United Kingdom: Aberdeenshire, Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND & SURROUNDING AREA:

  • Where to stay: Aberdeen City, Scotland, UK (near the large shopping mall)
  • Transportation: I 100% recommend renting a car, we rented from Green Motion
  • Where to eat? Brew Dog

The second base along our journey was Aberdeen, a waterfront town along the east coast of Scotland and about two hours north of Edinburgh. The area known as Aberdeenshire, is famous for its abundance of castles and historical sites, having first been settled in the Bronze Age. Aberdeen itself is a business driven city and seemed to be filled with primarily business professionals, were as St. Andrews was more of a college/university town and Edinburgh was a great melting pot of them both. We didn’t find too much to do within the city but it’s location made it perfect for us to check out Glamis Castle, and Stonehaven (Dunnottar Castle) while we were there.

SIDE NOTE: Glamis Castle is in an area known as Angus, just outside of Aberdeenshire.

While staying in Aberdeen we rented an Airbnb off of N. St. Andrews Street which was just around the corner from a huge shopping mall and plenty of parking. The great thing about renting Airbnbs is that you really feel like a local even though you’re experiencing a city for the first time. There was a little shop around the corner from our Airbnb that supplied us with our daily breakfast of a ham and cheese baguette and a scotch pie, which by the way, are absolutely delicious and the perfect way to fuel us up for a long day of walking around and exploring.

Our first day of exploring with the car we started by driving back towards Edinburgh to check out Glamis Castle. Glamis was the home of HRH Queen Elizabeth II‘s grandparents, the birthplace of the queen mother, and Lizzie and Princess Margaret spent many a summer running around the grounds of the lovely estate. Princess Margaret was actually born in the castle as well and there is a memorial for her on the property after her death. The castle is owned privately and still occupied so we were able to see the main part of the castle and the grounds, but not the private residential wing.

The castle itself is beautiful, and the grounds and gardens are pristine with hardly a blade of grass out of place. We happened to be two of only about 15 people of the grounds that day so we had an intimate experience and the tour was very informative and entertaining. The rooms of the castle are still decorated with artifacts, relics, tapestries, and furniture from the castle’s life throughout history so interior photos are strictly prohibited, unfortunately.

Entrance to the walled garden on the castle grounds

The tour of the castle took about an hour and a half and we spent another two hours walking the paths around the grounds and strolling through the gardens. By the time we had made it back towards the car, the morning had pasted and the afternoon sun was high in the sky. We brought a packed lunch in the car of sandwiches and chips (saving money!) and ate those sitting in the grass behind Glamis Castle before heading off to our next sight: Dunnottar Castle.

This next one might be my favorite castle in all of Scotland. Dunnottar Castle (Gaelic: Dùn Fhoithear) is situated on a rocky headland off the east coast of Scotland about halfway between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The location is thought to have been in use as early as the 5th century (401-500AD) but the earliest written records of the site date to 681AD. The structure that is currently remaining on site was built between the 1400s and 1600s and was in use until 1718. The fortress has played an integral role throughout Scotland’s history and some of the countries most significant events took place at this stunning location.

Dunnottar is located in a town called Stonehaven and surrounded by miles of rolling green fields and stretches of pristine coastline. As we arrived it was lightly drizzling so we bundled up and grabbed a hot coffee before making the trek down the path towards the castle away from the main road. As we finally made it to the end of the path and whole of Dunnottar came into view, the weather was very much on our side and the clouds broke up to reveal some of the brightest blue skies and perfect weather I’ve ever seen in Scotland. The clouds that remained made for some dramatic effects in my photos too!

This was the first ruined castle that we were seeing and being able to clamber all about the ruins was incredible and because we arrived later in the afternoon (shortly before closing) we were nearly the only people there and I was able to get a TON of amazing photos without a single person in them. This is one of those places that you could feel the history around you, the energy of peoples past, and it made for a powerful experience as we spent nearly two full hours exploring the grounds before we finished off with a walk along the shoreline. By the end of the day we were tired and hungry so we made our way back to Aberdeen for some food and beers at one of our favorite spots, Brew Dog.

The following morning we woke up early as it was another driving day, packed up the car, said goodbye to our Aberdeen AirBnB and headed off in the direction of our next stop: Craigievar Castle. Apparently when I had planned seeing this castle I didn’t pay attention to the fact that they’re closed on Thursdays and that happened to be what day it was. Fortunately, the grounds are still open and we were able to at least see the castle and snap some great shots of its iconic, fairytale-like exterior. The only person on the grounds besides us at the time was a gardener, but we didn’t want to disturb him as he worked so we weren’t able to view the garden behind the castle either except for through the main gate. It’s the exterior of the castle that makes it famous anyways 😉

After snapping some shots of Craigievar Castle we hopped back in the car and began making our way along the scenic route towards Inverness. Earlier I mentioned that Aberdeenshire was famous for its abundance of castles and historical sites; I wasn’t kidding. We had been driving for nearly 5 minutes before we saw the sign for another castle that we hadn’t even planned on seeing: Castle Fraser.

As a HUGE Outlander fan I don’t know how I missed adding this castle in along our tour, and it was by pure chance that we happened to drive by the sign for the entrance. Naturally, we pulled over and I’m so happy we did. The grounds of this castle were expansive and surrounded by acres of fields with cows grazing happily in the light drizzle that was coming down. The castle itself is very impressive and quite large and built in the tower house style with several additions and modifications throughout the years. This castle isn’t currently occupied but it’s also a working estate so there is a full staff on premises and we were able to take a guided tour through the castle, which took about an hour and a half.

NOTE!: This is not the castle that is used as Lallybroch in Outlander, however it is the actual castle of the family that she used as the namesake of her novel.

This castle was interesting because it had all the sneaky features that you expect a castle to have, such as: a laird’s lug, hidden trap doors, secret passages, spiral staircases, spy holes, priest holes, and more. Not to mention the actual grounds are immaculate and there’s lots of friendly highland cows on the premises.

After seeing Craigievar and touring Castle Fraser, we hopped back on the highland scenic route and began making our way through the Scottish countryside on our way up towards our 3rd base, Inverness.

Corgarff Castle

This stretch of the road trip was incredible and we saw some stunning landscapes as we drove North and into the highlands away from Aberdeen. There were so many signs for castles and archeological sites that it would have taken us HOURS to get there if we had stopped as often as we’d wanted to. We did however stop for shots of Corgarff Castle. Corgarff is surrounded by some stunning and dramatic landscapes and has had a rocky history being the home of tragic deaths to over 26 people, being burned down two times, built and rebuilt a total of 3x and used for various political gains throughout history. The impressive castle is now open to the public.

After snapping some shots of Corgarff and the landscape, we were back in the car and driving up a nearly vertical road into the Scottish Highlands and through, again, some of the most dramatic and barren landscapes I’ve ever seen. Let me tell you this… the road are intense during this stretch of the trip and there were a couple times my boyfriend and I looked at each other pale as ghost as we’d have to hang our car off the edge of a cliff in order to allow a semi-truck to pass. Aside from the menacing roads and breathtaking landscapes, we passed through some of the quaintest little Scottish villages I could have ever hoped to see. At one point we found ourselves outside the Glenfiddich Estate, but decided drinking and driving on those roads would have been a bad decision.

It took us nearly 6 hours to get from Aberdeen to Inverness with all the stops we made along the way (usually a 2.5hr drive) and we took the scenic route in order to really experience some of the lesser seen parts of Scotland but it ended up being on of my favorite stretches along our trip.

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