A Mountains to the Sea Travel Guide:
Prepare for a beautiful and diverse drive. Driving through the northeast corner of Cairngorms National Park is spectacular - filled with mountains, hillsides, terrain changes, sheep, a ski resort, and a handful of castles to explore.
When Leaving from Dufftown or Aberlour - Fuel Up!
Make sure you not only fuel up with petrol, but it's not a bad idea to take advantage of your B&B's fine Scottish breakfast. There are lots of places to explore in the Cairngorms, but not a lot of services, so pack some trail mix and take some water as well. You may find yourself wanting to spend extra time exploring.
As you will see, there were a ton of pinpoints on my map, but because of limited time I only made it to just a few. But this works just as well as a sightseeing drive with spectacular views though your car window. To follow my route and have a very scenic start, set your GPS from Dufftown or Aberlour to the Glenlivet Distillery.
Location: Google Map | No charge
Surprises will happen on your drive. I had no idea this castle was here but saw signs for it as I drove through. Now, don't get this confused with Drummond Castle in Perthshire. Drummond features world-renowned castle gardens. Drumin Castle on the other hand boasts a beautiful countryside that will remind you of the reasons you came to Scotland in the first place. You'll find lots of sheep, a lovely view of the River Livet, and a good bit of exercise. There is a parking lot below the castle and then a steep climb to the ruins which feature a tower and some historical information.
While it is true, I am on a Castles and Drams Tour of Scotland, I unfortunately didn't have time to do a tour or tasting at Glenlivet.
However, I did drive up to the buildings to see what the campus looked like. What I found was one of the most beautiful settings I've seen for a distillery. It's worth a drive up to see the dark stone buildings, the warehouses, and if you have time - a tour. Make sure to ask for a driver's pack if you are getting back on the road.
Next, set your GPS for Corgarff Castle in Cock Bridge and prepare for some more diverse Highlands scenery. On your way, you'll pass another distillery called Tomnavoulin which started in 1966, ceased operations in 1995, and sprung back to life in 2007. Right now, it appears they don't do tours but you can admire the lovely entrance. The suffix "voulin" might look familiar to scotch fans (Lagavulin). In Gaelic, vulin means "mill."
More of the Cairngorms await you. In many ways, you'll feel like you've found the most private place on Earth as you make your way up through mountains and glens.
Lecht Day Lodge
Location: Strathdon AB37 9ES, UK
You've reached the top of the mountains where you get here and you'll begin your descent towards the sea. The landscape makes a drastic change with lots of brown seemingly desolate patches, but look at the winding road ahead and browns begin to turn green. The grade will be a challenge for cyclists at times, reaching 20%. Also, before you head this way in the late-Fall and Winter, you may want to make sure the road is open.
For more on Cairngorms National Park, check out their excellent website: www.visitcairngorms.com.
Location: 8m W of Strathdon on the, A939, Strathdon AB36 8YP, UK | £6 or free with Explorer Pass
Only open between April and September, Corgarff Castle lives in Scottish legend with the song Edom O'Gordon that recalls the events in 1571 when 26 people died in the castle, including Margaret Campbell of the Forbes clan, her children and others. Edom is thought to be Adam Gordon of Auchindoun and the man who set the fire. The Forbes and Gordons were sworn enemies.
The castle was burned multiple times by Jacobite supporters but rebuilt. It was also used as a strategic military staging point for the Marquis of Montrose. In the mid-1700's the British government took it over and used it for military barracks.
After this stop, you'll need to calibrate your GPS to Kildrummy Castle in Alford.
Glenbuchat Castle and Area
Everything about this spot said beware! No trespassing. Even the sheep seemed a little upset with me walking up to the metal fence that separated me from this castle in the distance. If you look hard, you can see the scaffolding over the structure. It appears Historic Scotland might be preparing this ruin for future viewing, but right now, it is nothing but a parking lot and a distant view.
Read the sign in the parking area (view PDF below) and it gives you a rich history of this area with origins as far back as Scotland-herself. It might be worth a little extra time to take on the surrounding area with some hiking. Many of the structures appear to have long since disappeared, but the more I read the contents of this sign, the more I think this place is worth returning to.
Location: Kildrummy, Alford AB33 8RA, UK | £6 or free with Explorer Pass
"Fire, siege, and treachery!" So says the sign on the red building. This is another castle that is only open from April to September, as well as lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 in the afternoon.
This must have been a grand castle in it's day. The ruins show several towers. The original castle is one of the oldest in eastern Scotland, dating back to the mid-13th Century. It was once a royal residence and was laid siege to multiple times. There is a garden here to visit as well as the castle ruins.
A Side Note About Castle Opening Times
If you want to see these castles and ruins, you'll want to head out a little later than I did. It was still before 10 AM when I drove through here, so everything was shut down. And although many told me of the 2003 act that permits "the freedom to roam" on other's property, if you read the law closely, you'll see that stepping on these grounds that charge admission (even though I had my Historic Scotland Explorer Pass) could lead to legal troubles.
There are other historic spots to investigate before you get to the Angus Coast and pink sand beach, if you decide to extend your trip.
- Craigievar Castle - this is one I'm sorry I missed. It looks like a pink fairy tale castle from what I've seen of it. Built in the 17th Century, it is run by the National Trust of Scotland. (Location | Website | Explorer Pass: Not accepted | Cost: £13)
- Dunnottar Castle - to be featured in a future post and about a 45 minute drive north of the Red Castle.
Accessing the Red Castle
Is that a dog looking out to sea? No, that is the Red Castle. And this is one time when I'll tell you to ignore your GPS. It will get you close to where you want to go, but this road is closed to traffic and the one getting to this spot is narrow and single track, so you're better off turning down the road I advise you to. Plus, the castle is too fragile for you to walk around.
Pink Sand Beach and Lunan Bay (Angus Coast)
Parking Location: Unnamed Road, Arbroath DD11 5ST, UK
You will find that losing your car in massive potholes is worth it when you finally get here. The road to the parking lot says they are not responsible for damage to your car, which is a cryptic way of saying - this road is literally hell on wheels! But take it anyway. Just go very slow as you make your way to the parking lot.
Once out of the car, prepare to get sand in your shoes as you walk down to the beach.
What a year it has been. I got to walk a green sand and black sand beach in Hawaii, a white sand beach in Mexico, and now a pink sand beach on the Angus Coast. The color of the sand really stands out against the green and tan grasses growing on the hillside. A beautiful, but windy spot to sit, relax and reflect on the day's journey.
Humpbacked whales and killer whales as well as bottle-nosed dolphins patrol the waters of Lunan Bay.
Once on the beach, turn to the right (South) and make your way a few hundred meters to the inlet where the Red Castle sits high on the hill.
A welcome sign notes the castle is in a "serious state of disrepair." I would say so. There is very little of it left, but it is still fun to imagine what this castle looked like with it's beautiful red sandstone façade towering over the inlet and beach. It was built originally for King William the Lion in the 12th Century to protect the bay against Viking invaders and also as a hunting lodge. Robert the Bruce used this castle as well. In 1328, Robert I gifted the castle to the Earl of Ross. In the late 16th Century the castle came under multiple attacks and in 1770 it's roof was removed. It's proximity to the elements most likely are a factor in it's decline and it is unsafe to visit beyond seeing it from below. Still, a marvel to view.
Next stop, one of the inspirations for the movie Brave and a site used in the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet - Dunnottar Castle.