Let’s go...to Stone­haven

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

FEW towns in Scot­land have as per­fect a set­ting as Stone­haven. The nat­u­ral har­bour has long brought wealth and strate­gic im­por­tance to the town, as ev­i­denced by the pres­ence of an­cient Dun­not­tar cas­tle on the dra­matic cliffs above. Times change, of course, and the boom­ing fish­ing in­dus­try that once pow­ered Stone­haven has waned. But it still serves up some of the tasti­est fish sup­pers (and deep-fried Mars bars), and at­tracts tourists from around the world to its Hog­manay cel­e­bra­tions.

But you needn’t wait till win­ter to ex­pe­ri­ence the de­lights of Stone­hyve, or Stoney, as it is known lo­cally. And

whether you’re us­ing it as a base to tour the wider Aberdeen­shire area or fancy a day trip, you’ll find plenty to shout about.

His­toric high­lights

Stone­haven goes way back. A fos­sil of the old­est known land an­i­mal, a species of mil­li­pede, was found on the town’s Cowie beach in 2004. Peo­ple, mean­while, has been set­tled in the area since Ne­olithic times.

Dun­not­tar Cas­tle, an­ces­tral seat of the Keith fam­ily, be­came home to the Scot­tish hon­ours dur­ing the 13th cen­tury wars of in­de­pen­dence. In 1296, Ed­ward I of Eng­land took the cas­tle, which was re­claimed a year later by Wil­liam Wal­lace af­ter a lengthy siege. In the 17th cen­tury, the cas­tle was used as a prison for Covenan­ters.

Stone­haven was a Ja­co­bite strong­hold dur­ing the re­bel­lions of 1715 and 1745.

Dur­ing the 19th cen­tury the town be­came a ma­jor cen­tre for the her­ring trade. Ma­rine ser­vices and tourism are now the most prom­i­nent lo­cal in­dus­tries.

What to do

Housed in a 500-year-old build­ing over­look­ing the har­bour, the Tol­booth Mu­seum (stone­haven­tol­booth.co.uk) is the per­fect place to dis­cover more about Stone­haven and its peo­ple. The Tol­booth once served as a prison, and some of the best ex­hibits are the an­cient pun­ish­ments – in­clud­ing stocks and a crank – meted out to in­mates. Free en­try, closed on Tues­days.

Once you’ve ex­plored the quaint and bustling har­bour, keep on go­ing to the beach, which is great for tir­ing out dogs and young­sters alike.

Ac­cord­ing to Es­ther Balles­teros, no visit to Stone­haven could be com­plete with­out tak­ing the scenic walk up to Dunot­tar Cas­tle, a 90-minute round trip. “The views are just amaz­ing. Along­side the cas­tle it­self and the beau­ti­ful cliffs, Stone­haven war me­mo­rial is also re­ally in­ter­est­ing. And it’s an easy route for peo­ple of all ages and abil­i­ties.”

The cas­tle it­self (dun­nottar­cas­tle. co.uk) is sim­ply spec­tac­u­lar, its iconic ru­ins jut­ting out into the sea on rocks formed 440 mil­lion years ago, mak­ing it a treat for his­tory and pho­tog­ra­phy buffs. Film fans will recog­nise Dun­not­tar from Franco Zef­firelli’s 1990 pro­duc­tion of Ham­let, star­ring Mel Gib­son and Glenn Close.

Though it is now closed for the sea­son, Stone­haven’s heated open-air swim­ming pool (stone­havenope­nair­pool.co.uk) is a huge draw on sum­mer days.

The much-re­spected Stone­haven Folk Fes­ti­val takes place ev­ery July, and in win­ter the Stone­haven Fire­balls Fes­ti­val (stone­haven­fire­balls.co.uk), which fea­tures a pa­rade of brave souls swing­ing flam­ing spheres around their heads on Hog­manay, makes for a spec­tac­u­lar way to greet the new year.

Where to eat

For the ul­ti­mate fish sup­per, go to the town’s Car­ron Fish Bar on Al­lardice Street, which also claims to be the birth­place of the deep-fried Mars bar, Scot­land’s most con­tro­ver­sial food item. Hero or vil­lain? You de­cide.

Nina Holmes gives her vote to an­other lo­cal chippy, The Bay, on Beach Road. “This place is so good the queue is usu­ally out the door. The fish and chips are just sub­lime in their wee card­board box – it re­ally is the best chip­per in the north east. And Betty’s Ice Cream next door is also great – they even do ice cream for your dog!”

