After hiking our way through the Western Isles, our tour of Scotland brought us to the East coast of the region. The difference with respect to the harsh conditions of the west side of the nation is stunning. The northern sea is calmer than the Ocean, bringing to a milder climate, gentler slopes and better weather conditions.
From Inverness to Stirling, let’s start our journey through East Scotland.
Often considered the Capital city of the Highlands, Inverness is the northernmost city in the UK. It lies on the estuary of the River Ness, the river that flows from the northern side of the Loch Ness to the Northern Sea.
It’s one of the sweetest spots in Scotland. The city center lies on the banks of the river, surrounded by green hills. The Inverness Castle sits on the highest promontory, making it visible from anywhere in the city. There is an aura of relax, of hope that permeates the whole town. This is one of the most prosperous areas in Scotland, one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and it’s always at the top of the rankings of towns for quality of life in the UK. We suggest spending a day here to relax after the adventures of the Isles, before starting the journey back to Edinburgh.
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorm mountain is one of the highest peaks of the UK. It’s the center of the broadest national park in Great Britain, which takes its name from it. The region is characterized by a particular kind of climate allowing for many unique species of plants and animals to live here.
While crossing the region, we suggest stopping by Glenshee to get some of the best panoramas, especially during the summer season, when heathers plants give the hills astonishing purple tones.
Braemar & Balmoral Castles
These two castles are among the most prominent castles in the Cairngorms region. As we visited Scotland during summer, Balmoral Castle, property of the current British Royal Family (not of the Crown) was closed to visitors. However, we had the opportunity to visit Braemar Castle nearby, set in an idyllic wooded valley.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Less than a kilometer from Balmoral Castle, Royal Lochnagar Distillery is the only whisky production center in Scotland that can use the tile of “Royal” in its name. That’s in reference to the fact this distillery received the Royal warrant in 1848 during a visit to the factory from Queen Victoria. This has been our favorite visit to a distillery in the region and a personal favorite whisky of ours. As there is no possibility to sleep anywhere nearby, we recommend asking for the take-away glasses for your tasting session.
Sitting on the top of a cliff on a small peninsula surrounded by the Northern Sea, Dunnottar castle is among the most impressive ruins in Scotland. This site has been inhabited since before the Middle Ages, but the current ruins date back to 13th century, with successive modification in 1600. Much of its importance derives from the central role this castle had during the Jacobite rising, because of its defensive strength.
The town of St Andrews is one of the most prominent historical towns of the region of Fife. The city has been the most important center for Christianity in Scotland since Middle Ages. Its highlights include the majestic Cathedral and St. Andrews Castle, both built in the 12th century. Travellers from everywhere in Great Britain and Europe organized pilgrimages to admire these magnificent structures.
Nowadays, both buildings are in ruins, destroyed after the clashes following the Scottish Reformation. Their remains, sitting on the cliffs and surrounded by the sea, create some of the most impressive views we ever had the possibility to admire.
This historic fishing village is one of the loveliest things you will carry in your memory from Scotland. Walking during sunset around on its cobbled streets and resting in the harbour facing the Northern Sea is just beautiful. After all the historical and naturalistic visits, take a couple of hours just to sit down, relax, and enjoy the view from this cute corner of the world, where time ticks at a slower pace.
As mentioned in our Castle Tour, few castles can be put in the same league with this one. Its first look is striking: the red building stands out from its extensive gardens surrounding the structure, with its black pointed roofs piercing the sky. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland and a top destination for anybody wishing to visit the region.
If you have the possibility, try to get here on a sunny day, when the colors are at its most intense tones. You may have to adjust your tour to get here at the right time, but it’s definitely worth it!
This is one of the few buildings that we left out of our castle tour, but we didn’t want by no means to lower its value. The current structure was built in the XVI century by Kings James IV and James V, transforming an old hunting lodge into one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Scotland. The king and its court were used to come here to practice hunting and falconry.
After the Reunification of the crowns in 1606, the castle fell in ruins, and it was partially destroyed by a fire. The remaining structure has been restored at the end of the XIX century, with several pieces of furniture rescued from different locations all over Scotland. While not having the visual coup d’oeil of other more famous manors in the region, we would still recommend a visit to this place, spending a couple of hours walking around the building and its surrounding gardens.
The medieval village of Stirling sees his name written several times in the Scottish history books. Sitting on the lowest bridging point of the river Forth, it’s always been a focal point for connecting the Highlands with the Lowlands. The medieval old town surrounds the famous Stirling Castle, dominating the area from the top of the hill. Apart from the stronghold, one of the most important king’s residences in Scotland, the church of the Holy Rude is an astonishing building with a wonderful kirkyard surrounding it. Here, James VI was anointed King of Scots before becoming King of England and therefore joining the two crowns together.
On another promontory nearby, the William Wallace monument is a tower built at the end of the XIX century overlooking the city. The memorial commemorates Sir William Wallace, the symbol of the Scots strike for freedom. The interior of the tower has few (supposed) artifacts belonging to this Scottish hero, but it’s not worth the time. The view from the base of the tower is the reason why we suggest a visit here. From there it’s possible to understand the importance this city had over the centuries to control land traffic in between the different regions of Scotland.
The East Scotland region represents an astonishing change from the harsh environment of the Westlands. Here, human activity has been more present, shaping the land to its desire. That’s why several of the most beautiful castles can be found on this side of Scotland. It’s a wonderful place, and we hope this guide will help you in designing your itinerary of this incredible region.