Inverness to Fochabers / Spey Bay to Aberdeen / Porthlethan to St.Andrews


- from the Gaelic, first recorded in 1295 as Cinn CMrdain meaning the end of a copse or a thicket - "wood end"

Kincardineshire is basically a coastal county, low-lying rather than mountainous. Dotted throughout the county are some of Scotland's most splendid castles, some are little more than ruins, recalling turbulent centuries of Scottish history while others survive as massive stone forts still capable of withstanding a siege. A few are simply fairy-tale structures with castellated towers and conical roofed turrets.


Fishing and farming are the traditional industries. Spinning flourished here in the 19th century but has since declined. The weather is what is euphemistically termed `bracing'. East winds prevail, frequently bringing the damp sea mist known locally as a 'haar.'


PortlethenThere are several modern dormitory towns south of Aberdeen, three old fishing settlements of Portlethen Village, Findon and Downies. Most of the cottages at Portlethen have been restored as commuter homes, but lobster boats still work from a pebbly cove.

Newtonhill retains its original clifftop fishing village and down a curving flight of steps there are fishermen's huts. A path along the cliffs at Muchalls overlooks an imposing natural arch, through which the tide pours and there are some hidden original attractive 19th century cottages.


The shore all the way south of Aberdeen is rocky, but there is a small sandy bay at the foot of cliffs at Skatie Shore. Garron Point marks the eastern end of the great Highland Boundary Fault, a huge fracture in the rock which runs straight across Scotland towards the Firth of Clyde on the West Coast. Cowie, has a separate fishing quarter called Boatie Row which is a street of cottages leading to a stake-net drying green. From there a stepped footpath continues along the cliff top to the ruins of the 13th century St Mary of the Storms Church which has a dramatic sea view.

StonehavenWe stopped at the pleasing little town of Stonehaven and found the tourist information centre. We spent some time walking around the market place, pebbly beach and the supermarket.

StonehavenThe town is centred on the elegant Market Buildings of 1826 and looks prosperous. At the northern end of town, there is an amusement park, caravan site and sandy beach. The Tolbooth Museum recalls the time in 1748, when a group of imprisoned Episcopalian ministers secretly baptised children brought to their cell window by fishermen's wives.

StonehavenA breezy promenade across Carron Water leads to the old town where yachts and fishing boats shelter in the harbour.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar CastleThe only way to describe this castle is ‘Wow’ – the building is impressive and the setting is worthy of a film set. In fact, the BBC used it as one of their 'Red balloon' shots between programmes.

(BBC - please bring back the red balloons - the dancing is awful!)

This ruined 14th century fortress stands on a huge impregnable rock, separated from the mainland by a deep ravine and an awful lot of steps.

PiperIt was buzzing with visitors who were being welcomed by a piper at the entrance. Some of the rooms have been restored and furnished. There is such a network of buildings it was difficult to see them all. From some, the views over the cliffs were stunning with flying seagulls appearing to be stationary below us on the wind.

Dunnottar CastleThe castle was involved in many historical episodes, and was virtually demolished after the 1715 Jacobite Rising before being partly restored in 1925. A tunnel entrance leads up towards the top level where the surviving buildings stand. In its long and stormy history, William Wallace captured the castle from the English in 1296 and it was subsequently besieged by the armies of Balliol, Bruce, Montrose and Cromwell.

Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve

Todhead Point LighthouseThis reserve houses one of Britain's greatest sea bird colonies with more than 100 000 kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills, guillemots. A footpath from Crawton village leads to a grassy clifftop that looks down on inlets, towers and rock stacks. A grassy amphitheatre plunges down to a tiny harbour in Catterline where houses originally built for fishermen stand on the clifftop and we could see Todhead Point Lighthouse.

The Old Kirk outside Kinneff village dates from 1738, but there has been a church on the site since around 700 AD. When Cromwell's troops forced the surrender of Dunnottar Castle, where the crown jewels were kept, they had already been smuggled out by the parish minister's wife and hidden in the Old Kirk. It was only in 1660, with peace restored, that the Honours returned to the state's ownership.


