Castles, Dolphins and Vampires! – The Coastal Leg of the North East 250

The new 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 NE250 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.

The tots head off vampire hunting at Slains Castle.

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.

Hard to miss the Carvery at the new, modern Harbour Spring in Peterhead.

From there another stop I’d recommend is Peterhead Prison Museum. It sounds an unusual stop with little ones but read here to discover why this notorious jail worked for us.

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.

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.

The Paw Patrol hit Pennan

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.

Macduff to Banff

Macduff Marine Aquarium

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.

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.

Sandend Beach

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.’

If you like what you read then don’t miss a post, enter your email address in the follow box and You’re In, join the conversation on Facebook, or check out the bonny photos on Instagram. For any queries or opportunities please email scots2travel@hotmail.com. We received a one night DBB stay at Banff Springs for review purposes.

 

March 22, 2018

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20 Comments

  1. Reply

    Laura

    March 29, 2018

    I only went to Scotland for the first time earlier this year and I would love to explore this. It looks gorgeous!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 29, 2018

      You have to return! Visitors naturally make a beeline for Edinburgh but there’s so much to see and do on the east. Hope you get a further chance to explore.

  2. Reply

    SkyeClass

    March 29, 2018

    Ooh, this is absolutely perfect for me to read. My dad actually lives in MacDuff, but I never really knew what to see on the coastal road. I’m definitely going to be following this the next time I go up to see him!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 29, 2018

      It’s on our doorstep so it was only when I consolidated everything into one post, one chunky experience that I fully appreciated what was actually on offer. Hope you get up the road soon.

  3. Reply

    mammasschool

    March 29, 2018

    A busy itinerary, but stunning scenery and gorgeous places to see and visit. Scotland is a beautiful place

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 29, 2018

      We had to take it at the kids’ pace, and factor in the colourful weather, but we certainly had a lot of activities and destinations to choose between.

  4. Reply

    BattleMum

    March 29, 2018

    That sounds like such a great road trip. My hubby and I are very keen to discover Scotland and the kid-friendly ideas are brilliant for our son!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 29, 2018

      Lots of indoor and stunning outdoor activities so a real mix, whatever the Scottish climate throws at you!

  5. Reply

    Laura Dove

    March 29, 2018

    Oh how gorgeous! Scotland is my absolute favourite place in the UK and I really want to explore more of it this year!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 30, 2018

      The coastal route along the North East 250 is gorgeous, and not as predictably touristy as other regions of Scotland. I’d recommend it for something a bit different.

  6. Reply

    Kira

    March 30, 2018

    How beautiful! Even though Scott’s family are Scottish we have never been but I would love to explore his part of his heritage

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      March 30, 2018

      Sounds like a lovely idea, for both of you.

  7. Reply

    Kara

    March 31, 2018

    This looks like such an adventure, I would love to do this with the family

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      April 3, 2018

      It was a hoot!

  8. Reply

    Kathi Kamleitner

    April 1, 2018

    I love this part of Scotland! I went on a road trip with my mum two years ago and loved Balmedie Beach, Rattray Head and the Lighthouse Museum. Going to end in Buckie this year after the Speyside Way and we’re hoping to explore the coast around it a bit, but by bus 🙂 Thanks for sharing and giving us ideas!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      April 3, 2018

      So much to do, and lots of indoor and outdoor options, plenty of good places to eat now as well.

  9. Reply

    Steph Renovation Bay-Bee

    April 2, 2018

    I would love to visit Scotland, it’s on my bucket list. These places look brilliant

  10. Reply

    Leta

    April 5, 2018

    Wow, what an spic trip, you covered a lot in one trip! Looks lovely. I must visit Scotland at some point!

  11. Reply

    Lucy Dorrington

    April 6, 2018

    I would love to do this. I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland and what an amazing way to see the best of the area!

  12. Reply

    Nicola

    April 9, 2018

    I really want to get back up to the Aberdeen area and I’ll definitely be doing this. Great post

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