This is the first of a series looking at Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire.
I can’t get all of Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire into one post as apart from the ‘stars’ of Dunnotar Castle and Royal Deeside, there is so much more to this area. Referenced at the end of this piece are Tourist Trails : Coastal, Victoria, Pictish, Stone Circles, Castle, Whisky … Any could be a trip in itself. We’ve a higher density of castles than anywhere else – some are little but vertical ‘bunglows’ but others gave great significance in the history of Scotland.
The north-east is home to around 10% of Scotland’s population, half in the city and half in the network of towns and villages in the Shire. Aberdeen City has been Scotland’s Oil Capital for many decades and is now starting to face a new post oil world with decommissioning of the North Sea oil rigs and refocusing the expertise in sub sea engineering (it’s said that one small ndustrial estate on the outskirts of Aberdeen employs a third of the sub sea engineering experts in the world), so there is great interest in the offshore wind turbines being built. But the area is dotted with farm scale wind turbines. Fishing remains important, particularly to Fraserburgh and Peterhead and the rich arable land grows crops including specialist suppliers of the seed potatoes used to grow the crops that become Smith crisps, and of course it’s home to the best beef in the world : grass fed Aberdeen Angus. The quality of the resources probably come together most obviously on Mackies Farm by Inverurie with a herd of Jersey cows providing the milk for the very successful ice cream and now crisps brand, powered by three wind turbines on the hill above.
But we start with the city itself.
At the heart of the city centre is a busy industrial harbour, mainly serving the oil industry, with a few fish processors hanging on south of the River Dee in Torry. Amongst those is the producer of the best smoked salmon I have ever tasted from the Alexander Smokery.
Just beyond Tory, south of the river is the Girdleness Lighthouse Complex where it’s easy to view the population of dolphins that often seem to enjoy riding the bow waves of the vessels coming into and out of the port. There are a number of boat tour operators running out of the harbour: as well as our resident dolphins, there are seals and plenty of sea birds in season.
On the north side of the river mouth is the charming conservation village of Footdee (usually pronounced Fit-ee by locals). The small sheds in the courtyards between the houses were once smokeries for fish and net drying stores. Enjoy a wander with your camera and then step onto the shore to see the enormous expanse of Sandy beach in Aberdeen Bay reaching all the way to beyond the River Ythan at Newburgh (more about the Ythan under Buchan). 20km (14 miles) of sandy beach… You’ll occasionally find surfers braving the cold North Sea waters – in wetsuits.
On the north side of the river further inland is Duthie Park and the Winter Gatdens – a nice escape into greenery even in foul weather but Union Terrace Gardens with its iconic view of Education, Salvation and Damnation give a nice respite to the city centre. A hidden gem is Johnston Gardens – just 1 hectare but a delight. (access from Viewfield Rd, Aberdeen AB15 7XE)
The city is known as the Silver City for the sparkling of the mica in the grey granite (best after a rain shower) used to build the many wonderful buildings from its Victorian peak. Most impressive is Marischal College, the second largest granite building in the world – and probably the most elaborately decorated as I always think it was designed in Royal Icing. Marischal College was founded in 1593 and joined Kings College founded in 1495 by Bishop Elphinstone to form the University of Aberdeen. The Earls Marischal is a hereditary title of the Keith’s, charged with protecting the royal regalia (hence these being hidden in Dunnotar) and the King’s person in Parliament.
North of the city centre is Old Aberdeen, the centre of the University of Aberdeen. The King College Chapel, containing the tomb of Bishop Elphinstone is worth a visit as are the lovely surrounding buildings including the College Building (now used as a conference centre, the Tower, still in use for lectures (or at least it was when I took an MSc at the university a few years ago. You’ll be struck by a fine collection of buildings around Kings including the impressive Powis Gate. There are some less distinguished more modern buildings but do visit (you can get a free day pass) the square zebra striped new university library building. I love the interior and the views over the city from the top are superb.
Walking north, you come to Old Machar Cathedral Church and following the river eventually come to Old Brig of Balgownie, built in 13th century and still the main crossing of the River Don (after substantial rebuilding) until the new bridge was build 500m towards the sea in 1830.
There is a good selection of self guided walking trails at http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/education_learning/local_history/heritage_trails/loc_HeritageTrails.asp but I’ll give a plug for Hidden Aberdeen Tours run by notable local forelorist Dr Fiona-Jane Brown. Sometimes with drama, sometimes just a walking tour or a storytelling session, the experience is always a delight (except the Halloween ones which are scary).
Aberdeen was granted its city status and extensive lands by Bruce – trace the March Stones (boundary stones) here http://otheraberdeen.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/march-stone-abd-1-cr.html – and explore this blog for an alternative view of Aberdeen’s built geography.
Aberdeenshire is too big an area to discuss as one lump so I’m going to use some older historic names. You’ll find local people very familiar with these and often very proud of say, being a Buchan loon.
Towns and villages
Craft and Galleries Map
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Walking the coast