The new NE250 or North East 250 Road Trip offers up ‘Scotland in a Weekend’ – that’s my tagline and I truly believe it’s what makes this route special. Running from the Granite City of Aberdeen, into Royal Deeside, up the Snow Road into Speyside and along the Moray Coast it encapsulates Scotland in 250 miles. If you want castles, it’s got extremely rich pickings (including the jewel in the crown, Balmoral). Fancy distilleries? Then the North East 250 only boasts Speyside! Skiing? Yup, it’s available on the Snow Road at the Lecht. And if coastal villages, history and heritage are your bag, then the Aberdeenshire and Morayshire coast is a delight.
We undertook the coastal leg of the route, with wee ones in tow. As it’s on my doorstep I’d kinda taken the area for granted, and now I know better. We wrapped up warm, made our own fun, and got back in touch with the area. This is my mega list of what you can get up to.
NE250 Aberdeen to Peterhead
Leaving Aberdeen, heading North, there’s beach after beach. The dunes at Balmedie are renowned, another highlight is Newburgh Beach and Forvie Sands. The latter is a nature reserve where colonies of seals bask in the sun – a definite stop for animal lovers. Cruden Bay is another cool beach, but our first stop was Slains Castle. This atmospheric clifftop ruin is said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There are no facilities here, and all visitors need to take care, but it’s stunning and beautiful in its own way. Our tots were keen vampire hunters, and on the blustery day we visited the ruin (and our kids) were covered in sea foam blown in off the waves. It was kinda magical. Click here to read more.
For lunch we stopped at the new Harbour Spring restaurant in Peterhead. Set it in a retail park it looks quite built up, but inside was a child-friendly haven. There was even a kids’ play zone with toys, and tablets on the walls. The Carvery was SUCH good value so it was a spot on location to feed a tribe, especially on a budget. I’d recommend this as a family friendly dining spot in the area.
NE250 Peterhead to Macduff
Back in the car we headed further along the coast. Next, not knowing what to expect, we pulled into the RSPB’s Loch of Strathbeg. Here we found an indoor viewing station where we could watch the swans on the loch, and spot the birdlife in the garden. There was also a shelf of children’s books to read to the boys. The tots were hanging on the promise of ice-cream so, whilst Fraserburgh also has a good beach, we swung into Partridges for some Portsoy Ice-cream. One chocolate ice-cream for Junior, Bubblegum for Mr Tot, and Turkish Delight for me, and our coastal road trip had a real air of authenticity. If your kids are fascinated by lighthouses (I haven’t met one that isn’t) then climb to the top of a real one at the Scottish Lighthouse Museum. Read our guide here. Next door is Fraserburgh’s Heritage Museum which is also worthwhile.
Buzzing on a sugar rush we headed to the coastal villages of Crovie, Pennan and Gardenstown. These beautiful wee villages, featuring rows of fishermen’s cottages, look like something straight off a period film set. Funnily enough they have featured on screen many a time. The road down to Crovie was shut so we parked up at Pennan for some Paw Patrol play in the sand. The rock pools here are great for hunting for beasties. Mr Tot embarked on some rock-climing, just to give us a heart attack. Adults, meanwhile, can appreciate how picturesque the fishermen’s cottages are, and of course get a photo next to the famous red phone box, iconic from the film Local Hero. I only saw this movie about five years ago when I was making a documentary with John Gordon Sinclair (name drop) and I figured it’s always helpful and polite to watch the talent’s work. It’s a great wee film by the way so if you haven’t seen it then have a catch up.
NE250 Macduff to Banff
By now it was mid afternoon and the fresh air and activity was making an impression on us all. At Macduff I’d definitely recommend the Marine Aquarium for wee ones. We took Junior there when he was only nine months old, his brother had just turned two, and we all loved it. A great rainy day option – read our review here. A good pit stop in Macduff is The Platform – it’s good for a browse as it houses clothing (men’s, women’s and babies) and gift shops, as well as Annie’s Cakery for tea and cake. Isn’t ‘Cakery’ a fantastic word?
In Banff itself is the elegant Duff House. A very Downton experience. Again, a stately home doesn’t scream child-friendly but read how we got on here. We overnighted at the four star Banff Springs, which is a very civilised and modern choice (blog post on the hotel coming soon). After a day of sand, sea foam, ruins, wind and wildlife Banff Springs felt like utter luxury. It’s clearly popular with locals and the restaurant was busy from 5.00pm onwards, there was a buzz to the place. We dressed for dinner and joined in.
The next morning Banff Links Beach was calling us. Its play area is fantastic, a mix of ships and climbing frames, plus a flying fox which I went down about six times.
NE250 Banff to Buckie
Carrying on further west from Banff are some other coastal gems. Portsoy is known for its annual Traditional Boat Festival, it also has remarkable budget accommodation with its five star hostel, the Sail Loft, complete with outdoor hot tub. Read our profile here. As I mentioned, Portsoy is also known for its ice-cream. For great fish and chips try the Rockfish Café in Whitehills, and another wee beach to explore is Sandend. If you’re curious then view our Photo Journal of Sandend here.
If you reach Cullen then there’s more budget accommodation available at its Harbour Hostel. More quality ice-cream is for sale, and the Rockpool Café is a warming stop after exploring the harbour and the railway viaduct. And of course you have to savour some Cullen Skink – if you don’t know what it is then google it!
The final coastal towns on the route are Findochty and Buckie, and if you make it to Spey Bay then, after a walk on the beach, drop into the Scottish Dolphin Centre. Here we made giant wildlife floor puzzles and made quite poor attempts to watch birds and dolphins though the centre’s cameras.
This stretch of the North East 250 is beautiful. It isn’t riddled with overpriced, child friendly attractions, but the combination of scenery, imagination, ruins, beaches, animals, bribes of ice-cream, good food and a relaxing hotel made this a trip that certainly exceeded expectations. Cherry pick a few items that appeal to you from the list above and get out there.
OUR STORY – We drove from Aberdeen, stopping and pulling in wherever we fancied. Discover more at northeast250.com. I’d definitely recommend private or hire cars to undertake this route. Good clothing is the key to enjoying this scenery in all weathers, as Billy Connolly says ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.’
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