North East 250 – Four Day Tour – The Complete Tour – Itinerary
North East 250 Four Day Tour Highlights and brief Itinerary
- Day One – leaves Inverness, stopping at Gordon Castle and coastal villages. We lunch in Cullen and then stop in Fordyce, Portsoy harbour and Duff House, staying overnight in Banff.
- Day Two – begins with Delgatie Castle, then Pennan. The afternoon stops at the breathtaking Bullers of Buchan and Slains Castle. Reaching Aberdeen city we’ll visit either St Machar’s Cathedral or the David Welch Winter Gardens. We overnight in Aberdeen.
- Day Three – we visit Dunottar Castle and Crathes Castle. Burn O Vat is our next stop before lunch in Ballater. Then we visit Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Crathie Kirk and either Balmoral Castle or Braemar Castle. We overnight in Braemar.
- Day Four – sees us visiting Corgarff Castle, and Glenlivet Distillery. Our last visits are Ballindalloch Castle and Walkers Shortbread shop before returning to Inverness.
Day One – Inverness – Banff -North East 250 – Four Day Tour
Gordon Castle Walled Garden
Open all year round, the walled garden is one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. At almost eight acres in size it is one of the oldest and largest kitchen gardens in Britain and has been lovingly restored to its former glory with a modern design by world famous designer Arne Maynard. There is an award-winning café and a shop, with a product range based on the plants they grow.
Bow Fiddle Rock
The quarzite natural rock arch near Portknockie on the Moray Coast is one of our most famous coastal features. It gets its name because it resembles the tip of a fiddle bow. It is a lovely place for a short walk and a photo or two.
The Three Kings
The Three Kings are impressive Quarzite stacks on Cullen Beach. King Indulf of the Scots died in battle here, against invading Norse and Danish armies in 962 AD. Both Vikings and Danes also supposedly lost kings that day, hence the name of the sea stacks. The old rhyme says “Between Coedlich and the sea, there lies Kings’ sons three.”
Cullen is a charming seaside town, with an impressive beach and attractive harbour. Gift shops and antique stores line the main street, and the ice cream shop is nearly legendary. All of that, together with charming cafes, pubs and an excellent fish and chip shop make Cullen an excellent choice for free time and lunch. The town has also given its name to the famous fish soup; Cullen Skink. This town is the setting for the annual world Cullen Skink championships. Smoked haddock, potatoes and onion are nowhere else the subject of such fierce competition!
Historic Fordyce is so lovely it would be a shame to miss it. A village with a truly medieval feel, it is just the place to have a walk and soak up the atmosphere. Whether your passions run to castles, churchyards or just peace and quiet then Fordyce is time well spent. The Castle on the main street dates was a Menzies house, built in 1592. The churchyard is one of the most interesting in northern Scotland, and some of the church ruins there date back to 1272. The upper floor of the ruined church has some fascinating exhibits on the village history.
Portsoy is a charming coastal village particularly well known because of its historic harbour. The harbour makes Portsoy the ideal place to host the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. We also find the artisan Portsoy Marble shop here, making jewellery not from marble but rather from Serpentine. The 2016 movie “Whisky Galore” was filmed here.
Our first day ends at the fine old county town of Banff, where we can visit the stunning Georgian mansion of Duff House. It is part of the National Galleries of Scotland and so is filled with marvellous artworks.
Day Two – Banff – Aberdeen -North East 250 – Four Day Tour
The Earl of Buchan, who built a castle here in 1030 AD, lost it to Robert the Bruce in 1308. Bruce then gifted the castle to the Hay family. Today’s tower house dates mainly from the 1570’s. It ended up in the hands of Captain John Hay in the early 1950’s. Through decades of hard work, he and his wife transformed the castle from derelict ruin to the castle that we now see. He established the Clan Hay centre here and first opened it to the public in 1994. As he died in 1997 the castle is now run by a trust.
