St. Mary's College, Blairs was founded in 1829 when the local landowner John Menzies of Pitfodels gifted his mansion house and his 1000 acre estate to the Catholic Church. Blairs became a seminary for Catholic Boys who wanted to become Priests. After the Reformation it became dangerous to train as a priest in Scotland and Blairs was the last in a line of small 'secret seminaries' in out of the way places in the Highlands & Islands. In the years which followed the Reformation, boys would begin their education in Scotland before moving on to the Scots Colleges In Europe to finish their education and Priest Training in safety. The Priests who did train completely in Scotland were known as 'Heather Priests' Blairs closed as a college in 1986 and today apart from the Museum the only part of the former college in use today is the third floor which belongs to an Oil Company.
The Blairs Museum is housed in a fairly small building which used to be part of St. Mary's - Blairs College. In 1986 a trust was set up to preserve and exhibit 'The Blair Collection' the collection includes some fine art work including a portrait of 'The Old Pretender' James Francis Stewart, painted by Antonio David in 1723, other items from the House of Stuart include memorablia of the 'Pretender's Son' known as the romantic figure of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or Charles Edward Stuart the items on display include Charlie's ring with a lock of his hair, a silver snuff box and an enamelled watch featuring a portraid of his daughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Albany. The Museum is home to many historical items which were saved from destruction during the Reformation, they come from many Churches around Scotland and now have a safe home in this fascinating museum.
Opening times Saturday 10am - 5pm
Sunday 12pm - 5pm April to September
The Chasuble collection at Blairs is a stunning collection of the outer most liturgical vestments worn by Priests in celebration of the Eucharist. The collection is housed in a series of drawers which used to be half the width they are today and hence the double handles on the drawers. A magnifing glass is provided so you can see the intricate stiching , using gold & silver threads, it is hard to imagine most were produced by hand with no electric light. The collection of Chasuble comes from all over Scotland and Europe many gifted to Blairs from the Scots Colleges in Spain, France & Germany. What a treasure to pull open a drawer and gaze at this fine needle work from time past.
Please note: the vestments are covered by a sheet of glass to protect them so photography is difficult but the museum guide said we could use a picture from the web site = thank you Colin.
St. Mary's Parish Church was very much part of Blairs College life. The boys from Blairs College had to attend Mass twice a day seven days a week. St. Mary's Parish Church is still used today for Church Services and also for Weddings, our guide told us of people coming to be married here from as far a way as Glasgow. their Parish Priest would recommend the Church as a Wedding Venue because as a young boy he started his education at Blairs and kept the pretty lillte Church close in his memory and his heart. The Church is in a tranquil setting with many leafy trees. One funny thing I noticed when wandering around the little graveyard - the graves of the Priests and the ones of the Nuns are at opposite ends.
Our first visit to Dunnottar Castle was when my sons were little boys, they had lots of fun scrambling around the ruined castle pretending to be the heros of the past amid the film props. It took me a long time to return, but finally did on a sunny Sunday in November.
Dunnottar Castle sits one hundred and sixty feet perched on a massive cliff rock, the name Dunn is a pictish word for fortress so the origins of a fort go back to around 400. the castle has a long and troubled history and has witnessed many battles between the English and the Scots. In the time of Charles ll just before Cromwell's invasion, the Honours of Scotland were smuggled out of the castle along with the King's papers to the wife of a church minister on the beach below. She took the Crown Jewels to Kinneff Church where they were hidden until they could safely be returned to Edinburgh Castle. The ruins cover a large area on the headland and are well worth exploring.
Opening times April - October Monday - Saturday 9.00 - 6.00 Sunday 2.00 - 5.00
Winter times Saturday Sunday & Monday 9.30 till dusk Cost Adult £4.00 Child £1.00
The Tolbooth dates back to the fifteenth century and was originally used as a store house by the Earl Marischal to store food supplies for Dunnottar Castle. After the 45 Rebellion in Scotland the Tolbooth became a prison for Episcopalion Clergy who were locked up for six month. The building fell into disrepair until the former Town Council of Stonehaven decided to restore the building, in September 1963 the late Queen Mother officially reopened Stonehaven's oldest building. Today it houses a free museum and seafood restaurant.
Opening times for the museum are April - October - Wednesday to Monday 1.30 - 4.30 closed Tuesday. We visited in November so did not get to visit but it leaves Stonehaven open for another visit.
The town of Stonehaven has its roots firmly anchored and closely tied to the sea. Although the harbour today is mostly used for pleasure, water skiing, canoeing and small pleasure boats, the little fishing boats still provide the town and restaurants with their daily catch of fresh fish. We had a pleasant time just strolling around looking at the many colourful boats and the pretty art tiles depicting life by the sea. There is no pavement to walk on and moving cars share the same space as pedestrians but both are well aware of each others presence in this quiet seafaring harbour.
