Scotland Destinations National
I have been thinking whether to write this review for a while now as there is so much information about Dingwall that I won't manage to include but living 6 miles away from Dingwall for most of my life I have decided to give it a shot. Location Dingwall is located at the head of Ross and Cromarty. It's about ... 12miles away from Inverness which is the closest city in the area.
Dingwall is a very central town with a lot of villages just a few miles away. This includes Evanton, Strathpeffer and Maryburgh.
Most shops in Dingwall are situated on the High Street. Most of the High Street is a pedestrian-friendly area. This means that there is no access for cars for this part of the high street. Unfortunately cars do still drive down here quite often.
With it being a town it is the main place for people in the surrounding areas to do their shopping. So within the town there are several local businesses including a couple of butcher's and a local family run bakers.
Including the local businesses there are large shops which includes an extremely large Tesco right in the centre of the town. In my opinion it looks almost out of place with all the old buildings in Dingwall and then you see a huge Tesco store. It almost takes away the charm of the town.
There is also a Farmers Market which is held on the second Saturday of every month. This is to support local produce. Here you will find a variety of produce including vegetables, fish, meat and much more.
For more information on shops (as there is way too many to list) go to - http://www.dingwall.org.uk/ and click on Town Centre Shopping. In here there is a list of shops, click on each shop and it will give you a description of each shop and what you'd expect to find in that shop.
There are a couple of hotels to stay in Dingwall.
I have never stayed in any of the hotels as they are too close to home to need to stay in one but I have always been told that the Tulloch Castle is the best place to stay. It is in my opinion very expensive at £155.00 for a double room but it's a lovely hotel.
For more information on the hotel you can visit the website - www.tullochcastle.co.uk
There are also several B&B's within Dingwall which are closer to the town centre ranged at different prices. Most of them are lovely big houses about 5 minute walk from the centre. With most locals being friendly and welcoming I would recommend any of these for a cheaper option to stay in the area.
Unfortunately there isn't a huge amount of activities in the town. With a small population they can't justify having too much to do.
There is access to the beach but this is a good 20 minute walk from the centre of town and unless you know the area it is quite difficult to locate. Once you get down the beach there are picnic benches and a grassed area for you to sit and enjoy the sun (if you're lucky enough to have sun!) There's not much sand and I would say that this is one of the most un-impressive beaches within the area.
There is a heritage trail which can be completed in an hour and a half. You can find a map for this on http://www.dingwall.org.uk/the-heritage-trail-g.asp. Everything is numbered for you to go and see and there is information for everything numbered on the website. Within the town there are also wooden sign posts to tell you where things are and how far it is to get too. You shouldn't get lost but just in case just ask someone passing by as they are more than happy to help.
Included in the trail is The location of the Hector MacDonald Memorial which provides you with a stunning view across Dingwall as it is situated up a hill also close to the centre of the town. You will notice it whilst walking around Dingwall as it is quite easy to see.
There are several places to go out for a meal. My favourite places include;
The Mallard Bar - This is located down right next to the train station. It is a really nice evening out for a meal with great prices and a meal for two with 3 courses would cost you about £30. The food is always presented well and the service is excellent. I would advise not to go out here for a meal on a Friday or Saturday night as it is over-run with young locals drinking and with loud music, not my idea of a nice meal out.
Café India - One of the local Indian restaurants but this one is known well for their fantastic meals and a lovely evening out. It is a small restaurant which is based in Tulloch Street. The menu is good with not many of your usual dishes on it so it does make you try something a bit different. My favourite Indian restaurant in the area and would highly recommend. It is a bit more pricey and costs about £50 for two people having a two course meal but worth every penny. You can also get a takeaway from Café India but I prefer to sit in.
If you choose a takeaway you have a number of places to choose from and a range of different takeaways. Again I will tell you a little about my favourite places;
Wimpy - Ok it's also a restaurant but in my opinion it's better to get a takeaway. Even though the restaurant has been newly re-decorated it always feels quite cold and definitely wouldn't advise to sit in here in the winter. Nice food and only Wimpy around for miles.
Cookies - This is a Chinese takeaway which is at the top of the High Street. Like a lot of Chinese takeaways sometimes it can be fantastic and other times it can be just OK. I haven't been here in a while as I live so far away but it's been around for as long as I can remember and would be my first choice for a Chinese in Dingwall.
Pronto Pizza -This is fairly new and sits at the top end of the High Street right next to Cookies. It is run by one man and he cooks all pizzas right in front of you so you can watch as he makes your pizza. He has really good offers on all the time and the pizzas taste so fresh. I'm not a huge fan of pizzas but I can not turn down a pizza from here...delicious!!
There isn't much to do so if you were going to visit I would advise just to stay for a weekend at the most. There are nice buildings and a lovely community 'feel' within the town but for me I wouldn't be comfortable living here for a couple of reasons which include the fact the town seems to have too many houses and not enough to do. Even though it's a small town I prefer to live in a village that I can walk along the street and recognise everyone I meet and say hello to everyone.
What I like about Dingwall is the amount of local businesses still here and I enjoy walking around all the shops knowing that they are family run. The farmers market is a good day to go through as you get great bargains and you know all the produce is fresh.
For mor information on Dingwall go to http://www.dingwall.org.uk/
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Aberdeen in General
Situated on the north east coast of Scotland is the city of Aberdeen, it has a population of just under 250.000 inhabitants & is Scotland's third largest city. It's about 120 miles north of Edinburgh, 150 miles north east of Glasgow & around 100 miles south west of Inverness. It is sandwiched in between two rivers, in the ... north of the city by the River Don & in the south by the River Dee & has the Cairngorm National Park about 45 miles west of the city.
Its main industry is oil, making it now the oil capital of Europe which has turned the city into a more cosmopolitan place than ever before.
For tourism in loses out to the larger city of Edinburgh & misses out when people travel further north to the Highlands, but the city & its beautiful surroundings have much to offer tourists regardless of age.
With aid of just ten photographs & a little description please let me review Aberdeen for you.
HISTORY OF ABERDEEN
It is believed that hunter gatherers settled in Aberdeen around 6000BC, mysterious stone circles were erected around 2000BC & 400BC saw a substantial Celtic migration. The Romans arrived around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ & fought & won a battle in 84AD with 40.000 men against the United Army of Caledonia.
