Exploring Aberdeenshire and Angus with Kids

Mother of two and blogger Emma Gibb loves nothing more than exploring Scotland with her family.

Here she shares some of her favourite places to visit in her local area of Aberdeenshire and nearby Angus.

Living half way between Aberdeen and Dundee and close to the Angus border means that we spend a lot of time exploring Angus as well as Aberdeenshire.  I love having the coast and woodland walks on our doorstep, with two great cities just a short drive away.  I’ll admit that before moving here Angus had never featured high on my must-visit list but I have discovered that this often overlooked area is home to many hidden gems and a gorgeous coastline.

From a miniature railway to beaches and castles here are some of my favourite places to take the little ones (and if you have one like mine who isn’t overly fond of sleep, some lovely places to get a good cup of coffee!).

Stonehaven Open Air Pool

Without a doubt this has been my greatest discovery since moving here.  What a fantastic attraction to have on your doorstep – an open air, heated swimming pool.  This Olympic-sized swimming pool opened in 1934 and its clean sea water is heated to 29oC so you can enjoy an outdoor swim whatever the weather (who doesn’t fancy a bit of swimming in the rain?!).  I adore the beautiful Art Deco building and the preserved history in the old style turnstile entry and changing cubicles.  The pool is open from May through to September each year and there are fun sessions for kids and sheltered sun terraces with loungers.  I’ve been enjoying the pool with my little ones on lovely sunny days but I’m keen to go along on a Wednesday night when they have a Midnight Swim session.

If you’re hungry after your swim you’ll find The Bay (delicious fish and chips) and Aunty Betty’s (amazing ice cream) on the beach front promenade nearby.

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RSPB Fowlsheugh

Until I moved to Aberdeenshire I had no idea that you could spot puffins here.  Yes, really.  I first tried catching a glimpse of them at the Bullers of Buchan, near Cruden Bay on the north Aberdeenshire coast (and completely fell in love with the rugged beauty of this coastal stretch) but it was at RSPB Fowlsheugh just south of Stonehaven where I saw my first puffin.  Fowlsheugh means ‘bird cliff’ and I was told on a Pick out a Puffin walk a couple of years ago that it is the second most important seabird colony on mainland Britain.

Many people visit Dunnottar Castle and have no idea that this amazing seabird city is a very short drive away.  In spring and early summer the cliffs are home to around 130,000 breeding seabirds, including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars, as well as puffins – and it is truly a spectacular sight.   It is about a 10 or 15 minute walk to the seabird colony and as well as taking in the stunning coastal views towards Dunnottar Castle keep an eye out for dolphins and seals (the cliff path is level but quite close to the cliff edge so you need to be really careful with little ones).

Lunan Bay

Another of my favourite discoveries this fantastic beach is a short drive south of Montrose and one of the real gems in Angus.  Lunan Bay is often described as one of the best beaches in Scotland, and its caves, sand dunes and rock pools make it an ideal place for children to explore.  The beach is hugged by cliffs, with the ruins of Red Castle (dating to the 12th century) overlooking the bay from an outstretched arm of land.  (The sight of Lunan Bay is, for me, also one of the highlights of the train journey between Aberdeen and Dundee).

Take a left at Lunan and follow the signs for the beach down a private farm road.  The lovely Lunan Bay Diner is just before the car park and is a great place to have a light lunch or coffee.

Charleton Fruit Farm

IMG_6184Just outside Montrose Charleton Fruit Farm is right at the top of our most visited places.  Last year we picked our way through summer and autumn; when the strawberries and raspberries had disappeared with the summer crowds (it does get really busy during the holidays) we picked blackberries and apples, plums, gooseberries and red currants.  (And in winter we even picked out our Christmas tree there).

When you’re finished fruit picking (such fun for all ages!), there is a large outdoor play area with a great many things to keep children amused, as well as a toy area in the cafe.  The food is delicious – make sure you try one of their strawberry tarts!  I also love the Tapas platter, the pancakes ladled with fruit and cream and the fruit smoothies.  Even when it’s busy there is plenty of seating, both indoors and outdoors, and tables in the outdoor play area so you can keep an eye on the children.

