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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


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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
Methlick
Ellon AB41 7EQ
Opens daily





Lunch at Formartine's 

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.


Formartine's 
Tarves
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.


Cup
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.




Powis Gate-2 Powis Gate

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.



Exploring England

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

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Alixe, the tween and I were off on an all girls adventure during the Bank Holiday. We were loaned a powerful Mini with impressive horsepower to explore England. It was my first trip to Windsor and Eton (Legoland doesn't count!) and I was keen to wander around the two towns especially after the recent Royal Wedding coverage there.

It was an easy 40 minute drive from Clapham Junction to Windsor. We made it in good time and checked into Castle Hotel Windsor which is part of the collection of MGallery by Sofitel luxury boutique hotels. The original building dates back to the mid 1500s and was once called The Mermaid Inn.  Then, in the mid-1700s, a Royal Warrant was bestowed on the dynamic innkeeper Richard Martin,
postmaster of Windsor and hackneyman to His Majesty. So The Mermaid Inn became an official posting inn and entered a new phase in its history, being renamed The Castle Inn. When the royal family decided to make Windsor Castle their principal residence, a Royal's Warrant was given to the then owner as many dignitaries would stay at the hotel. The hotel continued to supply post horses to the royal family well into the 1800s.



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I was informed that Castle Hotel Windsor  is famous for their Afternoon Tea. We were lucky to nab a table in a beautiful corner with a view of the main street in Windsor.



Windsor-town

Windsor's famous wonky house, now a jewellery store. Well, I call it The Wonky House but after a quick google, I found its actually name is "Crooked House of Windsor" and if you want to make it very proper - Market Cross House. Built in 1687, the building had housed butchers, florists, brewers, printers, architects (the irony....) and fruit sellers.



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We decided to have dinner at Marco Pierre White's restaurant located inside Castle Hotel Windsor. The baked camembert with sweet and tarty roasted tomatoes was sublime. I was tempted to order a second plate after Alixe and the tween devoured my dish within minutes.


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The tween was dying to have breakfast in bed so....... I complied and granted her wish.





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We hung around and waited to see the changing of the guards as they marched past the hotel. Lucky for us, the hotel is located directly opposite Windsor Castle.



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We decided to leave the Mini at the hotel and crossed the bridge to Eton which an easy 15 minute stroll away. Eton is a sleepy little town with the famous boarding school at the end of the street and a host of shops lining the main street.



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We were back on the road again. Our next destination is Cheltenham which is only half an hour from some of the prettiest Cotswolds villages - Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford, Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter to name a few.

We checked into one of the most beautiful boutique hotels I've had the privilege to stay - Queens Hotel Cheltenham.  The grand Grade II listed Georgian building was built in 1838 and has hosted a few famous guests, Roger Moore and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.



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The striking 175 year old hand-painted wallpaper in the central atrium was designed by A.W Pugin. You can find the same wallpaper in the Houses of Parliament.



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Each room comes equipped with its own Nespresso machine (Yes!!) which is a necessity for someone like me who's NOT a morning person.



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After a quick breakfast downstairs, we checked out and continued onwards to Bibury. I couldn't resist doing a U turn when I spotted this charming looking traditional inn and pub.




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I only found out last year that an illustration of Arlington Row can be seen on British passports. These picturesque cottages were originally built as a monastic wool store before being converted into weavers' cottages in the 17th century.




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I swear I jinxed the weather in Bourton-on-the-Water. It pours each time I visit the village.


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Alixe suggested that we take a mini break in Burford since we have to drive through the village to get back to London. I'm pleased we did because it's beautiful and definitely less touristy than the other two villages we'd visited earlier in the day.


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It was a short but wonderful trip exploring some of the prettiest towns and villages of England. The road trip was definitely more fun with Alixe and the tween who were the best companions anyone could wish for.

This post is sponsored by Castle Hotel Windsor and Queens Hotel Cheltenham. In partnership with Mini BMW. All views are my own.




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