Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Aberdeen and the Shire

Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

I'm falling in love with Scotland. Over the last year I've visited Glasgow, Oban, and the World Porridge Championships in the Highlands. This summer I discovered Aberdeen and the surrounding area. In the past this town has had a mixed reputation (the writer Paul Theroux described it as 'a cold, stony-faced city, over-cautious, unwelcoming and smug'). During the 1980s Aberdeen was oil rich and booming. Now the oil money has subsided.
In the 21st century, Aberdeen has cleaned up the beautiful granite buildings, pitted with mica and giving rise to the moniker 'the silver city'. The city doesn't just depend on oil anymore, with a growing tourism sector, bars and restaurants.

I didn't spend long in Aberdeen itself on this occasion, just enough to visit the ice cream makers Mackies 19.2 and an award winning cocktail bar Orchid which distills gin using Buddha's hand citrus.
I ate a warming Cullen Skink soup, an Aberdonian speciality of smoked haddock (from nearby Finan) and potatoes, at the spectacular harbour side restaurant The Silver Darling. On the wall were all the fish market prices of the day, which you eat as ships parade past grandly.

Aberdeen was a fishing town before the oil, and the North Sea remains a strong presence. The village of Footdee, pronounced 'fittie', is a series of fishing cottages, designed by the Balmoral architect John Smith, where all the doors and windows face inwards, into a square. The backs of the houses face the sea, to protect against fierce storms.
Travelling further outside the city, into Aberdeenshire, I was reminded of one of my favourite books  'I capture the castle', about a romantic young girl who lived in a freezing castle. The romantically turreted, all stone staircases and tartan carpet, Craigevar castle is a vision in elastoplast pink and reputedly the original model for the Disney castle.

This area around Aberdeen is known as Royal Deeside: royal from the fact that the Queen (and her predecessor Victoria) love to spend time at Balmoral; Dee is the river running from the Cairngorms.
I visited Ballater station, now defunct as a working railway station. Currently being transformed into a restaurant and bar, Queen Victoria's glittering railway 'waiting room' is worth seeing. Ballater village has the most royal warrants per square mile in the country. Above the shops are large plaster gold embossed warrants; her Majesty seems keen on delicatessens.

Shopkeepers were friendly, speaking with the charming soft local dialect known as 'Doric'. Balmoral is only seven miles away and they tell me that you can see the Queen walking her dogs:
 'A little old woman with a stiff pelmet of steely hair. You are about her height.' purred one.
Next to Ballater station at Dee Valley Confectioners, in the back room, you can watch the mesmeric process of the 'boilings'; boiled sugar being stretched and wrenched into sweets and twists of candy.

I stayed at Douneside House, formerly a hotel for the forces. Although it is now open to the public, ex and current military can access incredible discounts for the luxury rooms. The dinner, cooked by Chef David Butters, was one of the best I've had in Scotland. Modern Scottish food, not overly fussy, but beautifully presented. Douneside really feels like that gorgeous countryside mansion you've always wanted, and the Royal Horticultural Society gardens are equally magnificent. 

I went to see Grace Noble and her cows at her Aberdeenshire Highland Beef farm. Although I don't eat or cook meat, I do support small businesses, especially those run by women. Grace set up this business after her divorce and is thriving. She works with a talented female butcher.

Brewdog is an Aberdeenshire business that has done incredibly well the last few years, expanding from a couple of beerheads and a dog in 2007 to an internationally traded company with over a thousand employees. I was part of a group that was shown around the trendy vast warehouses, no employee appeared to be over 35, by a violet-eyed woman with turquoise hair. Afterwards we drank sour beer and other styles at the company pub within. Brewdog are now making spirits and even plan to do their own whisky. They had a 'three bubble' copper still made especially for this purpose. 

Brewdog, beer bottle chandelier. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Brewdog,work place pub,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Brewdog,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Brewdog, beers,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Ol Meldrum House, Aberdeenshire pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
I stayed at the 13th century gothic looking Old Meldrum house hotel, where my stunning bedroom had a wall of windows facing onto a golf course.
Glen Garoich whisky  distillery, Aberdeenshire, pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Just down the road lies Glen Garioch Distillery. This tour was excellent, compared to my tour at Oban last year. Not all whisky tours are equal it seems. I was allowed to take pictures without the threat of burning the place down for instance. The tour guide was the most Scottish looking bloke, all ginger hair and moustache, but who turned out to be an English whisky enthusiast. Glen Garioch is the proud owner of a Porteus machine malt mill which was so efficient that they never ever broke down which meant the business went broke as nobody needed to buy a new one. (A second hand Porteus would cost around £60, 000 so precious are they). 
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

When you order food in Scotland, portions are huge. I had a fish n chip lunch, crispy ballooning batter duvet-like around spanking fresh fish, at The Boat Inn, a pub that uses excellent local produce. Amusingly it has a toy steam train that puffs around a narrow track affixed to the top of the walls of the room.
Last stop was a restaurant called Eat on the Green, in Udney Green, run by chef/patron Craig Wilson, also known as The Kilted Chef. I sat rapt listening to his stories over a lengthy gin tasting and lunch. Finally I tasted his sticky toffee pudding, which lived up to its name. It is claimed that this British classic was invented in Aberdeenshire.

eat on the green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
the gin bar at Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Scottish cheese board Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

This visit was kindly hosted by Visit Aberdeenshire.

1 comment:

  1. 'Finally I tasted his sticky toffee pudding, which lived up to its name. It is claimed that this British classic was invented in Aberdeenshire.'

    There might be a few lips stuck out at that one in the North of England :D.


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