InverbervieThe burgh was granted its charter in 1341, after King David II was shipwrecked on the coast and was treated well by local folk. It is now another small commuter town for Aberdeen.

The most famous son of ‘Bervie’ was Hercules Linton, designer of the great tea-clipper Cutty Sark. Unfortunately, it is tatty by the beach and campsite and not in the least appealing.

barometerGourdon is one of the last fishing villages in Scotland where 19th century trawling methods are still used and one boat still uses baited lines.

GourdonAt the harbour there is a barometer built into a granite pillar that is a Victorian memorial to the seafaring men of Gourdon. It did look rather the worst for wear though.


Johnshaven - fishingWe were too late to visit the Mill of Benholm, a restored working water-powered meal mill. Instead we went in search of a place to stay and arrived at Johnshaven, which used to be a highly productive fishing port. Many of its young men drifted away from the sea, partly because of the navy press gangs.

Rows of cottages lead down to a working harbour, where lobsters and salmon are sold. There seems to be some work going on to improve the sea shore, but when we arrived only piles of junk and heaps of gravel greeted us. We made a quick ‘U’ turn at the entrance to the campsite.

St. CyrusAlthough St. Cyrus lies near riverbanks, salt marshes, sand dunes, cliffs and a sandy beach, the town has 2 large churches, 3 campsites and is dull.

St CyrusThere is a visitor centre, originally a 19th century lifeboat station, that can be reached by a footbridge built by a troop of Gurkhas in 1985.


Named after Angus, son of Fergus, an 8th century king of the Picts. Angus may be relatively small in size, but more than makes up for it in variety.

On the broad Vale of Strathmore the distinctive black, hornless Aberdeen Angus cattle graze - providers of the best beef in the world. On the coast, lie dramatic red sandstone headlands, slowly eroded by the sea and weather, interspersed with some glorious beaches, and some of the world's finest golf courses.


This is one of the most historic corners of the British Isles. There are a number of `vitrified forts' which are actually artificial ramparts of granite that have been fused together by great heat, presumably in pre-historic times. They are a mystery, since though great deciduous forests are known to have been present at one time, and enormous oaks and ashes have been found in peat bogs, even if the entire country had been deforested to supply the fires, there would have been nothing like enough. At the same time, there were no coal-workings at such an early date.


parish churchAt the end of the day, we arrived at the beach at Montrose and finally found a nice campsite - run by the Angus Council. Despite the presence of the enormous rumbling Glaxo factory, it is a nice site next to the sand dunes - and it was empty. Apparently most of the town’s workforce are employed at the factory now.

A massive disused flax mill runs along the street to the site; it can’t be pulled down as it is listed and was used as a bonded warehouse until recently. Grassy expanses between the town and its sandy beach provide space for two golf courses, playing fields and strolling areas.

Montrose - railwayThe town is centred on a port and a North Sea oil supply base. The buildings are predominantly Georgian including the golden-domed Montrose Academy and the Museum. We walked into the town, heading straight for the soaring spire of the parish church that is a landmark for miles around.

To the west is an enormous tidal basin that is a reserve for many species of bird. The railway runs along the eastern side and over a bridge at the estuary.

Scurdle Ness'Big Peter', the curfew bell which is rung each night at I0pm in Montrose, gets its name from Peter Ostens, the craftsman who cast it in Rotterdam more than 300 years ago.

At the mouth of the River South Esk is the white tower of Scurdle Ness Lighthouse, which stands at the northern end of a craggy coastline down to Boddin Point where there is a rock eroded into the shape of an elephant's head.

Lunan BayNext morning we crossed the pretty bridge at Lunan Bay and could see the rust-coloured ruin of aptly named Red Castle, thought to have been built in the 15th century. Lunan Bay has a long, sandy beach cut in half by the mouth of Lunan Water. The cliffs rise up again from here, all the way south to Arbroath.


Smokie shopUntil the beginning of the 20th century Auchmithie was one of the busiest fishing villages in the district of Angus. It is from here that the famous Arbroath Smokie originated - haddock cured slowly over a beechwood fire. In the early morning, fish are landed at the port and around the harbour, several shops were selling ‘smokies’ and we could see the fish being smoked on racks.

