A long weekend in Aberdeen

Friday, 21 June 2019


I'm back in Aberdeen over the long weekend to explore more of the city centre followed by a visit to nearby castles. No trip to Aberdeenshire is complete without exploring at least a couple of the 263 fascinating castles, stately homes or ruins in the region. With the immense number of castles, it is rather unsurprising that Aberdeenshire is also known as Scotland's Castle country.

I flew with Logan Air on their newly launched route from Southend Airport to Aberdeen. The journey was quick and easy, taking an hour and half. It was actually far more relaxing flying from Southend airport as it's quieter without the usual chaos and hordes of crowd. The flight includes refreshments and snacks - a major bonus in my eyes. The fare also includes 20kg hold luggage and 6kg cabin luggage.

Getting to the city centre via bus was a breeze. The Jet 727 bus stop is right outside the main entrance of Aberdeen airport which takes you into the city with the final stop being Union Square. No need to scramble for small change since the buses take contactless cards.  If shopping tickles your fancy, do pop into the massive Union Square shopping centre which houses many major brands under one roof. It's also Aberdeen's transportation hub if you're planning to take the bus or train.


I can honestly say it's no hardship waking up to this view from my window at Mercure Caledonian Hotel every morning. How shall I put it? Eye candy?

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Nuart Festival

You may not know this and I certainly didn't until recently that Aberdeen hosts Nuart Festival since 2017.  The festival provides a platform which encourages and features the work of local artists as well as talents from all over the world. Furthermore, the ubiquitous granite buildings in Aberdeen offer the perfect blank canvas for street paintings. The intriguing array of artwork encompass paintings, murals and art installations can be found dotted all over the city centre. "Poised",  the 2.2 ton steel leopard by well known Glaswegian sculptor, Andy Scott is made up of thousands of fragmented metal pieces. Though it isn't part of Nuart Festival but a permanent fixture on Marischal Square, the art installation is worth a visit.


Provost Skene's House

The beauty of Aberdeen is that one can cover most of the tourist attractions easily on foot. Aberdeen has been settled for the better part of 8000 years, resulting in a fascinating mix of modern buildings juxtaposed amidst well preserved historical sites. Nestled within new development of towering contemporary structures is a rare Aberdeen's medieval burgh architecture - Provost Skene's house, built in 1545. Sir George Skene (1619-1707) was a Scottish merchant involved in Baltic trade who'd served as a Provost or mayor (modern day equivalent) in Aberdeen.

The steeple of Kirk of St Nicholas (formerly known as Mither Kirk) can be seen at a distance. A mention of the church at the present site was found in a Papal document of 1157. A large scale excavation inside the church unearthed four medieval churches under the current building along with 900 articulated burials (that's over 3 metric tonnes of human bones recovered!).


Mackie's Ice Cream Parlour

Since you're within the vicinity of Marischal Square and Provost Skene's house, popping into popular Aberdeenshire's ice cream brand, Mackie's is a must. There's an eye-watering selection of flavours to choose from, most of which aren't available at your local supermarket.


Marischal College

Minutes away from Provost Skene's house lies the imposing Marischal College now leased to Aberdeen City Council. It's only fairly recently that the unified University of Aberdeen moved its teaching and academic activities to King's College situated in Old Aberdeen.

Duthie_Park Duthie_Park-2

Duthie Park

If you crave for a spot of nature, Duthie Park is a good place to visit especially if you have little ones. The large playground by the main entrance will provide at least an hour's worth of entertainment. I took a shine to their bespoke slides that looked way too fancy just for kids. It's a shame there were many parents milling about or else I would've given the slides a whirl. Or two.

Pop along to David Welch Winter Gardens and you'll be greeted with a profusion of flowers, from the common sunflowers to the rare and exotic plants.

maritime maritime_museum

Maritime Museum

Aberdeen is a harbour city and a major maritime centre since the 1800s where most of its wealth were once derived from fishing and shipbuilding before the discovery of offshore oil and gas in the North Sea during the mid 20th century. During the oil boom, Aberdeen laid claim to having the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.K.

The Maritime Museum chronicles Aberdeen's early settlements to the history of shipbuilding and the intricate technological advancements in oil and gas industry.

