With Perth in our rear view, we are off to Aberdeen, the city where the Dee and Don rivers meet the North Sea. Aberdeen will be the farthest north we stay on the eastern side of Scotland before we head west. While VisitScotland.com will tell you it is estimated that there were once up to 3,000 castles in Scotland, I for one, am going to try to see as many as possible.
With two already under my belt, Hoylroodhouse and Scone, our first stop on the castle tour of Aberdeenshire is Dunnottar Castle. Dunnottar is the first ruins site we have visited, but I am sure not our last. Mainly constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries, the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. What a sight to behold! The beautiful remains of Dunnottar sit against a backdrop that make postcards envious. While I had my doubts if I would make the long and steep walk to the castle, it was well worth the stops to catch my breath going in each direction. The crashing of the waves, the singing of the birds, and the quiet that accompanies a place uninhabited for hundreds of years, gives one time to pause in a busy day and feel the peace of the moment. Before we left Dunnottar, we walked down another slope to sit for just a moment by the sea and watch the waves before we started the long way up to the car. The rest on the rock and call of the sea readied us for the rest of our journey into Aberdeen.
Arriving in a new city is always a bit stressful but racing the clock to get to a place so you can begin your workday only adds to the stress. We have developed a routine of ‘checking in’ to our accommodations, unloading the car, and finding the closest store to get food for the next couple of days. Since my grandson is kind of a fussy eater and our trip is so long, it is sometimes easier and cheaper to eat breakfast and most dinners in the flat we rent. Our trip to Aberdeen was no exception. Since I took the morning off, we fortunately arrived in time for an early dinner out; we decided on Blackfriar’s Pub and what a good decision it was! Great food, good service (thank you Stephanie), and a bit of Jameson to get me going for work.
As our next day, Saturday, was work free, I mapped out a route full of Scottish countryside and castles! What was not known to me when planning this trip so many months ago, and maybe few of you, is that castles overall are only open from Thursday to Sunday and are closed all together from late September or early October until February! Given we are only in Aberdeen for the weekend, as many castles as we can see, we will!! So Saturday morning after breakfast, and I am sure way too early for my grandson, it is off to our round of castles. With the help of Google, I mapped out a route that took us to four castles and back to Aberdeen in a loop; planning perfection! Our circle trip, according to Google would take us about 85 miles and could be done, leaving one hour for each castle, back to our flat in time for dinner. Off we go!
Our first castle is Drum Castle. The tower of Drum was given to the Irvine family by Robert the Bruce in 1323, making it one of Scotland's oldest tower houses, with the manor house being built in the 15th century. Drum appeared to be one of the smaller castles we visited that day, but no less impressive. For centuries it was the seat of the chief of Clan Irvine, one of the many clans that fought at Culloden.
Not far from Drum, we next visit Crathes Castle. Crathes was built in the 16th century by Alexander Burnett with the Burnett family, living in the castle for over 350 years. As you can imagine, admission into the castles is, like pretty much everything else these days, impacted by Covid. At Crathes, you are given entrance times for admission as they are only allowing so many visitors at a time in the castle. Since our entrance time was not for another 30 minutes, the lovely lady at the ticket office suggested we visit the gardens. WOW, what a garden it is! While Crathes is another beautiful castle, its glory is in the gardens. With Yew hedges that date back to 1702 and its detailed plan and sections and uniquely sculptured hedges, it is probably one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.
While again like other castles we have seen, and will see in the future, Crathes Castle is beautiful. What stands out about the interior of the castle are the painted ceilings. Different rooms having different themes, some can be seen as clearly as they were 200 or more years ago, while others have been lost for the most part to time. A journey up and down another set of spiral castle steps end our visit to Crathes Castle. Craigievar Castle, here we come.
If you believe the National Trust of Scotland, who owns all the homes we toured Saturday, Craigievar Castle began in the Scottish Baronial style around 1576, and its iconic tower house is among the best preserved and the most loved in Scotland; its exterior remains virtually unchanged since William Forbes completed it in 1626. While the Germans may disagree, the beautiful pink castle is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. We, unfortunately, were unable to tour the inside of the castle even though we were there several hours before closing time because of Covid limitations. We did take a walk around the grounds close to the castle to see the plantings and the structure itself.
Not dismayed, we head to our last and final castle of the day, Castle Fraser. Before I tell you about it, let me let you in on a little secret if you are coming to Scotland to see castles. The National Trust of Scotland (NTS) owns a lot of them, all as a matter of fact, of the ones we visited on Saturday. Admission tickets to each castle is £14.50 per adult, so one would have amassed an expenditure of £87 for entry to three castles for two people! Do what I did, become a member of the trust and get entrance to all and many more for free. My senior plus one adult annual membership cost me £87.30 so now every other site owned by NTS is free!
As I mentioned our last for the day was Castle Fraser. Not sure of the true square footage, but I believe it was the largest of the castles we saw that day. Castle Fraser is said to be one of the largest tower houses in Scotland. Again we climbed up and then down the five floors of stone steps to see the wonder that is Castle Fraser. From its numerous portraits to a room full of stuffed animals heads and an entire stuffed dog, which DIDNOT sit well with my grandson AT ALL, to the strangely shaped tree trunks, and let’s not forgot, the amazing view from the top of the tower, Castle Fraser is not to be missed. With daylight still with us as it is only 1630 (4:30 for you that don’t know military time), we head back to our accommodations, dinner, and resting up for our Sunday adventures.
Sunday, our last full day in Aberdeen was a lazy kind of day and one of the coldest so far in Scotland. Other than the one evening of rain in Edinburgh we have been blessed with ‘un-Scotland’ like weather since arriving on these shores. Both of us a bit tired from yesterday, and me preparing for the long drive the next day, decided to just visit the Maritime Museum around the corner. The museum had an added bonus of free admission. So, off to see of ships we go! The museum has multiple floors that tell you the story of Aberdeen and its long, and sometimes difficult, relationship with the sea. From the shipbuilding done there, to the lives and sometimes deaths, of the people that made their livelihood on and around the harbor and waters of the North Sea. Enlighted on ways of the sea, we end our evening back at Blackfriars with another wonderful meal, the best of service (bless you Bee), and to get rested for our drive to Inverness! We have much more of Scotland to experience! Chì mi thu a dh 'aithghearr ("See you soon" in gaelic)