Signal TowerWe parked near the Signal Tower, now a museum,where messages used to be relayed to the Bell Rock Lighthouse a dozen miles offshore. There is a great deal of arable farming around here, including vast areas of bright yellow rape seed.

Arbroath harbourUntil the end of the 19th century, the town was principally a trading harbour but today Arbroath is a holiday resort, with a large beach and a miniature railway that has been operating since 1935.

Arbroath AbbeyArbroath Abbey was built in 1178 and dedicated by the Scottish King William the Lion to his martyred friend Thomas Becket. It was important because the Declaration of Arbroath was signed here in 1320; this was a re-affirmation of Scotland's independence.

The Abbotts House is in particularly good condition and there is a visitor centre that includes a very good video.


CarnoustieParts of this coast seem to be end-to-end golf courses, our next stop was Carnoustie, which has three. The British Open Championship was first staged at the posh club in 1931 and was held here last year, as the colourful banners on the lampposts told us.

ShoppingThe railway runs parallel and close to the coast. South of the railway, Barry Buddon is a flat triangular area surrounding the links, part of which is an army firing range that is closed to the public. It is all surrounded by wide sands dunes. A little further on, the town of Monifieth is similarly golfy, with a fair smattering of hotels and golf shops.

Broughty FerryThe beach continues to Broughty Ferry, where many of Dundee's wealthiest Victorian businessmen built grand houses and helped to found both the Royal Tay Yacht Club and the Forfarshire Cricket Club. Originally a 15th century fortress, the castle is now a museum of local history, including displays on the old whaling industry.

We had extreme difficulty finding a way across the railway to the castle as there were several low bridges, steep hills or level crossings. When we got there, the car park was cut off by road works!


Tay BridgeWe were now well into the large Tay Estuary and the suburbs of Dundee. The Firth of Tay, spanned by both road and rail bridges, is one of the best deep-water harbours on Britain's North Sea coast and the dockyards are still busy.

Jute FactoryDundee is one of Scotland's most prosperous, but ugliest cities. The city of 'jute, jam and journalism' retains only its magazine publishing industry now. It has been a whaling base, a home to manufacturers of jute products, confectionery, jam and marmalade and now hi-tech industries.

The invention of bitter orange marmalade was ascribed to James Keiller who bought Seville oranges cheaply and in bulk from a Spanish ship seeking refuge from a storm in the port. Because they were bitter, the Keillers couldn't sell the oranges, so Mrs Keiller made them into a conserve. Alongside Keiller's has come the famous Dundee cake. There are tours of Shaw's traditional Dundee Sweet Factory and of the Verdant Works, a restored 19th century jute and flax mill.

Claypotts CastleThe city is modern looking with its open roadways and malls, although there is some Victorian architecture. In the heart of the city is Dundee Law, a 571ft volcanic crag, from where there are panoramic views. Claypotts Castle is a complete 16th century tower house, the McManus Galleries feature history and Scottish paintings, while Barrack Street Museum concentrates on natural history. The Mills Observatory, opened in 1953, is Britain's only full-time public observatory.

DiscoveryDundee is home to two notable historic ships, the frigate Unicorn is one of Britain's oldest ships still afloat, while the Royal Research Ship Discovery was built here in 1901 for Captain Scott's voyages to the Antarctic.

Discovery interiorThere is an interesting visitor centre for the Discovery and we spent a long time touring the ship as well. It is beautifully preserved with all the cabins set out as they would have been on a voyage.

Since the 11th century, Dundee has seen a lot of bloodshed and has picked the wrong side to be on in all of its conflicts: In 1288 William Wallace, began his struggle against the English when he killed the son of the English Constable of Dundee. In 1517 it was plundered by forces of Henry VIII. In 1645 it was stormed by Montrose, then sacked again in 1651 by General Monk.

We crossed the road bridge into a new county to find somewhere less pillaged.


