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There is something mystical, almost unbelievable about the ruined cliff top fortress that is Dunnottar Castle perched on the edge of a cliff, open to the elements of the sea.
It was once the home of the earls Marischal, who were one of the most powerful families in Scotland, and today it is an iconic tourist destination for visitors the world over.
At the start of the year it was reported that Dunnottar Castle had enjoyed a record breaking year for visitors in 2019. With more than 137,000 visitors from all over the world exploring the castle. This had increased by around 12,000 visitors from the previous year and it had also been estimated that double that figure had travelled to the attraction, but did not enter; many visitors like to marvel at the castle from the top of the stairs, where you are treated to a dramatic backdrop. A photographer's dream!
This incredibly popular tourist destination is located just 2 miles south of Stonehaven; a beautiful harbour town situated on Scotland's northeast coast in Aberdeenshire, and boasts spectacular views from every angle.
Like the rest of the world, in March 2020 Scotland went into lockdown and with that we remained tucked away in our homes, eagerly awaiting good news.
On 15th July 2020 Scotland went into phase 3 of easing from lockdown and tourist attractions were given the green light to reopen (following government guidelines), meaning we could start to get out and explore a bit more. Dunnottar Castle as well as many other tourist attractions joined the ‘We’re Good to Go' Industry Standard, developed by VisitScotland in partnership with Tourism Northern Ireland, VisitEngland and VisitWales. This stamp of approval shows they're ready to open again and are adhering to the Scottish Government guidance.
“We’re Good To Go” is the official UK mark to signal that a tourism and hospitality business has worked hard to follow Government and industry COVID-19 guidelines and has a process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.” - https://goodtogo.visitbritain.com/
On 18th July 2020, we visited Dunnottar Castle following government guidelines, and throughout this post I will share my experience of visiting this tourist destination with their new regulations they have in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
As mentioned above Dunnottar Castle is located almost 2 miles south of Stonehaven, before leaving you might want to decide how you wish to get there, and if driving where you would like to park.
If travelling by car, you'll find that there is a free car park at Dunnottar Castle, this is small for the number of people visiting so they advise car sharing and transport wherever possible.
There's a catering van right beside the car park, ‘C&L Catering’ that sells a selection of hot food, ice cream, snacks and drinks. Currently there are plenty of hand sanitising stations, along with socially distanced measures in place and clear signage for queuing. The current opening hours are 10am - 5pm. You will also find a couple of picnic benches here. From the car park, it is about a 3 minute walk to the top of the stairs, where you can then make your way down the stairs to the castle. Sensible footwear is recommended for your visit.
If starting at Stonehaven Harbour, you will find various car parking spaces. If walking from the parking area at the harbour, follow Shorehead to Wallace Wynd, on the right hand side just past the harbour front pubs and then turn left onto Castle Street. From here you can follow the well marked coastal path along to Dunnottar Castle that takes around 35 minutes. The coastal path is along cliff edges so if this isn't for you then you could walk along the road instead, where the views are just as gorgeous.
Along this route you will see the War Memorial and you will be treated to stunning views of the harbour from above.
Stonehaven has a railway train station located on Station Road, the trains are running at the time of writing this, and in Scotland it is mandatory to be wearing a face covering whilst using public transport as well as adhering to social distancing and frequent hand washing. You can find updates here https://www.scotrail.co.uk/plan-your-journey/stations-and-facilities/stn or here https://www.thetrainline.com/stations/stonehaven Walking from the train station will take around 50 minutes.
The X7 and 107 from Aberdeen stops just a short walk from the Castle car park. For full details of travel options, you can visit www.travelinescotland.com as mentioned above in Scotland it is mandatory to be wearing a face covering whilst using public transport as well as adhering to social distancing and frequent hand washing.
If you are planning a trip to Dunnottar Castle, you must now book a ticket online prior to your visit, you will not be allowed inside unless you have your ticket. You can find the link to purchase these here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/dunnottar-castle-30683144992
There are currently three time slots available to choose from; 10am, 12.30pm and 3.00pm, with a 2 hour and 15 minute allocation to enjoy wandering around inside, we found this more than enough time to see everything and enjoy our visit at a leisurely pace. For arrival you have a 45 minute window to get in. See below for details:
10.00 to 12:15 hrs (last entry 10:45)
12.30 to 14:45 hrs (last entry 13:15)
15.00 to 17:15 hrs (last entry 15:45)
More information can be found on their website https://www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/
You can also visit this section of their website to learn more specifically about the measures in place and you should read this before you go https://www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/covid19-guidance/
We visited Dunnottar Castle on Saturday 18th July and chose the 10am time slot. I found this to be a great time to go as there were no crowds or queues at all, meaning that the people who were there were all very spaced out, allowing a very enjoyable visit.
We travelled by car for this trip and parked at the Dunnottar Castle car park, there were hand sanitising stations here and plenty of signage marking out social distancing and ensuring it is clear that tickets must be purchased online prior to entering. This helpful signage continued all the way throughout the grounds and along the paths and stairs.
A member of staff greets you at the entrance wearing PPE and here they will call you up and then scan your tickets. (please note tickets don’t have to be printed, you can show the PDF ticket that you will have received via email on your phone).
There are clearly marked signs indicating a one way system to guide you easily through the castle and grounds, we found this to be clear and noticed other visitors following these too. There are a number of hand sanitising stations inside and throughout the different buildings. There are also members of staff walking around spraying handles and cleaning benches, while wearing their PPE.
You will notice a few areas are closed off such as the Warden’s Quarters, Barack Room, Benholms Lodging and a few others as these spaces are too tight to implement the social distancing rules. This didn’t change our experience as there were still plenty of other areas to explore.
The toilet inside the castle is still open, now using a one in-one out system as well as being regularly cleaned.
As the various buildings inside that make up the castle grounds are spread out across 3 ½ acres (approx) we found that everyone inside was well spread out, meaning we saw no crowds of people gathered at any point of our experience, which we imagine is due to the limitation on how many visitors they can now have at each time slot.
Continued in the Comments...