Stonehaven is famous for its fireball-swinging festival on Old Year's Night, an ancient pagan ritual.
Local Sights & Activities for Stonehaven
Stonehaven's outdoor swimming pool - an art deco heated salt water pool - is open most days and also has occasional midnight swims (Tel: 01569 762134).
By the harbour is the Tolbooth Museum, built around 1600, and the town's oldest building. It now houses a seafood restaurant and local history museum. Jun-Sep Mon and Thu-Sat 1000-1200 and 1400-1700, Wed and Sun 1400-1700. Free.
Another attraction is the town's highly respected folk festival, held over three days in mid-July. Away from the harbour and old town is the market square, where you'll find banks with ATMs and most of the shops. Just off the square is Just Scottish, an excellent arts and crafts shop (open Mon-Sat 1000-1730).
The main reason for coming to Stonehaven is to visit the impressive and impregnable Dunnottar Castle, two miles south of town just off the A92. Dating from the 12th century, this ancient ruin was a stronghold for the Earls Marischal of Scotland. Standing 160 ft high, with the sea on three sides and a huge drop and 'curtain wall' on the fourth, it is not far short of an island. It is worth devoting considerable time to exploring one of the country's most outstanding castles, which is approached by a steep 400-yd walk from the car park. So dramatic is its setting, that it was used as the backdrop for Zeffirelli's film version of Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson. But the fortress has a dramatic and bloody history all of its own. In 1297 William Wallace (another of Mel Gibson's characters, strangely enough) burnt alive an entire English garrison here; later, in 1685, a large group of Covenanters was imprisoned, tortured and then left to rot in the castle dungeons. The castle was reduced to its present state in 1716, during reprisals for the Earl Marischal's Jacobite activities.
Easter-Oct Mon-Sat 0900-1800, Sun 1400-1700; Nov-Mar Fri-Mon 0930-1600. The castle can also be reached by a footpath from Stonehaven; contact the tourist office for the relevant leaflet. Tel. 762173.