An Unforgettable Scotland Road Trip Itinerary Day 4: Ruined Castles, Owls, and Speakeasy Bars

A Scotland Road Trip through the islands, highlands, and wilderness creates unforgettable memories. On Day Four, we start in a castle and finish exploring Edinburgh’s bar scene.

Day 4 of our Scotland Road Trip itinerary takes in: Kildrummy – Huntly – Aberdeen – and Edinburgh.

We start day 4 of our Scotland Road Trip exploring Kildrummy Castle

Imagine waking to a traditional Scottish breakfast and views of a ruined castle. Kildrummy Castle Park Hotel is one of the most unique and beautiful places we have ever stayed. We’re greeted with a crisp, clear morning and glorious golden sun. Breakfast is a fortifying smoked salmon scrambled eggs for Jess and a traditional Scottish breakfast for Bernie – including haggis. It’s the perfect kick start for day 4 of our Scotland road trip adventures.

Outside, the castle beckons. The Kildrummy Castle Park Hotel is a 19th Century hunting lodge directly adjacent to Kildrummy Castle, separated by a quarry that is now a colorful garden in full bloom. The Kildrummy Castle ruins rise from the ancient mound that has protected it for almost a millennium. The early morning sun casts a golden hue over the hand-cut stonework of the keep and towers, while the moat and earthworks glisten with dew. A weathered millstone lies in the lush grass at the overlook raising more questions than answers as to its placement. Has it always been there? Was there a mill nearby?

Kildrummy Castle was built by Gilbert De Moravia in the mid-thirteenth century. It stood strong for five centuries through a litany of sieges like protecting the family of Robert the Bruce in 1306. In 1335 it was then attacked by David of Strathbogie. In 1435 it became one of James I’s royal castles before being granted to Lord Elphinstone. It passed from the Elphinstone clan to the Erskine clan before being abandoned in 1716 after the failure of the Jacobite Revolution.

The shield-shaped castle is now in ruins and is open to the public during the summer months. A ravine, once part of its defences borders an ornamental garden built in the quarry where its stone originally came from. The gardens are popular in summer, but they are at their best right in the peak of autumn, although access to the castle is limited.

If you plan on venturing along the malt whisky trail, the Kildrummy Castle and Hotel are an ideal location to base your travels from. The warmth and opulence of the environs and staff place it high on our recommended Scottish travel experiences.

Huntly

The drive from Kildrummy to Huntly is so much more populated than the route we drove the previous night. Where through the Cairngorms there was nary a house to be seen, let alone a pub or shop, towns fly past one after the other. Some are quite large with multiple churches, pubs, chippies and petrol stations (gas stations).

The countryside is changing too. We’re now at a lower elevation and the fields spread across undulating hills like patchwork. Golden rolls of hay are set in preparation for the change of season, but it makes it feel like you’re inside a painting by John Constable. The road winds between hedgerows, single lane stone bridges, and roadways covered with autumnal arches of yellows and oranges that whisper as we drive beneath. Who knew a Scotland road trip could be so therapeutic!

We pass signs for several castles and stately homes that will have to wait for another time. Right now, we’re heading for Huntly, home of the North East Falconry Centre. Every time we travel, we both have the choice of a couple of hero experiences that both have to do. This one is Jess’s choice – getting to hang out with owls, hawks, eagles, and falcons.

The North East Falconry Centre at Huntly is a humble affair – a small, family-run operation, but with everything to make a worthwhile stop or detour on your Scotland road trip. You can walk around the aviaries and meet different breeds of owls, eagles, hawks, and falcons. A row of falcons sits on perches, watching us intently. Did you know that the collective noun for a group of Peregrine falcons is a “bazaar” or an “eyrie”? Highlights of the centre is a display of traditional falconry and the chance to befriend Smudge the barn owl.

The drive from Huntly to Aberdeen is the first of the whole journey on a major freeway. It’s such a different pace, that it feels a little reckless after trundling along single lane country roads away from any other vehicle. Our preference when taking a Scotland road trip (or any road trip) is to avoid highways and freeways where possible, as the barriers and fences make it hard to see the natural beauty of the countryside. Thankfully, it’s only 45 minutes to Aberdeen and we’re just happy to get there and drop off the car.

There’s always a feeling of having a weight lifted off your shoulders returning a rental car. A successful road trip is more than just having an inspired time – it’s having the clerk at the hire company give your car the tick of approval after going over it meticulously from top to tail. By returning the car at Aberdeen we can relax and take in the breathtaking views of quaint coastal towns that we would otherwise miss traversing the six-lane freeways. It also means being able to sip on a scotch and admire the reality of the situation – sitting in comfort while being propelled towards the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh Bar Hopping

Suitably refreshed, we return to our hotel of choice, Motel One Edinburgh Princes in preparation for a final 24-hour fling around the city to mark the end of this incredible Scotland road trip. Our first venture is to the famed Innis and Gunn Kitchen.

Innis and Gunn is one of those beers that sound and taste like it’s been around forever, while in reality, it is the product of post-millennium tastes. We first learned about it from Gordon Ramsay, who raved about it on Masterchef. Luckily it was available in New York and at his pub at Caesars in Atlantic City, so we have since developed a soft spot for us.

After taking a serious misstep and heading to its corporate offices a few suburbs away, we eventually found the Innis and Gunn Beer Kitchen in the Haymarket close to the major theaters. From scotch eggs to curries, washed down by a flight of classic and seasonal brews, we couldn’t recommend this more as a side quest for beer aficionados and foodies.

Our next stop is Panda and Sons, Edinburgh’s main take on the speakeasy trend. Hidden under the guise of (and underneath) a pseudo barbers shop, the Yelp and Trip Advisor stickers on the glass of the door are a bit of a giveaway. At the bottom of the stairs, a bookcase opens to reveal a stylish cocktail chamber where traditional tastes are infused with vapors and non-traditional serving methods to heighten the senses.

A few streets back, running parallel to Princes Street is Rose Street and the equally cute Rose Street Lane. If you’re looking for a place to discover unique Gastropubs and cute, cozy bars you’re in luck. Block after block of at least a hundred-year-old buildings taunt and tempt with delectable menus and fireplace lounges.

Finally, we head back towards our accommodations but it’s hard to avoid the magnetic draw of the Guildford Arms. This classic Scottish bar was established in 1896 by the Stewart family who still apparently own it and offer their own brew on draught.

It’s a glorious, wood-paneled bar serving ales and pub grub without the pretense that you would imagine given its elegant, frosted glass screens and granite columns – you can almost imagine the gentry disembarking from steam trains at the Waverley Station and bypassing their luxury accommodations at The Balmoral for a snifter of port at the Guildford.

While the driving portion of our Scottish road trip is complete, there’s still more exploring to do in Edinburgh.

See: Scotland Road Trip Day 1 | Scotland Road Trip Day 2 | Scotland Road Trip Day 3

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Stefan (BerkeleySqB)

Great post, guys. Ellie & I visited Scotland a few times, but missed out on most of the sights and places you went to. The falconry centre looks so fun.

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