As we walk along the coastal path with a turquoise sea far below us, sea birds are sweeping around us hunting and feeding and calling out to one another. It’s September and we’re beginning to overheat with the unexpected hot sun as we continue along the coastal path on our walk to Dunnottar Castle. We’re in Scotland, on the North East Coast of Aberdeenshire, how can this be so hot, the scenes around us could quite easily be in the Mediterranean.
If you love historical buildings and coastal walks keep reading. In this blog post I share a stunning coastal walk to Dunnottar Castle. During our Scotland road trip we followed the North East Coast 250 (NE250) road to the quiet little town of Stonehaven. We had come here to visit one of the most impressive ruined castles in Scotland. Steeped in history, Dunnottar Castle sits majestically on the edge of a cliff where it defended the Scottish Crown Jewels during the dark days of Cromwell’s occupation.
If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, which includes some of the North East Coast of Aberdeenshire then I’d highly recommend heading to Stonehaven and take a walk to Dunnottar Castle.
About Dunnottar Castle
One of the first things you’ll notice when approaching the castle is the type of rock that the castle sits on. It is made up of large rocks and pebbles that have been cemented together, referred to as ‘pudding stone’. I have never seen anything like this before, it is worth walking down into the bay to take a closer look. There’s a path alongside the castle entrance. We enjoyed clambering over the rock pools whilst both our spaniels jumped in and out of the water cooling down after our walk from Stonehaven Harbour.
The name ‘dun’ is Pictish for ‘fort’. The Picts were a group of people who lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland during the Early Middle Ages. Carbon dating shows that the location of Dunnottar Castle is the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered.
Dunnottar Castle is steeped in history, including;
- King Donald II of Scotland who was killed at Dunnottar by an invading Viking force in 900 AD
- During the Wars of Independence in 1297 after the invasion of Scotland by English forces, William Wallace – Braveheart – attacks an English garrison at Dunnottar, taking it back under Scottish control.
- English forces seize Dunnottar Castle in 1336 in support of Edward Balliol’s bid for the Scottish throne. He was known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’.
- Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, builds the first stone castle at Dunnottar, now known as The Keep in 1392
- In 1562 Mary Queen of Scots visits Dunnottar Castle
- George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, continues to add buildings to Dunnottar in 1593
- During the war of Three Nations (Scotland, England and Ireland) in the mid-1640s, King Charles II is a guest of the 7th Earl Marischal. The young King’s arrival to Scotland prompts an invasion by the Parliamentary Army, led by Oliver Cromwell. Dunnottar Castle plays a vital role in the safekeeping of the Scottish crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland.
- After 400 years of Dunnottar being the seat of Clan Keith, it is sold by the Government to the York Mining Company in 1717.
- In 1919 Lord and Lady Cowdray purchase the Castle and begin an extensive programme of conservation and restoration works, protecting it from further damage and deterioration.
We spent about an hour wandering around the ruins and the rock pools in the bay below the castle. This is a photographers dream location, so give yourself time to capture a few memory shots whilst you’re exploring all the rooms and ruins. Keep an eye out for the information boards that provide tell you more about where you’re standing and what you’re looking at.
Below are the details of our coastal walk from Stonehaven Harbour Town to Dunnottar Castle.
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Stonehaven is a charming harbour town, which sits in an area called “the Mearns”. The Mearns area of Aberdeenshire has a wonderful mix of countryside and coastline. Stonehaven sits behind the crescent-shaped Stonehaven Bay.
Whilst visiting Stonehaven a visit to the Tolbooth Museum is a particularly memorable attraction. Showcasing the heritage of the town and also the building’s history as Stonehaven’s former jail.
Did you know… Stonehaven holds a Hogmanay Fireball Ceremony. Yep, that’s right those crazy Scots hurl Fireballs around their heads on New Years Eve moments before the old Town House bell chimes midnight! Why? Apparently its to burn off the bad spirits left from the old year so that the spirits of the New Year can come in clean and fresh. Sounds like we all need to adopt this idea with the never ending pandemic world we now live in.
