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Issue 83 - Aberdeenshire Royal Choice

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


This article is 2 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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Aberdeenshire Royal Choice

Charles Douglas recommends where to go, what to do...

Aberdeenshire, otherwise known as the Grampian Region, is the homeland of a string of magnificent clan castles – Drum, Crathes, Craigievar, Castle Fraser and Fyvie, to name those in the charge of the National Trust for Scotland. All of them survive as symbols of the wealthy families of the region, notably the Irvines, Burnetts, Sempills, Forbes, Setons and Gordons.

Generally kept in better condition than many of their southern counterparts, these keeps, fortresses and tower houses are a reminder not simply of inherited wealth, power and privilege but of a time when survival depended upon force of arms.

North of Aberdeen and its Shire, by which the city and county are collectively known, and overlooking St Catherine's Bay on the North Sea, are the ruins of two historic clan castles: Old Slains and New Slains, northern fiefdoms of Clan Hay and its chiefs, the earls of Errol. New Slains was bought by the shipping tycoon Sir John Ellerman in 1913, but he removed the roof for tax reasons and it has since deteriorated rapidly. With its dramatic cliff top setting, it is said to have been an inspiration for the writer Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Twenty five minutes by car from Aberdeen Airport is the Trump International Golf Links at Balmedie, centred on the 5-Star MacLeod House & Lodge Hotel. The 7,400 yard, par 72 championship golf course was designed by Dr Martin Hawtree and follows a classical pattern of two pit-and-back loops of nine holes threading through the Great Dunes on the dramatic coastline.

Further north are the towns of Peterhead, sometimes referred to as The Blue Toon (supposedly from the blue stockings traditionally worn by local fishermen), and Fraserburgh which juts boldly into the North Sea. On the southern side of Peterhead is Sandford Bay, a popular, albeit chilly, destination for wind surfers. Here can also be found the Bullers of Buchan, a vast rock cauldron into which sea water spills through a narrow archway creating a boiling effect with the incoming tide.

Created by Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth, who dissipated his fortune in the process, Fraserburgh was intended as a university town until its founder's funding collapsed. Today, it remains the largest shell fish port in Europe. The Fraserburgh Heritage Centre in Quarry Road is well worth a visit. On its outskirts is Cairnbulg Castle, seat of Sir Alexander's descendant Lady Saltoun, the present-day Chief of Clan Fraser.

Another dynasty to stamp its identity on this district and to employ the architect William Adam, father of James and Robert, was the Duff Family. William Duff was created Lord Braco in 1735, and Earl of Fife in 1739. From a modestly landed family, his fortune originated from shrewd financial investment but alas, the ambitiously stylish mansion he commissioned, certainly one of William Adam's masterpieces, led to a bitter financial and legal feud between client and architect.

However, Duff House remained with his family until 1906 when his great-great-grandson, the Duke of Fife, husband of King Edward VII's daughter Princess Louise, gifted the property to the adjacent burghs of Banff and Macduff. Now in the care of Historic Scotland, it serves as an outpost of the National Galleries of Scotland.

In the vicinity; are the Macduff Distillery, built in 1962, and now owned by John Dewar & Sons, and the Glen Garioch Distillery at Old Meldrum, owned by Morrison Bowmore.

North east of Oldmeldrum, at Tarves, and in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is Haddo House, built in the 1739s by William Adam for William Gordon, second Earl of Aberdeen. The Earl's descendant, created Marquess of Aberdeen, was to become Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria and, until his death in 1860, her closest advisor. A scion of this family was the ‘mad bad and dangerous’ early 18th Century romantic poet Lord Byron whose ancestors owned the Gight estate.

To the west of Aberdeen City, the Strathdon and Glenbuchat area consists of quiet roads, and forest trails, and there is easy access to moorland for walkers seeking to explore the eastern Cairngorms, following old drovers’ trails and smugglers’ routes. The Lecht Ski Centre is nearby, and the Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon is one of the oldest traditional gatherings in Scotland featuring the annual march of the Lonach Highlanders. The ruins of Kildrummy Castle within its curtain wall, a 13th Century stronghold of the earls of Mar, and the picturesque Corgarff Castle, open to the public during the summer, are well worth adding to your itinerary.

The City of Aberdeen, which hugs the north east coast of Grampian Region, is the third largest metropolis in Scotland, an independently minded, economically thriving
hub of culture and business fuelled by its harbour and the oil and trading links of the North Sea.

The city's two universities, The University of Aberdeen, founded in 1495, and The Robert Gordon University, awarded its status in 1992, make Aberdeen the educational centre of the north-east. Aberdeen's seaport is the largest in the north east, and Aberdeen Heliport is one of the busiest commercial helicopter bases in the world.

