Stonehaven lies on the main road and rail routes, fifteen miles south of Aberdeen. This proximity and its good transport links have ensured that the town has benefitted from the oil wealth generated by its northern neighbour over the past few decades. But despite this Stonehaven has maintained its own very distinctive character and charm.
Stonehaven's location is excellent. It lies behind Stonehaven Bay, a crescent of east-facing sand and shingle. Higher ground both to the north and south produces a sense of an amphitheatre, giving good views across the town whatever your direction of approach. The surrounding high ground also gives Stonehaven a degree of shelter from the prevailing westerly winds, while the imposing harbour walls help give similar shelter from the vagaries of a North Sea which can at time be fearsome.
The historical focus of Stonehaven was its harbour, the only safe haven along this entire coast in a north-easterly gale. A breakwater was first built here in the 1500s and the Tolbooth, now a museum, was converted from an earlier grain store in about 1600. Further harbour construction took place over the following centuries.
Stonehaven's harbour and the old town lying behind it are full of character and interest. The Ship Inn was built overlooking the harbour in 1771, predating the spiky-towered Town House which was built in 1790.
The Marine Hotel, also on the harbour, was a relative latecomer, in 1884. Completing the run of buildings around the harbour is the B&B at 24 Shorehead, providing excellent accommodation with harbour views, from which you can take advantage of the equally good evening meals available at the Marine Hotel. At the north end of the harbour is Stonehaven's Marine Training Academy.
The best way of gaining an idea of the layout of the town is from the coast road approaching from Dunnottar Castle, a mile to the south: a road that becomes one way where it starts to make its descent into the town. This gives superb views over the harbour, and the rest of the town beyond. If approaching along this road, keep a lookout on your right for Stonehaven's distinctive war memorial built on the skyline of Black Hill and looking for all the world like a small classical temple. The memorial was designed by local architect John Ellis, and unveiled on Sunday 20 May 1923.
Stonehaven's main through road, Allardyce Street, runs close behind the promenade and beach of Stonehaven Bay. In the centre is the Market Square, whose primary function in modern times is as the town's main car park. Overlooking the square are the imposing Market Buildings, capped by their distinctive slender spire.
At the north end of Stonehaven Bay is Cowie, now a suburb of the town. Until the 1500s Cowie was the more important of the two settlements but the centre of gravity shifted with the increasing development of the harbour in Stonehaven.
The railway south from Aberdeen crosses the River Cowie via the 50m high Glenury Viaduct before calling at Stonehaven station, towards the western edge of the town. Other transport routes now also avoid the centre of Stonehaven. An A92 bypass which opened in 1986 helped remove through traffic from what is often a busy town.
Dunnottar Castle, a mile south of Stonehaven, is well worth a visit. Scotland has some magnificently located castles. Think no further than Stirling Castle or Edinburgh Castle, both built on top of rocks that allow them to dominate the landscape for miles around. But if we had to pick just one to trust with our lives in a time of great danger then it would without any doubt be Dunnottar Castle. No other Scottish castle comes close in terms of a sense of sheer brooding impregnability. This is a castle which looks across to the nearby coastal cliffs and whose presence, even today, conveys a very simply message: "Don't mess with me."