How to Find Dunnottar Castle
Located just off the A92, Dunnottar Castle is less than two miles south of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.
For those who cannot do the walk, or would prefer to visit by car / van then there is a FREE car park at the castle. Use the postcode AB39 2TL for your Sat Nav.
Keen cyclists, the National Cycle Network Route 1 takes in Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle. At the castle there are CCTV monitored bike racks adjacent to the coach park at the Castle.
The Coastal Walk To Dunnottar Castle
Leaving Stonehaven follow the coastal path around the bay keeping the sea to your left. You’ll come across a wooden board walk as you approach the end of the peninsula. Stop and look at the metal sculptures lining the boardwalk, created by local artist. Look closely what sea creatures can you see?
Continue around to the pretty Stonehaven harbour and continue your walk around the harbour edge past the village pub. Follow Shorehead to Love Lane, just after the harbour-front pubs, and take a left onto Castle Street. From here you will see the clearly marked signs to Dunnottar Castle.
Once you have walked to the end of Stonehaven harbour the path will take a short but steep climb up the cliff. The path is firm underfoot with gravel and stone but it may not be suitable for everyone. Follow the path uphill and continue left at the top on the road.
Further along the coastal path you will come across a War Memorial on your right. The Black Hill was gifted by Lord and Lady Cowdray to the local community for the Stonehaven War Memorial. It was designed by the Stonehaven architect, John Ellis, and the fundraising for building the monument was organised by locals. The structure is an incomplete round temple, apparently designed as a reminder of the incompleteness of a full life of those who died in the Wars.
Continue along the coastal path and you will be rewarded with stunning views of the unusual cliff rock and the castle ahead of you. Take your time and enjoy this stunning coastal walks leading up to the castle.
Where To Eat And Drink Near Dunnottar Castle
Located near the Dunnottar Castle car park is a catering van, which is on-site serving hot drinks and snacks.
Alternatively, follow the coastal path back down to Stonehaven Harbour for a well earned pint in The Ship Inn pub. We sat on one of the outside tables overlooking the Harbour watching the sun slowly set. The brightly coloured fishing boats tethered around the harbour bobbed about on the gentle waves. The odd pesky seagull loitered around visitors sat on the harbour wall eating their chips. A perfect end to our stunning afternoon coastal walk to Dunnottar Castle.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Dog-Friendly Stonehaven Queen Elizabeth Caravan and Motorhome Club Site. Located right next to Stonehaven beach this is a great motorhome campsite for those travelling with dogs. A short walk from the van and our dogs were chasing seagulls and swimming in the sea. As you’d expect from the Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites it was clean, well managed and had everything you need whilst on a Scotland Road Trip in a van.
Alternatively, Stonehaven has a static caravan site as well as plenty of B&B options around the pretty coastal town.
Read more of my Scotland Road Trip series… START HERE
- Dunnottar Castle Visitor Website – You can Buy Entry tickets online in advance of your visit, recommended during high season. We didn’t do this for our visit in September, it was quiet and we purchased our ticket on entering the castle without any queues. It is worth checking the opening times as it differs throughout the year. In bad weather the castle may on occasion be closed so check before you trek.
- Wearing sturdy footwear and have waterproof clothing as the Scottish weather can be unpredictable!
- There are toilets available within the castle and hot and cold drinks and snacks.
- Dunnattor Castle is dog-friendly. Due to the location of the walk and castle I’d highly recommend keeping your dog on lead throughout this visit. Especially bird loving dogs, our spaniels were pulling on their leads at times wanting to be released so that they could chase the sea birds sweeping around us.
- Stonehaven Harbour Website & Stonehaven Town Sharing the history, local services and what’s on
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Coastal Walk To Dunnottar Castle, it’s definitely one to add to your Scotland Road Trip Travel Planning.
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- Culloden Battlefield – Fascinating tour around this popular National Trust site and top visitor centre
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