Exploring Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire
Where to even begin with my trip to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. It’s not an area I am overly familiar with, so I was excited and looking forward to what appeared to be an action packed 3 day itinerary arranged by VisitAberdeenshire.
There really is something for everyone with a city for shopping, walks in the Cairngorms, coastal walks, plenty of castles and an abundance of good food and nice hotels. Aberdeenshire really does pack it all in.
Gardenstown and Crovie
After catching the train to Aberdeen it was straight to the coastal towns of Gardenstown and Crovie. Only an hours drive from Aberdeen City Centre takes you to these picturesque fishing villages. The brisk seaside air hit us we got out the car and walked towards the pier, watching the fishing boats rocking in the harbour with the waves crashing up and the many seagulls calling out above us. It was dreich and wild and I loved it. Maybe it reminded me of home, maybe I am just happiest by the sea.
A short drive or coastal walk from Gardenstown takes you to Crovie. No cars are allowed unless you live here and even then there is no vehicle access to the street, as there isn’t a road. Perched right on the waters edge when travelling by boat was the only way of travelling it remains pretty much the same as it would have been all those years ago.
Kinnaird Lightouse Museum
Now you know how much I love a Scottish lighthouse, well this is a lighthouse museum, and a lighthouse build within a castle!!! A heaven for a lighthouse geek like myself. As soon as we walked in the door I was in love. Lighthouse lenses perched around the room with signs from all the lighthouses on the wall. I was completely engrossed in ticking off how many I had visited.
A guided tour of Kinnaird Lighthouse means you find out all the interesting facts about this lighthouse, the main one being that it was the first lighthouse on mainland Scotland. You also get to visit inside the lighthouse and see how it would have looked when it was permenatly manned including the keepers living quarters. You also get to climb to the top and see the lens in operation. Whilst taking in the views you’ll also see the Wine Tower, which is the oldest building in Fraserburgh. The story goes that the daughter of the Lord fell in love with a piper. Not happy with the lowly match the Lord had the Piper locked into the cave below the Wine Tower and his daughter locked in upstairs.
Unfortunately the tide came in and the Piper drowned and the daughter then flung herself from the window killing herself on the rocks below. Apparently you can still hear the Piper play and the rocks are stained red from where his lover perished.
Peterhead Prison Museum
I’ll be honest, if I was in the area myself I probably wouldn’t have visited here, but I am so glad I did, and from the feedback on my instagram story a lot of you already have visited it and highly recommend it.
Peterhead Prison was saved from demolition and turned into the museum it is today, Nothing has changed much and it remains in the same condition it would have been when it was a functioning prison, even down to the smell.
The audio tour takes you from cell to cell, charting conditions from 1888 to 2013. There are fascinating stories about some of the quite likeable inmates and stories about the notorious Peterhead Siege. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.
I have been in Aberdeen hundreds of times over the year, mainly coming and going from the ferry terminal to and from Shetland, or meeting visiting family for a wander around the shops and bite to eat. Yet despite my numerous visits I never knew that Aberdeen had an “old town”. I thought that was just in Edinburgh. I have to say though how charming Aberdeens Old Town is. It’s not swarming with the mass of tourists that you get in Edinburgh and it is all build with the infamous grey granite that Aberdeen is known for. It’s also home to Scotland’s 3rd oldest University with the King College campus dominating much of the area. The architecture is stunning and the little hidden green spaces are perfect. The ideal spot for a wander around if you want away from the hustle and bustle of Aberdeen city centre.
Maryculter House Hotel
After an action packed day, dinner and accommodation was in the lovely Maryculter House Hotel. With new management in place, they have big plans for the future and you can already see the changes they have made. Perched on the side of the River Dee the hotel has beautiful grounds to wander in and I was lucky in my room to have a bath with a view.
Dinner was amazing and the staff where so pleasant and knowledgable. Even if you don’t have time for a stay I highly recommend the food here. My main course was amazing!! I will definately be back for more.
