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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Ellon AB41 7EQ
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
Dinner at 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.
Unit 1-2 The Green
Aberdeen AB11 6NY
Opens Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner
Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by Visit Aberdeenshire.