Whisky, Walks And Outdoor Pursuits: A Long Weekend In Aberdeen

05/10/2016 10:17


A destination dubbed the Granite City or the Oil Capital of Europe might not be the first place you'd think about visiting, but whether you're after a weekend of art and culture or a romp in the Glens, Aberdeen is well worth a visit.

I went with the sole intention of drinking 'uisge beatha' or the water of life, and if your Gaelic isn't up to scratch, that's whisky to you and me, Scotland's biggest export. Hire a car from the Airport and make sure two of you can drive. There's so much more you can do if you've got four wheels and Speyside has the biggest concentration of distilleries so there's quite a few to get through.

As you pass through this beautiful landscape, you'll see massive windmills, some spinning like a top, some idle. If you do find them fascinating, keep it to yourself. Don't mention the words 'wind' or 'turbine' to the locals, remember you only have 48 hours here. From my conversations, the majority here hate them, think they're a massive blot on the landscape and a waste of time. Unless, of course, you find the farmer who's renting the land and then it's probably another conversation.

It's not open to the public; you can't get to look inside, but you can marvel at the glory from afar, or indeed pretty darn close. I've seen inside enough distilleries to know how they work and you can read about how whisky is made on my blog. One of my favourite Speyside drams is The Glenrothes, and there's something rather magical about getting near and smelling the malt on the air. About an hour and a half's drive from Aberdeen, you'll find Rothes home to 5 distilleries. Look for Rothes Old Church and wander through the graveyard. Stand at the top and marvel at the distinctive red framed windows and copper topped chimney flue. Make sure to look for the grave of Matabeleland-born man servant Biawa 'Biaway' Makalaga. He was rescued from near starvation in Bulawayo by Major James Grant of Glen Grant and worked for the whisky family until his death in 1972. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, when two new stills were installed in the Distillery, seven years following his death, locals claim his ghost was seen twice. Cedric Wilson, a professor in mathematics and interested in the paranormal, quickly discovered that there was a broken ley line, going through the distillery, which had been upset by the construction. Having never been to the graveyard before, he walked straight up to Biaway's gravestone and talked to him, and he's not been seen since. What has been left behind though is The Glenrothes tradition of a 'Toast To The Ghost'.

Enough about whisky, how about some outdoor pursuits? You don't have far to go from The Glenrothes to the HQ of Sporting Scotland. Here you can try your hand at a little off-roading or a spot of clay and target shooting. Am I competitive? You bet, and while I didn't quite master the shotgun, even with patient instruction from The fishing season in Scotland opens from the 11 February to 30 September, the rifle was more my piece of kit. Ten out of ten for the precision shooting meant I came second out of our group. If fishing is more your thing, visit during the Season, open from 11 February to 30 September for some fly fishing on the Spey.

The scenery is spectacular, and it's no wonder Aberdeen has its own Hill Walking Club but in the Rothes area, The Dounie is a perfect 3-mile circular walk which follows the Rothes Burn upstream to the Giant's Table and the Fairy Rock. It passes The Glenrothes distillery and takes you up to the Linn Waterfall where you'll have a remarkable view over the valley. Head back down past the ruins of the Rothes Castle and back into the town centre.

All that Scottish air and activity may be a bit too much, and you could be looking for somewhere to rest your weary head and shotgun shoulder? The Craigellachie Hotel is a perfect location to base yourself, and the food, drink and service are special. The Quaich Bar has over 900 single malt whiskies from all over the world. An excellent opportunity to work your way around Scotland without leaving the chair. Kept by Kieran Walsh and Lyndsey Gray, whisky experts in their own right, they can help you discover some of the best there is to offer here and if you don't like whisky then prepare to be educated. The rooms here are Barley Twist four-posters with plenty of Johnston's of Elgin Cashmere suitably draped. Stylish with a rural feel.

Fancy a little taste of Scottish tradition? Visit the Knockando Woolmill, saved from falling into the Spey by The Heritage Lottery Fund. It's here they continue the 200-year tradition of producing fabric on its looms including the Tweed at the heart of the Mill the Strathspey.

On your way back to drop off the car, head to Alford. It's here you'll find Craigievar Castle, a National Trust for Scotland property which looks like it's straight off a Disney production. However, it's the other way round and said to be the inspiration for 'the' fairytale castle that's so synonymous with Disney. If you see just one castle in Scotland, it should be this just don't forget your camera as this is one of the most photographed in the world.

For more information about Aberdeen, and the distilleries you can visit, go to the Visit Aberdeenshire website which has plenty of information about visiting the area.