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Hidden history: Stonehaven - History Scotland travel for Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology 2017


Neil McLennan explores the history of Stonehaven and surrounding areas.

Listen to Neil's tour of Stonehaven in the History Scotland - Hidden Histories podcast.

For more on events during the year of History, Heritage & Archaeology 2017, read History Scotland magazine.

Visitors entering Stonehaven from Arbuthnott get a glorious site of perhaps once of Scotland’s most splendid and photographed castles. Dunnottar Castle has been used in many photo shoots, movies and as the backdrop for many history tales. 

The scene is a dramatic one, with the castle perched on top of a cliff with waves lapping all around the steep crevasse at the bottom of its heights.  Whilst medieval in its origins, what remains for visitors to explore are 15th and 16th century buildings.

The castle was captured by William Wallace (who is said to have burned the English prisoners he took in its church); held a key role in the Jacobite risings; but is perhaps best known for the Honours of Scotland (Scottish crown jewels) being hidden there from the invading Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. 

Those crown jewels did not stay there forever though; a place too obvious to hide such a treasure.  Nearby Kinneff Kirk stewarded the important symbols of Royal Rule under the pulpit from 1651 until the 1660 Restoration. 

Having weaved through the north east in a similar fashion to invading armies or the hidden jewels, we return to the town itself, along the coastal pathway from Dunnottar Castle to the Great War Memorial that sits above the town aloft Black Hill. 

The view from the War Memorial and its list of names from the Somme, Ypes, Gallipoli, Jutland, the Marne, Mons and other significant conflicts is at odds with the bloody battles it signifies.  The peaceful view over the north east coastline, its fishing boats and the Mearns farmland takes you back to what this town was famous for and what it contributed to Scotland.

A final walk down the Bervie Braes gives a magnificent site of the harbour and there’s no better place to end your tour than in one of the fine hostelries that nestle around the harbour’s edge. The Tolbooth offers fine seafood dining, with both the Marine and Ship Inn serving great local fare.

Where to visit

  • Town House Museum
  • Tolbooth Museum
  • Linton Memorial
  • Grassic Gibbon Centre
  • Dunnottar Castle
  • Kineff Church
  • Stonehaven War Memorial
  • Burns Cairn
  • Burns Memorial Garden
  • Art Deco Pool

Where to stay

Being a former Victorian holiday retreat, the town of Stonehaven offers a plethora of hotel and B&B accommodation in some grand old houses.  In the summer these are busy with Scottish, British and foreign tourists alike, many of whom also stay at the recently reopened caravan park next to nearby Cowie fishing village. 

In the town itself, Arduthie House offers warm and hospitable welcome.  Recently returned to its former glory by Rod and Lesley, this Georgian Town House not only has six aptly named and decorated bedrooms but also a welcoming tea room on the ground floor.  It is within easy walking distance of the harbour, the baech, the summer opening heated open air pool and historic visitor attractions.  It is also within walking distance to the train station which would allow train travel to Aberdeen within fifteen minutes.

Another option, for bigger groups, is to hire the nearby Fawsyde House at Kinneff.  This Victorian mansion is built in the style of a grand Scottish hunting lodge.  Along with an expansive garden, stone statues and beautiful lawns and woodland, there is also a Gothic folly to be explored in its grounds.  Built in 1835 it was once the home of Lord and Lady Colville.

Enjoy the first part of Neil’s hidden history adventures in the January/February issue of History Scotland.



(Images; Dunnottar Castle © macieklew; war memorial © Carlos Menendez; Stonehaven © Colin Smith)

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