From the mid-18 Century, the international demand for granite quarried at Rubislaw became Aberdeen's leading industry. Both London Bridge and Waterloo Bridge were constructed of it, and its impressive solidity and grandeur can be witnessed in the buildings in the centre of Aberdeen itself. Over the centuries, shipbuilding developed alongside a fishing industry, and Aberdeen became famous for its sharp-bowed ‘clipper’ ships designed for the China Seas and for the transportation of emigrants to Australia.

In the latter part of 20th Century, the discovery of substantial oil deposits lying deep in the cold waters of the North Sea completely regenerated the city and brought enormous prosperity to the region, alongside high technology developments in the electronics design and development industry.

But Aberdeen is not all about business and commerce. There is a busy night life, excellent restaurants and a colourful throughput of theatre and culture. The Aberdeen Art Gallery, for example, houses a superb collection of Impressionist paintings, Victorian, Scottish and 20th Century British pictures, as well as collections of silver and glass. The Aberdeen Maritime Museum at Shiprow, tells the story of the city's links with the sea. Other visitor attractions include Provost Ross's House, dating from 1593; The Gordon Highlanders Museum, and The King's Museum.

The city also hosts annual festivals such as the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, the world's largest arts festival for young performers); the Aberdeen Jazz Festival; the University of Aberdeen's literature festival Word, and DanceLive, Scotland's only festival of contemporary dance.

For golfers there is the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, founded in 1780. In 2005, it was the host of the Senior British Open, and in 2011, the host of the Walker Cup.

To the west and south, the wide-banked rivers of Don and Dee flow swiftly to the sea. The Don passes through Alford, Kemnay, Inverurie, Kintore and Dyce, to Inverurie. The latter originates from the Grampian Mountains and forest of Balmoral where her Majesty the Queen retains the holiday retreat purchased by her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria in 1848.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillery, opened in 1845 and today owned by Diageo, is situated five miles from Balmoral. It sits under Lochnagar, the mountain featured in a children's story penned by the Prince of Wales.

With the arrival of Royalty on Deeside in the 19th Century, a new era began for the Highland estates. With the Royal family in residence in August and September, worshipping at Crathie Church at Ballater, and attending the annual Braemar Gathering and Games, the traditions continue.

Close to Ballater, which is known as ‘the Jewel of the Cairngorms’, is the Dalmochie Highland Heritage Centre, site of the Newfoundlander's World War Two logging camp. The old Railway Station has been restored and houses displays on its 100-year Royal usage, including a Royal waiting room and Royal Train Carriage.

‘The view from here, looking down upon the house, is charming,’ wrote Victoria of Balmoral in her diary. ‘To the left you look towards the beautiful hills surrounding Loch-na-gar, and to the right, towards Ballater, to the glen (or valley) along which the Dee winds, with beautiful wooded hills...’

Not a lot has changed since then. The Braemar Highland Heritage Centre contains an exhibition featuring history and geography. Braemar Castle, ancient stronghold of the earls of Mar, was acquired by Clan Farquharson after the 1745 Rising. It is currently leased to a local charity and open to the public.

At Fettercairn, close to the summit of the mountain pass of Cairn O' Mount, is Fasque House, formerly the residence of the family of the Victorian British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and now transformed into an exclusive wedding and events venue. Fettercairn lies at the southern end of the Monboddo Estate, home of the distinguished 18th Century philosopher Lord Monboddo, an exponent of evolutionary theory who believed that he had a tail.

The Aberdeenshire Castle Trail

Perhaps it was its strategic location on the north east coast, or the wealth of the clans which settled around the Grampian mountains, but Aberdeenshire literally bristles with ancient keeps and castles, over 300 in total.

Here is a selection:
A93. North from Kincardineshire and heading west, the road leads to Crathes Castle (1), three miles east of Banchory, and to Drum Castle, five miles further east. Built by the Burnetts of Leys in the 16th Century, Crathes (National Trust for Scotland) is a classic tower house with painted Jacobean ceilings and standing in beautiful surroundings and a range of woodland trails to explore. The castle and garden are open January to March, Saturday and Sunday; April to October, daily; November to December, Saturday and Sunday.
Tel: +44 (0) 133 084 425.

Drum Castle (2) (NTS), ancestral home of the Irvine family, comprises a 13th Century tower within a Jacobean mansion and Victorian additions. Drum Castle is currently working with Aberdeen Art Gallery to house the city's modern art collection.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 700 334.

A980. South of Alford is
Craigievar Castle (3) (see Front Cover) which looks much the same as it did when it was first built in 1626. Ancestral seat of the Sempill family, it is in the National Trust for Scotland's portfolio and contains a fine collection of family portraits and ornate plaster ceilings. Castle open March to June, Friday to Tuesday; July to August, daily; September, Friday to Tuesday.
Tel: +44 (0) 1339 883 635

B977. North, and off the A944. is
Castle Fraser (4) (NTS), an ancestral home of Clan Fraser which, with fine paintings and furniture, is considered to be one of the grandest of collectively known Castles
of Mar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 833 463.

