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.
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.
Scheme to hop on and off multiple buses is available with the Grasshopper pass.
- 1 Balmoral Castle, Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5T (off A93 midway between Ballater and Braemar). April-July daily 10:00-17:00, occasional guided tours in winter. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, bought this land and built a grandiloquent 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. You can only visit one room within the castle, the ballroom, plus an exhibition in the stables, and the gardens. The queen is usually resident in Aug & Sept, so there is no access then. See website for dates of guided tours in winter. Adult £11.50.
Ski at Glenshee or Lecht. With a longer drive you can also reach Aviemore / Cairngorm in Highland Region. (Note this is closed in 2018/19, 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.