WHOOSH. It was a Typhoon fighter jet (the source of the beach roar) from the RAF base at Lossiemouth.
Fearing the castle was under attack The Wee White Dug squared up to the threat from above.
I LOVE watching fighter jets. Who needs peace and quiet anyway? We gazed skywards in awe, as three Typhoons twisted and turned at incredible speeds, flying a circuit which brought them back to the castle every few minutes.
I’m not ashamed to admit we left Duffus Castle singing Kenny Loggins, Danger Zone – yup, even Mr G.
Craigmin Bridge & Fairy Walk, Moray
There are many hidden gems in Moray and Craigmin Bridge near Buckie is a cracker.
The bridge is reached via a path which skirts along the top of a wooded gorge. Look carefully as you wander and you’ll discover fairy houses hidden amongst the trees.
When the sun shines, light penetrates the woodland casting a warm glow on the forest floor. With a clear blue sky overhead we’d chosen a great day to visit.
Any doubts about the existence of fairies are soon dispelled when Craigmin Bridge comes into view. It has to be seen to be believed – think Lord of the Rings. It’s an outlandish and slightly bonkers piece of 18th century architecture.
Yet, crossing the bridge you’d hardly even know it was there.
A lovely end to the day in Cullen
Arriving back in Cullen late afternoon, we made the short climb to the top of Castle Hill to watch the sun setting.
A medieval castle once stood on the hill, but it’s long gone. What remains is a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.
It’d been a fun-filled day with lots of walking – we’d earned a treat (or two).
Ice cream from Cullen’s brilliant ice cream shop and suppers from the fish and chip shop were the perfect reward.
Exploring the Moray Firth coast, Aberdeenshire
We woke the next morning to another beautiful day.
Having pottered around Moray the day before, we planned to spend the day exploring Aberdeenshire’s Moray Firth coast.
Gorgeous weather called for another beach visit to start the day. There are many lovely beaches dotted along the Moray Firth and Sandend Bay is one of the finest.
Located in the picturesque fishing village of Sandend, the sheltered bay is a magnet for surfers, paddle boarders and those who love to roam by the sea.
We arrived early, but had been beaten by a number of keen water sports enthusiasts. The boy was intrigued to see people bobbing about in the sea. For a minute I thought he was contemplating joining them, but he lost interest and settled for a shallow paddle instead.
Boyne Castle, Aberdeenshire
We swapped the soothing sound of the sea, for woodland that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the fairytale Sleeping Beauty.
Boyne Castle stands all but forgotten, concealed in a tangled, thicket of woodland near Portsoy. There are no signs to direct you to the castle, or information boards on site recounting its history. You won’t find it in guide books, or plastered all over Instagram.
Built by Sir George Ogilvy of Dunlugas in the late 16th century, the castle was once an impressive home with a garden and orchard. Today it’s a silent, lonely ruin in a precarious state of repair. Despite its fragility, it’s a magical and enchanting old building and one of my favourite castles in Scotland.
Sticking with castle and beach, we left Boyne Castle and headed to the village of Rosehearty which offers both.
We pottered around the village harbour admiring the colourful fishing boats, then went for a wander along the beach. A flock of oystercatchers were wading by the shore – we watched them for a while. Other than the birds there wasn’t another soul around – it was blissful.
You can just make out the silhouette of Pittulie Castle from Rosehearty beach.
Pittulie Castle stands on farmland, so it’s not always possible to visit if crops are growing round it. I value the freedom we have to roam in Scotland so I’m always respectful of the places we visit, many of which are located on privately owned land.
It’s not known exactly when Pittulie Castle was built, but it’s thought to date to the late 16th century. What is know is that it was a Fraser stronghold, together with Pitsligo Castle which stands half a mile away. If you peer closely at the photo above you can see Pitsligo Castle on the horizon in front of Mr G and the boy.
A morning spent wandering had given us an appetite. Luckily we were close to Fraserburgh, home of Nooks & Crannies Coffee Shop. Their homemade soups, sandwiches and cakes are delicious, so it’s always a joy to wind up in Fraserburgh at lunchtime.
We had one last castle to visit before winding our way back to Cullen.
Kinnaird Head Castle is one of Scotland’s most unusual castles.
When the 16th century coastal stronghold fell out of fashion with the Fraser clan in the late 18th century, they sold it to the Northern Lighthouse Board, who converted it into a lighthouse. It’s now part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
It’s not every day you’ll see a castle with a lighthouse on its roof. Mr G can take castles or leave them, but it’s safe to say his mind was blown when I pointed out the lighthouse was also a castle. “Oh my god, so it is.” he gasped. So enthralled was he by Kinnaird Head Castle/lighthouse that he waxed lyrical about it for days after our visit.
Farewell Cullen, it’s time to head home
Our last night in Cullen was spent in the same way as our first – with a tasty dinner at the Royal Oak Hotel, followed by a lazy night by the fire.
The next morning, porridge eaten and car packed it was time to say goodbye to Cullen and our fantastic holiday cottage by the sea. It’d been a wonderful trip.
We made time for a wander on Cullen beach before reluctantly heading home.
Cullen is an excellent base for exploring the Moray Firth coast. With a fab beach, incredible views, quaint cottages, awesome ice cream and great eateries what more could you want from a holiday by the sea?
Thanks to Shona at Cullen Cottages for arranging our stay. Although our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……….