I really enjoyed our autumn and winter visits last year, cosying up beside the wood-burning stove in the cafe.  We have just started picking fruit again this year and I’m looking forward to eating my way through the change in seasons.

St Cyrus Beach

If you’re driving the coastal route from Aberdeen to Montrose you’ll pass through the village of St Cyrus.  Take a left before the village hall and park beside the church for this sweeping view of the beach below.  You can follow a cliff path down to the beach from here or you can continue through St Cyrus and drive further along to follow signs for the St Cyrus National Nature Reserve (where there is a car park and visitor centre).  From the car park it is around a 10 minute walk to this wonderful beach – a lovely walk through the Nature Reserve (pretty in the summer with its wildflowers).

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Broughty Ferry

The more I explore of Dundee the more taken I am.  Recently I discovered Broughty Ferry, an old fishing village referred to as ‘the jewel in Dundee’s crown‘.   With a picturesque castle, an award-winning sandy beach, pretty seafront esplanade and characterful cottages it is a delight to visit.  The High Street is lined with independent shops, boutiques, pubs and cafes.  The 16th century castle is free to visit, with a canon in its grounds and a museum within the castle.  Climb the stairs to the top of the castle for great views of the beach.

If you’re visiting Dundee with kids I also recommend trips to the Dundee Science Centre, the Macmanus Gallery and Camperdown Wildlife Park – and on my still-to-visit list are RRS Discovery and a star-gazing session at the Mills Observatory.

Kerr’s Miniature Railway

Located in West Links Park in Arbroath, Scotland’s oldest miniature railway is a must for kids holidaying in the Angus area.  My son loved taking a ride on this teeny train (as did I!), as well as a trip on a miniature Stagecoach bus (possibly one of the most adorable things I’ve seen).  Afterwards he enjoyed playing in a lovely seafront play park nearby.

House of Dun

If you’re looking a peaceful place to stretch little legs head to House of Dun, just 3 miles from Montrose.  This beautiful Georgian mansion house is surrounded by woodland, a walled garden and with views towards the Montrose Basin.  In the care of the National Trust for Scotland it is somewhere we visit regularly as my son attends their Nature Nippers events (which I also highly recommend).

There is a waymarked woodland walk and a lovely play park tucked into the edge of the woods for little ones to enjoy, as well as the gardens to explore.  The cafe serves light lunches and has seating on the lawns so you can watch the kids run around whilst enjoying a coffee.

Castles

It’s impossible for me to write about visiting Aberdeenshire without also writing about its castles.  Aberdeenshire is, of course, castle country, with more castles per acre than anywhere else in the UK and its very own Castle Trail.  I can’t choose just one castle so here are my top 5.

  • I absolutely love Edzell Castle (Edzell itself is a lovely little village with a great river walk) – a picturesque red stone ruin with a gorgeous walled garden where little imaginations can run wild.
  • With its dramatic cliff-side setting Dunnottar Castle is a must-see for many visitors and is a fascinating place for all ages to explore.  Look out for the Lion’s Den, where the Earl Marischal kept his pet lion (which the Countess had killed on account of its roaring keeping her awake – apparently it was replaced by a pet bear).
  • We lived for a time near Drum Castle and it was one of my favourite places to visit for woodland walks with friends.  Highlights include the wonderful play park (made with natural materials), the 14th century tower (climb to the top), its quaint tearoom and a 16th century chapel.
  • Nearby Crathes Castle is a fantastic day out for families, with gorgeous grounds, lovely walks and the Go Ape tree top adventure.
  • The impossibly pretty and fairytale-esque Craigievar Castle also has peaceful grounds for little princes and princesses to explore and two waymarked trails.  I also love its Victorian kitchen garden.

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Inspired?  Take a look at self-catering in Aberdeenshire and holiday cottages in Angus and start planning your next family adventure.  You can follow more of Emma’s trips and travels with her family at www.thismother.com.

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