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May 2019

Aberdeenshire Coat of Arms

Say what you see but to blend in like a local you need to call it 'Stoney' and while it's no  Stoneybridge, there's a harbour of such construction that needs a right good looking at.

The market square can accommodate even the thriftiest parker for, get this, three hours before it tips into the prohibitive.

That makes more than enough time for what might have been King Arthur's holiday home and a sweet reward that is, in certain people's eyes, equally mythical.

The market square sits at the centre of, sort of, a new, grid layout that was probably nicked from Edinburgh, definitely.

Not that things are that new and most of the early 18th-century construction remains intact. That includes the original market buildings, whatever it was they did in there, exactly, with its, quite frankly, unnecessary, yet inspired, spire.

All four, facing sides are largely given over to the retail including Nickel n' Dime, a discount, Highland homeware chain that can only be found in Scotland and only north of Perth.

Not that these are becoming an obsession, they're honestly not, but the unfathomable name requires a double-take and MacPlastic™s is much more apt, surely[1]?

They and their neighbours, however, are selling stuff that people actually need and while Stonehaven does entice tourists, it's still a working town with a supporting interest in the industry up in Aberdeen.

[1] Macca's Placcas?

  The Market Bar (Market Square)

The market buildings are occupied by a bar, these days, and an ideal candidate for a Wetherspoon™s who were clearly too late to the lease.

Not that it matters, the Spoons would only have named it the 'Market Bar' and the Director of Contrived Waterhole Naming would be getting a (0/5) for that, fact!

There's a gap next to the former Crown Hotel where Market Lane leads to the shoreline and the natural haven that definitely didn't half-help to name that toon.

It's either left for a game of golf on the way up to Aberdeen or right to the harbour with some artsy distractions on the way.

These scrap metal sculptures nod knowingly to the sea but are the works of an artist unknown at least they were until only last week when, seriously, 'Stoney Banksy' went public.

Local, salty old sea dog-cum-welder  Jim Malcolm installed these anonomously by cover of moonlight for 15 years but decided to come clean before being exposed.

Not in a malicious way, mind, these fine bits of work are simply quite stunning and even had BBC Scotland sniffing around. Besides, his fellow regulars at the  Ship Inn were becoming increasingly suspicious of his repeated requests to borrow a torch at last orders.

They, literally, took things literally with the construction of the harbour, this being the days before concrete, of course. As far back as the 1500s, this became the only artificial sanctuary in these parts providing respite from the often rough North Sea.

The rebranding was a resounding success but it's not thought the marketing strategy sessions were too intensive, they were just in a hurry to drop Kilwhang, the name of the original settlement. This pair can't think of a better one even after a lug up from the far end of it for a far better sense of it.

  Tolbooth Museum (Old Pier)

There are, not unexpectedly, a fair few old fishing nets together with a brilliantly random collection of anything to do with Stonehaven, eva! That includes, from memory, an old cassette player and a contraption for grinding oats with donations welcome towards the dusting.

It's all housed in Stonehaven's oldest building, it's thought, with fancy-dan dining upstairs in one of Scotland’s best seafood  restaurants, they say.

While it may be tempting to stare at a harbour for an hour, the lug up leads to something else in the breath-taking department, Stonehaven's World War I memorial erected in 1923.

The percentage of Scottish casualties was twice that of the rest of the UK and Ireland with over a quarter of those enlisted never returning. Few communities were unaffected and even the smaller villages had something set in stone by then and there was criticism of the local council showing disrespect.

There might have been an oversight but the funding and design took longer than expected but, for the generations who followed, at least, the wait could be considered worth it?

Local architect John Ellis had a hand in half of Stonehaven but his construction here is more classical and deliberately designed to look ruinous to represent, well, you figure it out.

The octagonal segments are decorated with the names of significant engagements each providing a different perspective following the worthwhile rise up Black Hill and, in short, it's quite a piece of work.

This stretch of clifftop path is being greedy and is that a medieval fortress atop a rocky outcrop? Of course it is, obviously, and some of Dunnottar Castle has stood here since the 1400s having previously been fought over by Vikings and Picts.

