The Granite City

Trip Start Mar 01, 2001
Trip End Aug 10, 2002

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Thursday, March 29, 2001

Aberdeen - 1972/2001/2002

My earliest travels to Scotland occurred when I was a wee lad at the tender age of 2 or 3 (I am not quite sure exactly how old I was. Better to ask my mother) - needless to say I barely remember anything from that experience.

Fast forward some thirty years to 2001 and 2002, when, due to my good fortune of having business in London, I had the opportunity to take a side trip over a weekend to make a visit to my aunt in Aberdeen on the north east coast of Scotland.

2001 Introduction to Aberdeen and the Northeast Coast of Scotland
After my auntie picked me up at the Aberdeen airport, we headed back to her flat (apartment for us non-Brits) for a traditional Scottish supper. She had cooked up some mince n' tatties for me to enjoy.

Boy, was that ever good, especially washed down with a Tennants ale.

My 2001 trip to Aberdeen focused on exploring the 'Granite City' (as Aberdeen is known). Most buildings in the centre of Aberdeen are literally made from big slabs of granite. This is evident on those rare moments when the sun peeps out and the granite buildings come ablaze and sparkle from the reflections on the imbedded millions of tiny granite bits.

No visit to Aberdeen would be complete without exploring the cobbled stone streets of old Aberdeen. Old Aberdeen is the heart of the city with its many old buildings such as St Machars Cathedral, King's College and the university area.

The best of Aberdeen includes its amazing beaches. Just imagine miles and miles of wide, golden colored sandy beaches stretching from the harbour entrance all the way down to mouth of the river Dee (or is it Don?).

My final memorable moment of Aberdeen was a leisurely stroll along the Brig O' Balgonie. For the uneducated, 'Brig' is old Scottish Gaelic for 'Bridge.' In fact many words spoken in Scotland today are a carry-over from the time when Scots spoke their own language - for example 'Aye', 'Bairn', 'Loch' are Gaelic in origin). The Brig O' Balgonie is a wonderful, stone bridge where many natives come to for a relaxing, peaceful stroll.

Scottish Country Drive
On my final day in Aberdeen, we took a drive through the countryside. This gave me an appreciation for the Scottish countryside. I saw highland cattle (a couple of cows munching down on hay and oats), the place where Rob Roy MacGregor jumped (allegedly) a waterfall to escape the English Redcoats, and fields of purple heather in the hillsides on our way to the little town of Banchorie.

After touring around Banchorie for an hour or so we stopped for a cuppa (tea) at a restaurant. I was introduced to an artery clogging, butter laden pastry called the 'Aberdeen Rowie.' They are described as a Scottish croissant but let me tell you that they are not light and fluffy like a croissant but heavy and hearty.

A little shopping was then in order to work off some of the rowie that sank to the bottom of my stomach pit. Here I purchased a 'quaich' which is a friendship drinking cup. Some of the history of this cup has its origins from the druids whom drank blood from it as part of their ceremonies. From Banchorie we drove back along the river Don (or was it Dee?) passing golfers, Shetland ponies, more wooly Highland cows and many farms that unfortunately posted signs stating to stay away due to the hoof and mouth disease that was occurring at that time.

2002 - The Whiskey and Castle Trail
Back in the UK in 2002, I made my way back to Aberdeen for another visit to my aunt. Having previously seen the city, the mission this time was to explore the famous Whiskey and Castle trail.

To be in Scotland without having visited a castle would be a shame indeed. To my pleasure I was able to visit a couple during a car trip from Aberdeen to Royal Deeside, up to Speyside (key on whiskey) and back along the coast to Aberdeen while passing thru towns like Banff, Cullen and Peterhead.

The first stop was at the picturesque seaside town of Stonehaven. Stonehaven is what you would imagine a small Scottish fishing town to be. With a circular shaped harbour protected from the cold North Sea by a large sea wall. Boats enter and leave the sheltered harbour through a small opening into the North Sea.

Stonehaven has all the requisite Scottish charm with its harbourside homes, local pub, restaurant, ice cream shop and few small shops. The only downside was the brisk cold northerly wind that whipped of the North Sea. This ensured a brisk walk around town. Once final fact about Stonehaven is that it even appeared on an episode of The Amazing Race.

Just outside Stonehaven is Dunnotar Castle. To get to the castle involved quite a hike down a steep incline and then up a big hill to where Dunnotar Castle is perched on a rocky hill that cuts into the North Sea. Evidently the steep cliffs provided excellent defense and a great workout to the castle's residents.

Dunnotar Castle is mainly in ruins today but remains an excellent place to explore. The Mel Gibson version of Hamlet was partly filmed here.

Leaving from Dunnotar we headed inland towards Royal Deeside in search of Fyvie Castle. Before hitting Fyvie Castle we stopped at the Brig o Feugh where the salmon run during their annual upstream pilgrimage. There were no salmon at this time of the year but the quick stop was nice none the less.

Upon arriving at the baronial Fyvie Castle we promptly did the castle tour. Fyvie Castle is run by the Scottish Heritage Trust. The Trust takes ownership of castles of Scottish historical importance from families that can no longer maintain these costly buildings.

This was the first real castle (complete with paintings, fighting armor, furnishings etc) I had ever been in and I was not disappointed. Fyvie Castle had all the expected castle regalia such as big axes and swords on the walls next to the shiny metal knight suits, there were lots of paintings/art and many animal heads mounted on the walls. There was even a huge, stuffed polar bear that one of the castle's owners had shot on an arctic hunting expedition.

After a quick tour of the grounds and a few photos, the castle/whiskey trail tour continued to Speyside and a stop in Fachobars at the Baxter site. Baxter's is a well known Scottish food company supplying various food products to the UK - in fact you can even buy Baxter's soups here in Canada. After a tour of the Baxter's site, a snack of waffles smothered in syrup was had to satisfy the hungry appetite that had developed.

The costal drive back to Aberdeen from Speyside was very scenic as we drove through little towns such as Lossiemouth, Cullen, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. The highlights included the arched Romanesque aqueduct in Cullen and the peaceful harbour with an old three masted schooner in Buckie.
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