Fast forward to 1136, when the development of Aberdeen north of the River Dee began. In 1319 the Great Charter of Robert the Bruce changed Aberdeen into a property owning and financially independent community. He had a high regard for the citizens of Aberdeen who had sheltered him in his days of outlawry & helped him to win the Battle of Barra against an English garrison at Aberdeen Castle. He also granted Aberdeen the nearby Forest of Stocket, the income from this land has formed the basis for the city's Common Good Fund, which is still used to this day for the benefit of the local population.
The city was badly burned by Edward III but was soon rebuilt, but the attacks on the city continued. In 1497 a blockhouse was built at the harbour mouth as a protection against the English. In 1647 Aberdeen was hit with an out break of bubonic plague which wiped out 25% of the population.
By the 18th century a new elegantly furnished Town Hall was built, around this time also saw the beginnings of a new road system & social services for the infirmed. From the 19th century the fishing industry, ship building industry & granite industry became established. Sadly the ship building & granite industries ceased in the late 20th century giving way to oil which was first struck in the North Sea in the mid 1960s & stared to be pumped on shore by 1975. With the expanding needs of the oil companies the fishing industry was squeezed out somewhat with much of it transferred to nearby Peterhead & only a small number of regular boats left using Aberdeen as a regular base.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are no shortages of ways to travel to Aberdeen, it really all depends on how much you're willing to spend & what is the most cost effective way of travelling.
AIR: Most of the commonly known airlines fly to & from Aberdeen such as British Airways, BMI, Easy Jet, Fly Globespan, KLM, Fly Be, Ryan Air & many others. There are direct flights from London, Luton, Southampton, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, Amsterdam & so on.
The airport is not huge but easily navigated with the necessary facilities. The cost of a taxi from the airport would be around £15.00 - £20.00 travelling to the city centre. An airport bus service is available at a much reduced cost. Despite the fact there is a rail station at the far end of the airport, there is no link between the airport terminal building & the station. You would need to get a taxi to get there which defeats the purpose on cost.
RAIL: Aberdeen station which has just been renovated to make it more user friendly is in the centre of the city. There are numerous direct links to most major Scottish cities all day & numerous trains each day heading south down the east coast line to London Kings Cross stopping at Newcastle, York, Doncaster & Peterborough.
COACH: Much the same as the train in as much as the same direct links to all major Scottish cites & to London via the west coast / M6. There are some great deals & it works out the cheapest way to get to & from Aberdeen. The bus station is next to the train station & it too has recently been renovated.
FERRY: There is a direct link daily to the Orkney & Shetland Islands; the ferry port is walking distance form the bus & train station.
ROAD: If you intend to drive to Aberdeen there are dual carriage ways all the way from the south into Aberdeen. From the north (Inverness road) it's a mixture of dual carriage ways & normal 'A' roads. From the west (most scenic) it's all 'A' roads, as is the north east link to Peterhead & Fraserburgh.
From Manchester road travel is 355 miles, from York 350 miles, Newcastle 250 miles, Birmingham 428 miles & London 544 miles.
GETTING AROUND ABERDEEN
Once in Aberdeen a comprehensive bus service covers most of the city, run by First Bus (An Aberdeen company) & is reasonably cheap to use with special deals on multiple tickets at a reduced cost for one day. Stagecoach operates out with the city.
If you are staying on the boundary of the city, they do provide a 'park & ride' service on the north & west sides. You pay around £2.00 to park your car all day & includes the bus fare to & from the city. Watch out though it only runs from early morning until early evening & the routes don't operate on a Sunday.
CAR PARKS: There are numerous multi storey car parks in the city centre & electronic information signs telling you how much spaces available on routes entering the city. They cost from around £2.20 for two hours. On street parking is charged until 6pm & limited in time & it works out more expensive the closer you are to the city centre.
Beware traffic wardens operate until 3am in the morning, the night shift drive around in cars looking for their victims!!
CAR HIRE: There are numerous places to hire a car & all the big companies are represented up here as well as local ones, some even deliver & collect.
Now that you've arrived, where do you stay? If you are watching the pennies Travelodge & Premier Inn have a number of hotels in the area. Travelodge is right in the main street with parking in a multi storey car park underneath.
Premier Inn is situated just off the main street but both have numerous sites on the outskirts of the city. Holiday Inn Express is situated just off the main street in Chapel Street & do some good deals & two further Holiday Inns are situated at Westhill (Tel 01224 270300) & next to the exhibition centre on the north side (Tel 0870 400 9046).
Thistle Hotels have three sites, one close to the airport (Tel 01224 725252) & one on the south side close to the industrial centre at Altens (Tel 01224 877000). The also run the Caledonian Hotel in Union Terrace which dates back to the early part of the last century & is well recommended (Tel 0870 333 9151).
Radisson are currently building a new hotel just off the main street but its going to be a while before its ready.
The Northern Hotel in Great Northern Road (Tel 01224 418098) has a 1920s art deco look from the outside & has been renovated inside in recent years.
The Hilton Tree Tops Hotel (Tel 01224 313377) is located on the west side of the city, its not cheap but is rather good. Another good one recently bought over by the Mercure group is the Ardoe House Hotel on the South Deeside Road (Tel 01224 860600).
For upmarket customers or if you want to celebrate in style, consider the Marcliffe Hotel at Pitfodels, situated on the west side just out of Aberdeen. Among the people who have stayed here in recent years include The Sultan of Brunei, Donald Trump & Alex Ferguson.
However there are loads of great hotels to suit all budgets scattered all over the place & easily found on the Internet.
During big events such as the bi-annual oil exhibition which attracts thousands from all over the world, hotel accommodation is in short supply & thus becomes expensive.
They are loads of guest houses too; many of the good ones are located on the Great Western Road which is just walking distance form the city centre & are reasonably priced.
OBSERVATIONS AROUND ABERDEEN
Probably one of the first things you notice as you travel into the city is the silver granite buildings; the granite was sourced from the local quarry at Rubislaw until around 1970 & used on many of the local buildings. When the sun shines they sparkle, however on a dull day, they look......dull! The hole they extracted the granite from ended up being the biggest man made hole in Europe & has since filled up with water. The council have never come to an agreement of what to do with the hole although I would have a few suggestions like putting the local council members in it & filling it in!