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Howies (Chapel Street)

I'm well known amongst friends and family for being a picky eater. I rarely polish an entire plate of food unless I love it. Howies on Chapel Street is an unassuming restaurant with friendly staff and heaving with local clientele on a Friday night. Since Aberdeen is well known for its seafood, I opted for fish of the day, in this case, lightly grilled mackerel topped with buttered capers, blanched broccoli and spinach, lightly seasoned with a hint of butter and citrus mashed potatoes. It was my first time having tangy mashed potatoes but oh my, it was an amazing combination. Who knew potatoes would go well with lemon? Each ingredient on my plate was cooked to perfection, seasoned just enough to enhance the natural flavour. Simplicity at its best.

I have to give a special mention to the cheeses from Devenick Dairy. Produced in small quantities just south of Aberdeen and utterly delectable when paired with oatcakes. Needless to say, I devoured the entire cheese platter and practically rolled myself back to the hotel.


Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle is easily reached by bus. Bus 202 leaves from Union Square bus station (check the bus timetable here) and the scenic journey takes approximately 45 minutes and stops outside the main castle gates. Sounds of nature greeted me during my walk up to the castle. The gently babbling stream. The lilting melodies filled the air as the birds serenaded. A world away from my city life.

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Crathes Castle was built in the 16th century on the land that was gifted to the Burnetts of Ley, a Lowland and Border Scottish family by Robert the Bruce in 1323. It was handed over to the Scottish National Trust in 1951 by Sir James Burnett, the 13th Baronet of Leys.


One can't  help but be left awestruck by the intricately manicured garden, the fairy tale like turrets perched on the castle and the sightings of wildlife on the extensive castle grounds.


My guide pulled this out with a hint of mischief and asked if I could guess what this 4 legged contraption was. It turned out to be a chamber pot for the aristocratic women who wore poofy dresses. It's probably the only time women could relieve themselves whilst standing up.

There's no way a 400 year old castle with a colourful history doesn't come with its resident ghosts. In this case, Crathes Castle is actually rather famous for its Green Lady sightings amongst other paranormal activities. My amiable guides regaled me with many stories of their encounters with the not-so-elusive apparition who has pinned guests to the wall to stomping on the wooden floors and dragging furnitures across the room whilst the tours were in progress.

Let me rewind this a tad. Prior to our chat, I was taken to the various rooms to photograph but I was most uncomfortable in one. I'll let you guess which one it is. In any case, I left the room with few, if any photos. It was a lot later when they decided to tell me that the body of a murdered young servant girl who was purportedly pregnant was found under the floorboards whilst renovation was carried out.

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Royal Deeside Railway

The Royal Deeside Railway had served the Royal Family from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II including the Tsar of Russia to and from Balmoral Castle until 1966. The station building is currently located at Milton of Crathes where it'd been painstakingly dismantled and then reassembled from its original spot at Oldmeldrum. These days, the service is reduced to a mile long journey which takes 15-20 minutes and is completely run by volunteers. A recent generous donation by Princes Charles (Duke of Rothesay) has enabled repair work to be carried out. The service doesn't run daily so please check their schedule here.


Drum Castle

The 13th century Drum Castle is one of the 3 oldest tower houses in Scotland, gifted by Robert the Bruce to his neighbour and loyal ally, William de Irwyn in 1325. It belonged to Clan Irvine for 700 years until 1975. Having such a long history, one can imagine the castle has seen tumultuous times from   Anglo-Scottish and civil wars to a 600 year long feud with their neighbour, Clan Keith only ending in 2002 when a peace treaty was signed.

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The extensive grounds with woodland trails make it an ideal place for a long walk. 25 generations of Clan Irvine had lived in this house. A Jacobean mansion was added to the building in 1619 followed by Victorian adaptions such as their library pictured above.

Ferryhill House

Ferryhill House Hotel

Ferryhill House restaurant and pub is a popular family hangout place in Aberdeen evidenced by the bustling crowd.  Their menu is concise, serving pub nosh that'll suit most palates including vegetarians and those with intolerances. The place is busy during the weekends so do book in advance to avoid being disappointed.

