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Issue 23 - Aberdeen & Grampian – Northern delights

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 23
October 2005


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Aberdeen & Grampian – Northern delights

Aberdeen and the Grampians are a fascinating mix of land and sea. Sally Toms reports

Framed between the mighty North Sea and the awe-inspiring Grampian Mountains, this area of Scotland has some of the best scenery to offer in the country.

There are few lochs to speak of, but two majestic rivers, the Dee and the Don, rise in the mountains and run east to towards the sea, carving the landscape into deep, verdant valleys.

Despite its breath-taking beauty the Aberdeen and Grampian region of Scotland is peculiarly named. What’s wrong with just Aberdeenshire?

The Grampians are Scotland’s central mountain range extending from the northeast to southwest dividing the Highlands and Lowlands.

A large part of these mountains is in Aberdeenshire, but is known as the Cairngorms.

But what’s in a name?

The tourist board has further blurred the boundaries by adopting neighbouring Moray, no doubt for its whisky fame.

So as you can imagine, with ever expanding borders, the limits of this corner of Scotland are a little hard to pin point.

But, for the purposes of this regional focus we have chosen to exclude Moray as there is more than enough happening in Aberdeenshire itself to keep the visitor busy.

Between the mouths of the two mighty rivers lies Scotland’s third largest city. Aberdeen has many other names, including the ‘Granite City’ or ‘Silver City’ because it is almost entirely built of this grey stone. In truth, it can look a little bleak on a cold winter’s day with the rain scudding in from the cold North Sea, but when seen in the sunshine after the rain, the whole metropolis shines like a fairytale city.

Granite buildings of note are the Marischal College, the world’s second largest granite structure,and an unexpected replica of Balmoral in the middle of Aberdeen’s main street.

The long summer days (this far north it doesn’t get dark until nearly midnight) and a good mix of sunshine and showers has earned Aberdeen the other nickname of Britain’s ‘Flower Capital’.

Aberdeen has won the Beautiful Britain in Bloom title no less than 10 times – it has actually been banned on several occasions to give other cities the chance to win.

But what most characterises this coastal city is its relationship to the sea, and there are many museums where you can learn about Aberdeen’s vanished industries; be it whaling at Peterhead, shipbuilding at Kingston or how generations of northeast folk earned their living from the sea. The Maritime Museum on Shiprow is the best of these.

Today though, the relationship is with oil.

Aberdeen is the centre of the North Sea oil industry, and many local men work on offshore rigs. Keep an eye out for the helicopters nipping to and fro.

It is a lively, cosmopolitan city fuelled by two universities, and is constantly buzzing with enough bistros, cafés, bars and nightspots to serve the thriving population.

Possibly Aberdeen’s most unique feature lies less than a mile from the city centre, a long sandy beach.

Not every city has deck chair vendors or a promenade to stroll along with an ice cream.

Most visitors to Aberdeenshire make a beeline for Royal Deeside; a deep valley named after the River Dee and the royal family’s favourite holiday spot. Queen Victoria fell in love with the area in 1852, she called it her “dear Highland paradise” and you only need to spend a short time in the valley to understand why.

Here, you are deep in Mrs Brown country and you can even visit the grave of John Brown in Crathie churchyard, the kirk in the grounds of Balmoral where the Royals worship on Sundays.

But the main draw is Balmoral itself. Many visitors are surprised to learn that it is possible to visit the grounds and go inside some of the rooms.

The nearby towns Ballater and Braemar are full of quaint little shops stamped with ‘By Royal Appointment’ and coat of arms.

The Old Royal Station in Ballater is a landmark fabulously restored. The station was used regularly by Queen Victoria on her way to and from her Scottish castle, though the trains no longer run.

The highlight is the Royal Waiting Room, a cosy panelled parlour with fireplace, stained glass – and the blue and white royal toilet, decorated with fruit and flowers.

The station conveniently doubles as the Deeside tourist information centre. Pick up the Victorian Heritage Trail leaflet here.

If you were to open a map of Aberdeenshire, you would see hundreds of red symbols marking out standing stones, castles, viewpoints and other archeological interests.

Too many to list. In fact the region boasts more than 350 castles. The best way to see them is to follow the castle trail; an easy to follow signposted route round the best of them.

Whether you prefer the Disney kind or the gothic kind there is a castle for you here. Walt Disney is said to have based the famous turrets of the Fantasyland Castle on Craigievar by Alford, and spooky Slains Castle gave Bram Stoker the idea for Dracula. Most of the castles have spectacular gardens, too.

The region’s other main tourist trail is coastal – there are more than 160 miles to explore featuring everything from soft sandy beaches to dramatic cliffs and caves carved out by the furious North Sea.

Visit the Bullers O’Buchan south of Peterhead; a remarkable channel formation under a natural archway. The sides of this crater are almost perpendicular and 200ft high, but their scale does not prevent them being overtopped by whirling sheets of spray in rough weather, when gigantic waves thunder into the channel like a train into a tunnel.

There are shingle-edged bays and picturesque fishing harbours too, like Findochty and Crovie where small fishing boats bob in the safety of the bay and shoreline shops sell the day’s catch.