During the summer months the place is awash with flowers, Aberdeen has won the 'Britain in Bloom' competition more times than any other city in the UK, despite being banned for winning it too many times. It certainly makes the place look good & all the displays are created 'in house' by local council gardeners.
You have to accept that you don't visit Aberdeen with the weather as the main attraction. It is always going to be that bit cooler than the south of England or the west coast of Scotland.
When it gets cold temperatures plummet & it's not unusual to see snow in October or even early April. However summer is pleasant & rainfall is much less in the east coast then the warmer west coast. Be prepared for cooler weather & anything else will be a bonus.
Sunny days in the summer attract the 'harr', a fog that creeps in from the North Sea & blots out all the sunlight, travel a few miles inland & your back to normal sunny weather. It rarely last longer than a day.
WHERE TO EAT
Aberdeen has a large selection of places to eat for all budgets, if you want a family friendly place to eat there are plenty offering children's portions at reduced prices. Many are attached to Premier Inns such as the Beefeater chain & many pubs cater for families too.
All over the place there are the fast food outlets if you just want a 'fast snack' but Aberdeen does offer traditional Scottish fare particularly in hotels & some traditional restaurants.
You can also eat Greek food, Hungarian, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Turkish & French. Here is a brief list of five of the best:
NARGILE & RENDEZVOUS @ NARGILE (Tel 01224 636093 & 01224 323700), an award winning Turkish restaurant & one of my favourites, they offer high standards, the owner sacked his chef one day because he used vegetables that were a day old! Expect to pay around £60 - £70 for a three course evening meal with wine; however two courses without wine will work out considerably cheaper. The food is delicious & authentic, service is great & there is a great atmosphere.
Well recommend is the selection of starters for two, you get a selection of hot & cold Turkish dishes for two people such as humus, taziki, aubergine, filo pastry with cheese, spiced chicken sticks & much more.
They have two restaurants in town plus a small take away where you can also sit in & eat but no alcohol is available here.
SHAHBAAZ TANDOORI (Tel 01224 641786 / 648196), an Indian restaurant off Union St on Rose Street, this is another place with high standards with prices similar to the one listed above. The food is really excellent with a huge choice on the menu, service is fast, maybe too fast at times as you are under the impression they want you out quickly & get someone else in your table a.s.a.p.
I have never seen this place empty & never had a reason to complain about the food, it is well recommended.
CHRISTOS TAVERNA (Tel 01224 636320), this little Greek restaurant in John Street is worth a visit, again prices are similar to the previous ones, service is good, food is delicious & the atmosphere is great.
During the evening Christos himself used to come to the middle of the restaurant & do a little dance to Greek music to his customers & break a few dishes as part of his act. It added to the atmosphere & was very popular until the health & safety got here about it & I believe they have tried to stop it. Shame on the Health & Safety killjoys!!
MILTON OF CRATHES (Tel 01330 844566), situated about 20 minutes out of Aberdeen on the Banchory road this is another award winning restaurant & a little expensive. Great for the special occasions or just a snack at lunchtime. It offers traditional Scottish fare & many other popular dishes. It's classy, casual without being stuffy with a great atmosphere, an ideal place to go on a summer's evening.
SILVER DARLING RESTAURANT (Tel 01224 576229), located at Pocra Quay on the North Pier, this is a French style seafood restaurant which is recommend by the 'Good Food Guide' & the 'Michelin Food Guide', I have never been in it but have never heard a negative comment about it in all the years its been open. Prices are in line with the ones listed above.
PLACES TO GO & THINGS TO SEE
I have broken this section down into separate groups to make it easier to find what you are looking for. It covers Historic Sites, Sport, Child & Family friendly places & other attractions.
To make the location easier to locate, look at an Aberdeen map & you'll see the one mile long main street named Union Street running east to west in the middle of the city centre with King Street at the eastern end running north & the Queens Road running west of Union Street.
If you are just in Aberdeen for a 'hen party' or 'stag party' there are loads of pubs, night clubs & lap dancing establishments in the area open to the early hours.
For other types of entertainment there is The Lemon Tree that often features local & national up & coming bands as well as established names. The local Music Hall in Union Street often features more famous bands / artists & comedians & for shows & plays there is the rather attractively decorated Her Majesty's Theatre just off the main street.
The large exhibition centre on the north side of the city will house bigger concerts & national sports events.
Annual events include an International Music festival, International football event, highland games, student's parade & hogmanay celebrations.
Half way up King Street & almost running parallel is Old Aberdeen dating back hundreds of years. To the locals Old Aberdeen is the ageing suburb in the city which in its day was classed as a burgh of barony & not a royal burgh. It was run by its own town council free from interference from Aberdeen until 1891 when the two communities amalgamated.
Whilst independent it had its own town house, college, cathedral, coat of arms, loch & the Scottish equivalent of a mayor called a provost. The old town house still stands with the original coat of arms above the town house door.
There was continual friction between the two communities during the 17th & 18th centuries but in the end it was silly disputes that brought them together.
Old Aberdeen's water supply from its loch was becoming inadequate & sharing the services of a policeman with 'new' Aberdeen due to lack of funds caused many problems.
The final straw was the street lamps, people living in Old Aberdeen wanted the lamps lit at night during the winter but the council could only afford to light them when the moon wasn't shining!
Today you can walk around Old Aberdeen & you can just imagine how life was all those years ago. Many of the building are still intact & the street names are rather interesting like the Spital, College Bounds & the Chanonry.
There used to be a Lepers Hospital in Old Aberdeen which led to the patients walking into the city begging for alms swinging hand bells to warn the people & crying out 'Unclean! Unclean!'.
As you walk over the Spital Brae towards College Bounds you'll see the town house as you approach the main road. Built in 1788 this Georgian style structure features solid granite walls & a clock tower, part of the building was used as a library containing the council minutes form the 17th century. It is believed that the top floor was used as a Masonic lodge.
Old Aberdeen features many narrow streets called wynds, which all add to the atmosphere of the place. Legend has it that at night (when the street lamps weren't on) witches & warlocks would stalk the narrow streets & ghosts would chase each other around the grave yard. Locals would walk the streets at night fearful of seeing something & constantly looking over their shoulders.