It's one of the area's biggest draws with an almost inevitable association with King Arthur where, just like his pad at Tintagel, before they put the bridge in, it's a steep up and down to the kiosk.

The privately run  attraction will let you in for just a single-digit number of pounds suggesting the  Scottish Crown Jewels are no longer on display.

Not that they ever were, anyway, only briefly hidden here, however, to keep them out of Oliver Cromwell's smelter what with him not being a fan of any of the royals either side of the border.

There's an option to return via Dunnottar's car park but the field beyond might have some cows in it. That means it's back the way you came to where more of the old town is revealed.

The late 18th-century  clock tower was built for just that purpose but the big barometer above the door was much more useful for those heading off on a fishing trip.

They'll let you in here as well, for free, for video evidence of a Hogmanay tradition... a bunch of local loonies swinging fireballs around their heads, the  flaming nutjobs!

The practice is to ward off evil spirits, probably, cleansing for the coming year, perhaps, and this ancient ceremony can be traced all the way back to... 1903!

Nobody really seems to know the whys and what for's but over 10,000 people turn out for this annual event. Pipers accompany the parade before the fireballs are flung into the harbour and, what with this being Hogmanay, remember, that sounds like a proper night out, eh?

  Carron Fish Bar (Allardice Street)

Middle-class Scots, all of them, deny being savages by refuting the deep-fried Mars Bar™ as an urban myth while tucking into Baked Alaska at Morningside dinner parties.

They've clearly never been to the Carron Fish Bar, then, then the Haven Chip Bar, who claim to have 'invented' this battered treat in 1992. They still shift a couple-of-hundred units a week, in high season, although around 70% are to tourists, it's thought.

It's a divisive issue that encroaches into issues of healthy eating and national stereotypes and the council have even asked them to take the sign down.

They've rightly refused so while you're pondering that, check out the rest of their offerings since they've been named as a finalist in the prestigious 2020 National Fish & Chip Awards and they don't hand them out willy-nilly.

Combing crumbs of batter out of your beard and licking hot toffee off your lips would be a fine way to finish but there's still half a promenade to peruse.

It leads up over Cowie Water to the caravans and the more traditional seaside amenities, not shown, with a really rather marvellous area of  recreation, shown.

That includes an outdoor pool or a lido if you'd rather, but it won't reopen for another fortnight.

That's because of the time it takes, in these parts, to get the temperature of the water up to 29℃ in late spring, probably. That, despite the palms, is about 28.5℃ warmer than the North Sea, just behind, on any given day.

The main road through leads back to the market square and it's along here that it's noticed the Tourist Information has closed.

Not just here, by the way, many minor  VisitScotland iCentres including, tragically, the one in Peebles so you'll now have to head up to Aberdeen or even down to Dundee to be personally informed.

It's a sign of the times in this age of austerity so it's good to hear that's all over and things can get back to how they were in the '70s, right kids?

  RW Thomson Vintage Rally (Baird Park)

There's an annual rally of vintage vehicles here in June to celebrate one of Stonehaven's famous sons,  Robert William Thomson. He only invented the pneumatic tyre, no less, although this pair won't be parting with any pounds to peek under the hood of an old Hillman™, or whatever.

Ink, as everybody knows, is far superior to the Imp so a presentation of fountain pens, another one of his inventions, would be a very different proposition.

The lack of local information means this impromptu visit has been largely improvised but to a surprisingly high level of accidental insight.

The Market Square is unlikely to be missed, since you're in it, and the Open Air Swimming Pool, Stonehaven Beach and the Harbour & Tolbooth Museum are linked by the promenade.

Black Hill War Memorial, the Sea Cliffs and Dunnottar Castle won't be overlooked if you're up that way already with Dunnottar Woods a definite would if it hadn't been for some pesky cows.

You'll have to find out about the end of the  Highland Boundary Fault elsewhere but the sign is incomplete and requires a redesign...

Deep-fried Mars Bar™? Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?