Dominating the western skyline are the Cairngorm mountain peaks. The Cairngorms National Park is the largest park in the United Kingdom, and a range of walking, climbing, mountain biking and snowsports are on offer.

For non-skiers it is worth taking a chairlift to the summit for a simply spectacular view. Ben Macdhui is the second highest summit in the United Kingdom and belongs to Aberdeenshire.

Lord Byron lived in Aberdeen with his mother until the age of 10, before he inherited his title and went back to England. But it is evident he never lost his love and admiration for the county.

In the poem The Adieu written in 1807, Byron mused:
Why did my childhood wander forth
From you, ye regions of the North,
With sons of pride to roam?
Why did I quit my Highland cave,
Marr’s dusky heath, and Dee’s clear wave,
To seek a Sotheron home?

Why indeed.

* There are said to be 11 million daffodil bulbs, three million crocus bulbs and two million roses in the city of Aberdeen alone
* The rich dialect of Aberdeenshire is called Doric
* The name Aberdeen is a combination of two Pictish-Gaelic words aber and devana meaning the meeting of two waters
* Lord Byron, the famous British poet lived in Aberdeen until the age of 10
* Annie Lennox was born in Aberdeen on December 25, 1954



Aberdeen Art Gallery
Schoolhill, Aberdeen
An important Fine Art collection with examples of 19th and 20th century works. One of the city’s most popular attractions.

Duthie Park Winter Gardens
Polmuir Road, Aberdeen
Europe's largest indoor garden collection. Flora and fauna, fish and birds too.
Tel: +44 (0)1224 585 310

Gordon Highlanders Museum
Viewfield Road, Aberdeen
Regimental museum where you can re-live the history of this famous regiment.

Maritime Museum
Shiprow, Aberdeen
Free admission to museum detailing the city’s relationship with the sea; fishing, whaling, ship-building and import/export.

Provost Skene’s House
Guestrow, Aberdeen
A late medieval turreted townhouse in what was once the worst slum in Aberdeen. Now a must-see museum.

Constitution Street, Aberdeen
No, it’s not a typo, it’s a hands-on science centre for all ages. Exhibits, shows and events.

Around Deeside:

Private residence of the Royal family. The grounds and a few rooms are open to the public. Attracts a large number of visitors.

Braemar Castle
Seventeenth century castle that is well worth a visit. Was a centre of Jacobite resistance 1745 Jacobite rebellion.

Cairngorms National Park
The largest national park in Britain, covering 3,800 kilometres of beautiful and unspoilt countryside. Range of activities, walking, mountain biking, canoeing or climbing.

Lecht 2090
Ski centre at 2,090ft. offers a range of activities, ski snowboarding in winter and a dry slope in the summer.

Old Royal Station
Station Road, Ballater
Queen Victoria travelled regularly by royal train from Windsor, this redundant station is now a museum. Also doubles as the tourist information office.
Tel: +44 (0)1339 755 306

Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Crathie, Ballater
Traditional whisky distillery. Admission price discountable in the shop.

Out and about:

Archaeolink Prehistory Park
Oyne, Insch
Prehistory recreated. An all-weather attraction, many events inside and out. Coffee and gift shops, Exhibitions and film theatre. All set in 40 acres.

Castle Fraser
Sauchen, Inverurie
A 16th century castle, one of the most photographed in Scotland. Many quirky features such as trapdoors, spyholes and a bizarre room full of stuffed animals.

Crathes Castle
16th century castle with painted ceilings, original furnishings and gardens.

Dunottar Castle
Sprawling castle and ruin set in dramatic clifftop position. Last used in Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

Grampian Transport Museum
A treasure house of transport history. Dramatic displays, working exhibits and video presentations trace the history of travel and transport. Large programme of events.

Haddo House
Tarves, Ellon
This impressive stately home combines crisp Georgian architecture with late Victorian interiors. Gardens well worth a stroll.

MacDuff Aquarium
High Shore, Macduff
Explore the wonders of the Moray Firth, without getting your feet wet.

Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
This 16th century castle was turned into a lighthouse in 1787. The results were kind of odd-looking but it is still in working order.

Sands of Forvie
This huge area of sand dunes and coastal heath lies next to the Ythan Estuary. The estuary, riverside and seacliffs combine to make this a particularly rich area for a variety of plants and wildlife.
Tel: +44 (0)1358 751 330



Ardoe House
Blairs, Aberdeen
Large, luxurious hotel. Traditional interior, restaurant has two AA rosettes.

Atholl Hotel
King’s Gate
Privately owned four star hotel in Aberdeen's West End, just minutes from the city centre. Highly recommended.

Craighill Holiday Park
Stonehaven Road, Bridge of Dee
The nearest campsite to the city. Basic facilities but only £5 a pitch.
Tel: +44 (0)1224 781 973

Marcliffe of Pitfodels
Deeside Road, Aberdeen
The finest hotel in Aberdeen. Five star grandness, but with a country house feel.

Maryculter House Hotel
South Deeside Road, Maryculter Picturesque location on banks of River Dee. Founded on the site where the Knights Templar once trained, apparently.

