Stonehaven: First solo travel adventure since 2018.

On staycation in Stonehaven, a lovely historic fishing town, on a wee two night solo travel trip. It’s just down the coast from home and a place I know well. But this is my first solo travel since I think 2018 so it is kind of a big deal for me.

I won’t lie I was pretty anxious, a lot has changed since before I got ill and was solo travelling around Asia and Europe. Stress was added to by the fact my left ankle although healed is still very weak and I had booked a 4th floor flat. But fortunately it was a nice place once I climbed up all of the steps. You do get better views being higher up too. The sea views were why I chose this accommodation in the first place.

After taking in the flat and unpacking I headed out into the thick haar, Scots word for icy sea fog, and straight to my favourite local café. Walking along the Misty streets of Stonehaven and although my ankle and knee hurt I feel strangely calm. I suddenly don’t have anywhere to be, anything to do. I can just stroll steadily along. All my anxiety about this trip is melting away. I just had to make sure I did not do too much on my legs in this zen state or I’ll would pay for it when pain started to kick in later.

I love how there is so much activity down by the harbour. It’s not busy but there are things happening. Which is the best for people watching because if there is too much it’s just overwhelming and you can’t focus. There was a boat trip preparing to go out and all the guests had to get their hard hats and life jackets on. There was a man taking his rubber dingy on shore. He had to reverse his land driver and trailer down the beach so the trailer was at the edge of the water. Then he lined up the boat, tied it on and hand winched it in. Which looked like a lot of work! This wee lad kept trying to help him but bless he could hardly keep the boat from sliding backwards let alone pull it up. Then of course there were the seagulls, I saw one catch a fish. Seagulls are great birds by the sea, watching them soar over the ocean. But in town and gardens. Nope, don’t want them there. They will steal food from your hands!

As I meander up to the coop (wild holiday here I know) there is such an interesting selection of houses and architecture. There are some quite English terraced red brick ones, some traditional granite homes, some 1960s one and half floor houses and a whole mix of other things. I like imagining what they look like inside and which one I would choose if for some reason I was buying a house in Stonehaven. The most popular spot I have passed is definitely the fish and chips takeaway though! It’s says ‘Scotland’s best fish and chips’ and ‘world famous’ but I am unsure how those titles were awarded…

It’s 22:00 now I had had my dinner that I brought from home. Good move on my part there. Although the little kitchen is actually really quite well equipped. I am just curling up on the big comfy sofa to watch a film. Pretty special being able to look up and out the window to the sea and the background noise to be the waves crashing on the shore. It does feel a bit weirdly quiet at times but if I pop some background noise on then it isn’t a problem. It’s just that classic solo travel thing of paying more attention than normal to a squeaky floor board or door. That said I feel perfectly safe here and have actually felt perfectly safe every time I have solo travelled as a female from France to Vietnam. Honestly the worst experience I had by far was on the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. I was walking home in the evening and this group of drunk British lads started shouting at me and following me. I was nervous because I was alone, in the dark, and heading back to my hotel away from the town centre. But all was fine in the end. But I really do reflect that it was with other Brits that I had the most problems!

There is something pretty special about being able to open your curtains in the morning and have the beach right there. Especially as today the sun is shining and it feels warm! Slight critique of my Air BnB is that it is quite cheap bedding so I felt quite hot and sticky (to much information there probably by there we are). But still it was nice to have a double bed again. Now I am able to wonder through the flat in my PJs go and make my first coffee for the day and relax on the big sofa listening to the sea with my book. In London I lived in a one room studio so having a whole flat with a separate living area really does feel quite luxurious! I can’t help but imagine having my own place about this size and how I would decorate it.

It feels like a different world down by the harbour today. The sun is shining from a cloudless blue sky; it’s so warm I am considering taking my cardigan off (although risk of sunburn there); the sea is a sparkling turquoise; and there are so many more people enjoying being by the seaside. By so many, I mean what I would have considered when I lived in the South of England to have been a quiet beach, but busier than yesterday. So many people have dogs too so I get to engage in one of my favourite hobbies of dog watching (which is definitely superior to people watching). It’s just a really nice atmosphere. I feel like I am on a proper holiday despite being about 30 minutes from home. Lockdown and being ill have definitely made me reconsider travel and what is exciting. Of course I want to go on big international adventures again but I just don’t know when that will be. So I am appreciating more than ever the North East Scotland and how much there is to see and do. It’s pretty special to have a historic fishing village with harbour, beach, cafes and more just along the coast.

