Stonehaven is just 15 miles (24 km) south of Aberdeen, and with its own station, is easily accessed by train. If traveling by car, it lies just east of the A90. We took the train from Inverness and arrived around noon in Stonehaven, hoping to visit Dunnottar Castle that afternoon, but the weather wasn’t looking great. It was overcast, with a bit of rain, and quite gusty. Not long after we checked in at the Ship Inn, we learned that Dunnottar was closed due to high winds. Playing it by ear the rest of the day would turn out to be fun. 🙂 Our next priority was lunch, so we headed downstairs to the pub.
Please scroll to the end of this post to see the photo gallery.
There’s nothing like hot soup on a damp and cold day. Cullen Skink isn’t the most tempting of names to a sassenach (skink is too close to skunk for comfort) but I got past that, read the description, and ordered some. I’m so glad I did! It was truly delicious. It’s a fish chowder made with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions, and traditionally served with fresh crusty bread. The unique smokey flavour really made me want to go back for seconds.
When I got back home I found the recipe in my Outlander Kitchen cookbook. I grew up on the east coast of Canada and love a good fish chowder so will likely try this out. To be truly authentic, I would need to use the main ingredient, finnan haddie. It’s a smoked haddock from Cullen, on the Moray Firth, so that may be a bit tricky. I’ve found a source of finnan haddie from Maine, so am hoping that will work out.
Stonehaven Harbour seems to anchor the town (pardon the pun). Historically, Stonehaven’s herring fishing has provided the economic base for the town. I was enthralled by the way the boats were moored and tied off to a chain at the edge of the harbour (see the gallery). Currently, the town’s primary industries are marine services and tourism, mostly related to Dunnottar Castle. The castle was, in fact, the main reason we were in Stonehaven. As a member of Clan Keith, it’s been on my bucket list forever.
The Tolbooth Museum is the oldest building in Stonehaven. Situated on the harbour’s edge, it was built in the late 1500s by George Keith, 5th Earl Maricshal of Dunnottar Castle, to be used as a storehouse. In 1600, it was converted for use as a courthouse and jail, and was used as that until 1767. Today it serves as a museum of local heritage run by volunteers. It’s free admission, but there is a donation box and souvenirs to tempt you. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for the season when we were there, but there were some artifacts and plaques outside that were photogenic and informative. Just the stonework and sense of history it evoked made it worth a stop.
A mercat cross is simply a Scots name for the market cross often found in Scottish villages, where the right to hold a regular market was granted by the aristocracy. In this case the Stonehaven mercat cross was built around 1645 and remodeled in 1877.
So, as it turned out even though we hadn’t planned to do much more than sleep and head to the castle from there, Stonehaven turned out to be a true gem. It is filled with history, character, culture, great seafood, and excellent accommodations. The room we had at the Ship Inn looked directly over the harbour, the shower pressure was the best we found during our entire trip, and the people were lovely.