Pennan is a pictuesque village of whitewashed cottages huddling around the Pennan Inn at the foot of some north-facing seacliffs. You may think it looks familiar as this is where the 1983 movie “Local Hero” was filmed. As a result, we think that it is probably fair to claim that the red telephone box on the village’s only street is probably the most famous in the world. Pennan is also a hotspot for seeing dolphins and grey seals.
The Abbey, founded by Cistercian Monks in 1219, is associated with the Book of Deer; a gospel written between 900 and 1100AD. Scholars in Cambridge University, where the book is now held, consider it to be the oldest body of Gaelic writing in Scotland. The Protestant Reformation of 1560 heralded the end of the Abbey, and it eventually became domestic housing. A later owner, Admiral Ferguson, largely destroyed most of the remaining buildings in the 1800’s. The ruins that still stand have a poignant peace about them, and are a pleasant place to spend time.
Bullers of Buchan
A huge sea cave collapsed here, creating the gigantic blow-hole we see today. Pierced by two arches, the encircling wall of rock creates a chasm nearly a hundred feet deep. You may wonder at the odd name; Bullers of Buchan. Buchan is simply the old name for this area, and Bullers may come from the french word “bouillir”, meaning “to boil”, as the water can look like it is boiling during stormy weather. The coastal scenery is fantastic here, and numbered among the many seabirds we find here, are puffins, between April and August.
New Slains Castle is an undoubted high point of day two because of both location and history. It is an impressive crumbling ruin on the cliff edge and became the inspiration for Castle Dracula following Bram Stoker’s visit in 1894.
St Machar’s Cathedral
Although St Machar first founded the place of worship here in 580 AD, Edward III of England destroyed it in the 1300’s. What we see today, therefore dates mainly from the 1400’s. Beautiful windows help light its interior, while above us we can see the amazing heraldic ceiling. Just inside the west gate affords the best view of this fine fortified kirk. The freestone spires soar heavenwards atop towers described as “embattled”.
David Welch Winter Gardens
The David Welch Winter Gardens is a fantastic glass house complex that provides a year round indoor garden experience. It is a great place to wander and is home to many exotic plants including one of the largest collections of cacti in Britain. It is one of Europe’s largest indoor gardens and Scotland’s third most visited gardens.
We end our second day in Aberdeen, called the Granite City due to the grey stone from which it is built. The city has a wealth of attractions whether you have cathedrals, winter gardens or nightlife in mind.
Day Three – Aberdeen to Braemar – North East 250 – Four Day Tour
Everyone loves Dunottar Castle! For some it is the impregnable clifftop location, while for others it is due to the many movies featuring Dunottar. The most famous of these films might include Hamlet, Victor Frankenstein and everyone’s favourite – Brave!
A visit to Crathes Castle is fulfilling for a wide range of visitors. Burnett of Leys built the castle in the 1500’s and the family owned it until the 1950’s when they presented it to the National Trust for Scotland. The castle interiors are sumptuous, and the painted ceilings are not to be missed. A stroll in the fabulous historic walled gardens is a great way to relax, although, if your group is more active then you can swing through the forest canopy at “Go Ape”. And if you are lucky you may enjoy glimpses of roe deer or red squirrels when walking on the nature trails.
Burn O Vat
This natural feature, often described as a granite cauldron, is a meltwater pothole from a retreating ice sheet. A pleasant walk through native woodland brings you to it. Unless the river is running high, it is possible to enter “the Vat” using stepping stones in the river. You will be amazed by this massive open-roofed rock bowl and charmed by the waterfall which tumbles prettily into the back of the cauldron. Notorious outlaw, Patrick Gilroy MacGregor, used the Vat as his base, and we love sharing his story.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Lochnagar is the name of a nearby mountain. Indeed, in a poem by Lord Byron, he calls it dark Lochnagar. the mountain gives the distillery its name. Queen Victoria visited Lochnagar distillery in 1848, and is so impressed that she gives it the Royal Warrant. As a result it is one of only two distilleries allowed to use the word “Royal” in its name. The current distillery buildings date from 1906, and offer regular tours for visitors.
