Aberdour Castle and Beach

Back on St Andrew's Day last year I took advantage of Historic Environment Scotland's annual ticket giveaway. If you haven't heard about this, for St Andrew's Day Historic Environment Scotland do a free ticket giveaway for some of their properties that usually have entrance fees. All you have to do to be a part of it is register online, when registration opens (usually earlier in the November) and then you can then apply for tickets to one of their properties. About thirty of their properties across Scotland took part last year including Aberdour castle, which I'd come across earlier in the year and had made a mental note looked worthy of a visit at some point. After registering it was then a bit like waiting to buy tickets for a concert with the inevitable virtual online queue but I was finally rewarded and the date was blocked out in my diary.

St Andrew's day itself dawned bright and sunny but very cold, in fact it barely got above freezing all day, as you can probably see from the frosty photos above. Contrast those though to the photo below of the opposite side of the castle which was getting the sun resulting in all the frost there being long gone. 

Aberdour castle can lay claim to being one of the two oldest standing datable castles in Scotland with parts of it dating from around 1200. The garden terraces, dating from the mid-16th century, form one of the oldest gardens in Scotland too. Like many castles, over time it has been extended and altered but building collapses to the original tower house section of the castle have also left their mark and today this part of the castle stands partially ruined. The later built parts of the castle are still intact though, here's where you can see the stables and on the upper level a long gallery. When I visited I got the bonus of seeing the 'Scotland from the Sky: Part 2' exhibition, a wonderful collection of photos of Scotland's stunning landscapes viewed from above. The exhibition was only there for a limited time so has gone now but it was a nice unexpected extra to my visit. 

This part of the castle is also where you can see the beautiful 17th century painted ceiling, something that I've seen a lot of in various historic buildings I've visited in Scotland. The last I saw before this one was at Riddle's Court in Edinburgh on Doors Open day last September. It turns out that painted ceilings in Scotland have a particular style, many are decorated with patterns of fruit and flowers as is the one at Aberdour castle, and are typically in castles and houses built between 1540 and 1640. Whilst there are many all over Scotland there are actually quite a lot in Edinburgh, particularly in the old buildings around the Royal Mile, one of them being the already mentioned Riddle's Court, and as many were concealed by later plaster work more continue to be discovered. All that I have seen are beautiful with intricate designs and patterns and are well worth searching out.

A common sight at a lot of the Scottish castles I've visited, a doocot in the grounds

As I said the garden terraces at the castle are also among the oldest in Scotland and they too have something in them that I've got increasingly used to seeing at Scottish castles and grand houses, the doocot or dovecote. Though they are not unique to Scotland I seem to have seen a lot more here than elsewhere. The 'beehive' shaped one at Aberdour castle dates, like the gardens do, from the 16th century and contains around 600 nesting boxes. The ridges that you can see running around the outside of it are called 'rat courses' and were there to prevent rats climbing inside.

Before heading back to Edinburgh I decided to have a little walk around the village of Aberdour too as I'd been told by work colleagues that it was a pleasant little spot. Knowing it was on the coast I figured that it must have a beach or at least a good spot for views out across the Firth of Forth. A short walk from the castle I came to a Shore Road and took a chance on this maybe leading to the shoreline and I wasn't disappointed. Visiting in November with the short winter days by the time I got there the sun was already getting a little lower in the sky. That combined with the cold, crisp day ensured I was treated to a gorgeous view across the Firth of Forth when I reached the end of that road.

The beach is only small, though it turns out that Aberdour actually has two of them. The one I found is called Black Sands beach and is rockier with darker sands as opposed to its near neighbour, the Silver Sands. From the Black Sands beach you can enjoy views across to Arthur's Seat and over to the island of Inchcolm with Inchcolm abbey standing right in the middle of it. This is somewhere I got a lot closer to on a previous boat trip out in the Firth of Forth and it's a place that I'd definitely like to visit. Have any of you been over to the island?  

Perhaps because it was such a cold day and it was getting late by the time I arrived but there were relatively few of us on the beach that afternoon, just a few dog walkers and another person exercising their horse. It was a delightful spot to spend a little time at, enjoying the views and taking in the fresh air before heading back to the pre-Christmas busyness of Edinburgh. It's certainly a little beach I'd like to visit again sometime.

Looking towards Inchcolm Abbey on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth

Looking across the Firth of Forth to Arthur's Seat

Aberdour is just a short train journey from Edinburgh so very easy to reach and is perfect for a day trip out of the city. The castle is right besides the train station too and the beach only a short walk from there so it's all very easy to get to and from. If you have longer than I did the two beaches and the castle are on the route of the Fife Coastal Path, an extended footpath that runs along the Fife coast from Kincardine to Newburgh. It's worth noting though that the path runs for 116 miles so isn't something you can do in a day. Whatever your plans for your visit the castle is a lovely one and great for a short or a longer visit and that little beach is quite the stunner.


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