Discovering A Secret Scottish Castle Ruin On A Sea Cliff
How’s that for alliteration?? I usually start with a gorgeous pic, but we’re going to build up to this one. There’s a payoff here, I promise—but the anticipation is part of the fun…
I’d done a decent amount of research before my trip to Aberdeenshire and hadn’t heard even a *whisper* of this place. I found out about it in a truly Scottish way…while I was at the Glenglassaugh distillery, the people there told me about a great place nearby to have lunch, so I went in search of that. Then, while chatting with the lady who owns Old Kirk Bistro, she asked if I wanted to know about a secret castle that no one but locals knows about.
(Hint: the answer to that is always YES)
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She gave me verbal directions (which I’m convinced would not have gotten me there), but they didn’t make a ton of sense so thankfully my Google Maps pulled it up just fine (here are the coordinates). The last bit was down a paved one-lane road, and then you basically pull into a farm and park behind it.
Next it was a gorgeous 10-minute walk down to the cliffs. The path is easy to follow and borders on wheelchair-accessible (probably could be, as long as it isn’t muddy). The grass is lush and waving, and got nearly as tall as me as I continued my walk. I was the only tourist around, and the only other person I saw was an older lady walking her dog along the cliffs.
Finally I hit the edge and got a glimpse of Findlater Castle!
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From Undiscovered Scotland: The name “Findlater” seems to come from the Gaelic “fionn leitir”, meaning “white cliff”, and the first record of a castle here dates back as far as 1246.
There’s a lot that’s not known about the Findlater Castle’s history, but what we do know is that King Alexander III fortified the existing castle as he was preparing for an invasion by King Håkon IV of Norway (wonder if it’s the same as my Bergen Håkon’s Hall???), and though the Norwegians didn’t prevail this specific time it seems they did occupy the castle later in history. The particular ruins here date to the structure built in the 1450s, and the owners later stood against Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s.
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I was bowled over by the scene before me. First, I had an absolutely idyllic Scottish early summer day—a far cry from the miserable cold and rain the day before. And then the beauty of the mossy green cliffs, craggy rocks, deep blue water, crashing waves, and ruins clinging to the cliff almost overwhelmed me.
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There’s a lovely little bench up on the cliff so you can just sit and enjoy the view (and I bet sunrise or sunset wouldn’t suck either). There’s also an incredibly narrow path down to explore the ruins.
NOW…honestly this is where I started to greatly weigh my options. First off, I had a conference call in like half an hour, so I didn’t have all the time in the world to stay and explore.
Second, THIS IS NOT SAFE. Seriously. Especially due to all the rain there lately it was especially slippery and muddy, but just in general these cliffs and Findlater Castle’s ruins are really not considered safe and you should think twice and take extreme care if you’re going to go behind the main path above (and obviously you do so at your own risk).
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So I decided to at least start down the path toward the ruin and see how far I got. I kept skidding down the path on the mud (it’s only wide enough for one foot at a time, so stability was a concern), and was just thinking “My mom is SO worried about me right now and she doesn’t even know it!” when I really hit a slick patch.
I put my hand out on the bush next to me to steady myself and it ended up being an insane sticker bush. OW. So I pulled my hand back instinctively and instead (to avoid falling in the direction of the cliff) rolled my side and shoulder into the bush instead of my hand. I basically full-on fell into a sticker bush.
So now I was covered in stickers (thank goodness for the cardigan I was wearing!) and had them sticking out all over my hand. Though thankfully I was alive, so there’s that!
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At this point I decided that maybe given the time I had left, it wasn’t super smart to climb all the way down to Findlater’s ruins. Because to be honest I wasn’t positive I could get back up the steep hill, with how slippery the mud was. And no one on the planet actually knew where I was. So, sadly, I scrambled back up the cliff and headed back to the car to find a place to take my conference call.
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But I was still amazed and excited to have experienced something so cool and hidden that most tourists would never have known it was there. Here’s a video just so you can get a sense of the beauty and sounds. I know vertical isn’t ideal, but you’ll get the vibe (definitely watch in full-screen!).
The whole thing took less than an hour, but I would have loved to stay there a little longer just to enjoy more (and see if I could find my way safely down to the ruins). And I adore that basically no one but locals knows about this…let’s not ruin it for them, eh?? However, if you’re spending time on the northern coast of Aberdeenshire, perhaps visiting distilleries, then Findlater Castle is definitely worth a stop on a beautiful day!
How to plan your visit to Findlater Castle:
- I stayed in the absolutely delightful Craigellachie Hotel
- Some things to do nearby include loads of whisky distilleries (I visited Ben Riach, Glendronach, and Glenglassagh, all for work), Elgin Cathedral, the Speyside Way walk or bike, Bow Fiddle Rock, and beautiful seaside towns.
- If you’re feeling peckish, definitely stop at Old Kirk Cafe & Bistro in Fordyce for a delicious meal!
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