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The Hidden Treasure of Stonehaven

A lovely walk along the cliffs to Dunnottar Castle, which once housed Scotland's crown jewels.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 377ft (115m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Cliff edges, metalled tracks, forest paths, 3 stiles

Landscape Striking seascapes, ancient castle

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 273 Stonehaven & Inverbervie

Start/finish NO 874858

Dog friendliness On lead along cliffs

Parking Market Square, Stonehaven

Public toilets Market Square, Stonehaven

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1 From the Market Square in Stonehaven, walk back on to Allardyce Street, turn right and cross over the road. Turn left up Market Lane and, when you come to the beach, turn right to cross over the footbridge. Turn right at the signs to Dunnottar Castle to reach the harbour. Cross here to continue down Shorehead, on the east side of the harbour. Pass the Marine Hotel, then turn right into Wallis Wynd.

2 Turn left into Castle Street. Emerge at the main road, then maintain direction walking along the road until it bends. Continue ahead, following the enclosed tarmac track, between arable fields and past a war memorial on the right-hand side. Nip over the stile at the end of the track.

3 Make your way across the middle of the field, cross a footbridge and two more stiles. You now pass a track going down to Castle Haven and continue following the main path around the cliff edge. Cross another footbridge and bear uphill. You'll soon reach some steps on your left that run down to Dunnottar Castle.

4 Your walk bears right here, past a waterfall, through a kissing gate and up to a house. Pass the house to reach the road into Stonehaven by the Mains of Dunnottar, turn right, then take the first turning on the left, walking in the direction of the radio masts. Follow this wide, metalled track past the masts and East Newtonleys on the left-hand side, to reach the main A957.

5 Turn right and walk downhill, then take the first turning on the left side. Follow this track to a sign on the right, 'Carron Gate'. Turn right and walk through the woods, following the lower path on the right-hand side that runs by the burn. You'll soon reach a little Shell House on the left.

6 Pass this on the left, continue along the lower track, then climb uphill to join a wider track. Bear right here, to maintain direction and reach the edge of the woods. Walk through the housing estate to join Low Wood Road and the river.

7 Turn left, then right to cross the footbridge with the green railings. Turn right and walk by the water. You'll soon pass the striking art deco Carron Restaurant on the left-hand side, and then come to a cream coloured iron bridge. Bear left here, then turn first right to return to the Market Square.

There's more than a dash of romance on this windswept walk to Dunnottar Castle. One of Scotland's lesser known castles, it is deliciously picturesque, a glowering ruin perched on the edge of the cliffs and sprayed by the chilly northern seas. It was the setting for one of the most fascinating and little known episodes in Scotland's history, for Dunnottar Castle was the hiding place of some of the country's greatest treasures - the crown jewels.

Scotland's crown jewels are among the oldest in Europe. Also known as the Honours of Scotland, they comprise a crown, a sword of state and a silver sceptre. The crown was created in 1532 for James V. It is made of gold encrusted with precious stones and pearls, and rimmed with ermine. The sword was fashioned in 1507 for James IV and has a silver encrusted scabbard lined with red velvet, while the sceptre, which was made in 1494 and lengthened in 1536, has a pearl topped globe of rock crystal which some say has magical properties. Together they are powerful symbols of Scotland's independence, and today the Honours are on display at Edinburgh Castle, but you can only see them thanks to the bravery of some patriotic Scots.

The Scottish regalia were taken to George Ogilvie at Dunnottar Castle when Cromwell invaded Scotland. Cromwell intended to destroy them, as he had done with the English crown jewels, but they were spirited away from Edinburgh for safe keeping. Cromwell came to Dunnottar and besieged the castle for nearly a year, but when it finally fell the jewels had gone. They had been smuggled out by the wife of the Revd James Granger, the minister of nearby Kineff, and her maid. They'd visited a friend in the castle and managed to leave with the jewels hidden in their clothes. They took the Honours to Kinneff, further down the coast, where they hid them, sometimes stashing them under the church floor, sometimes pushing them under their bed. The jewels remained there for eight years, and though Cromwell's men tried everything they could to find them, imprisoning the Grangers, and even torturing Ogilvie's wife, none of them gave the secret away. Go to Kinneff Old Church today and you can see a memorial to the Grangers.

The crown jewels were returned to Edinburgh after the Restoration in 1660. Following the Act of Union with England in 1707, they were hidden away and walled up in a sealed room in a tower in Edinburgh Castle. People eventually forgot where they were and many believed they had been stolen by the English. It was Sir Walter Scott who rediscovered them, locked inside a chest covered with dust.

While you're there

Visit the Old Church at the tiny village of Kinneff, about 8 miles (12.9km) south, down the coast from Stonehaven. Here you will find the memorial to the Revd Granger and his family, who hid the Honours of Scotland from Cromwell's troops. The Honours are believed to have been placed on both Mary, Queen of Scots and later James VI as babies, so that they could be legitimately crowned. They were also used when Charles II was defiantly crowned King of Scotland in 1651, nine years before he was restored to the English throne. It is often said that some of the gold used in the crown came from the one that belonged to Robert Bruce.

What to look for

The pretty little Shell House that you pass in the latter part of this walk was built in the 19th century for the children of the local gentry. It gets its name from the thousands of shells that decorate its interior. It looks rather like a fairy grotto.

Where to eat and drink

The Ship Inn by the harbour is a popular spot and serves food all day from noon at the weekends. You can get substantial dishes such as fish or pasta, as well as toasties. The Marine Hotel nearby serves lunches from noon-2pm, and supper from 5-9:15pm, as well as coffees. You can also try the Carron Restaurant which has seats outside and serves seafood, baguettes, baked potatoes and toasted sandwiches.

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