Dunnottar Castle, a seriously good day out by rail. Only two and a half hours from our capital city to Stonehaven, then an hour walk to the castle.
|train sketches - Burntisland to Stonehaven|
A beautiful journey by train up Scotland's east coast - the Forth Estuary and three Forth Bridges - the Fife coast; the wide bay of Burntisland, where I stay; the River Tay and Tay Bridge (look down at the remaining pillars from the collapsed old bridge); the coastline on the approach to Arbroath (look out for the miniature railway on the sea-side just before the town. In summer you often see a train pulling families along it); the red-sand Angus farmland; Montrose Basin - fantastic wetland site with Scottish Wildlife Trust visitor centre (if you're really really really lucky you might spot an osprey or even a sea eagle from the train. I've watched an osprey diving for fish whilst I was standing on platform 1). And then you're alighting in Stonehaven.
|Montrose Basin - spot an osprey?|
And three and a half hours after leaving Edinburgh you've walked along seabird cliffs above sweeping bay and are looking across to Dunnottar Castle on its almost-island clifftop plateau.
|Dunnottar Castle, biro in sketchbook|
From Stonehaven station
Take the main road east into the town centre passing lovely old houses, plant-filled front gardens - hardly any have yet been slabbed to replace wildlife with car. Fifteen minutes sees you in the town centre where you can start with a café break or choose which to visit after you've done your walk.
From Stonehaven town centre the walk is under two miles. Other than a first short uphill section out of the harbour it's really not strenuous.
Walk down to the shore path and turn right, following the sea until you reach the harbour. Overlooking the harbour is a 16th Century storehouse building which now houses the Tolbooth Museum - free entry. When you've explored continue along the inner harbour wall, buildings on your right, harbour on your left, until you see a brown sign to Dunnottar Castle on a wall somewhere. Follow the direction it points you in, through housing until you're on the steep path up to the clifftops. The sign isn't totally obvious so if you aren't clear just ask someone.
From up here it's easy. Head towards the hilltop war memorial along a well maintained path between two fields. When you get to the brow of that hill you'll see Dunnottar Castle, two bays away. If you're not keen on cliffs you can follow a fairly quiet country road to the castle car park instead.
Dunnottar Castle is open to visitors daily, currently costs £6 per adult. Check online and by phoning before you make your journey. There are toilets in the castle (though when we were there they closed ten minutes before castle-closing time) and in the summer season there's a picnic van on site (by the car park).
|follow this monument to reach Dunnottar|
|keep eyes open for peregrines|
|pen in sketchbook|
|The Whig's Vault. Pretty bad. Read the words in the next photo.|
Great wildlife all along the shore and cliffs. Here's everything we saw between (and including) the harbour and the castle:
Curlew - 30+
Fulmar - 90+
Guillemot - 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Oystercatcher - 70+
Shag - 5
Hooded Crow/Carrion-Hooded hybrid - 2
Cormorant - 7+
Great Black-backed Gull
Peregrine - 1
Total number of species - 21
AND - dolphins! Four or more, fins rising and falling in the choppy waves. There for ten minutes or more. (At times whales have been seen from here too)
And quite a few grey seals.
|dolphins were out beyond those rocks|
A page from my book
We had it typically 'Scottish' this time - wet mist and drizzle. The castle looked stunning in it! But look at pages 35 - 36 of my book for a sunnier scene.
Landscapes & Birds of Scotland, an Artist's View cost s £20 from Jeremy Mills Publishing or ordered through your local bookshop. Signed copies available directly from me or from lovely independent bookshop Far From the Madding Crowd, Linlithgow.
How to get there
Stonehaven is two to two and a half hours by train from Edinburgh Waverley, just under an hour from Dundee, and under twenty minutes from Aberdeen.
Find the ScotRail timetable here.
Many thanks to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail work.