OK, that “AAA” is a bit of a stretch! It’s meant to indicate Saint Andrews, the Cliffs of Arbroath and the East Aquhorthies Stone Circle. But hey, life is short and blog titles should be too!
More than must-sees
If you have a bit of time, not just rushing between the “official” must-sees in Scotland (and there are many), the East Coast boasts several treasures. Some are well known, such as Saint Andrews, but I popped by 2 lesser-known spots you might enjoy. Here is the scoop on that “Scottish AAA” I did in early November.
Who hasn’t heard of the “Home of Golf”? Saint Andrews is famous the world over for its courses and competitions. It’s only an hour and a half driving from Edinburgh, along a pretty route. Cross the Firth of Forth at Queensferry on the easy M90 Motorway and then take either the first option east on the A92 or else a bit more inland on the A91.
Tip for “Outlander” fans: make a stop at Falkland enroute! This pretty town is “Inverness” in the TV series, see my previous “Outlander” blog. It only adds a few minutes to the drive.
Going beyond golf
Golf may be the big claim to fame for Saint Andrews, but did you know the town itself is quite lovely? It’s not large, with a population under 20,000, yet it has neat old architecture, interesting shops and quite a few restaurants. Plus the ruins of the largest Cathedral in Scotland. I enjoyed a modest walk around, and once again was lucky with the November weather: cool, crisp and sunny.
Fun fact: wondering why little Saint Andrews has several “ports”? Ahh, well, these ports have nothing to do with ships, boats, harbors or water. The word “port” here is Scots Lowlands for “town gate”! Want another one? The University of Saint Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland.
Arbroath and the Cliffs
The town of Arbroath is less than an hour more up along the coast, crossing the River Tay towards Dundee. No crocodiles in this river by the way… Being a hiker and walker, this spot had been on my wish list for years and this was my chance. Coming in from Edinburgh in a rental car, I drove through the town and parked at the sizeable carpark near the Cliffs.
Against the wind
The Cliff Path goes a ways up north along the coast and, literally, the Cliffs edge. The weather was sunny still, but very windy. Not unexpected along the North Sea coast of course. Birds wheeling and fighting the winds, waves pounding the rocks, walkers huddling into their gear – very few of them!
Don’t blow your survival chances
Heed the warning signs! Walkers have been blown off in several instances, or fell while trying to climb down and up. Don’t become a “Cliffhanger” – it hardly ever ends well!
Fun fact: ever try the “Arbroath Smokie”? It’s seriously smoked haddock. Legend has it that the smokie was discovered by accident long ago, when a shop storing barrels of salted fish burned down and rescuers discovered that the salvaged fish tasted delicious! Another explanation is that the Smokie has Scandinavian roots, not unlikely in Scotland. Either way, the European Union granted the Arbroath Smokie “Protected Food Name” status!
East Aquhorthies Stone Circle
From Arbroath, drive up along the coast via Montrose towards Stonehaven, about an hour. Visit stunning Dunnottar Castle on the coast if you have the time – but check their website first! I did and found this hilarious warning: closed due to high winds inside the Castle.
After Dunnottar or Stonehaven, drive to East Aquhorthies either via the inland route towards Westland, or stay coastal longer via the Granite City of Aberdeen (subject of an upcoming blog). It’s another almost hour either way. East Aquhorthies is located near Inverurie and only 20 minutes northwest of Aberdeen’s Dyce Airport if you happen to fly in.
Guardians of the galaxy
The shape of Aquhorthies is the so-called “recumbent” style, unique to northeast Scotland. This type of Stone Circle features a large stone laying flat with 2 large standing stones on either side, like “guardians” (my term, nothing official).
The guardian set sits on the southern side. No moon light when I visited but apparently it is lined up towards the southern moon set, near a hill. We don’t really know the meaning of this setup, why the ancients built them like that, but they did know stuff about the galaxy…
The heights of circle construction
Aquhorthies is one of the best preserved Stone Circles in Scotland. All 9 original stones survive. Those ‘’guardians’ are over 8 feet high, and the laying-down recumbent is over 12 feet long and its side is still almost 5 feet high.
The stones of Aquhorthies are not set in a perfect circle, but a bit elongated. Once again, no one knows whether that’s due to primitive measuring or on purpose. The stones themselves follow a familiar pattern of the highest at the recumbent point to the lowest right across from it. You can see this quite well standing in the centre and circling yourself.
Colors, cairns and acoustics
Unique to Aquhorthies is that the stones have slightly varying colors, very subtle, which only literally came to light during a 1985 restoration and cleanup project.
There may have been some kind of cairn in the middle in times long lost. Archaeologists are unclear on that but today, there is a bit of a dip in the middle still. During that 1985 cleanup project, they also detected interesting acoustic effects, which may have been different with a cairn in the middle. Once again, the how, what and why is lost in the mists of time.
Field of dreams
Good news: the Circle is accessible year-round and free! I travel a lot in off-seasons and am always on the lookout for closures and opening hours, as those often change dramatically between seasons. On my visit today, mine was the only car in the carpark. And the rain from the past half hour had stopped just in time too. The ever-changing Scots weather had been good to me, fading into a beautiful sunset this November day.
Fun fact: the name “Aquhorthies” is derived from Scots Gaelic and means as much as “prayer field”, confirming a long history of religious meaning.
AAA is A-OK
I enjoyed all three A’s of my Scottish AAA : Andrews, Arbroath and Aquhorthies. And I was extra-happy that despite all the winds and driving on the left, I did not need the actual AAA! But if you do need car help, remember it’s just called the “AA” in the UK. Founded in 1905, they’ll come to the rescue, whether you’re in a bustling modern city or stuck at a millennia-old Stone Circle, if need be.
The Alphabet Coast
Daylight was long gone by now, sunset fading. Time to leave the Circle and go drop my rental car at Dyce Airport. From there, I took a cab into Aberdeen to catch the ferry to Shetland, see a previous blog. The Scots east coast has many more gems in store – and today’s were only the A’s!
My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no Photoshopping, no promo story in exchange for a freebie: I pay full fare. It’s true travel. Note that the company does not necessarily share my opinions and views. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine (except where credited as noted), as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
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