The Patio Hotel
Beach Boulevard
Contemporary business type hotel. Not too pretty from the outside but comfortable within.

Simpson’s Hotel
Queen’s Road
Brightly decorated hotel, very popular restaurant.

Around Deeside:

Ballater Holiday Cottages
Golf Road, Ballater
Two new refurbished cottages in the centre of Ballater, for those who prefer self catering accommodation.

Braemar Lodge Hotel
Glenshee Road, Braemar
Former hunting lodge. Log fires in winter. Popular local venue for evening meals.

Braemar Youth Hostel
Glenshee Road, Braemar
Impressive former shooting lodge. Good facilities and a warm welcome make this a popular choice.

Darroch Learg
Braemar Road, Ballater
A family-run hotel that won this year’s Scottish Hotel Chef of the Year Award. Superb selection of wines.

The Deeside Hotel
Braemar Road, Ballater
Comfortable country hotel, conservatory restaurant serves excellent food.

Hilton Craigendarroch Hotel
Braemar Road, Ballater
Luxury hotel set on a magnificent Highland estate. Excellent leisure facilities.

Out and About:

Belvedere Hotel
Evan Street, Stonehaven
Friendly hotel close to town centre. En-suite rooms and live weekly entertainment. Children welcome.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel
Kildrummy, By Alford
First class hotel. Wood paneling, four poster beds, the works. Overlooks the ruins of the original 13th century castle.

Loch Kinord Hotel
Ballater Road, Dinnet, Aboyne,
Convenient location an ideal base for exploring. Restaurant has two AA rosettes.

Monica and Martin’s Bed and Breakfast
Gellymill Street, Macduff
Georgian town house B&B with a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Tel: +44(0)1261 832 336

Pittodrie House Hotel
Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie
17th century family house hotel set in 2,000 acre estate.

Swallow Kintore Arms Hotel
High Street, Inverurie
Three star small hotel, conveniently placed 15 miles from airport.

Troutbeck Bed & Breakfast
Riverside Drive, Old Rayne
Four star B&B tucked away in ‘green nowhere.’

The Tufted Duck Hotel
St Combs, Fraserburgh
Family run hotel. An excellent base for exploring this quiet corner of Aberdeenshire.
Tel: +44 (0)1346 582 481



Atlantis at the Mariner Hotel
Gt Western Road
Excellent fish and seafood. Hotely atmosphere not too evident.

Café 52
The Green, Aberdeen
A welcoming snack bar and art café.

The Foyer
Crown St, Aberdeen
Busy restaurant with good seasonal menu. Part of a charity organisation that helps homeless and disadvantaged people locally.

Olive Tree
Queen’s Road
Fine dining bistro and atmospheric conservatory annex. Great service and presentation.

Union Row
Small but popular Italian eatery. Authentic dishes.
Tel: +44 (0)1224 658 444

Golden Square, Aberdeen
Three-storey food townhouse. Excellent cuisine accompanied by an impressive wine list.

Silver Darling
Pocra Quay, Aberdeen
Seafood bistro ideally located on the seafront. Menu changes depending on the catch.
Tel: +44 (0)1224 576 229

Around Deeside:

The Boat Inn
Charlestown Road, Aboyne
Quality Scottish dishes from fresh local produce. Fine wines, Scottish ales and a selection of single malts.
Tel: +44 (0)1339 886 137

Crannach Coffee Shop and Bakery
Cambus O’May, Ballater
Located in the Cairngorms National Park where organic, fairtrade and local ingredients are used to produce specially handmade breads and meals.

The Gathering Place Bistro
Invercauld Road, Braemar
Imaginative freshly prepared Scottish cuisine served in a stylish comfortable bistro.

The Green Inn
Victoria Road, Ballater
Family run fine dining restaurant offering the best of modern Scottish cuisine. Also has rooms.

La Mangiatoia Restaurant
Bridge Square, Ballater
Rustic Italian trattoria serving traditional homemade pasta, pizza, steak and chicken dishes in atmospheric surroundings.
Tel: +44 (0)1339 755 999

Auchendryne Square, Braemar
Spacious coffee shop and restaurant with relaxed atmosphere and great views.

Out and About:

The Cock and Bull
Ellon Road, Blairton, Balmedie
A very traditional old world pub serving good food in an informal setting.
Tel: +44 (0)1358 743 249

Eat on the Green
Udny Green, Nr. Ellon
Offering a range of contemporary and classic dishes with local produce.
Tel: +44 (0)1651 842 337

The Fjord Inn
Fisherford, nr Inverurie
A 40-cover, non smoking restaurant where all the dishes are prepared and cooked from locally sourced produce.

The Lairhillock Inn
Netherley, Nr Stonehaven
A roadside inn in the country. Famous pub food and posher restaurant ‘Crynoch’. Good selection of whisky.

Morgan McVeighs
Award winning stylish, contemporary roadside café/restaurant on the main road from Aberdeen to Inverness, serving local produce.

The Redgarth
Kirk Brae, Oldmeldrum
Family run inn providing home cooked meals and offering a wide selection of wines and a range of cask conditioned ales.