The Kings College is situated in Old Aberdeen & dates back over 500 years. It is interesting to walk around it today & see the bronze & marble monument of William Elphinstone who founded the place in 1488. Walk to the Chanonry, it's a lovely cobbled tree lined street with impressive period buildings set back from the road. At the end of the street is the equally impressive twin spired St Machar's Cathedral, this church was originally founded in AD580 & there are tombs in the graveyard that date back to the 16th century. Originally there were three spires but one collapsed in 1688.
BRIG O' BALGOWNIE
Walking from Old Aberdeen down the Chanonry past the afore mentioned Cathedral & through the Seaton Park & you'll come to the Brig O'Balgownie. Before the bridge was built locals would cross the river by a ford on their way north of Old Aberdeen. Built in the late 13th century by Richard Cementarius it fell into disrepair in the mid 16th century it was extensively renovated in 1605. In 1830 a newer bridge was built five hundred yards downstream which now bears that name of the Bridge of Don.
This lovely old bridge is constructed of granite & sandstone, its gothic arch has a span of 12 meters & at low tide the apex of the arch lies over 17 metres above the water line.
The bridge is now used just for pedestrians & cyclists & is delightful walking over it in summer looking at the old period cottages at either side still lived in by locals. You can step down from the bridge & walk along the river side towards the mouth of the River Don just a short distance away.
THOMAS GLOVER HOUSE
Thomas who? I hear you ask, well if you ask a local who he is chances are they won't know. However, ask someone in Japan & they will probably tell you.
Thomas Glover was born about 45 miles north of Aberdeen in Fraserburgh in 1838 but he made his name in Japan. He is renowned for the crucial role he played in the 19th century of the modernisation & industrialisation of Japan. He was instrumental in the creation of Mitsubishi Industries & created the massive Kirin brewery. He was a massive influence in a country which was closed off to Western society at the time.
After leaving school in Scotland, Glover & his brothers worked for an Aberdeen based shipbuilder. Many of the ships built in Aberdeen found there way around the world & it wasn't long before Glover travelled on behalf of the company. In 1859 Glover travelled to Japan & established himself in the port of Nagasaki importing British coal & exporting Japanese goods.
He became very influential, he developed coal mines in Japan & the brewery. He even had an influence in the Meiji government & helped young Japanese students travel to Scotland in order to study the latest technological developments. He lived the later part of his life in Japan & even providing the basis for the story of the opera 'Madam Butterfly'.
Braehead House in Aberdeen was actually purchased by Glover's father in 1862 after he retired form the Coastguard station in Aberdeen. Thomas Glover would stay in the house when he frequently sailed back to the UK.
It has recently been renovated, thanks in part from many fund raisers including the Mitsubishi Corporation in Japan who still consider him a national hero.
The house is open between May & October & it's an ideal opportunity to see how they lived during the Victorian era. The house is full of period artefacts many local & many taken back from Japan by Glover on his travels.
Notes: Glover House, 79 Balgownie Road, Aberdeen, AB22 8JS, Tel 01224 709301. Allow 1-2 hours to view the house.
Just off Union St at the east end on Broad Street is the second largest granite building in Europe, namely the Marischal College. This neo-Gothic façade has its critics as well as admirers, it still remains an impressive building with its numerous pointed spires which look stunning against a blue sky.
The original college was founded in 1593, it featured a number of buildings grouped round a courtyard at the rear of the street. In 1837 a new quadrangle was designed by Archibald Simpson & at the end of the 19th century the Mitchell Tower & Mitchell Hall were added.
Today it is currently being renovated to allow it to be used as a new headquarters for the local council so access is denied but it is still worth making the effort to see it.
Notes: Marischal College, Broad Street, Aberdeen.
CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS
It's not so much the church that gathers attention to this place but the beautiful façade on the main street. Locals take it for granted as they walk past it each day but it is one of the most striking features of the main street.
It was designed in 1830 by John Smith & features an arched gateway & twelve tall Doric columns. Behind all this is the kirkyard of St Nicholas where many of Aberdeen's most noted citizens are buried. Before the façade was erected the site would used by visiting circuses!
The church itself is divided into two places of worship, the East & West churches. The latter was rebuilt in the 18th century & the impressive spire is a familiar site in the city.
Notes: Church of St Nicholas, Union Street, Aberdeen. You are free to walk around the churchyard.
Torry, is an area of Aberdeen on the south bank of the River Dee & was once a royal burgh. It was incorporated into Aberdeen in 1891, after the construction of the Victoria Bridge which spans the river to this day along with two other bridges.
In Torry over looking the harbour is the Torry Battery last used defensively in World War II & is now classed as an ancient monument, protected as a place of historical interest of national importance. It is well worth seeing but be prepared as it can be a chilly place even in summer.
Close by & along the coastline is a disused but preserved foghorn & the lighthouse designed by Robert Stevenson.
PROVOST SKENE'S HOUSE
It dates from 1545 & is one of the few surviving examples of early burgh architecture. It's not in its original location having been moved when the nearby shopping centre was built but you would never know.
Inside visitors will see an intriguing series of religious paintings in the Painted Gallery & changing fashions in the Costume Gallery. There are also local displays such as coins and archaeology which are situated on the top floor.
At Christmas they often open the place up & re-inact Christmas celebrations from many centuries ago which are very entertaining.
You can enjoy a light snack in The Cellar within Provost Skene's House.
Notes: Provost Skene's House, Guestrow, Aberdeen, AB10 1AS, Tel 01224 641086.
Ask a local for Footdee & you'll confuse them, they know it as Fittie. It was a small fishing village can be found at the mouth of Aberdeen harbour and can be accessed via the Beach Esplanade. It comprises of two areas of fishing cottages built in two squares. In olden days the cottages would have housed fishermen and their families.
Although some fish families still live in the cottages, you can just imagine the atmosphere many years ago with fish wives sitting outside repairing nets whilst having a good gossip.
What does remain though are some picturesque fishing cottages and some well maintained gardens set away from the hustle and bustle of the city & only a few minutes walk distance from the busy harbour.
STONE CIRCLES AT EAST AQUHORTIE
There are stone circles all over Aberdeenshire & the ones situated at East Aquhortie are 5000 years old dating back to 3000BC. They are situated outside Aberdeen on the north side heading towards Inverness. They are easily found, drive to Inverurie & the brown tourist signs will lead you there.
