Scotland, Day 4 – Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle

Day 4 started early out of Waverly, as we headed off to the east coast, across the Firth of Forth, some other forths (but not Colin Firth, har har), and assorted fine views of hill and vale.

StonehavenThe train station at Stonehaven is on the outskirts of the village (this will be important later), so we wandered a gauntlet of homes, B&Bs, and a school or two before arriving on the main drag. There’s lots of signage to lead you out to the Castle, which is a couple miles out of the village, since, presumably, it’s a major reason people come there. (Though their other claim to fame is apparently being the home of the first deep-fried Mars bar.) I also just barely missed being obliterated by the most epic bird poop ever (it splattered THREE cars).

The path meanders along the beach (North Sea) a ways, and we passed a lot of dogs. There may be some kind of bylaw that you have to have a dog to live there. 🙂 Pretty town, to be sure. Then the path takes a jog away from the harbour, though a back alley, and straight up a hill. Ahh, up, our old nemesis…

Apparently the spring melt/rain had done a number on the trail, so we had to be careful of washout areas, though it wasn’t too bad. Blessedly it was cool, since I would have melted if we’d been doing that hiking at near-30 degrees Celsius. The path connects briefly with the road, then swings out into a farmer’s field. The fields were awesome, since they go right out to the edge of the cliffs. One hopes their farm dog doesn’t chase birds…

War MemorialIt was this path that we followed all the way to the castle, but first we stopped at the rather striking War Memorial (WWI) on the promontory above town. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a Buffy episode, and was yet another reminder of how it seemed every little burg in Scotland lost a surprising number of men in the wars.

After the War Memorial, the path headed seaward, and became a bit tricky for Sherry. It was only wide enough for single file walking, there was no railing, it was about a foot from the cliff edge, and she has Ménière’s. That said, I stayed behind her and handled the photographing duties, she kept it slow and steady, and we managed alright. (But did not return via the same path.)

It’s pretty cool that you can see the Castle the whole way, and it really is an excellent strategic spot, and would have been a great area for feeding the inhabitants back in the day as well. Apparently Microsoft agrees about its picturesque value, as I’m told it’s now one of the Windows 7 screensavers.

Dunnottar has some exciting adventures in its past, having existed in some form since the Middle Ages, and having been the hiding place of the Scottish Honours to protect them from Cromwell.

Just a few more kilometres...The Castle was seized from the Earls Marischal in the early 1700s after the Jacobite Rebellion, and fell into ruin for 300 years. It was bought by the Cowdray family in 1925, and has been partially restored. Parts of Mel Gibson’s Hamlet were filmed there as well, and it was a Pit Stop on the Amazing Race.

Once you get to the Castle, you’re still not quite there; you have to head down a long set of stairs (don’t think about the fact that you’ll have to come back up them as well), then up a few more stairs to actually get into the Castle. Oh, and then there are more stairs as you wander around in there. You’d think I’d have had buns of steel after this day, but not so much.

Unfortunately, Sherry’s head had about as much as it wanted, so she remained on the grassy hilltop, people- and cow-watching until my return. Blessedly, I rambled about without impediment by tour or school groups. Plenty of local seabirds, though, both nesting within the ruins and in rookeries on the surrounding cliffs.

Dunnottar CastleWe headed out along the small road to the nearby farm, past the most disinterested Holsteins ever. (Canadian coos are far more inquisitive; granted, they probably see a few hundred thousand fewer people per year.) Again, it amused me that the livestock had access to grazing right out to the cliff edges.

The map wasn’t exactly to scale, so we followed the narrow trail beside the road all the way back to town. (There was supposed to be a “forested” part of the trek, but the only “forest” in sight was a tiny copse you could see through behind the neighbour’s farm. On a steep curve above the village we rejoined the road and the path heading back down the washed-out areas and to the village.

We checked the schedule, and realized we could get an earlier train if we hauled ass back to the train station, so we did. Of course, we were coming from about the farthest point away in the village. We had a map now, though, so took some side streets and whatnot, which helped. Back past the schools and B&Bs and whatnot, uphill the whole damned way, panting and sweating like mad… and we missed the train by about a minute. Its whistle blew literally as we stepped into the train station parking lot. Curses!

And so we got to sit for an hour, which wasn’t terribly comfortable, as it had gotten quite overcast and windy, and I was still sweaty. Fortunately there was a waiting room near the washrooms with a heater blasting, and I roasted my butt a couple times to thaw out.

We got back to Edinburgh before everything closed up (which is around 6pm), and so checked out the Knox House, which Sherry had expressed interest in. It’s one of few original houses left, and only its historical significance has kept it from being demolished to allow for road widening and whatnot. Even though Knox himself only lived there for a few months. The house had also belonged to James Mossman, prominent Edinburgh goldsmith whose father designed some of the Scottish Honours, and who was executed for being a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots.

Example panels of original Oak Room ceiling paintingThe house is very upwardly winding, and has some gorgeous period fixtures — fireplace tilework and wood carving and the like. The Oak Room is the big showpiece of the place, on the top floor, and is fully panelled and painted with all manner of scenery. There’s a panel along the side wall to show the colours when the place was originally paint, and boy, was it bright. Bore a lot of resemblance to Pennsylvania Deutsch folk art and colours, too. Kind of amused that there were depictions of bare-breasted native women (Tahitian?) painted on the ceiling in a preacher’s house, but there you go.

After that we’d had quite enough of up and stairs, so we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. (I may have bought fudge on the way back, or that could have been another day…) We ended up at a pub on Rose Street in New Town, which had excellent cask ale and, blessedly, free wifi, so I finally managed to get caught up on emails and the like. Sherry had Chicken Balmoral, which is a breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon, and I had Hunter’s Chicken, which is a breast stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. So there you go.

Another early-ish night for us, since we were heading out of town again the next day, for our long anticipated Nutters Tour!

Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle Photos

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