Just off the B999, 15 miles north of Aberdeen between Pitmedden and Tarves are the ruins of
Tolquhon Castle (5), expanded in the 1580s by Sir William Forbes. It is cared for today by Historic Scotland, and open only during the summer.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 851 286.

For over 400 years,
Haddo House (6) (NTS), off the B999, 20 miles north of Aberdeen, was the ancestral home of the Gordon family. There is an impressive collection of period furniture, ceramics and art to be enjoyed, including paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence and James Giles.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 851 440.

Off the A947, in the village of Fyvie and half way between Oldmeldrum and Turriff, is
Fyvie Castle (7) (NTS) which dates from the 12th Century. With its lavish Edwardian interiors featuring fine furniture, suits of armour and paintings, it is a delight to explore and there is an excellent and friendly tea room. Gardens and grounds are open all the year round. Castle open April to June, Saturday to Wednesday. From July to August, daily; from September to October, Saturday to
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 891 266.

Off the A96, where the River Bogie meets the River Deveron, are the ruins of
Huntly Castle (8) with its palace block erected in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Robert the Bruce sought refuge here in the early 14th Century. Maintained by Historic Scotland, it is open April to September; closed Thursday and Friday, October to March.
Tel: +44 (0) 1466 793 191.

On the B9002, seven miles south of Huntly is
Leith Hall (9). It is a typical Scottish laird's residence packed with family treasures. Occupied by the Leith - Hay family for over ten generations, an exhibition celebrates their contribution to the British Army and Empire. Garden and grounds are open all year, daily. The Hall, shop and tearoom are open April to October.
Tel: +44 (0) 1464 831 216.

A97. Ten miles south west of Alford,
Kildrummy Castle (10) (Historic Scotland) was either built or adapted by Edward I of England when he invaded Scotland in 1296. It was from Kildrummy that John Erskine, Earl of Mar, launched the Jacobite Rising on1715 Open Summer only, from April until September.
Tel: +44 (0) 1975 571 331.

Rising in the eastern Cairngorms and winding its way eastward through Corgraff, Strathdon, Glenkinle and Kildrummy, is the River Don.

Corgarff Castle (11) (Historic Scotland) in Strathdon is an isolated tower house situated in the Cairngorms National Park. A residence of the Forbes family, it was converted into a redcoat garrison fortress after the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Open Summer only, April until September.

Having searched Scotland for a private home, it was the milder climate and lack of rainfall experienced in the valley of the River Dee that attracted Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert to the region. Rising high in the Cairngorm Mountains and running east to its mouth at Aberdeen, the Dee flows through some of Scotland's finest scenery.

Balmoral Castle (12) is the privately owned Scottish home of the Royal family. The estate was purchased in 1852 and the castle re-built by Prince Albert. The grounds and gardens are open daily; the castle is open to the public from April until early August.
Tel: +44 (0) 1339 742 534.

Braemar Castle (13) (Braemar Community Ltd) on Royal Deeside was built by the Earl of Mar in 1628, later becoming the home of the chiefs of Clan Farquharson. An exhibition here celebrates the 1715 Jacobite Rising. Open from April until October and and between July and Augustand between July and August.


1. Balmoral Castle Gardens
Balmoral Estates, Ballater, AB35 5TB
Scottish home of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria purchased the estate in 1848 gardens open April – July.
Tel: +44 (0) 1339 742 534

2. Fyvie Castle
Turiff, Ellon, AB53 8JS
14th Century NTS managed castle, Former seat of Seton, Gordon and Forbes Leith families.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 891 266

3. Aberdeen Maritime Museum
21-25 Commerce Street, Aberdeen City, AB11 5FE
Award winning displays on North Sea history, the offshore industry and shipping.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 337 700

4. Castle Fraser
Sauchen, Inverurie, AB51 7LD
Magnificent z-plan castle built for 6th Fraser Laird in 1636, One of the grandest ‘Castles of Mar’.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 833 463

5. Haddo House
Ellon, AB41 7EQ
Ancestral home of the earls and marquisses of Aberdeen.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 851 440

6. Craigievar Castle
Alford, AB33 8JF
Ancestral seat of Clan Sempill and the Forbes family until 1963. National Trust for Scotland.
Tel:+44 (0) 844 493 2174

7. The Gordon Highlanders Museum

St Luke's, Viewfield Road, AB15 7XH
Reliving the history of one of the British Army's most famous regiments.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 311 200