The stone circle is known as a 'recumbent' because of its single horizontal stone, these circles are unique to the area & studies reveal that they are made from various types of materials. The stone circles were used to observe lunar cycles & to establish seasonal calendars before they became communal centres of ritual.
Apparently the circles have good acoustic properties so maybe the locals 5000 years ago enjoyed a good old sing song on a Saturday night!
THE CASTLE TRAIL
Just like the rest of Scotland, Aberdeen & its surroundings have many famous castles. Using Aberdeen as a base you could spend days visiting them all, here is a brief selection.
This castle is owned by the National Trust & worth a visit, the original 13th century keep has an adjoining Jacobean mansion house & there have been additions made by various Victorian lairds. It offers woodland trails & a garden of historic roses, all within the grounds.
At Christmas they have special events including craft stalls, carol singing & they provide mulled wine & mince pies for visitors.
Notes: Drum Castle, Drumoak, Aberdeenshire. Tel 01330 811204.
About 20 minutes driving time west of Aberdeen is this wonderful location. It is owned by the National Trust & suitable for all the family, expect to spend the day here. You can visit the castle itself & relive its history, walk round the gardens with its impressive topiary displays. Walk your dog for miles around the land that surrounds the castle seeing the local wild life & countryside.
Eat at the café next to the castle, shop next door for local delicacies & goods, climb the mountain frame outside, great for children or visit when the castle grounds is used for music concerts.
You can cross the main road & visit Milton of Crathes & eat at their excellent award winning restaurant. Shop for local gifts & pottery in the converted barns, view the art gallery or simply walk by the river bank.
Still want more? How about boarding the old train & taking a short run along the countryside thanks to the Deeside Railway Preservation Society efforts of the reopening part of the historic line once used by royalty & now based at Crathes.
Notes: Crathes Castle, Crates, Aberdeenshire. Tel 01330 844525.
This castle is reckoned to be one of the finest examples of Scottish Baronial architecture, built by William Forbes in 1626. It is though that Disney's famous castle was modelled on Craigievar Castle.
Notes: Craigievar Castle, Alford, Aberdeenshire, AB33 8JF, Tel 01339 883635.
Kildrummy Castle is partly a ruin with magnificent gardens to wander around & a hotel all within the grounds. It dates from the 13th century & was dismantled after the first Jacobite rising in 1715. Some of the domestic buildings are still intact including the hallway, kitchen & chapel. It is located west of Aberdeen & about an hours driving away.
Notes: Kildrummy Castle & Grounds, Alford, Aberdeenshire, Ab33 8RA. Located off the A97.
The five towers of Fyvie Castle enshrine five centuries of Scottish history; each tower is named after the five families who owned the place. Dating from the 13th century it's another fine example of Scottish Baronial architecture.
Notes: Fyvie Castle, Turiff, Aberdeenshire, AB53 8JS, Tel 0844 493 2187, located off the A947.
Originally built for Queen Victoria in the 19th century & now the favoured holiday home of the present royal family, Balmoral Castle is open to the public between April & July just before the Queen arrives for her two month break.
To say the countryside around here is stunning is an understatement, it has to be seen to believed, especially in summer. Set aside the whole day to visit Balmoral Castle, you can enter the castle but you'll be limited to visiting the impressive ballroom where the royal family end their summer breaks every summer with a big bash with their staff.
You can walk from the ballroom out towards the River Dee & stand where Lady Diana stood posing for those memorable pictures on her honeymoon in 1981.
You can visit the Queens stable & admire her horses, visit the display of period carriages or simply take a horse & cart trip around the enchanting estate. As you walk or trot around you'll see the metal figures of deer where royal members practice their target shooting.
There are refreshments available in a nearby building & the opportunity to purchase gifts including Prince Charles paintings, albeit prints, not the originals.
Holiday homes close by are for renting, check out the website listed below for more information.
If you a royal spotter, you won't get access to the castle when the family are present but stand outside the church across the road from Balmoral on a Sunday morning & you'll get a glimpse of them arriving for a church service.
Notes: Balmoral Estates, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB, Tel 01339 742534 www.balmoralcastle.com
With its wonderful location, Castle Fraser was built by the 6th laird Michael Fraser between 1575 & 1636. This magnificent castle contains historic furnishings, paintings & embroidery.
From the castle you will get magnificent views of the nearby Bennachie Mountain.
Notes: Limited opening times but the gardens & grounds are open all year round. Located North West of Aberdeen.
It may look small from the outside but this fully restored castle with its star shaped ramparts is located in the Cairngorm National Park in an area of outstanding beauty. West of Aberdeen close to the Lecht ski resort it would take around 90 minutes driving to get there.
Corgarff Castle dates from 1537; it played a part in the Jacobite risings of 1715 & 1745 & was once converted to barracks in 1748 for Hanoverian troops. It was also used to house the English Redcoats who had the job of combating whisky smuggling!
Notes: Corgarff Castle, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. Tel 0131 668 8800.
Another ruin once known as Strathbogie Castle, it stands on the banks of the River Deveron & close to the town of Huntly about 25 miles north of Aberdeen.
Notes: Huntly Castle, Huntly, Aberdeenshire, AB54 4SH.
A great place to spend a day in the summer having a picnic, walking around the magnificent grounds or visiting the shops or tea rooms.
It maybe grand & luxurious place but it has a homey feel to it probably helped by the beautiful rose garden, Country Park & lake within its grounds.
There are often special events held here & it's quite easy to find, it is about 45 minutes driving time north east of Aberdeen.
Notes: Haddo House, Mains of Haddo, Tarves, Aberdeenshire, AB41 4SH. Tel 01651 51664, www.haddo.co.uk
This is located in the south side of Aberdeen about 2 miles south of Stonehaven. It is situated at the cliff edge over looking the North Sea & can be seen in its entirety in a couple of hours.
You'll need to be fit to access it as there are numerous steps to negotiate first plus a lengthy walk from the car park. However it worth the effort & you'll get some stunning views of the coastline.
It covers 3 acres & was a keep constructed in 1392 by Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland with many additions created over the centuries. However records make reference to an earlier building on the site pre-dating 1296. A lot of history has taken place here over the years; it was once visited by King Charles II. The castle was dismantled in 1718 after the possessions of the 10th Earl Marischal were forfeited subsequent to his part in the Jacobite Rising. The York Buildings Company stripped the place of its lead & it consequently it fell into disrepair. In 1925 repairs to the castle began by Viscountess Cowdray, whose family still own the castle today.