A gorgeous walk within the Muir of Dinnet which is part of the Cairngorms National Park. There is a small visitor centre at the start which tells you about how this amazing place was created and what animals you might expect to see. I recommend waterproof walking boots or a good pair of wellies for this short walk. The path is clearly marked although after a short while it appears that the path is blocked, this is actually the entrance to the vat. There are stepping stones that take you upstream, but this is where your walking boots or wellies come in handy, as it saves you getting wet feet if you slip or if the water is high. Once you navigate the entrance you’ll be in total awe at the size of the vat which was formed during the ice age and was apparently the hiding place of many a fugitive in its time.
You can extend your walk when you leave the Burn O’Vat and take in the Culblean Circuit. It’s 4 miles in total and with little elevation means it’s a perfect taster of the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.
Braemar Highland Games Centre
The newly opened Braemar Highland Games Centre is an absolute treat. The Braemar Gathering has been part of the sporting calendar since 1832 with the queen attending it every year, upholding a 170 year old royal tradition of attending the games.
The Highland Games centre holds an exhibition hall, gallery, archive, shop and cafe, which our lovely guide Alison assured us was the ‘best cake in Scotland’. Now as you’ll know I have eaten a lot of cake in Scotland but the blueberry and lemon (gluten free) cake was AMAZING!! Not only is this a fantastic spot for tourist and Highland games enthusiasts, but it feels like a real hub for the local community.
Alison showed us around and told us many funny stories about the centre. Her family are from the area and she has a real pride and love for this project, which comes across in her fantastic tour. A must if you are in the area.
The Flying Stag & The Fife Arms
I don’t even know where to start with this place. From the outside the Fife Arms hotel looks like many of the victorian era hotels in Scotland. Large and grand on the outside, but with the expectation that inside will be somewhat dated and old fashioned. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong about The Fife Arms. It is sensory overload as soon as you step foot inside the door.
The Flying Stag is the bar area which does lunch and dinner and it is stunning! You are drawn to the large stag with wings over the bar, but this is just a taster of what is to come. Lunch ordered, we headed off on a tour of the hotel. I honestly cannot explain how opulent and crazy, comfortable and interesting it is. The General Manager Frederica Bertolini was kind enough to take us around and as she has been involved since the beginning of the project there was nothing that she didn’t know. I don’t think I have ever seen a hotel as fascinating. The food was amazing as well. I was my usual cliche self and had the haggis, neeps and tatties and a can of irn bru. Absolutely delicious.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
We arrived a few minutes late for our allotted tour time, but I think this was a blessing in disguise as instead we got the wonderful Eric. Originally from Mauritius but has lived in Scotland for years, and he has a passion for whisky that would make most Scots proud. Eric made us laugh and was full of knowledge about the whisky and local area and he gave us top tips on how best to enjoy whisky.
Even though I don’t drink I have been to a few distillery tours, mainly because I love the process and the smell of peat and whisky. The Royal Lochnagar Distillery although small is just as fascinating, maybe mores because it has the royal seal of approval. It is well worth the visit if you are in the area. Oh and you must ask for Eric. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this half as much without him as our amazing guide.
Balmoral Castle & Estate
I am quite familiar with Balmoral Castle and Estate having visited it a few times and walked around its vast estate full of bothys, huts and hills. During this visit however, we were given a tour by the lovely Sarah who guided us around the gardens, explaining how the estate works and showing us the hard work the gardeners do throughout the year to keep it looking pristine.
Entry tickets give you access to the estate and gardens, you also get access to the ballroom part of the castle. The rest is private as this is the Queens private residence for a good part of the year after all. The ballroom was fascinating and the current exhibition is about Queen Victoria. This changes regularly though, so there is always a reason to go back.
Banchory Lodge Hotel
After the 2nd action packed day we headed to Banchory Lodge Hotel for dinner. Stuffed from our earlier cake and then meal I decided just to have 3 courses! First course was Cullen Skink which, yep you guessed it, is a Scottish dish. Made in Cullen in the north east of Scotland, its made of smoked haddock, milk and potatoes and it is delicious. My pasta main was light and delicious and the cheesecake to finish was almost a step too far. But I managed to polish them all off.
