Stonehaven could be called the most northerly town of the lowlands. Central lowland Scotland is a rift valley, walled by the Highland Boundary Fault which trends diagonally from Helensburgh on the west coast to Stonehaven on the east. Southeast of this line is Old Red Sandstone, bright red from its iron oxides, built into roseate castles such as Edzell, and with red soil in the lowland cattle fields. Northwest are the granite Grampian highlands. As the fault line approaches the coast, it funnels all the transport routes - for cattle-drivers, armies, traders and mail coaches - to the rocky headland where Dunnottar Castle stands guard.
The coastal plain then opens up again further north towards Aberdeen. The "Highland Line" is as much cultural as geological, and this area was an early adopter of lowland agricultural methods, land tenure and industries, and of English in place of Gaelic. Stonehaven's last military upheavals were in the Jacobite campaigns of 1715 and 1745, which it supported by acting as a supply port. Thereafter it was simply a provincial market town, though busy in the 19th century with herring fishing. Its many dank medieval turrets were converted into mansions: these are mostly private residences, but may be occasionally open in summer as part of the Scotland's Gardens Scheme. Stonehaven was the county town of Kincardineshire, but this was abolished in 1975 so it's now part of Aberdeenshire, with a population in 2011 of 11,602.
The "VisitScotland Centre" has closed down, so the TIC is now Visit Mearns in the Sheriff Court building by the harbour, open M-F 09:00-16:30.
There are trains hourly from Edinburgh and from Glasgow Queen Street, taking just over two hours via Dundee, Arbroath and Montrose to Stonehaven, and continuing north to Aberdeen. Some trains come direct from London Kings Cross or Leeds via York and Newcastle, but from England it's usually quicker to change in Edinburgh.
In 2020 this railway was closed for 3 months after a landslide and serious rail accident just south of Stonehaven in August, but it re-opened in November.
The Caledonian Highland Sleeper to Aberdeen runs Su-F from London Euston, departing after 21:00 to reach Stonehaven around 07:15. The southbound train picks up around 22:00 to reach Euston towards 08:00. You could also take the Lowland Sleeper from Euston towards midnight and change to a day train in Edinburgh. Going back, you need to leave Stonehaven before 20:30 to join the southbound Lowland Sleeper at 23:30 from Edinburgh.
1 Stonehaven station is half a mile west of town centre. There's not much at the station, look for food and pubs in the centre.
Stagecoach Bus X7 runs hourly from Aberdeen Union Square along the coast through Portlethen and Newtonhill to Stonehaven, 40 min. It continues south to Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee and Perth.
Stagecoach Bus 747 runs hourly from Aberdeen Airport via Kingswell P&R to Stonehaven (30 min) and continues to Montrose. Some journeys start in Peterhead.
The 2 main bus stop is on Barclay Street, at the corner with Cameron Street a block south of Market Square.
Coaches from Edinburgh, Glasgow and the south towards Aberdeen scoot past on the A90 bypass and don't stop in Stonehaven.
From north or south the quickest road is A90, which cuts inland. For a slower scenic route (eg cycling) take A92, which follows the coast from Dundee via Arbroath and Montrose.
To reach the Cairngorms, A957 northeast (the lyrically-named "Slug Road") joins A93 at Crathes: this is the route between Glenshee, Braemar, Balmoral and Aberdeen.
- Stonehaven is a very small town, so walking is your best bet. For Dunnottar take the clifftop path from the harbour.
- Stagecoach Bus 4A and 4C make a figure-of-eight loop around the town M-Sa every 30 min.
- Local taxi operators are Dash Cabs +44 7400 442880 (who in Dec 2020 quote £33 fixed price to Aberdeen city or airport) and A&I Taxis +44 1569 764333.
- 1 The harbour is centrepiece of the town, which remains a fishing port. On the north quay, the Tolbooth is a 16th-century red sandstone building that has variously been a courthouse and a prison. In 1648 / 49, three Episcopal clergy were imprisoned here for holding a religious service for more than nine people: it was a sort of social-distancing rule, as the "Piskies" spread the contagion of Jacobitism. The Tolbooth is now a small museum, open Sa Su 12:00-15:30, free.
- St James the Great Episcopal Church is an attractive 19th century church just south of the Carron Water. Town centre is a Victorian grid pattern stretching north to the other river, the Cowie Water.