Notes: Its not suitable for people with mobility problems, the entrance fee is about £5.00 for adults & £1.00 for children. For more information contact 01569 762 173
It has gained a reputation for being a slightly unsettling place, thanks in part to Bram Stoker, who stayed at the castle & used it as inspiration for his story of Dracula. The front of the castle lies literally along the edge of the cliffs, while its rear, beyond what were once its gardens, is protected from unwanted guests by a deep cleft that cuts into the cliffs as far as the main access road.
Inside there is a collection of intersecting corridors wrapped around rooms now deeply carpeted in nettles. In the middle of the castle is the courtyard.
If you want to see it make it quick as Aberdeenshire Council gave consent for the restoration of Slains Castle and its conversion into 35 holiday apartments.
Notes: Located 1km east of Cruden Bay, about 30 minutes driving time north east of Aberdeen on the coastline.
Aberdeen offers a good selection of facilities for the sport enthusiast either wishing to participate or just to watch.
Using Aberdeen as a base skiing at the nearby Lecht Ski Centre is very popular in winter. Its about 50 miles away & the authorities do a good job keeping roads clear of snow to allow skiers to access it. Glenshee is also a popular ski resort but slightly further away, the biggest problem with skiing in the area is getting enough snow. I have known many winters when it's been so mild no skiing was possible so it can be a hit or miss affair.
When there is no snow, Aberdeen does have a dry ski slope at Garthdee, it's floodlit with all the necessary facilities.
Scotland is the home of golf & Aberdeen has its fair hare of courses some private & some public. As I write this review the American billionaire Donald Trump has just announced the go ahead to build what he considers to be the greatest golf course in the world on the north side of Aberdeen. He plans to spend £1 billion (that is pounds not dollars) & for that sum of money I would expect it'll be quite good. It will be open to the public & not private but I guess to get his investment back the fees maybe a little high!
While all that is happening Jack Nicholson will contribute to a new course on the south side of Aberdeen in the near future. Local championship golfer Paul Lawrie will also contribute to a new course on the west side of Aberdeen at Blairs in the near future. Thankfully no one is panning a course on the east side.......the North Sea has probably put a stop to that idea.
Nevertheless there are numerous courses in & around Aberdeen some located in very desirable areas, two public ones at the Queens Links & Balnagask close to the sea, one at Auchmill & another at Hazelhead Park.
You can of course visit many of the private ones & pay something like £70.00 - £80.00 for a round; some of their locations are stunning.
Aside form many cycle routes in & around Aberdeen suitable for the enthusiast there is a dedicated mountain bike track at Kirkhill Forest on the north side of Aberdeen. As you travel the road north towards Inverness the forest is at both sides of the main road. The mountain bike track is on the right as you leave Aberdeen.
You can park your car in the forest car park & the track is close by & quite demanding, if you choose you time carefully you may have it all to yourself.
For those wishing to play football, there are full size floodlit pitches close to the River Dee as you enter Aberdeen on the south side as well as numerous others located around the city.
If participating is not your scene, you can always visit the local Scottish Premiership ground just off King St at Pittodrie. Here is where Aberdeen FC play most Saturdays & where Alex Ferguson used to manage before departing to Manchester Utd.
A Scottish ice based sport popular further north where there are dedicated leagues. There is an indoor curling rink on the west side of Aberdeen which is proving rather popular as a corporate venue for many companies.
Aberdeen has many indoor & outdoor bowling greens & the city's Westburn Park hosts International events on a regular basis. Some of these facilities are members only but there are public ones.
Hill climbs are held at Fintry on the north side of Aberdeen at regular times but the most popular motor sport event is probably the Granite City Rally held each year around April time. It always starts & ends in Aberdeen, it is a one day event that pulls in a decent crowd each year.
Travel west of Aberdeen just outside Aboyne & you'll come to the Deeside Gliding Club at the Aboyne Airfield. It must be an exhilarating feeling gliding over the mountains in the area on a clear & sunny day. There is a large picnic area & car park close to the air strip & it's quite interesting sitting in the car park watching the gliders being towed out & gliding back.
Notes: Deeside Gliding Club, Aboyne Airfield, Dinnet, AB34 5LB, Tel 01339 885339.
There is no shortage of places for rock climbing in the area, if you lack experience there are organised lessons from a company based in Balleter about 50 miles west of Aberdeen.
Notes: Mountain Bound, Bridge Square, Balleter, AB35 5PL, Tel 01339 756113.
The same applies to hill walking, there are so many places for experienced & inexperienced walkers, the best advice is to check out the website listed below.
Notes: Web site www.visitscotland.com/walks
There are facilities for Rugby, Cricket, Snooker, Tennis, Squash, just check out the Internet for more information.
FAMILY FRIENDLY ATTRACTIONS
For those who are taking young children to Aberdeen you'll need to keep them amused & there is plenty to offer.
Not just a sandy beach but an area full of things to do, Codona's is a fun packed fun fair for all the family open all year round indoor & outdoors (Tel 01224 595910 www.codona.co.uk). Next to that is a multi plex cinema usually with a good choice of films open from Midday to late evening.
Next to that is a number of family friendly restaurants including TGI Friday & Chiquito's Mexican restaurant. .
Close to them is the traditional cafes like the locally well known Inversnecky café & ice cream shops. If that is not enough just a short walking distance away is a large leisure centre will numerous facilities (Tel 01224 647647).
Just outside Aberdeen on the west side is Storybook Glen, a must for young children. It is a magical world of make-believe and fun for children as well as adults set amidst 28 acres of spectacular scenic beauty on Royal Deeside, 6 miles west of Aberdeen. You will see more than 100 of your favourite nursery rhyme and fairytale characters along with exquisite flowers and plants, majestic trees, secret waterfalls, exotic animals and fairytale houses.
Notes: Storybook Glen, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire, AB12 5FT, Tel 01224 732941. Located off the B9077.
On the south side of Aberdeen is Doonies Farm, faced with possible closure due to council cut backs (shame on councillors!!) this a great place to take children so they can interact with rare breed farmyard animals.