8. Fraserburgh Heritage Centre
Quarry Road, AB43 9DT
Step back in time through over four hundred years of history.
Tel: +44 (0) 1346 513 802

9. The Glen Garioch Distillery
Distillery Road, Inverurie, AB51 OES
Exciting visitor centre and Scotch whisky tours.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 873 450

10. Crathes Castle
Banchory, AB31 5QJ
Ancestral home for over 400 years of the Burnetts of Leys.
Tel: +44 (0) 8450 949 273

11. Drum Castle & Gardens
Banchory, AB31 5EY
Seat of the Chief of Clan Irvine.
Tel:+44 (0) 1330 700 334

12. The Glendronach Distillery
Forgue By Huntly,
AB54 6DB
Distillery visitor centre and tours. Open seven days.
Tel: +44 (0) 1466 730 202


13. Holiday Inn Aberdeen West
Westhill Drive, AB32 6TT
SHA Aberdeen Hotel of the Year 2015, Bar of the Year (North East) 2015 & Brand Hotel Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 270 300

14. Jury's Inn Aberdeen Hotel
Union Square, Guild Street, AB11 5RG
SHA Business Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 381 200

15. Kildrummy Inn
Alford, AB33 8QS
SHA Inn of the Year (North East) 2015 and SHA Restaurant of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1975 571 227

16. Loch Kinord Hotel
Ballater Road, Dinnet, AB34 5LW
SHA Small Country Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1339 885 229

17. Maryculter
House Hotel
South Deeside Road, Maryculter, AB12 5GB
SHA Country Sports Hotel of the Year 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 732 124

18. Meldrum House Hotel
Oldmeldrum, AB51 OAE
Historic country house (see pages 12-15). There is a magnificent parkland gold course.
Tel: +44 (0) 1651 872 294

19. Norwood Hall Hotel
Garthdee Road, Aberdeen, AB15 9FX
SHA Conference Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015 and SHA Wedding Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1234 868 961

20. Thistle Aberdeen Airport
Argyll Road, Aberdeen Airport, AB21 OAF
Comfortable and welcoming with a terraced Osprey bar and restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 8713 769 001

21. Thistle Aberdeen Altens
Souter Head Road, AB12 3LF
Stylish bedrooms and a leisure club with swimming pool. Also business friendly.
Tel: +44 (0) 8713 769 002

22. Thistle Aberdeen City Centre The Caledonian
Union Terrace, AB10 1WE
Contemporary comforts and cafe bar with an extensive wine cellar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1234 640 233

23. Tor-Na-Coille Hotel
Inchmarlo, Banchory, AB31 4AB
SHA Romantic Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 822 242

24. Banchory Lodge Hotel
Dee Street, Banchory, AB31 5HS
SHA Informal Dining Hotel of the Year (North East), and SHA Wedding Hotel of the Year (North East) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 822 625


25. The Marcliffe
North Deeside Road, Aberdeen City, AB15 9YA
Hotel, Spa andRestaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 861 000

26. Moon Fish Cafe
9, Correction Wynd, Aberdeen City, AB10 1HP
Innovative, modern menu with local produce.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 644 166

27. Birdhouse Cafe
74, High Street, Banchory, AB31 5SS
Sandwiches, coffee, tea, cakes and tray bakes.
Tel: +44 (0) 1330 822 072

28. Granite Park Restaurant & Bar
8, Golden Square, Aberdeen City, AB10 1RB
Creativity and locally sourced ingredients.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 478 004

29. Kildrummy Inn
Alford, AB33 8QS
An award winning Scottish country inn.
Tel: +44 (0) 1975 571 227

30. Cafe Boheme
23, Windmill Brae, Aberdeen City, AB11 6HU
Creative and memorable catering.
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 210 677

31. The Bothy, Ballater
43, Bridge Street Ballater, AB35 5QD
All purpose coffee shop with excellent soup.
Tel: +44 (0) 1339 755 191

32. The Lighthouse Restaurant
Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh, AB43 9DU
Museum of Scottish Lighthouses restaurant. Fine sea views.
Tel: +44 (0) 1346 511 022

33. The Kilted Frog
10 West High Street,
Inverurie, AB51 3SA
Small family run delicatessen and coffee shop.
Tel: +44 (0) 1467 670 066

34. Clatterin Brig Restaurant
Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, AB30 1YG
Excellent food and pretty garden.
Tel: +44 (0) 1561 340 279

35. Fennel Restaurant
10, Burn Lane, Inverurie, AB51 4UZ
Modern European cuisine in second floor venue.
Tel: +44 (0) 1467 670 065

36. Gadie's
Ryehill, Oyne, AB52 6QS
Gallery and restaurant (closed on Tuesdays).
Tel: +44 (0)1464 851 573