Although it is not very large and the weather is pretty grim, Fife is a charming Kingdom of its own. The Kingdom referred to dates back 1,600 years to the time when the Picts occupied this small peninsula. Fife remains much as it always has been, green, tranquil, historically interesting, full of sights to see and things to do ... especially golf, golf and more golf.


Tay bridgeBounded by Road and Rail Bridges, Newport looks directly across the Tay to Dundee. We paid the toll to drive across the Road Bridge which was completed in 1966. It is over a mile long and has 42 spans with a high point of 120ft to allow passage of ships. The Rail Bridge is two miles long and was opened in 1888.

It is only a few metres from the site of the original ill-designed cast-iron bridge that collapsed during a storm within a year of its opening. A train was crossing, and all 75 people on board died as it plunged into the sea. The disaster halted the building of the original Forth Bridge, which was redesigned as a consequence.

TayportOriginally known as Ferryport-on-Craig, Tayport used to be the southern terminal for the widest ferry crossing until the opening of the Road Bridge. The Tentsmuir Forest lies between the Tay and Eden estuaries, covering fifteen square miles and fringed by the wide sandy Kishaldy Beach.

Extensive plantations of Scots and Corsican pine are the home of roe deer, squirrels and crossbills. Special roosting sites have attracted several species of bat including pipistrelles, common long-eared bats and Natterer's.


RAF LeucharsThe massive RAF base at Leuchars was first used in 1911 for military balloon experiments. Nimrod jets of Coastal Command now thunder in the airspace above this once, marshland village and it is the scene of Scotland's biggest air show every September. In the attractive old part of Leuchars village, the Church of St Athernase is one of the loveliest Norman churches in Scotland.

St Andrews

Golf is said to have had its origins at St Andrews and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club occupies a leading position, attracting golfers from all over the world. It was founded in 1745 and is the ruling body for the sport worldwide, except in the USA - which has to be different! In the 15th century it had just 12 holes, and it is unique in that it evolved from `natural' play and was never designed. The Old Course is on the northern edge of the town in full view of several streets and a right of way called Grannie Clark's Wynd crosses the 1st and 18th fairways.

St Andrews BaySt Regulus is supposed to have founded the city of St Andrews; his ship foundered in the 4th century whilst carrying the relics of St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. The ruined castle became the Bishops Palace, notorious for its rule of terror in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many martyrs to the cause of the Reformation were burnt at the stake. John Knox brought the fight right to the archbishop but he was captured by a French squadron in 1547, defending the castle and was taken to the galleys in Nantes.

St Andrews CastleJames Sharp, a Presbyterian, converted to the Church of Scotland and became Bishop of St Andrews. He persecuted the Covenanters and reputedly delayed the news of a reprieve so that 12 were still hanged and he had 200 others imprisoned in the hold of an unseaworthy ship on the pretext of shipping them to the colonies, but ordered the master to founder the vessel on rocks. He was murdered on Magus Moor in 1679.

countermineThere is a low tunnel under the walls which is a mine and countermine; invaders were digging to get into the castle but were ambushed by the castle’s occupants who were digging in the opposite direction.

In the Middle Ages, the harbour thrived on trade with the Low Countries and St Andrews was the spiritual capital. It soon became the first seat of learning with the nation's first university, founded in 1410 and the third oldest in Britain. It was the first to take a female student in I862. In medieval times, the students were obliged to wear red cloaks - and they still do.

South Street gatewayIt is a beautiful old town with super buildings and streets – "like a cloister with the roof off". South Street, entered through a 16th century gateway, has narrow alleys branching off it known as 'rigs'.

St Andrews CathedralThe street leads to the ruin of 12th century St Andrews Cathedral that was consecrated in 1318 and was the largest in Scotland. We climbed to the top of St.Rule’s Tower, up a very long winding staircase to see wonderful views of the town where we met a couple from Birmingham.

As it was getting late, we went to a caravan club site inland near Glenrothes called Balbirnie Park. The estate is huge and was sold by the Balfour family to the town Development Corporation. It is now an exceptionally well maintained public park with a golf club, craft centre and expensive hotel. We spent the evening wandering through the park and hardly saw anyone.

We were running out of time, so the next day we decided to head south.