Notes: Doonies Farm, Coast Road, Nigg, AB12 3LT. Tel 01224 875879.
Again using Aberdeen as a base is there is no shortage of whisky distilleries to visit & taste the goods. There is a whisky festival at Aberlour each year attracting visitors from all over the world. Aberlour also has the one & only malt whisky bar in the UK serving some malts that cost as much as £250 a glass! You need to visit the Mash Tun hotel in Aberlour close to the old railway station to sample a huge selection of these famous malts. Picture # 5 shows the Mash Tun in Aberlour.
There are many famous distilleries around the area, many in neighbouring Moray / Speyside. They include Aberlour, Ardmore, Balvenie, Benromach, Cragganmore, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glenlivet, Glen Spey, Knockdhu, & Tormore. This is not by any means an exhaustive list!
Also, some of the largest cooperages in the country reside in the same area dedicating their entire stock of barrels to the whisky industry. Some even have tours available; the biggest ones are situated close to each other in Dufftown & Craigellachie.
With Aberdeen having a long association with the sea via ship building, fishing industry & the oil industry it's little wonder their Maritime Museum in Ship Row is so popular.
Located close to Union Street admission is free & this multi level museum is packed with maritime artefacts relating to ship building, fishing & oil. You could spend a whole morning or afternoon here & they often have themed displays & film shows.
Notes: Maritime Museum, Shiprow, Aberdeen, Tel 01224 213066.
GRAMPIAN TRANSPORT MUSEUM
Located west of Aberdeen in a small town named Alford about 30 minutes driving time away this is a must for transport enthusiasts. It has a decent selection of motor bikes, cars, commercial vehicles, racing cars & other motoring artefacts on display. It is partly on two levels & some of the cars are on loan form the bigger museums in England. The museum boasts a good selection of Scottish built cars from the early 20th century & often has open days at the nearby track.
Notes: Grampian Transport Museum, Alford, AB33 8AE. Tel 01975 562292.
Situated in the Duthie Park the indoor winter gardens are full of tropical plants from all over the world. It's great for horticultural enthusiasts as it give you the chance to see plants you'll be unlikely to see in this country. It is now reputed to be the largest gardens under glass in Europe with over 600 species of cactus in the huge cactus house. They even have a talking cactus called 'Spike' who is loved by children.
BIRDS OF PREY:
Wild life enthusiasts are also well catered for in the area, there is a large falconry north of Aberdeen between Huntly & Dufftown ideal for all age groups & interests.
There are flying displays at 11 am, 12:45 pm, 2:30 pm and 4:15 pm of falcons, owls, hawks and golden eagles. The handler interacts with the spectators and calls for children to come forward to stroke the owl under his supervision. Fantastic stuff.
Using Aberdeen as a base you can visit the Osprey centre just south of Granton on Spey which is about 90 minutes driving time from Aberdeen.
A little further off the Moray coast is the best location in the UK for spotting dolphins. From this picturesque area you can get organised trips by boat with experienced fishermen onto the Moray Firth. You are very likely to see Bottlenose dolphins that live in the firth chirruping away and dancing in the water alongside the boat as they play together in the water. They are often joined by porpoises and seals. In the nearby rocks you'll often see seals basking in the sun, you may also see the odd Minke whale or grey seal.
In the area you will often see Highland Cattle with their distinctive horns & the famous Aberdeen Angus cattle. The Aberdeen Angus cattle were developed in the 19th Century from the polled black cattle of the North East of Scotland (polled means without horns or cattle that do not grow horns) Over the years they have retained their black colour.
Royal Deeside just west of Aberdeen has about 80 miles of clear waters of the River Dee & is well stocked with fish such as sea trout, grilse, young Atlantic salmon & mature salmon. Fishing is allowed in most areas.
As you travel around the area you will see an abundance of wild life including deer & red squirrels.
Aberdeen has its fair share of public parks & gardens & many originated from the Victorian era. The most popular ones are:
Across the road from the River Dee & walking distance from the city centre this delightful park houses the Winter Gardens, two small ponds often used for model boat enthusiasts, a children's play area, restaurant & a lovely band stand right in the middle of the park. The Duthie Park often hosts music concerts & other in events in the summer months. There is a cycle path next to the park on the old disused railway line.
Located centrally in the Rosemount area this is a smaller park surrounded by houses. The park maybe small but its full of colourful flower displays & a fully operational period fountain. It's a great place to walk the dog or just sit for a while & admire the floral display.
Directly across the road from the above park is the Westburn Park with a burn flowing through it. Its not short on facilities providing a children's play area, children's cycle route for learning to cycle, an international renowned bowling green & loads of space to walk around.
My favourite located on the west side of the city in beautiful surroundings. A bus service to the park is provided & it has much to offer. It has a huge walled rose garden with the monument of the Piper Alpha disaster located in the middle of the gardens.
There is a crazy putting area, a maze, children playground, a small zoo with farmyard type animals, restaurant, football pitches, public golf course & acres of beautiful flowers, plants & trees. Big weekend events such as the local Highland games, steam traction engine days & dog shows are often held here.
Located close to Old Aberdeen this park is close to the River Don, it too has a truly wonderful display of flowers & grass that looks so perfect that it almost looks false.
The park has toilets, children's play area & ample space to walk around. Some of the park is on a higher level which may prove difficult for the elderly but a stroll along by the river is always a pleasure.
UNION TERRACE GARDENS
Right in the centre of the city just below Union Street lies this small but beautiful gardens. You walk around it in no time at all & admire the flower display, often the coat of arms for Aberdeen (Named Bon Accord) is displayed in flowers & looks stunning.
You can get views of the park as you walk along Union Terrace which is very pleasant on a summer's night. They have organised Hogmanay concerts & an ice rink in this park in the past & plans to convert it into a car park were thankfully defeated.
Just off the Queens Road on the west side of the city is this awarding winning gardens. It is truly beautiful & on different levels with a small pond full of ducks in the middle. There is ample seating, some sheltered & a children's play area. There is ample parking across the road & it is well signposted.
Just west of the main street you'll come to Albyn Place & as you walk along on the right you'll see two small but very attractive parks. They used to be the private gardens belonging to the 19th century built granite homes set further back from the parks but are now open for public use.