- 2 Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven AB39 2TL (2 miles south of town on A92), ☏ . Daily April-Sept 09:00-17:30, Oct-Mar 10:00-17:00. Medieval castle dramatically perched on a rocky promontory, with cliffs plunging down to the North Sea. Earlier forts were destroyed so the present structure was built circa 1400 and extended into a palace from 1581; it was partly dismantled in 1720. One of its famous episodes was the protection of the Scottish crown jewels and regalia. After Charles I was executed, his son landed in Scotland and was proclaimed King Charles II at Scone. Oliver Cromwell came in pursuit and eventually Charles had to flee, only regaining the throne from 1660. Meanwhile the crown jewels were brought to Dunnottar for safekeeping then, when Cromwell laid siege, they were somehow smuggled out to be hidden in Kinneff church 10 miles south. Adult £8, child £4, conc £7.
- 3 Dunnottar Woods, a mile inland along the Glaslaw Burn, were the estate of Dunnottar House, now demolished. The main feature is the parish church (C of S), built from 1852. The Covenanters' Stone in the graveyard is a memorial to the 170 anti-royalists imprisoned in Dunnottar Castle in 1685. (Some died or escaped, but most were transported to found a colony in New Jersey.) In the woods are "Lady Kennedy's Bath" (more suitable for cleaning a large muddy dog than milady's what-nots) and the Shell Hoosy, a folly.
- 4 Fetteresso Castle. 14th-century towerhouse, rebuilt in 1761 as a Scottish Gothic-style Palladian manor. It's been converted into several private dwellings and isn't open to visitors.
- 5 Cowie Chapel or the Chapel of St Mary and St Nathalan is a picturesque ruin next to the golf course. Some 200 yards south overlooking the coast, a grassy knoll is all that remains of Cowie Castle. Half a mile inland, Causey Mounth was the ancient cattle-drovers trail between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. It became a stone causeway from the 12th century to span the worst of the bogs.
- 6 Ury House a mile north of town is the shell of an Elizabethan mansion; it's an imposing facade but unsafe to enter. Since 2019 it's been under development as a hotel, house estate and golf resort, so much of the area is fenced off as a hard-hat zone.
- 7 Raedykes was a Roman marching camp - a temporary structure set up between the permanent forts. It's one of a line of camps between the fort at Stracathro and those in Moray. Raedykes is one of the possible sites of the Battle of Mons Graupius, when Rome defeated the Caledonians in AD 83 / 84, but no-one's sure. The camp, perched on Garrison Hill, has yielded important finds but to look at is just grazing land. That seems fitting as the Roman commander who had it built was Agricola, which means "farmer".
- 8 Muchalls Castle on the coast 5 miles north of town is a Romanesque 13th century tower-house, rebuilt as a mansion in the 17th century. It's a private residence and you can't visit.
- 9 Castle of Fiddes is a 16th century tower house, 4 miles southwest of town. It was modernised in 1930 and remains a private dwelling, no visits.
- 10 Monboddo House is a 13th century towerhouse, made over into a mansion in the 17th century. It fell into disrepair in the 20th century but was restored in the 21st; it's a private dwelling and you can't visit.
- 11 Crawton is a ghost village, a fishing harbour deserted from 1927. The scenic cliffs just north are the RSPB bird reserve of Fowlsheugh.
- 12 Catterline is a small fishing village, a row of whitewashed cottages that somehow looks more like Ireland. Until 2012 it was the scene of the midsummer "Cartie Challenge" - home-made soapbox carts would hurtle down the street - but the route was damaged by a storm and they haven't raced since.
- 13 Kinneff Old Church is where the Scottish crown regalia were hidden after they were smuggled out of Dunnottar Castle. That church dated to 1242, but the version you see now was built in 1738 and is disused.
- See Montrose for sights south of Inverbervie.
- 1 Stonehaven Golf Course, Cowie AB39 3RH, ☏ . M-F 08:00-21:00, Sa Su 07:00-19:30. Breezy, challenging course on the cliff tops. White tees 5103 yards, par 66, visitor round £50.
- 2 Open Air Pool, Queen Elizabeth Park AB39 2RD, ☏ . Jun-Aug M-F 13:00-21:30, Sa Su 10:00-18:00. A Stonehaven institution, an Olympic-sized open air pool with sea water heated to 28oC. Inflatables and water-aerobic sessions. Adult £5.70.
- The Leisure Centre is next to the Open Air Pool. It's open M-F 06:30-22:00, Sa 09:00-19:00, Su 09:00-21:00.
- Stonehaven Folk Festival is held in mid-July. The next is F 9 - Sun 11 July 2021.
- Stonehaven Highland Games are in late July. The 2020 event was cancelled so the next are probably on Sun 18 July 2021, tbc.
- Drumtochty Highland Games are held at Drumtochty Castle 5 miles north of Laurencekirk in late June. The next are on Sat 26 June 2021.
- Stonehaven Pipe Band appear at these and similar events. Though their parades have been curbed in 2020/21, there's special bagpipe-playing sorftware that you can download from their website - who knew?
