Peterhead is a port in Aberdeenshire in northeast Scotland, with a population of 19,060 in 2020. Its fishing industry collapsed in the 20th century and the town is run-down, but is near attractive coastal scenery.

Understand Edit

South breakwater was built by convict labour
"The people are sober and courteous, and agree well amongst themselves, which has now become a rare character." - church report of 1728

Until 1560 this was a sparsely-populated farmland owned by the Cistercian monks of Deer Abbey, whose talents did not include industrial and property development. It was then handed over to the Earls Marischal, who built a planned settlement. This grew into the largest fishing port in Britain, and remains so; it also pushed the most easterly point on the Scottish mainland another half mile out, as the island of Inch Keith became connected by causeway and infill. In the 18th / 19th centuries the main catch was whaling, and Peterhead was also a port-of-call when wars with France made the Channel dangerous, so shipping went the long way around the north tip of Scotland. In Victorian times the catch was herring. All this created a need for even larger port facilities, and forced labour to build them, so Peterhead became the Botany Bay of Britain, holding hundreds of convicts at a time when Australia had ceased to want them. Its large grim prison is the legacy, now a museum.

The fishing industry collapsed in the 20th century through overfishing, restrictive catch limits, and competition from European trawlers. Like Aberdeen, Peterhead was never itself an oil-handling town but serviced the offshore oil industry, but that too has passed as exploration and production moved into more northerly waters. The town became rough and deprived. However the fine buildings of its Georgian / Victorian heyday are well-preserved, and there are beaches and rugged scenic cliffs to the south.

People from Peterhead are known as Bloo Touners or Bloo Mogganers, from the blue worsted moggans - stockings - worn by fisherfolk.

Get in Edit

For long-distance routes, see Aberdeen.

By bus Edit

Stagecoach runs bus services every half hour (hour on Sundays) from Aberdeen via Ellon P&R or Cruden Bay to Peterhead, taking 75 min, around £10.

Bus 69 runs every hour between Fraserburgh and Peterhead, 30 min, around £10.

1 Peterhead Interchange is the main bus station, at the corner of Windmill St and St Peter St.

By car Edit

Peterhead is easily accessible from Aberdeen and the south via the A90, which continues to Fraserburgh.

The slow, winding A950 provides a connection to the west, and is a useful shortcut if arriving from Inverness.

By train Edit

Peterhead's train station closed in the 1960s. The nearest station as the crow flies is Dyce, some 30 or so miles away, but as there is no direct public transport connection, it is better to arrive at Aberdeen and catch a bus north.

Get around Edit

The town centre is easily walkable, but transport is required to explore the surrounding area.

By bus Edit

A handful of bus routes operate within the town, connecting with regional routes at Peterhead Interchange. Local routes, however, are best boarded at 2 Chapel Street, a closer stop to the town centre.

Services are frequent, with local buses running around every 15 mins. Tickets within the town cost £2-3 for a single or £4-5 for unlimited travel for a day, and can be purchased onboard.

Buses are also available to the surrounding villages of Boddam, Cruden Bay, Mintlaw and St. Fergus.

By taxi Edit

Taxi services are offered by a number of companies.

Firms include Elaine's (+44 1779 591000), Grab a Cab (+44 1779 473030) and Central Taxis (+44 1779 434343).