One is longer than the other, both have beautiful flower displays & one has a working fountain. Both are popular with locals & the park looks fantastic with its Christmas lights set inside the trees that line the park.
FOR RAILWAY ENTHUSIASTS
Jut like every where else in the UK old Lord Beeching axed many railway lines around the country in the 1960s & Aberdeen lost many including the famous line from Aberdeen to Balleter used on a regular basis by the Royal Family on their way to Balmoral Castle. (Shame on you Beeching!!)
If you are a railway enthusiast you'll be pleased to know there is much to see & do. The line form Aberdeen west has now been tarred over & used as a bicycle track but its complete & great to walk along. For 12 miles from the Duthie Park to Peterculter (say it Petercooter) you can walk the entire line with some of the original platforms still intact & some of the station buildings either still standing empty or converted to a home.
There is ample information boards to let you know where you are & a little history of each stop.
However, once you get to Peterculter you'll need to drive to see the remainder as much as been built over. Head west towards Crathes & you'll see the work that the Deeside Royal Preservation Society has carried out on limited funds for the past 12 years.
They have rebuilt part of the line from Crathes to Banchory, at present it just over a mile long but the plans is to extend by another two miles. Already trains are running up & down the short track for a modest fee & pulling in the crowds. They have built a new platform & once funds are found they will transfer an old disused station for Old Meldrum & relocate it at Crathes.
Head further west & you'll see the old station at Aboyne, Dinnet & what many regard as the most beautiful railway station in Britain at Cambus O'May. This old station is now someone's home but the view form the platform is simply stunning. Its about 15 miles from Balmoral Castle overlooking the crystal clear waters of the River Dee. When the local railway company held its management meetings they chose this station & would gather inside a carriage on the line overlooking the river & discuss business. Today the line is open at this end as a footpath & is a must for an enthusiast.
The old line stopped at Balleter where the royal family would be collected by coach or car & taken to Balmoral. The old station fell into disrepair but recently it was renovated & now has a royal carriage on the old platform.
It was recently opened by Prince Charles & for £1.00 you can walk onto the platform & step inside the carriage, see full size models of Queen Victoria & step inside the waiting room where she would have her own toilet & sitting room with servants while she waited for her coach. I wouldn't think she would have waited very long but nevertheless it great to see how the other half travelled in the 19th century. Originally the line was to be extended past Balmoral Castle but Queen Victoria put a stop to that, no way were trains going to thundering past her castle.
Travel about 50 miles form Aberdeen to Dufftown & in the summer months you can travel along the line between Dufftown & the town of Keith. Its about 10 miles long in an old train travelling through some beautiful parts of the country.
MAUD RAILWAY STATION
Once a year for a weekend usually in September or by appointment this old station is opened up for the public to visit free of charge. Most of the station is still intact with only the lines missing. Maud is about 45 miles form Aberdeen on what was the Buchan line.
Also known as retail therapy, Aberdeen is pretty much like every other main town or city in Britain with the usual big names on the high street. You have to wander down the little streets to find the shops selling unusual goods, the ones with a bit of character.
Aberdeen has a number of shopping centres close to the main street, the biggest ones being the Bon Accord Centre, St Nicholas Centre & the Trinity Centre, another one at Union Square is currently being built.
One of the biggest stores in the city is John Lewis next to the Bon Accord Centre.
Well not yet, but if Richard Branson gets his own way he is looking at using the facilities at Lossiemouth airfield for launching his space flight project. This is about 2 hours driving time north of Aberdeen & even if you can't afford the price of a blast into space it will still be rather interesting watching these things take off & land. Watch this space.
LASTLY FAMOUS PEOPLE OF ABERDEEN
Three of the most famous are Lord Byron the poet, Dennis Law the footballer & Annie Lennox the singer.
That is about it really, check out the Aberdeen website for more details but as I stated earlier on there is just about something for everyone.
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Isle of Arran in general
Let's deal with the well known motto out of the way first: the Isle of Arran is, indeed, just like Scotland in miniature. The southern half is low lying and more agricultural; the northern half is mountainous and less populated, with majestic hills and valleys all easily accessible to tourists and visitors. And like Scotland, it's simply ... beautiful.
Arran is not a Hebridean Island, being in the Firth of Clyde. But that location is its greatest asset, since multiple sailings of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to and from Brodick on the island connect with trains to Glasgow Central station at Ardrossan Harbour. And if you live or are based in Glasgow, you can buy a discounted all inclusive day return ticket from any railway station in the Strathclyde area that includes train and ferry travel to the island, saving money on the total cost of the two bought separately. That's how I've come to know Arran, as an easy day out from Glasgow by train.
The ferry from Ardrossan will bring you to Brodick, a handy base for exploring. Buses on the island are timed around the ferry, and during the summer an additional open top service takes day trippers from the ferry the few miles out of town to Brodick Castle and Gardens (an absolute must see). You can also climb from there to the top of Goat Fell for stunning views across the island and Firth of Clyde. A number of local businesses, including soap, cheese and beer producers are clustered along the road to Brodick Castle, north of Brodick town, for tasteful and affordable souvenirs.
If you're staying a while on Arran, Brodick is also a convenient place to stock up on self catering supplies, with a large Co-Operative supermarket, petrol station, bank, post office and car rental office.
Navigating around the island is easy, with a single road completing a loop around the whole island. From Brodick you can turn north and make an anticlockwise circuit, or turn south and go clockwise. An additional route across the centre of the island allows for a shortcut between Brodick and Blackwaterfoot. Buses are regular, if not that frequent and increasingly expensive for visitors. Cycling is a popular way to see the island, although walking on roads is not particularly advisable since verges are tight and local traffic travels faster than you might expect.
Highlights for me include the partially ruined castle at Lochranza in the north-west of the island, and the secluded council run campsite at Sannox Bay. I'm not a walker or climber, but have heard great things about the numerous well signposted paths and routes across the north of the island. All capabilities are catered for; contact the tourist office in Brodick for suggested itineraries.
One word of warning, however. If you're visiting in the summer be prepared for midges! The shape of the island means you can often lose any breeze to disperse these pesky bugs, and if you're not adequatelty prepared with anti-midge cream, you will be eaten alive in the summer time! Take a tip from the locals, and invest in Avon brand 'Skin So Soft' moisturiser, which seems to be particularly good at keeping Arran midgies off your skin!
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