Dunnottar Castle: There and Back Again

Sydney Smith University of Aberdeen, Scotland


May 16, 2018

When I initially began my study abroad experience the first few weeks felt more like a vacation and it didn’t feel like I was actually going to be living in Scotland for five months. My first week in Aberdeenshire was hectic as I was settling in. I was kept so busy that it did not feel as if I was going to become accustomed to the foreign environment around me.

I remember when it hit me that I was actually studying abroad in Scotland. I was hiking to Dunnottar Castle, with a few friends, in early January. Dunnottar Castle is nestled away, about a 20-minute train ride south of Aberdeen, just outside a small coastal town by the name of Stonehaven. Hiking up to Dunnottar Castle was the experience that solidified the in me the reality of what would be my home for the semester.

Being January, the weather was harsher and colder. The sea roared to my left as the waves crashed tirelessly against the cliffs. The never ending, rolling hills to my right were painted in such vivid shades of a muted green heightened by the grey of the clouds that loomed in the sky above, and you could see the occasional house along the horizon. I remember the wind howling ferociously, and at times it felt like it would knock me over.

Being dramatic, as I stood on the top of a cliff looking out over the sea and Dunnattar Castle, I was getting Elizabeth Bennet standing on the rocks looking out over the landscape vibes from the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice.

Sadly, that cold day in January, the Castle was closed due to inclement weather, so we did not actually get to explore the castle itself. That didn’t stop us from exploring the surrounding area and making a good day of it all.

This was the moment I truly felt like I was experiencing Scotland. I was in awe of everything that surrounded me and felt at peace within myself and excited for my future adventures in this wee land. It was an eye opening experience.

Since that Saturday in January, I have gone on numerous adventures, some of which I have had the pleasure of sharing with you all and others I have kept to myself. Every new adventure that I have gone on has given me deeper love and appreciation for Scotland. Cut to the end of the semester, post-finals, mid-May. As my time here slowly comes to an end, I felt like concluding my journey with a poetic symmetry of sorts, so I trekked out to Dunnottar Castle once again as a last hoo-rah.

As the summer season nears, the weather is warming up and the days are getting longer. Everything is in bloom. What I thought was green at the beginning of the semester is nothing compared to now. I feel as if I am in a world of eternal spring. There are whole fields of yellow flowers and the vibrant green foliage of the trees seemed to appear overnight. Flowers of various bright shades bloom all over in patches. It is all so breathtaking.

My train trip down to Stonehaven was a short ride, but like all the others, it was spent with face seemingly pressed against the glass of the windows in an attempt to take it all in. Once there my hike began. The area around Stonehaven is shaped almost like a bowl, with Stonehaven being the valley and everything else around it being hills. So, when I imply that I had to hike up to Dunnottar, I literally mean that I had to hike up hill for approximately an hour straight. It was a grueling journey on the legs, but it is quite a pleasant one for the eyes.

Dunnottar Castle is as picturesque as they come. A castle on the cliffs by the sea. Hiking to it, you follow a path along the cliffs. It is definitely one of my top hikes that I have done because of the brilliant views.

Luckily the castle was open, so I enthusiastically explored it. The ruins of the Castle that remain today, are definitely a feast for the eyes and the architecture of the remaining structure is magnificent. My favorite part of the Castle was the Smithy. Mainly because of the name, and because of the terrible jokes I made to no one in general. But also because of the stone arch that is intact in the Smithy area that is somehow still standing.

I also enjoyed all the windows overlooking the cliffs and the sea. Standing by them and looking out, I was reminded of a poem by E.E. Cummings, “As Is The Sea Marvelous.”


as is the sea marvelous

from god’s

hands which sent her forth

to sleep upon the world


and the earth withers

the moon crumbles

one by one

stars flutter into dust


but the sea

does not change


Was it possible that I was looking out at the same sea, that the old inhabitants of this castle once looked out at? We may never know, but I’d like to think so.

I left Dunnottar Castle on a happy note, and then decided to hike around the Dunnottar Woods. The Dunnottar area is a prime place for Fairytales and daydreaming, and as I walked through the woods with the towering trees swaying in the wind and the sound river running somewhere nearby, you can imagine the presence of sprites and spirits. It was delightfully fun time.

Overall, Dunnottar Castle and the surrounding area is a place that can easily fuel daydreams of fictional worlds. However, it’s the history of the castle that reminds you of the relentless determination of a people to preserve their history, and like the castle itself, no matter how many times you attempt to ransack, pillage, destroy, or attack it, it will still remain in some form over time if the sagas continue to be told.


Scotland Semester