We sent photographer Ali Horne to a less-travelled corner of Scotland. He's no stranger to photographing the Highlands, so how would Aberdeenshire and Moray Speyside compare?
Having been a regular to the Scottish Highlands, it was a pleasant change to head to the east coast at the start of the year, seeing a new area of my home country. I love going to new places and visiting somewhere for the first time: it is like a restart button when you are taking photos and it re-energises your love for the outdoors. Seeing castles and lighthouses for the first time, places I didn’t know existed until a few days before ignited my love of landscape photography and broadened my horizons as to what Scotland has to offer from every corner.
I started my trip on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms, the largest park in the UK and home to over a quarter of Scotland’s native forest. My first walk took me to the Balmoral Estate, home to a royal castle and native woodland that has been on my radar for a while – you can ski here well into early April, making it a rather unique place to explore. A long walk amongst the memorials (cairns) to royal members and the silence of the forests made this a peaceful and nice start to the trip, enjoying the fresh air with no one else around. My home for the night was a lovely cottage in the town of Ballater, with a cosy fire and my friendly hosts Cathy and her husband giving me local advice on where to eat and what to do in the area.
After a well deserved rest, I headed east towards the coastline, stopping at the brightly coloured castle of Craigievar on the way, owned by the National Trust. The pink castle, said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, was completed in the late 16th and early 17th century. I walked around the grounds enjoying it from afar, taking it all in. Next up on my list was one castle I had been hoping to visit for years, but had never had the chance to visit for one reason or another. Dunnottar is one of Scotland’s most photographed castles, a ruined medieval fortress sitting on top of a cliff overlooking the North Sea. William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots visited the castle in their heyday and it was also used as the protection of the Scottish Crown Jewels for over eight months during the Cromwell invasion. Known by many photography enthusiasts as a great location for sunrise, I visited early and late during the day, thankful of the clear skies making sunrise and sunset beautiful to capture here. A location that is a must for your visit to the east coast.
I stayed in Stonehaven for a night, due to its close proximity to the castle. I really enjoyed the quiet coastal town just south of Aberdeen, which has a lovely marina and a very decent fish and chip shop called ‘The Bay’ - highly recommended if you are close-by! Driving up the east coast, part of the newly marketed NE250 – the area’s take on the very popular NC500 further north – was eye opening in seeing new areas of the country and how much beautiful coastline there is in Aberdeenshire. Stunning beaches and jaggy cliffs are all over the place, with quaint villages tucked away from the bustle of the main city.
Next on my list for visiting was Rattray Lighthouse built in 1895, an unmanned lighthouse which marks a particularly dangerous part of the North Sea – with shipwrecks still visible on the seashore! With a causeway, the lighthouse is accessible during low tide but otherwise the structure is lonely amongst the waves and water, visible from the beach. With my drone, I was able to capture the lighthouse and the waves crashing against its walls, again on a sunny day (I got very lucky with the weather!).
I had gone as far east as Scotland would allow, so to finish my trip I turned around and headed west towards Inverness through the neighbouring region of Moray Speyside. I passed through Cullen, famous for its Cullen Skink and sandy beach front. With a world-class golf course and some of the best fresh fish on offer in the country, it’s a popular destination for tourists, not least because of its proximity to Scotland’s Whisky Trail. However, I was aiming for just west of the town to Bow Fiddle Rock, a natural sea arch beside the town of Portknockie.
Named due to its resemblance of a bow fiddle, the rock has been carved and shaped by the endless battering of the sea and is a nesting place for many different bird species. I also got lucky with both the sunrise and sunset here, with colourful clouds adding to the already stunning scene.
As it is away from the central belt and as far away as you can get from the Western Isles and Skye, it does not surprise me that Aberdeenshire is less well-known, but it did surprise me how much variety the area had for hikers, tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. Although not quite as mountainous, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the Highlands with the advantage of being far less busy.
High quality produce makes the food here some of the best in the country, fish perfectly fresh and meat reared in the local area. The people, just like any area of Scotland, are really friendly who are happy to help with any questions or help you get the most out of your stay in their hotels, B&Bs and cottages.
It is really rewarding to see how much Scotland has to offer. Having been to other areas of the country on multiple occasions and being from the west coast, seeing parts of Aberdeenshire and Moray Speyside for the first time made me realise that the northeast coast is an area not to be overlooked for visits: castles, coastlines, mountains and forests are waiting throughout, with fewer visitors adding an untouched quality. I will be back soon, I am sure of it.