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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.