The North East 250 is a 250 mile road trip covering parts of Moray, Aberdeenshire, Speyside and the Cairngorms. The NE250 route takes you past the spectacular coastlines of northern Moray and Aberdeenshire, the majestic castles of Braemar, beautiful Cairngorm scenery, and the famous distilleries of Speyside’s whisky trail.
We completed this road trip over three adventure packed days, however if you would rather travel at a more leisurely pace then we would suggest allowing 4-7 days (or longer) to complete the route.
The NE250 route takes you in a full circle, so you can start your journey from whatever point you wish. There is so much to see and do and we will certainly be going back in the future.
Bow Fiddle Rock
Just off the coast of Porknockie sits a beautiful sea arch that resembles the tip of a fiddle. Bow fiddle Rock is a natural sea arch fashioned from a rock called Cullen Quartzite.
Over time the pressure from the waves have sculpted this wonderful feature with the finesse of a renaissance master. It is only a short walk from the parking area to view Bow Fiddle Rock, but you can also walk right down to the shoreline for a closer look. There is a sea cave on the way down that is worth exploring.
On our visit we had planned to kayak through the sea arch, but the water was too choppy to take the risk. We still however enjoyed a paddle near the shore and hopefully can return on a calmer day to get a closer look at this fantastic natural wonder.
Cullen Beach and Viaduct
A bit further along the coast on the border between Moray and Aberdeenshire is the attractive seaside village of Cullen. It has a harbour, a long stretch of golden sands and an impressive disused train viaduct surrounding the village. It also enjoys a unique microclimate as it is situated between the Deveron and Spey river while getting shelter from the Grampian Hills.
Cullen Skink is a famous dish from here which is a soup made from smoked haddock, potatoes, onions, and milk. We highly recommend you try a bowl here. We decided to walk along the long beach before walking up castle hill. Part of this walk is over the disused viaduct and up to the highest point above the village. This vantage point gives amazing views looking down on Cullen. This is a beautiful village to visit during your NE250 trip.
The next stop on our itinerary was the rugged ruins of Findlater catle. The ruins can be found built into some sea cliffs on a rocky peninsula a couple of miles along from Cullen. If you have the time, you can complete a coastal walk from Cullen to the castle. There is also a car park 1/2 a mile from the castle, so we parked here.
Findlater translates to Gaelic as Fionn Letir which means white cliffs. This refers to the quartz found in the rock of the castle. The first record of the castle dates to 1246 and it was rebuilt in 1455. Mary queen of Scots attacked the castle in 1562 but despite the onslaught it survived and was inhabited until the 17th century.
Getting close to the castle requires a steep climb down near the cliff edge so if you decide to do this, please take care. It is better to enjoy the castle from a distance as the structure is somewhat unsafe. The most magnificent thing about this castle is the way it is built into the dramatic cliff edge. It is worth visiting during your NE250 trip.
The picturesque fishing village of Sandend boasts an incredible sandy beach. The water is shallow and it slopes gently into the sea, creating great waves for surfing. We saw a few surfers out enjoying themselves and it made us want to jump in and play in the choppy water. Due to time constraints, we opted for a barefoot walk along the sandy beach instead. We would definitely recommend spending some time here during your NE250 trip.
Portsoy 17th Century Harbour
Portsoy is a quaint sea trading village between Cullen and Banff in Aberdeenshire. It hosts one of the oldest harbours in the area. Winding streets with cute little cottages lead down to the ancient harbour. Standing amongst the buildings, looking out to sea feels like a step back in time. The buildings surrounding the harbour date back to 1600 and 1700’s.
Portsoy is also famous for the green marble that was extracted from the quarry here. It can even be found in the Palace of Versailles.
One of our favourite things about stopping in Portsoy was its award-winning Ice cream Shop. It offers a range of mouth-watering flavours which we were more than happy to sample. It didn’t disappoint. A brilliant treat during your NE250 trip.
Lying at the base of dramatic sea cliffs, just outside the coastal village of Banff, lies the abandoned Tarlair swimming complex. Once a hub of activity for the local community and tourists alike the pool now sits crumbling and neglected. A mere remnant of its former glory. We found this slice of Aberdeenshire history an amazing place to visit and wrote a full blog on our experience. You can read more about its history here.
Old Pitsligo Church Yard
We stumbled upon this church yard by mistake but were soon engrossed by its ancient gravestones and church. Old Pitsligo Churchyard was founded in 1633 and closed 1890. New Pitsligo Church was opened after this. The graveyard is home to a variety of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century grave slabs decorated in the ‘memento mori’ style. Memento mori is Latin for ‘remember you will die’. Many of the best-preserved gravestones were memorials for ministers of the church. They are in remarkable condition considering some date back as far as the 17th century. A hidden gem on the NE250 route.