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It's my second jaunt back to Old Aberdeen but each time I stroll down the cobbled streets and glance at the medieval architecture, I feel like I'm transported back to the Middle Ages. Little has changed if you look past the cars parked on the side of the street.

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St Machar's Cathedral

I dropped by St Machar's Cathedral just before their morning service.  Famed for its superb acoustics, I would've loved to stay and listen to their worships songs except I had a plane to catch. St Machar was a 6th century Irish saint and bishop who actively ministered in Scotland or Aberdeen to be more specific. Machar's church was originally built on this site in 580 but nothing of it remained.

Here are some gory historical facts about the church. When William Wallace was executed in 1305, his body was quartered and sent to different corners of the country as a warning to rebels. His left torso ended up here and was buried within the church walls. One of the most interesting features of the medieval church is its wooden heraldic ceiling featuring 48 coat of arms.

Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by Visit Aberdeenshire and Logan Air.

48 hours in Aberdeenshire

Friday, 1 March 2019

Powis Gate - Old Aberdeen University
Other than the Aberdeen-Angus beef that I consume regularly, my knowledge of Aberdeenshire was sorely lacking till recently. I was invited by the lovely folks from Visit Aberdeenshire to cover the city and its surrounding areas recently. To my surprise, I was able to cover a fair bit at a leisurely pace within 48 hours.

The flight from London Heathrow to Aberdeen was slightly over an hour. I strongly suggest you book a car from one of the rental agencies at the airport because public transportation outside of Aberdeen can be tricky if you're on a tight schedule. Most of the major car rental companies are represented at the airport. Turn left as you exit the airport and follow the clearly posted signs through a covered pathway.

Haddo House

Haddo House - drawing room-6
Haddo House - drawing room-4

Haddo House is an elegant mansion with a treasure trove of art pieces, one of which is professed to be a genuine Raphael painting of Madonna which was initially thought to be a copy. It's 20 miles north of Aberdeen and an easy drive through the beautiful countryside. James, our tour guide was highly entertaining and a fount of knowledge with all things to do with Haddo House.

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Haddo House sits on the site that has been owned by the Gordon family for more than 500 years before it was gifted to the National Trust. The family descends from John Gordon, a royalist who had a baronet of Haddo created for him in 1642 as a reward for fighting against the Covenanters during civil war. It was his younger son, Sir George Gordon the third Baronet who moved up the ranks of aristocracy with the title of Lord Haddo, Methlick, Tarves and Kellie, Viscount of Formartine and Earl of Aberdeen. He served not only as Lord President of the Court of Session but also Lord Chancellor of Scotland.

You probably notice the pink toned Morning Room above still littered with family photos of the present  Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair.

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If you wonder why the photo of the dining room above looks rather familiar, you've probably seen a painting of it hanging at the National Portrait Gallery (in room 28). The elegant dining room was featured in a painting called "Dinner at Haddo House" by Alfred Edward Emslie (1884).

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There's a secret door which is cleverly disguised as a bookshelf. The library has become a popular wedding and function venue and the door allows the staff to get to and from the kitchen with ease. The "carpet" that you see in the photo is in fact a digital print replica of the actual chenille carpet beneath it. This is to protect the original carpet, the largest in Europe of its kind which was laid since Victorian times.

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This room is aptly named Queen Victoria after its famous guest who was a firm friend of the family. Prince Albert has his own room with a connecting door to the Queen's. This room became a maternity ward during World War II. There were more than 1100 babies, also known as Haddo babies that were born here. In fact, Haddo House hosted a 70th anniversary reunion of the Haddo babies in 2015.

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Coincidentally, Archie (Archibald) Gordon, the younger son of John Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair died at Winchester Hospital in Hampshire in one of U.K's first automobile accidents in 1909 which is literally minutes from where I live. I was told that he continues to haunt Haddo House and is rather fond of turning off the lights which of course happened while I was there too.

Haddo House
Ellon AB41 7EQ
Opens daily

Lunch at Formartine's 


From Haddo House, it was a quick 10 minute drive to Formartine's, a popular farm shop and cafe. It was busy when we got there as it's popular with the local residents. There's a playground by the car park which is handy if you're traveling with little ones. The shop is well stocked with local produce and delicacies from Europe.

