Aberdeenshire is a county in the north east of Scotland. It's a long way north - the coastline around Fraserburgh is further north than Newfoundland - but it's mostly lowland, fertile and productive, having more in common with the central belt of Scotland than with the Highlands. To the west however are the Grampian Mountains, with the scenic River Dee flowing out. Time was, if you were wealthy and needed a comfortable base to collect your farm rents while impressing the salons of London with your credentials as a Clan Chieftain, then what you needed was a castle in Aberdeenshire. And there are lots and lots of them.
Towns and villages
- 1 Aberdeen is the only city, built of grey granite. Its most interesting areas are around Union Street and "Old Aberdeen" a couple of miles north. Lots of museums, galleries and visitor amenities, and it's the transport focus for the county. 2 Westhill is a small commuter town just west.
The county's red sandstone reaches the coast in a line of cliffs, interspersed with small fishing ports, where whaling and herring fishing were once major industries:
- 3 Stonehaven 15 miles south of Aberdeen has the clifftop ruins of Dunnottar Castle.
- Then comes Aberdeen itself. Continuing north, find
- 4 Ellon, Cruden Bay, 5 Peterhead and 6 Fraserburgh. Here the coastline turns west along the Moray Firth.
- 7 Gardenstown has red sandstone cliffs, rows of prettily-painted traditional fishermen's cottages and a beach. It's one of the most attractive villages in Scotland.
- 8 Banff, with neighbouring Macduff, has Banff Castle and Adam-designed Duff House.
- 9 Portsoy has a well-preserved old harbour and the ruins of Findlater Castle.
The A96 crosses the top of the county between Aberdeen and Elgin, through gently rolling countryside and farmland. Small places in this triangle include:
- 10 Inverurie and 11 Oldmeldrum are commuter towns for Aberdeen. East, towards Ellon and Methlick, is Tolquhon Castle, while to the north is Fyvie Castle.
- 12 Methlick has grand Haddo House and what's left of Gight Castle, Byron's ancestral home.
- 13 Huntly has the ruins of Huntly castle.
The River Dee runs out of the Grampian Mountains along a scenic valley, accessed by A93.
- Near 14 Banchory are Drum Castle and Crathes Castle. To the north is Lumphanan, where Macbeth (the real one) made his last stand, and beyond that is Craigevar Castle.
- The mountains west of here are part of Cairngorms National Park. Above 15 Ballater is Queen Victoria's rural retreat, Balmoral Castle.
- At 16 Braemar a lane continues up the valley to scenic Linn of Dee. The main road climbs south over the bleak moor towards Glenshee ski area then Perth.
Aberdeen is the transport hub for the county, with good air, rail and road connections, and car ferries to Orkney and the Shetland Islands.
In Feb 2019 the A90 was re-routed away from Aberdeen, with the opening of the "Aberdeen Western Peripheral Road" to relieve the congested A92. Expect glitches in road signage and Satnav directions for a few months yet.
For the north end of the county along the Moray Firth, another approach is via Inverness and Elgin.
Buses radiate out from Aberdeen to all the towns along the east coast, inland up the Dee valley, and northwest towards Banff. They also ply along the north coast. You can also use the train between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. Beyond that, there is very little cross-country transport, you'll need a car.
- Castles: Balmoral on the road up the valley above Ballater is a grandiloquent Victorian pile of a castle, the prototype of the "Scottish Baronial" style, all mock-turrets and stags heads looming over the stairways. Completed in 1856, it remains the Royal Family's summer holiday home.
- Among the many other castles are Dunottar at Stonehaven; Crathes, Craigevar and Drum castles around Banchory, and Tolquhon and Fyvie around Ellon.
Ski at Glenshee or Lecht. With a longer drive you can also reach Aviemore / Cairngorm in Highland Region. (Note this is closed in 2019/20, making other ski resorts even more congested.)
- 2 Glenshee Ski Centre, Cairnwell, Braemar AB35 5XU (Top of Cairnwell Pass on A93, 10 miles south of Braemar), ☏ . The main ski area is west of the road, in the shaded bowl between the mountains of Cairnwell and Càrn Aosda; east of the road is "Sunnyside", lower and with less snow cover. It gets very congested at weekends and in school holidays.
- 3 Lecht 2090, Strathdon AB36 8YP (on A939 between Ballater / Strathdon and Tomintoul), ☏ . "2090" means in feet, it's only 645 metres altitude at base, with the hills above rising to 775 m. So do the maths, it's a beginners' and family-oriented resort. 12 lifts including a "magic carpet" for wobbly novices. Half a dozen short runs on the shady side west of the road, one even shorter run on the sunny east slope. Mountain bike trails here in summer.
- Highland Gatherings and Games: each town or large village hosts an event during a summer weekend. Pipe bands, caber-tossing, field & track events and so on; they're often combined with Agricultural Shows. The full calendar is posted online.
- Aberdeen has the widest choice of cuisine and price-range.
- The small towns go for cheap and cheerful fare, such as fish & chips. They often have an Indian, an Italian and a takeaway Chinese to add variety.
- Aberdeenshire still has lots of pubs, in spite of their general decline across the country. They're usually open daily till 23:00 or later.
- Classic malt whisky distilling country is further west, in Moray and the Spey valley, but you'll never be far from a quality dram. Start your search in the nearest supermarket.
The natural hazards are because you're on the same latitude as Newfoundland, so conditions on higher ground can become hazardous very quickly, and not just in winter.
The man-made dangers are probably less here than elsewhere, but exercise usual caution around road use, valuables, and drunks.