- Evolve to live on land and breathe air: the rocks of this region have few fossils, as they were laid down on land in a time before life slithered out of the sea. But one important example is Pneumodesmus newmani, named for Mike Newman the bus driver who found it on Cowie beach in 2004. It's a millipede, sort of, containing spiracles which show it breathed air. It's about 415 million years old, early Devonian, one of the first air-breathing creatures. The beastie lived then in tropical Laurentia and now resides in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
- Gift shops: try My Beautiful Caravan (formerly Purdies) in Market Square.
- Pharmacies are Charles Michie in Market Square (M-Sa 09:00-18:00) and Boots on Barclay St (M-Sa 08:30-17:30).
- Food outlets in Market Square include Co-op Food (daily 07:00-22:00), Charles McHardy Butchers, and Lembas Organic Eggs.
- Farmers Market is held in the square first Saturday of the month 09:00-13:00.
- Seafood Bothy is a kiosk out on the quay serving seafood straight off the boat. Hours and quality erratic, small portions, you're paying for the setting and the fun of fighting off the predatory seagulls.
- Carron Fish Bar (formerly The Haven), 1 Allardice St AB39 2BN (next to main bus stop), ☏ . M-Th 16:00-20:00, F 12:00-13:30, 16:00-21:00, Sa Su 12:00-20:00. Fish and chip shop famous for inventing the deep-fried Mars bar in 1992, though the story only took off in the media in 1995. It became symbolic of Scotland's unhealthy lifestyle, but pundits fuming against it only spread its fame. So too did the shop's 2012 bid to have the product registered as an EU geographical or traditional specialty, and Mars Inc's po-faced response that "deep-frying one of our products would go against our commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles." In 2015 the council ordered the shop to take down banners claiming the invention, which they cheerfully refused to do. Fashions are fickle and a Nigella Lawson TV recipe was the death knell of its street cred. But it remains on the menu, though it's mostly visitors that buy the bars nowadays.
- Tollbooth Restaurant, Old Pier AB39 2JU, ☏ . W-Sa 12:00-14:00, 18:00-21:00, Su 12:00-15:00. Informal bistro on quay next to Tolbooth serves excellent creative seafood.
- Carron to Mumbai, 20 Cameron St AB39 2HS, ☏ . Daily 17:00-23:00. This place has changed hands and become an Indian, but they've kept the Art Deco furnishings. They serve all the staples but post-pub blow-out it's not, it's a charming place where you can reminisce about your bygone days in Inja dontcha know.
- Gino's, 21a Ann St AB39 2EN (by Market Square), ☏ . M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-21:00. Small Italian cafe serves good quality food at reasonable prices.
- Molly's Cafe Bar, The Promenade AB39 2RD (On beach north of Cowie bridge). M-W 10:00-18:00, Th F 10:00-22:00, Sa 09:00-23:00, Su 09:00-18:00. Open all day for good Scottish breakfasts, home bakes, paninis, etc.
- Troupers Bar, 10 Barclay St AB39 2BJ, ☏ . Daily 11:00-22:00. Friendly authentic bar near main bus stop. They also run The Ship Inn.
- Ship Inn on the harbour is a 1771 pub with rooms.
- Six° North is within the Marine Hotel by the harbour. Six Degrees North craft brewery is in Laurencekirk 14 miles south, see Montrose.
- Market Bar in Market Square is open daily 12:30-00:00.
- 1 Queen Elizabeth Park Caravan Site, The Links AB39 2RD, ☏ . Site open Mar-Dec, well run, good facilities and just north of town. 79 tourer pitches but limited camping. Tourer £23, tent £8.
- Marine Hotel, 9-10 Shorehead AB39 2JY, ☏ . Victorian pub with rooms overlooking the harbour. Real ale and good bar food. B&B double £130.
- 24 Shorehead, 24 Shorehead AB39 2JY, ☏ . Clean welcoming B&B by harbour, open all year. B&B double £90.
- Belvedere Hotel, 41 Evan St AB39 2ET, ☏ . Pleasant town centre B&B. B&B double £70.
As of Dec 2020, Stonehaven has 4G with all UK carriers, but 5G has not yet reached this area.
- North to Aberdeen, the grey granite city with lots to see and do.
- West to Banchory and the Dee valley past Balmoral Castle to Braemar.
- South to the small fishing ports of Montrose, and Arbroath where Scotland's independence was first proclaimed in 1320.
|Routes through Stonehaven|
|Dundee ← Forfar ←||SW N||→ Aberdeen (West & Airport)|
|Arbroath ← Montrose ←||S NE||→ Aberdeen (City Centre & Port)|