See Edit

  • 1 Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, +44 1771 624590. Th-Su 11AM-4PM. Exhibits telling the story of traditional farming life in rural Aberdeenshire. The museum is located 20 mins east of the town at Aden Country Park, a large area of parkland and forest featuring a play park and Victorian arboretum. Free.
  • 2 Arbuthnot Museum, St. Peter Street, AB42 1QD. M Tu Th-Sa 10.00-12:30, 13:30-16:00. Highlights local history including Peterhead's heritage as a major whaling port. Main exhibit is a stuffed polar bear. Free.
  • 3 Old St Peter's Church is a ruin by the north end of the beach. The oldest parts may be from 12th century, but the tower which still stands is medieval.
  • Peterhead Bay is home to vessels servicing the oil and gas industry. It's enclosed by two massive breakwaters, the southern of which was built using convict labour from the town's prison. The town's main beach streches for a mile along the bay shoreline. 4 Lido Beach is the southern portion. It's just a beach, not a lido pool as the name might suggest. It's suitable for swimming, but distinctly bracing.
  • Peterhead Harbour has been a home to the fishing industry for centuries, and a walk around the old stone quays and piers looking at the boats makes for a pleasant afternoon. Keep your eye out for the numerous grey seals that frequent the harbour. 5 Keith Inch is a former island comprising the eastern side of the harbour. Although once housing a whaling community, it is now dominated by industrial buildings, but remains noteworthy for being the easternmost point on the Scottish mainland.
  • 6 Peterhead Prison Museum, Admiralty Gateway, South Road AB42 2ZX, +44 1779 482200. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:00. Until the 1850s convicts with long prison sentences could be transported to serve in Britain's colonies, often to Fremantle in Western Australia. It was not so much liberal reform as fall in demand for such labour that ended transportation, so they were instead put to labour in Britain (Oscar Wilde being one example.) Peterhead was opened in 1888 to be the convict prison for Scotland. It was designed to hold 208 but averaged 350, peaking at 455 as extra buildings were added. The convicts worked in quarries, and in constructing the harbour's south breakwater, with (until 1939) lashings to enliven any dull moments. Penal labour was abolished in 1950 but Peterhead's ethos didn't change much, being seen as a particularly bleak punitive place. In 1987 a prison riot took over D-wing and took an officer hostage; the SAS had to be sent in to restore order. As late as 2005 some cells lacked electricity and were still "slopping out". HMP Peterhead closed in 2013 when the adjacent HMP Grampian opened. Ticket includes the lifeboat display. Adult £12.    
  • Lifeboat: Julia Park Barry of Glasgow was the Watson-class lifeboat that served with distinction in Peterhead 1939-1969, saving 496 lives. It fell into disrepair but was restored by 2018, and put on display in its own building within the prison museum, same hours. The museum ticket includes the lifeboat display, or £5 for the lifeboat alone.
Old St Peter's Church
  • 7 Inverugie Castle is a masonry stump two miles northwest of town. A motte-and-bailey fort was built here in the 12th century to control the ford over the river, and in 1660 the present stone structure was added. This was kept in good repair for 160 years (poet Robert Burns' father was one of the castle gardeners before moving to Ayr) then fell into ruin. In 1899 the estate factor blew up what was left, just to clarify its status beyond doubt.
  • See Fraserburgh for Rattray to the north. Here one stormy evening in 1720 the sun set upon a sea port, and arose upon a village and ship marooned inland and the castle blown over.
  • 8 Cairn Catto is a Neolithic burial barrow of 155 ft by 60 ft along the back lane through Longside. You might have to use a bit of imagination to appreciate it. Two stone axes found here are now in the Arbuthnot Museum. Longside's better-known burial is Jamie Fleeman, crafty simpleton and family jester to the Laird of Udny. On asking about something he'd found: "Why Jamie, any fool would know that it is a horse shoe" - "Ah" replied Jamie, "what it is to be wise – to ken it's no a meer's shoe." No-one suspected that this Chuzzlewit was carrying secret messages for the Jacobites.
  • Longhaven Cliffs south of town are a line of pink granite cliffs notched with narrow inlets. Access them via the wildlife reserve on A90, and take very great care along the cliff paths. A curiosity at the south end of this section, six miles south of town, is the 9 Bullers of Buchan. Here a cave has collapsed into a deep cylindrical pit, which the sea rushes into through an arch: "bullers" probably refers to its boiling waters.
  • 10 Cruden Bay is a village with a fine beach. The main sight is the 16th-century tower house Slains Castle - it replaced 13th-century Old Slains Castle which is just a masonry shard 5 miles south. In the 1850s a fishing village "Port Errol" was built but the harbour was inadequate for larger vessels. The railway arrived at the end of the 19th century and the company promoted Cruden Bay as a beach and golf resort, unsuccessfully as it was too far from London and lacked a flagship hotel or golf course. However Bram Stoker was a regular visitor and wrote much of Dracula here. A plaque also commemorates Trygge Gran, who survived Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic expedition and was in the party that located the bodies. In 1914 he flew from Cruden Bay to Jæren, near Stavanger in Norway, the first heavier-than-air flight across that sea.

