June 4, 2019
Our Scottish counterparts on the East Coast have a coastline scattered with ports that once built some of the world’s finest ships, they have a rural hinterland full of medieval castles and dramatic landscapes and they have an energy industry that dominates economic activity for the whole area. Sound familiar?
The similarities don’t stop there. The people of Aberdeenshire are incredibly proud of their heritage and know what it’s like playing second fiddle to bigger cities in the South.
This part of the Scottish Highlands has recently had £9 million of inward investment, a good proportion of which has gone towards trying to diversify the local economy away from an over- reliance on natural resources.
In North East England, we are all too familiar with the consequences of concentrating economic activity in the energy industry. In Scotland, attempts are being made to mitigate the fallout from deindustrialisation before it happens. Just like coal, oil and gas are finite resources on a planet that’s trying to move away from them.
The key to future prosperity is therefore about sustainability. That’s why so much work in Aberdeenshire is going into promoting more sustainable industries like tourism and hospitality.
Last month, Loganair (www.loganair.co.uk) announced weekday flights from Newcastle to Aberdeen, giving a welcome boost to tourism in both areas. For us at North East Times, this means there’s never been more reason to visit.
History isn’t hard to come by in North East Scotland. There are 263 castles there, more than anywhere else in the UK. Chief among them is Fyvie Castle (www.nts.org.uk/fyrie-castle), an imposing example of Scottish Baronial architecture dating back to the 13th century.
Thanks to a US steel magnate who bought the castle in the 19th century, there’s also a tonne of impressive artworks on display. Few castles are as impressive on the inside as they are on the outside, but Fyvie has it all.
Aberdeenshire is also home to one of the most notorious prisons in Scotland. Built in the Victorian era, Peterhead prison is the only place in the UK where the SAS have been deployed to end a prison riot. The prison was closed to inmates in 2013 and opened to tourists shortly after. It makes a much better museum (peterheadprisonmuseum.com).
Deep within the Cairngorms National Park are some other historical treasures. Not far from the Balmoral royal estate, where the Queen spends her summers, is Braemar Highland Games pavilion.
The Highland Games date back to the 11th century and have since grown into a unique expression of Scottish and Celtic culture, drawing crowds from all over the world each year (www.braemargathering.org).
Those looking for somewhere to relax after sightseeing need look no further than Meldrum House Country Hotel (www.meldrumhouse.com). A quintessential Scottish experience, the multi award- winning hotel and golf course is the perfect retreat for couples, families and businesses alike.
Guests can choose from a range of bespoke dining choices. Whether sampling rare whisky in the 1236 cave bar (named after the year it was founded) or tucking into a four course Burns-themed steak dinner in the private dining room, there’s something for everyone.
Cocktails in front of the open fireplace in the drawing room is another good option. All followed by a comfortable night’s sleep in one of the Meldrum’s four-star luxury guest rooms. All in all, this hotel’s attention to detail and quality of service make it a no brainer for those visiting Aberdeenshire.
No trip to the Highlands would be complete without a tour around one of Scotland’s 120 whisky distilleries. A local favourite is Glen Garioch – a small batch producer for those who like a hearty Highland malt.
A distillery tour (www.glengarioch.com) is a unique experience. From the malt house to the fermentation room and distillery itself, every noise, sound, smell and flavour stimulates the senses in preparation for that first taste of scotch.
At Glen Garioch, visitors can sample their Founder’s Reserve, 12-year-old and 16-year-old bottles. All small batch single malts, distilled in the Highlands. The perfect dram as they say in Scotland.
After exploring the vast rural countryside, the city of Aberdeen might also be worth a visit. The granite city centre has some impressive architecture and graffiti art but it’s the surrounding villages that stick in the memory.
Of particular interest is the village of Old Aberdeen where the university is situated. Cobbled streets, trendy cafes and leafy houses, what’s not to like? Then there’s the fisherman’s micro-village Footdee on the edge of town – a row of streets with quaint cottages and quirky outbuildings that make for a great picture.
While you’re there, fish and chips at the Michelin rated Silver Darling seafood restaurant (www.thesilverdarling.co.uk) around the corner is a must. In a crowded field, their bread crumbed haddock with crushed peas and homemade tartar sauce is something to write home about.
All in all, North East Scotland, or Aberdeenshire depending on who you speak to, has a lot more to offer than the natural resources off its coast. For a different kind of Scottish Highland experience, full of hearty food, strong whisky, ancient heritage and first-class hospitality, make sure it’s on your list this summer.