Crathie has been a place of worship since the 9th century. Once Victoria and Albert bought Balmoral they worshiped here whenever in residence. So it was Victoria who laid the foundation stone of this new, larger and more beautiful church in 1893. Completed in 1895, Crathie is a triumph of Gothic revival style and is built of local granite with a Scots Pine roof.
The Royal Family use Balmoral Castle as their Scottish summer residence. The old castle proved too small so Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built the current castle in 1856. We can visit Balmoral between April and July, after which it closes, as a result of the Queen’s arrival, in August. A visit to Balmoral gives access to the gift shop and cafe; the beautiful and extensive grounds and the ballroom.
Day Four – Braemar to Inverness – North East 250 – Four Day Tour
This is our alternative to Balmoral in the months of August to October, when the Royals are in residence on Deeside. The Earl of Mar built most of the current castle in the 1600’s, although the government added the surrounding wall while occupying the castle as a garrison fort; 1748 until 1831. A local community group now run Braemar castle and have opened it to the public since 2008.
Braemar is an attractive and thriving community in upper Deeside. Our guests enjoy free time for a look around; a lunch and time for photos of the Clunie Water, cascading through the heart of the village.. There are lots of independent and boutique shops, and a good range of eating places. As a result of the Queen’s regular attendance, the Braemar Gathering (on the first Saturday in September) has become one of the most famous highland games in the world.
Built in the 1500’s, Corgarff served first as a laird’s tower house, and then in the 1700’s it became a British army (or redcoat) barracks. The castle is particularly impressive as a result of its commanding position high on a hill in the Cairngorm National Park. It is particularly scenic in August because all of the heather on the surrounding hills turns purple. The open sweeping vistas here are a perfect counter to the well wooded lands of Royal Deeside behind.
Glenlivet Distillery is on our return route, on the last day of our tour. They have been distilling whisky legally since 1824, so it is no wonder that they are so good at it. The distillery is nowadays owned by Pernod Ricard and apparently the “light-tasting spirit” is because of the tall, narrow necks of the stills.
Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens
This Castle has been the home of the MacPherson-Grant family since 1546. Ballindalloch make many of their rooms available to view, despite this being a family home. As a result we particular enjoy a visit to this castle known as “The Pearl of the North”. The magnificent gardens fill with colour and interest from Spring until Autumn. Ballindalloch has the oldest herd of Aberdeen-Angus Cattle in the world. Clare Russell, the present laird’s mother, is an author in her own right, having produced three acclaimed recipe books, and one charming book capturing the essence and culture of the people and places of Banffshire.
The preferred snack on many airlines, it is no surprise that Walker’s Shortbread is known the world over. We love taking people to visit the original Walker’s shop in Aberlour. Founded in 1898, it has been supplying people with tasty samples ever since.
The famous civil engineer, Thomas Telford, built Craigellachie Bridge (between 1812 and 1815) to span the River Spey. It is the oldest surviving cast-iron bridge in Scotland and considered one of the finest in Britain. The poet laureate, Robert Southey, exclaimed that it was “beautifully light, in a situation where the utility of lightness is instantly perceived”.
Dallas is a pretty one-street village in the Morayshire Hills. One of our guides had a lot of fun taking Ken Kercheval to visit it, because he played Cliff Barnes from “Dallas” the TV show. We also see the ruined remains of Dallas Castle.
North East 250 – Four Days – Price
£2240 for up to seven passengers for the four days. There will be a guide lodgings supplement of £450 for 2023.
North East 250 – Four Days – Departure
The tour departs from your Inverness accommodation, or any transport hub you prefer, like bus station, train station or airport. You tell us, and we’ll be there.