Aberdeenshire has one hundred and fifty miles of coastal trails. Stonehaven is a small part of these stunning trials. Walking here on the cliffs is a great way to spend some time with the wind in your hair and sea spray in your face with nature up close and personal. The beach curves round the headland and is mostly single and stone if you like looking for fossils you may be lucky here.
Cambus O May woods are a perfect place for walking in all seasons. The woods are a mix of birch trees and conifers. There are many marked trails, some offer disabled access and some more difficult and challenging ones for the more active. We only had a short walk as we were losing day light and when it gets dark here it is pitch dark with no light at all, but I will return in spring time to spend more time in this beautiful part of Aberdeenshire. On the 12th. April I revisited Cambus O May woods Spring had indeed arrived and I could once again go for a walk amongst natures greenery.
The Cambus O May Suspension Bridge was built in 1905 and is a well maintained very beautiful bridge. From a small car park on the right hand side of the road we crossed over the River Dee to the woodland on the other side. This is a popular spot in summer where you can sunbath on the flat granite slabs, have a swim and enjoy a picnic in the scenic surroundings. We had a lovely springtime walk here on a fine sunny day
Dunnattor Castle, near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire is everyones idea of a proper castle. It is probably the most impregnable fortress in Scotland.
The castle stands on a remote headland surrounded by 50m high cliffs, as if it were indeed designed for the castle itself. The flat ground on which the castle stands, of some three acres, was once connected to the mainland by a saddle, but even this has been carved away by man.
There were only two ways in or out of Dunnottar Castle. The first was via the incredibly strongly defended main gate set in a cleft in the rock where unwanted callers would be vulnerable to attack from all sides. The second was via a rocky creek leading to a cave on the north side of the rock. From here a steep path led up the cliff to the well defended postern gate.
There has been a defensive structure on the site since 900 AD. The present structure dates to 1500's.
Admission: Adult £3.50, Child £1.00.
Stonehaven (or Stonehyve in the 16th century) developed as as Iron Age fishing port and lies about 20 miles south of Aberdeen. The castle is the main attraction but the harbour and Toll Booth Museum (oldest structure in the town itself) is well worth spending time - especially as the best restaurants and pubs are to be found round the waterfront. There is a long beach in the town -a functional one rather than anything of any great natural beauty!
It's developed as quite a residential town (12,000 people) and with the old part of the town confined to the harbour area in the southerly tip of its boundaries, initial feel when arriving by train (the station is on the edge of town) is one of a suburban sprawl!! (When I first arrived I wondered if I had made a serious mistake coming here and should jump on the next train to Aberdeen!).
The backdrop to Mel Gibson's 1990 version of 'Hamlet', Dunnottar Castle is deeply impressive. Sitting atop a flat-topped rock jutting out to sea, sheer cliffs on three sides with only a narrow causeway connecting it to the mainland, it's easy to understand why the castle was built here and why it held out for so long against Cromwell's armies.
Dunnottar started off as a religious settlement under the Picts - by the 5th century a church had been built on this exposed spot. The Viking invasion in the 9th century destroyed the church and the rudiments of a castle. The current castle's foundations were laid in the 12th century and became the home of the Earls Marischal - one of the most powerful families in Scotland, hence Mary Queen of Scots is recorded having stayed at the castle.
One of its main claims to fame is the 8 months it withheld Cromwell's armies at bay with the Scottish Crown Jewels (the Honours of Scotland) at stake. Somehow, the small garrison not only kept Cromwell out, but managed to whisk the Jewels away to safety. It was only after the arrival of heavy artillery that the castle eventually fell. And like so many castles and abbeys on the Scottish east coast - the Reformation and the English Civil War resulted in their physical destruction and ruinous state.
Easter Weekend to October: Monday to Saturday 9am-6pm, Sunday 2-5pm.
November to Easter Weekend: Friday to Monday 10.30am - Dusk
Adults: £5, Children under 16: £1
If you have a spare 2 hrs think about visiting Dunnottar Castle. It is located 1 mile south of Stonehaven and is a very atmospheric place as it is situated on a cliff overlooking the sea. Although it is in ruins, there is still enough structure left to look around and there are good boards and a museum area giving you details of the history. Kids will love it, even my 15 year old left behind his "bored teenager" personality to clamber and climb over and into all the nooks and crannys he could find. Its not really suitable for very disabled visitors due to the number and steepness of steps from the car park, but parents with buggies seemed to manage fine. Its £5 for adults and £1 for children, so not a vast expense, and well worth it for the photo opportunities.
Taking the fairly steep path to the south of the harbour up through the houses, you quickly find yourself on the clifftop pathway that leads to Dunnottar Castle 2 miles away. It's a spectacular walk and undoubtedly the most picturesque way of reaching the castle.