Peterhead is a harbour town in Aberdeenshire in North East Scotland. Its fishing industry collapsed in the 20th century with overfishing, restrictive catch limits, and competition from EU trawlers. The town later revived through servicing the oil industry, but that too has passed. Peterhead's notorious prison is now a museum, and there are rugged scenic cliffs to the south.
For long distance routes, see Aberdeen. Peterhead is 31 miles north of Aberdeen on A90, which continues to Fraserburgh.
Stagecoach North Scotland Bus 61 runs every two hours from Aberdeen via Ellon P&R and Cruden Bay to Peterhead, taking 75 min.
Bus X69 runs every two hours between Fraserburgh and Peterhead, 30 min.
The main bus stop is the 1 Interchange at the corner of Windmill St and St Peter St.
The town is small enough to walk round, but you'll want a bike or car to explore the district.
- Arbuthnot Museum, St. Peter Street AB42 1QD (by bus interchange). M Tu Th-Sa 10.00-12:30, 13:30-16:00. Stuffed polar bears, whaling exhibits and the story of Inverugie Castle. Free.
- 1 Keith Inch was an island with a whaling village until 1739 when a rubble causeway was built, making it the most easterly point on the Scottish mainland. It had a castle, a 16th century tower house which survived occupation by Cromwell's troops and by the Covenanters. But in 1715 the Earl Marischal sided with "The Old Pretender", the man who would be King James III of England / VIII of Scotland: James himself landed at Peterhead just in time to join a lost cause. He soon fled back to France, while Hanoverian troops came a-calling at the castle. And after they left, there wasn't a castle. Today Keith Inch is industrial but you can walk through it to access the north breakwater, 1700 foot long.
- 2 Old St Peter's Church is a ruin by the north end of the beach. The oldest parts may date to the 12th C.
- The beach stretches for a mile along the bay, backed by South Road and a promenade. It's sandy and sheltered by the breakwater, but the view is industrial. 3 Lido Beach is the south portion, further sheltered by the marina breakwater. It's just a beach not a lido pool as the name might suggest. It's suitable for swimming but distinctly bracing: see SEPA for water quality results.
- 4 Peterhead Prison Museum, Admiralty Gateway, South Road AB42 2ZX, ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:00. Until the 1850s convicts with long prison sentences could be transported to serve in Britain's colonies, often to Fremantle in Western Australia. It was not so much liberal reform as fall in demand for such labour that ended transportation, so they were instead put to labour in Britain (Oscar Wilde being one example.) Peterhead was opened in 1888 to be the convict prison for Scotland. It was designed to hold 208 but averaged 350, peaking at 455 as extra buildings were added. The convicts worked in quarries, and in constructing the harbour's south breakwater, with (until 1939) lashings to enliven any dull moments. Penal labour was abolished in 1950 but Peterhead's ethos didn't change much, being seen as a particularly bleak punitive place. In 1987 a prison riot took over D-wing and took an officer hostage; the SAS had to be sent in to restore order. As late as 2005 some cells lacked electricity and were still "slopping out". HMP Peterhead closed in 2013 when the adjacent HMP Grampian opened. Ticket includes the lifeboat display. Adult £10.
- Lifeboat: Julia Park Barry of Glasgow was the Watson-class lifeboat that served with distinction in Peterhead 1939-1969, saving 496 lives. It fell into disrepair but was restored by 2018, and put on display in its own building within the prison museum, same hours. The museum ticket includes the lifeboat display, or £5 for the lifeboat alone.
- South breakwater, 2700 ft long and built by convict labour, is accessed from just east of the prison.
- 5 Inverugie Castle is a masonry stump two miles northwest of town. A motte-and-bailey fort was built here in the 12th C to control the ford over the river, and in 1660 the present stone structure was added. This was kept in good repair for 160 years (poet Robert Burns' father was one of the castle gardeners before moving to Ayr) then fell into ruin. In 1899 the estate factor blew up what was left, just to clarify its status beyond doubt.
- See Fraserburgh for Rattray to the north. Here one stormy evening in 1720 the sun set upon a sea port, and arose upon a village and ship marooned inland and the castle blown over.