Do Edit

  • 1 Cruden Bay Golf Club, Aulton Road, Cruden Bay, AB42 0NN, . +44 1779 812285. A fine links golf club hosting the 18-hole Championship Course, ranking in the top 100 in the world, and the 9-hole St Olaf Course. 18 holes £165, during main season.
  • Hiking. Golden beaches stretch for as far as the eye can see north of the town, while the coast to the south holds host to some of the best sea cliffs of eastern Scotland. The Formartine and Buchan Way follows the course of the town's former railway line inland and provides good opportunity to see some of the countryside.
  • 2 Peterhead Football Club, Balmoor Stadium, Balmoor Terrace, AB42 1EQ, +44 1779 478256. The "Blue Toon" has its home ground at the west edge of the town centre, capacity 3150. Tickets start around £15.
  • 3 Peterhead Golf Club, Craigewan Links, Riverside Drive AB42 1LT, +44 1779 472149. It's on the knuckle of land north of the Ugie estuary, but park on the south bank (helpfully called Golf Road) and walk across the footbridge. The "Old Course" took its present form in 1908: yellow tees 5704 yards, par 70. The second or "new" course has been reduced to nine holes. 18 holes £125, day ticket £140.    
  • Peterhead Town Trail. Three walking routes showcasing Peterhead's history. Information boards are dotted along the routes to give some context to the sites. Allow at least 2 hrs for all sections.

Events Edit

  • Scottish Week. A week-long festival held in mid-late July. Highlights typically include a aeronautical display by the RAF's Red Arrows, a race across Peterhead Bay by teams in home-made rafts, and a parade running through the town centre.

Buy Edit

Slains Castle - Dracula was written nearby

The town's principal shopping area centres around Marischal Street, though like many high streets its heyday has come and gone. All is not lost, however, with a scattering of independent shops found on adjacent streets. For the traveller, the following stores may prove for a interesting visit:

  • 1 Donalds, 7 St Andrews Street, AB42 1DS, +44 1779 474737. Known by locals as "Dodie's" after it's founder George Donald, this Peterhead institution is one of the few independent department stores found in north-east Scotland. Everything from fridges to footwear can be found, although for clothing and sportswear, sister shop Justrite (41 Queen Street, AB42 1TP) offers a better selection.
  • Fishmongers: As the UK's principal fishing port, Peterhead boasts some of the freshest and finest deep-sea fish available, with fish frequently being sold the same day it's landed. 2 The Old Smoke House (17 Ellis Street, AB42 1JR) is one of the best known fishmongers in Peterhead, with 3 R & J Seafoods (next to 23 North Street, AB42 1JS) being a little-known store frequented by locals. Peterhead Fishmarket is a wholesale auction house and is not open to individual shoppers. See the Eat section for fish and chip shops.
  • 4 Ugie Salmon Smokehouse, Golf Road, AB42 1LS, +44 1779 476209. The oldest salmon smokehouse in Scotland, producing smoked salmon using traditional methods in the same building for well over 400 years. While the building is not open to tours, visitors can purchase salmon in the shop.

The town is well provided with supermarkets. 5 Morrisons (Queen Street, AB42 1HG) is the most centrally located of the major chains, being a 10 min walk from the town centre. Aldi and Iceland also have central locations with Asda, Lidl and Coop being some distance away in the suburbs.