I got the bus along the coastline for about 10 mins to Chapleton to go and find a cafe. I will say when the bus stopped the The Charleston Park and Choose, I did wonder if I had made a major error of judgement because I seemed to be in the middle of a roundabout surrounded by roads that I did not fancy walking along. Just as I was contemplating if I could go through some fields I spotted a cycle and walk lane up the side. I will say it was very hot to be walking even if only just over half a mile so I was keeping my fingers crossed that the café would be worth it. At least there was some nice scenery on the right hand side with lots of buttercups and daisies sprinkled across the grass. The side of Chapleton you come in on from the bus stop is a modern housing development still being built which doesn’t give off the best vibes. As developments go it’s quite nice though. Still some homes available if you fancy moving.

When I got to the café I was told there was no free tables and I genuinely thought I might be about to cry. I was hot, tired and sore. I have found since being ill and injured I have much less capacity to push through when things get tough, I just hit a wall and my body gives up. Even if I do manage to keep going I find myself paying for it later. So I really needed a break inside out the sun. But this kind lady said she was almost finished and I could have her table. So whoever you are lady, thank you. They have obviously tried to make this cafe trendy with poured concrete floor, exposed wiring and load of white. But it doesn’t quite work. It’s funky but in the middle of a development that has been modelled on a traditional village square it doesn’t quite fit. Some of the exposed work is a little messy too. But still it’s a nice place to sit, I have ordered some lunch and I can tell the folks I have found a new coffee spot! I love listening to all of the local gossip in places like this. There is some major drama with one of the local football teams. Half reading my book half just being nosey.

Got a taxi back to Stonehaven in the end as I just didn’t have the energy for the bus, both in terms of the walk at each end and having to potentially wait up to 30 mins for it. I have to remind myself that my ankle fracture has only just healed and also that this is the most independent thing I have done in a while. I must not push myself too far or ill just be overwhelmed and in pain. I’d much rather finish this trip thinking I could have done more instead of completely worn out.

After a power nap and writing the cards I bought in the morning I put on my dress and headed out for dinner. I was dining at the Marine Hotel by the Harbour. Amusingly when I booked on line I could only book for two people or more. So I just booked for two and figured it wouldn’t matter. But it was a bit funny when I turned up and they said ‘table for two?’ And I went ‘no just me’. It’s a pretty traditional pub, all themed around the fishing heritage of Stonehaven. I am a fan of the decor actually. I like seeing Scottish heritage preserved in the midst of the rush to adapt to the tourist trade. I think lockdown has definitely made a lot of places realise the importance of the local market. I had to laugh at the two men next to me who must be at least 40 who are there with their pints trying to pretend they are still like 25 discussing how much they have been drinking, girls they have pulled and gossiping about people.

If you are nervous about going out for dinner alone my top tip would be to take something to keep your mind occupied. Partly for entertainment and partly because then you’ll be doing something if you are worried people are looking at you. I can find if I haven’t brought anything then I end up just scrolling through my phone and that distracts from the experience and also just isn’t that interesting to do for two hours. So I normally take my kindle as it can easily slip into my bag and I don’t need to hold it whilst I eat. It’s partly why I managed to read so many books when I was travelling in South East Asia because I was on my Kindle almost every single meal.

I am going to miss being able to lie in bed and listen to the sound of the sea drifting through my window. It is Friday and my last morning of my mini staycation. The sun was beaming down again. Been pretty lucky with the weather actually considering the amount of rain we have had lately. Yes the first day was a bit cold and grey but overall it’s been grand. So after packing up my stuff I took one last walk down to the harbour to take in the view and to get another coffee from the Old Pier Café, which you definitely have to check out if you come to Stonehaven. It’s right by the beach. It is only doing takeaway just now but the inside area is good when things return more to normal (thanks Covid). But things are heading in the right direction for now. Just the fact I am able to take this trip at all is a huge change.

It wouldn’t be a solo trip away without a slightly strange encounter. As I was walking back from the Harbour I saw a lady on the road ahead look at her reflection and then shout at it. I was just thinking I would just walk past and properly would have forgotten about it. But then she started walking towards me and then started asking me about my day. I ignored her but then she started asking me about the length of her hair and if it was shoulder length or not. I said it was roughly shoulder length. Then she went on a rant about how she shouldn’t have paid the hairdresser because it was all wrong. So at that point I just walked away.

At that point it was time to head back to the flat to collect my things and tackle the four flights of stairs with the bags again. Many stairs, heavy back and recently healed fractured ankle are not the easiest combinations to manage. I got a taxi back into Aberdeen again which was about 30 minutes drive. I used Dash Taxis for the trip back and the day before getting back from Chapleton, I’d recommend using them if you need a taxi in the area.

Overall I had a lovely couple of days and I am so proud of myself for seeing it through. Solo travel was a huge part of my life before I got ill. I have lost a lot of confidence and physical ability since then. But this was a baby step towards building my life outside of illness.

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