Pitsligo Castle Ruins
Pitsligo Castle originated as a 15th-century keep. It is now very much a ruin but a substantial ruin at that. There are fantastic views from the castle overlooking the sandy bay of Rosehearty. There is an arched gateway in the west wall with the date 1656 and the arms of the Forbes and Erskines. The entrance to the castle is still impressive despite its ruined state. The castle is currently under-going some restoration work, but you can still explore most of castle and it is a great way to spend an hour or so. We really enjoyed our visit here.
Bullers of Buchan
Buller of Buchan is a collapsed sea cave which forms a circular chasm known as “the pot”. A natural sea arch allows the oceans waves to come crashing through. A variety of sea birds are nested into the side of the cliffs. You make even get a glimpse of a puffin if you’re lucky. Grey seals sometimes frolick in the bay, and dolphins are often seen passing by offshore. It is a wonderful place to sit and watch nature pass you by. If you enjoy wildlife photography this stop is a must on your NE250 trip.
Slains castle (Or new Slains castle) is an impressive ruin built on the precipice of Cruden Bay’s dramatic cliff edge. The ruin itself is a maze of corridors, rooms, halls and towers. A spectacular imprint of the grand castle that once was. Slains castle has been reconstructed many times since its construction in 1597 by the Earl of Erroll. The ruin you see today is the inevitable result of the roofless castle’s location. One of the most notable guests to Slains Castle was the author Bram Stoker. It is believed the castle is the inspiration for the setting of the tale in Count Dracula (1897). Read more here.
Old Slains castle
Just around the coast from Slains Castle lies the lessor know Old Slains Castle. This ruin sits on a thin peninsula that stretches into the North Sea. Old Slains Castle was built in the fourteenth century by the Hays family. They occupied the castle until it was blown up by James IV as revenge for their support of a Catholic rebellion.
Aberdeen is the 3rd largest city in Scotland after Glasgow and Edinburgh. Here you’ll find a wide range of accommodation, shops, restaurants and bars. This was one of over nights stops where we enjoyed a night sampling some of Aberdeen’s bars and night life. We loved these rainbow steps. This is a really good place to stay on your NE250 trip if you want a range of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Ballater is situated in the heart of Royal Deeside and is also part of the Cairngorms National Park. A range of amenities can be enjoyed in this Victoria village including accommodation, cafes, and restaurants. If you are interested in outdoor adventure, Ballater is a great base. It is also the closest village to Balmoral Castle and has links to the Royals throughout the years. The Royal Station was rebuilt and refurbished in 2018 after a fire destroyed the original in 2015. Some of the original features can still be seen on display.
The beautiful Balmoral Castle is the summer residence of the Royal Family and is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. Balmoral has been one of the residences of the British royal family since 1852, when it was bought from the Farquharson family by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.
It was described by Queen Victoria as ‘my dear paradise in the Highlands’. The castle is open to the public from the 1st April to 2nd August and is definitely worth a visit.
The Pyramid Walk
Did you know that Scotland has its very own pyramids? Yes, 11 of them to be exact. These can all be found on the Balmoral Estate and have been erected to commemorate members of the royal family. The largest of them all is Prince Alberts Cairn and was constructed after his death in 1861 as a symbol of Queen Victoria’s love for him. The pyramid walk is a great way to stretch your legs and experience something unique on your NE250 trip.
Braemar Castle is a 17th Century castle that has been a hunting lodge, fortress, garrison and family home over the years. It is situated near the River Dee and is owned by the chief of Clan Farquharson. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a bride who thought wrongly that her new husband regretted marrying her and had abandoned her. Overcome by her own thoughts she threw herself from the top of the tower. She has been seen walking the grounds of the castle by many visitors.
Linn of Quoich – The devils punch bowl
The Linn of Quoich is a picturesque stopping point. From the bridge the water can be seen rushing through the narrow gorge to create an impressive waterfall. The carved hole known as the devil’s punch bowl can also be seen here. Local legend states that the Earl of Mar poured a strong spirit into the hole and it was used to toast the Jacobite cause in 1715.
The Whisky Trail
Speyside is the world’s most concentrated area of Scotch malt whisky distilleries. If whisky is your thing, then you are spoiled for choice as there are no fewer than 9 distilleries on this section of the NE250 route. Whether you’re partial to a dram of Glenlivet or Glenfiddich there are plenty of stops to wet your whistle. If you were going to limit yourself to one distillery to visit, I would recommend the Glenlivet. It sits in spectacular surroundings and is one of Scotland’s best loved drams.
Aberlour is a Speyside town with a variety of cafes and smalls shops, making it good place to stop off. Linn Falls is a beautiful waterfall and pool about a 20-minute walk from Aberlour. The walk is suitable for a variety of people and the reward of the waterfall at the end makes it well worthwhile. It is a great place to have a quick dip to celebrate your NE250 trip!
The North East 250 is a fantastic alternative to its more famous neighbour the NC500. The route boats some of the most underrated and beautiful coastline in Scotland, as well as areas rich in history and culture. We thoroughly recommend exploring what the area has to offer and would love to hear about your adventures.
Remember no matter where you go to take only pictures and leave only footprints so that Scotland’s beauty can be enjoyed by everyone who visits.
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