Eat Edit

While in Peterhead there are two foods every traveller should try:

  • Locally caught fish and chips are a must. It's hard to go wrong ordering fish and chips in Peterhead, as most "chippers" get their catch fresh from the harbour. Although cod and plaice are generally preferred in other parts of the UK, haddock is the fish of choice for most locals. For a more refined taste, try lemon sole. But don't ask for fish and chips - the local term is a fish supper. For those who would rather avoid fish, a white pudding supper is a good option - seasoned oatmeal stuffing, battered and deep-fried.
  • Cookies, or butteries as they are known elsewhere in the region, are a local delicacy partway between pancake and croissant. They are best served warm with butter or jam, and can be found in almost any bakery or supermarket.

There are a good number of restaurants, takeaways and bakeries, so travellers should have little trouble finding something to suit them. Some good options are listed below:

  • 1 Dolphin Cafe, West Pier, AB42 1DW (opposite the lifeboat station). Harbour-front fish and chip shop with seating and views of fishing boats.
  • 2 Hame Bakery, 15-17 Queen Street, AB42 1TN, +44 1779 473901. Award-winning bakery offering a wide range of baked goods and confectionery, including the ubiquitous cookie.
  • 3 Saplinbrae Hotel, AB42 4LP, +44 1771 623585. Set in rural surroundings 20 mins away from the town, Saplinbrae is the go-to place for fine dining near Peterhead.
  • 4 Seaview Hotel, Seaview Road, Boddam, AB42 3NS. Situated in the nearby village of Boddam and rated as one of the best restaurants in the area.
  • 5 Simpsons Tea Room, 14-16 Broad Street, AB42 1BY, +44 1779 490303. Cosy, well-located cafe perfect for mid-morning coffee or a light lunch.
  • 6 Zanres, 35 Queen Street, AB42 1TP, +44 1779 477128. Busy fish and chip shop owned by a former fisherman.

Drink Edit

Bullers of Buchan

The Glenugie Distillery, once Scotland's most easterly, was located at the southern outskirts of Peterhead. It closed in the 1980s, but bottles of Glenugie single malt whisky can still be purchased from specialist shops elsewhere in Scotland, with prices reaching into the thousands of pounds.

For the traveller on a more modest budget, there are a number of pubs from which to choose, though for trendier venues one has to travel to Aberdeen.

  • 1 Harbour Lights, 122-124 Longate, AB42 1JU. Award-winning pub in near the harbour.
  • 2 Brewtoon, 72a St Peter Street, AB42 1QB, +44 1779 476211. Small brewery with on-site bar.

Sleep Edit

  • B&Bs and small hotels include The Lost Guest House (which turned out to be hiding in plain sight at 29 Merchant St), and Crawfords, Clifton, Albert Hotel and Trinity all on Queen St, plus Palace on Prince St.
  • Travelodge is a reliable budget choice at 16 Chapel St.
  • 1 Waterside Hotel, Fraserburgh Road AB42 3BN, +44 871 221 0241. Part of the unloved Britannia chain, the staff are friendly and helpful but the rooms aren't much. With leisure club, spa, swimming pool and restaurant. B&B double £60.
  • 2 Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam is a Stevenson lighthouse completed in 1827 and now automated. You can self-cater in the two keepers' cottages, Skerry and Dundonnie, which sleep four, £120 per night.

Connect Edit

  • Peterhead has 4G from all UK carriers. As of Oct 2021, 5G has not reached this area.

Go next Edit

  • Fraserburgh to the north is a small fishing village, then west along the coast is picturesque Gardenstown.
  • Methlick 20 miles inland has grand Haddo House and what's left of Gight Castle, Byron's ancestral home.
  • Aberdeen to the south will seem like a buzzing metropolis after Peterhead.

Routes through Peterhead
Fraserburgh  N   S  Aberdeen

This city travel guide to Peterhead is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.