Banchory Lodge Hotel also sits on the banks of the River Dee and given it was such a gorgeous day it was lovely to have stunning views out the window while we ate, and also somewhere to walk off our dinner after eating too much.
Sandman Signature Aberdeen Hotel
After another amazing day exploring Aberdeenshire we headed back to the city centre to our hotel for the night. From the outside the Sandman Signature Hotel looks like every other building in the city, but as soon as you walk into the foyer you realise it is just that little bit different. Bold colours and colourful designs made it a real treat. The rooms where cosy and spacious with nice modern design. Not what I was expecting at all. I had a great sleep here, but i’m not sure how much of that is down to the comfy king size beds or being exhausted from another busy day.
After a lovely sleep and yummy breakfast we were off to probably one of the most popular spots in Aberdeenshire……..Dunnottar Castle, and as soon as you walk down the path towards it, you can see why. Perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the sea makes for quite an imposing view. I have visited Dunnottar Castle a few times, but it never fails to impress me. Seabirds flying about, the breeze rushing over the fields, and the sea unusually calm. The path was filled with thistles about to bloom and bursting with wildflowers, which made the walk about even prettier than usual.
I couldn’t believe how calm the sea was though, which only made me more excited for our next stop.
Stonehaven Sea Safari
I love being on a boat and I love being on a boat exploring the coastline, so I knew I was in for a treat when I seen this on the itinerary. The owner Andy is from Stonehaven and his knowledge of the coast is fascinating. We were taken around the coast to the foot of Dunottar Castle. It was amazing to see this well photographed place from such a different view point. We then followed the coast around watching all the seabirds come and go from their nests with a brilliant commentary from Andy. Jess was lucky enough to see her first puffin, but it was the guillemots that fascinated me the most. These tiny little chicks hop from the cliffs at about 2 wks old, plopping into the water to the awaiting dads and other chicks, who then form a big raft to keep themselves all safe. Absolutely fascinating and adorable.
I have done quite a few boat trips in my time and this one was up there with the best of them. The coastline was so much more spectacular that I expected and it was teaming with birds and plenty of seals.
The fact the water was so calm was a total bonus, but I can imagine it would be just as spectacular on a bit of a dreich day.
Soon it was time to head back to hore. We were all happy and hungry after an exhilarating trip with Stonehaven Sea Safari.
The Bay Fish and Chip Shop
Living near Glasgow means that I think I am a bit of an expert when it comes to fish and chip shops. They love a deep fat fryer this neck of the woods, but it has been a while since I have seen a queue out the door in the afternoon for a chip shop, but we turned up to The Bay Fish and Chip Shop and that is exactly what was happening.
Local, fresh fish, tasty chips and lots of salt and vinegar. Whats not to like, apart from the fact that they didn’t do a deep fried pizza in batter!!
After a scrumptious lunch we headed off for a wander around Aberdeen city centre to take in some of the amazing Nuart Aberdeen tour. Established in 2017 it showcases street art from locals who work with local business, colleges and basically anyone who wants to help encourage creatives in the area. Its aim is to promote art as part of people’ everyday lives.
It was lovely to walk around and see some of the larger pieces but much more fun to seek out the smaller, more peculiar pieces. It was like a treasure hunt through the city. There is a map you can download which shows all the main pieces, but I quite like just wandering around and seeing what we stumbled acrosss. It was a real feast for the eyes and made it a pleasure to wander around.
It may only have been 3 days, but I felt like I had been visiting for a week with the amount that we packed in. From Casltes to coastal tours, to city centre walks and prison walks. It really did have it all.
Thank you to Colin and VisitAberdeenshire for arranging such an amazing itinerary on this press trip and for inviting me along. I will definitely be back as there is so much more to see. Especially Huntly, the home the amazing Deans shortbread and so much more from what I’ve heard.
This was part of a paid collaboration with Visit Aberdeenshire, but the words and views are my own.