- 6 Cairn Catto is a Neolithic burial barrow of 155 ft by 60 ft along the back lane through Longside. You might have to use a bit of imagination to appreciate it. Two stone axes found here are now in the Arbuthnot Museum. Longside's better-known burial is Jamie Fleeman, crafty simpleton and family jester to the Laird of Udny. On asking about something he'd found: "Why Jamie, any fool would know that it is a horse shoe" - "Ah" replied Jamie, "what it is to be wise – to ken it's no a meer's shoe." No-one suspected that this Chuzzlewit was carrying secret messages for the Jacobites.
- Longhaven Cliffs south of town are a line of pink granite cliffs notched with narrow inlets. Access them via the wildlife reserve on A90, and take very great care along the cliff paths. A curiosity at the south end of this section, six miles south of town, is the 7 Bullers of Buchan. Here a cave has collapsed into a deep cylindrical pit, which the sea rushes into through an arch: "bullers" probably refers to its boiling waters.
- 8 Cruden Bay is a village with a fine beach. The main sight is the 16th C tower house Slains Castle - it replaced 13th C Old Slains Castle which is just a masonry shard 5 miles south. In the 1850s a fishing village "Port Errol" was built but the harbour was inadequate for larger vessels. The railway arrived at the end of the 19th century and the company promoted Cruden Bay as a beach and golf resort, unsuccessfully as it was too far from London and lacked a flagship hotel or golf course. However Bram Stoker was a regular visitor and wrote much of Dracula here. A plaque also commemorates Trygge Gran, who survived Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic expedition and was in the party that located the bodies. In 1914 he flew from Cruden Bay to Jæren, near Stavanger in Norway, the first heavier-than-air flight across that sea.
- Watch football: Peterhead FC play in Scottish League One, the third tier of soccer in Scotland. Their home ground is at Balmoor Terrace, capacity 3000, at the west edge of town centre.
- 1 Peterhead Golf Club, Craigewan Links, Riverside Drive AB42 1LT, ☏ . It's on the knuckle of land north of the Ugie estuary, but park on the south bank (helpfully called Golf Road) and walk across the footbridge. The "Old Course" took its present form in 1908: yellow tees 5704 yards, par 70. The second or "new" course has been reduced to nine holes. 18 holes £90, day ticket £160.
- Asda supermarket is on A950 near the junction with the A90 bypass. It has a filling station and is open daily 07:00-22:00.
- Ugie Salmon Smokehouse is on the riverbank near the golf club bridge, open M-F 08:00-17:00. You can buy online or come to shop but it's not a museum, they don't do tours. They're terse about their source, except to say that salmon and trout may no longer be fished locally.
- Local fish and chips are as good as they get. Find them in the harbour area at Boathouse, Zanres and Dolphin Cafe, to the north at Marco's and Blootoon up Ugie St, and south at Clerkhill St.
- Pubs near the harbour include Harbour Lights, Bailey's, Caley Bar, Cross Keys, Brewdog and Deja Vu. Further out on King St are Mayfair and Station Bar.
- B&Bs and small hotels include The Lost Guest House (which turned out to be hiding in plain sight at 29 Merchant St), and Crawfords, Clifton, Albert Hotel and Trinity all on Queen St, plus Palace on Prince St.
- Travelodge is a reliable budget choice at 16 Chapel St.
- 1 Waterside Hotel, Fraserburgh Road AB42 3BN, ☏ . Part of the unloved Britannia chain, the staff are friendly and helpful but the rooms aren't much. With leisure club, spa, swimming pool and restaurant. B&B double £60.
- 2 Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam is a Stevenson lighthouse completed in 1827 and now automated. You can self-cater in the two keepers' cottages, Skerry and Dundonnie, which sleep four, £120 per night.
- Good 4G signal outdoors from all providers. Indoors, Vodafone are okay but O2, Three and EE are very scratchy, as of May 2020. 5G has not reached this area.
- Fraserburgh to the north is a small fishing village, then west along the coast is picturesque Gardenstown.
- Methlick 20 miles inland has grand Haddo House and what's left of Gight Castle, Byron's ancestral home.
- Aberdeen to the south will seem like a buzzing metropolis after Peterhead.
|Routes through Peterhead|
|Fraserburgh ←||N S||→ Aberdeen|