I had the braised beef with hand cut chips which was massive! I could've easily shared it with the tween. It was beautifully cooked and tender. Just what I needed on a cold winter's day.

Ellon AB41 7NU
Opens daily from 09:30 - 17:30

Bullers of Buchan

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Buller's of Buchan

The dramatic coastal walk to Bullers of Buchan with magnificent views of rugged cliffs and a collapsed sea cave is not to be missed. You can carry on to New Slains Castle ruins where Bram Stoker got the inspiration for his book "Dracula". If you're not keen on the long walk, you can leave your car at the carpark next to the hamlet of cottages perched along the clifftop and follow the narrow path. The trail has clear signposts throughout which is fantastic if you have a poor sense of direction like me.

I suggest wearing proper hiking shoes or sneakers with a good grip and windproof jacket as it can get very windy. The trail is narrow and slippery in some places. You'll need to take extra care on blustery days. I'd say the walk is more suitable for older kids, say 12 years and older.

Spring is probably the best time to come for those who're interested in wildlife. The area is home to large colonies of seabirds, puffins being one that many love to see. The puffins migrate back to nest from April to August but you'll be hard pressed to spot one outside of these months.

Painted Doors

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When exploring the streets of Aberdeen, do check out the Painted Doors, a project that was launched in 2015 to support local artists and homegrown talents. These creative artwork can be located along Langstane Place, Windmill Brae, the Merchant Quarter and Correction Wynd. There are now more than 30 painted doors since the launch of the project.

Afternoon Tea at Cup

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Cup is a popular cafe in the city centre. We were lucky to have a reservation as there was already a queue out the door. They do cater for various intolerances - dairy and gluten but do ask if you have other intolerances. It's small and a cosy place to nip in for a spot of tea, a slice of cake and perhaps brunch. Their afternoon tea is a pretty decent size. I'm a small eater and struggled to finish it all.

9 Little Belmond St
Aberdeen AB10 1JG
Opens daily from 09:30 till 16:00

Footdee (Fittie)

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Footdee or otherwise known locally as Fittie is an old fishing village by the harbour. When I say old, I mean medieval old which is very very very old for the likes of us from New Zealand where anything that's over 100 years is classified as ancient.

At first glance, Fittie looks like a small village made up of tiny single storey cottages and sheds but look closer and you'll find personal touches stamped (sometimes literally) on most of them. The residents added a touch of quirkiness with a healthy dose of humour when decorating their abodes.

Old Aberdeen

Powis Gate - Old Aberdeen University-3 Powis Gate - Old Aberdeen

Some of the buildings in Old Aberdeen date back to the Middle Ages. The King's College (University of Aberdeen) was established in 1495 and the main campus dominates the old town. It's also the 5th oldest university in the English speaking world and ranks amongst the top 200 universities in the world.

It felt rather surreal as I took a stroll on the cobbled streets where horses once trotted instead of cars. It was as if I was transported back to the medieval times.

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The Powis Gates are located across the street from the main campus and are now the entrance to the students' dorms. The impressive Turkish style minarets topped with a crescent were erected by Hugh Fraser Leslie of Powis, who used to own the estate that lay behind these gates. The construction in 1834 purportedly coincided with the family granting freedom to the slaves in their coffee and sugar plantations in Jamaica.

Old Aberdeen
AB24 3EN

Dinner at Bistro Verde

Aberdeen-bistro verde

No trip to Aberdeenshire is complete without a taste of its seafood. Boasting 165 miles of coastline, numerous harbours and having the biggest shellfish port in Europe (Fraserburgh, 40 miles north of Aberdeen), it would've been a shame if I didn't try their fresh seafood produce.

After looking around and seeing large platters of seafood being served at the other tables, I figured I should do the same and order Bistro Verde's most popular dish. A humongous bowl of langoustines, prawns, mussels and oysters cooked in white wine and herbs and served with bread and butter duly arrived. We stoically chowed through the entire plate and had to turn down offers of dessert after.  It was quite a feast.

Bistro Verde
Unit 1-2 The Green
Aberdeen AB11 6NY
Opens Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner

Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by Visit Aberdeenshire.


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