If you’re look­ing for a proper sit­down meal, The Ship Inn on Shore­head (ship­inn­stone­haven.com) has an ex­ten­sive menu of seafood, meat and veg­e­tar­ian dishes. The fish slid­ers, lightly bat­tered se­lec­tion of “fritto misto” and mus­sels are a treat. The nearby Ma­rine Ho­tel is also likely to en­tice food­ies with its fo­cus on qual­ity seafood and game cooked with sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents.

If it’s cof­fee and cake you’re af­ter, lo­cal An­drew New­ton rec­om­mends the Sham­rock and This­tle in Ar­buth­nott Place. “The waf­fles and crepes are to die for,” he says. He also nom­i­nates the newly re­fur­bished Car­ron to Mumbai In­dian restau­rant in Cameron Street, with its “good rep­u­ta­tion and art deco set­ting”. Es­ther adds The Wa­ter­front Café Bar into the mix. “Cheap, good fish and

The views are just amaz­ing. Along­side the cas­tle it­self and the beau­ti­ful cliffs, Stone­haven war me­mo­rial is also re­ally in­ter­est­ing. It’s an easy route for peo­ple of all ages and abil­i­ties.

chips and mac ’n’ cheese, and the best views to the North Sea.”

She also had tea and cake in The Villa in Ar­buth­nott Place. “Cosy in­te­rior, cakes are great and the staff are su­per nice!”

Where to drink

The afore­men­tioned Ma­rine Ho­tel has been serv­ing pun­ters since 1884 in its at­mo­spheric bar. Great se­lec­tion of Bel­gian and craft beers, wines and whisky, in­clud­ing those made in its own brew­ery. The Ship Inn has more than 100 malt whiskies, while the beer gar­den at the Sta­tion Ho­tel on Ar­duthie Road is a hit in sum­mer.

Troupers Bar on Bar­clay Street also pro­vides a warm wel­come, and if you’re will­ing to travel a cou­ple of miles out­side the town, the cosy Lairhillock Inn has an open fire and nooks and cran­nies ga­lore.

Where to stay

Sea view: If you want to soak up the har­bour­side at­mos­phere, The Ship Inn, built in 1771, has sea view rooms from

£125. The Ma­rine Ho­tel also of­fers views of the har­bour, with rooms from £110.

Value: Ho­tel and Restau­rant Num­ber 44 on Al­lardice Street has cosy dou­bles from £60.

Tran­quil: If you’re look­ing to get away from it all, Mergie Bothie is a beau­ti­fully ren­o­vated cot­tage in the grounds of Mergie Cas­tle, over­look­ing the river and for­est, and sur­rounded by open coun­try­side. Sleeps four, from £39 a night. Go to Airbnb.co.uk.

Fa­mous faces

Many, in­clud­ing First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon, would put Sun­set Song at the top of their list of favourite Scot­tish nov­els. Its au­thor Lewis Gras­sic Gib­bon (real name James Les­lie Mitchell) grew up in Stone­haven, at­tend­ing the town’s Mackie Academy.

Robert Wil­liam Thom­son, in­ven­tor of the pneu­matic tyre and the foun­tain pen, was also born in the town.

Where to visit nearby

Just south of Stone­haven is the RSPB re­serve on the spec­tac­u­lar cliffs at Fowl­sheugh.

Dur­ing the spring and sum­mer months, 130,000 breed­ing se­abirds in­clud­ing guille­mots, kit­ti­wakes, puffins and ful­mars pack in, but the views and walks are spec­tac­u­lar through­out the year. From this lofty height you might also spot grey seals and dol­phins be­low. Rspb.org.uk

The Gras­sic Gib­bon Cen­tre (gras­sicgib­bon.com) is a 20-minute drive from Stone­haven and gives a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the life and work of the Sun­set Song au­thor, who set much of his work in the fer­tile Mearns coun­try­side you can see all around. There’s also a cafe, shop, ex­hi­bi­tion space and chil­dren’s play area.

You can eas­ily spend a day at Crathes Cas­tle and Gar­den (nts.org.uk/visit/ places/crathes-cas­tle), 30-min­utes’ drive west of Stone­haven.

As well as the house it­self, one of the best ex­am­ples of Scots ba­ro­nial ar­chi­tec­ture , the ex­ten­sive grounds are home to buz­zards, herons and king­fish­ers. Look out, too, for the year­round spe­cial events, from ghost tours to na­ture walks.

There’s a good choice of pubs and restau­rants in the town

Hog­manay is spec­tac­u­lar in Stone­haven. Pic­ture: Getty

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