Aberdeenshire: home to 17 famous castles

FREQUENTLY referred to as Castle Country, the historic North-east of Scotland is home to around 1000 castles or castle ruins, providing a wealth of history to explore - from gruesome tales of battles fought, to strolls through romantic family estates.

Each castle has a different story to tell. Let your mind wander back through the centuries to imagine just what might have taken place where you now stand, or get lost amongst the beautiful walled gardens where, if you’re lucky, you might come across a traditional tearoom for a spot of delicious home baking.

Aberdeenshire is home to Scotland’s only dedicated Castle Trail - a selection of 17 unique castles. Experience the romance and history of these restored family castles, ruins and stately homes, by simply following the trail. With its distinctive white on brown signs and a blue castle logo, which leads you through the heart of Aberdeenshire, it couldn't be a simpler day out.

A visit to any of the castles makes an ideal day out or navigate your way along sections of the trail for a longer break.

With Aberdeen as your base, the highlights include the well-preserved ruins of Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, perched on a dramatic cliff some 160ft above the North Sea. Fought over by Wallace and Cromwell, it was used as a set for Franco Zeffirelli's 1991 film of Hamlet.

Heading north from Stonehaven on the A957 brings you to Crathes Castle, a few miles east of Banchory and Drum Castle – five miles further east on the A93. Crathes is a classic fairytale castle standing in superb grounds with a range of woodland trails on offer to help you explore. Inside, spiral staircases lead to rooms famous for their Jacobean painted ceilings and resident ghost, the Green Lady.

Drum Castle combines a unique mix of a late 13th-century tower, fine Jacobean mansion house and later Victorian additions. Superb furniture and paintings are on display while the estate’s woodland trails and exceptional walled rose garden are well worth exploring.

Some 15 miles further north on the B977 stands Castle Fraser, one of the grandest castles of Mar. This magnificent building contains an evocative Great Hall, fine furniture and paintings. Enjoy the beautiful secluded walled garden, extensive woodland walks with fine views of the castle plus a children’s adventure playground.

The regal Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside has been newly added to the Castle Trail to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. You can enjoy a tour of the gardens of the Royal Family’s Scottish home and drop in on various exhibitions.

For more information on the Castle Trail: www.visitscotland.com/guide/inspirational/features/days-out/castle-trail

Scotland’s famous Malt Whisky Trail is within easy reach

Scotland has the only malt whisky trail in the world …and it isn’t that many miles from The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa.

Whisky distilleries were founded in an environment rich in the highest quality ingredients: pure, clear spring water and abundant supplies of fragrant golden barley. On the whisky trail of Speyside – between Aberdeen and Inverness - you'll find more than half of Scotland's malt whisky distilleries, each with its own warm welcome and an invitation to see, smell, taste and absorb the magic of whisky.

Each whisky distillery on the distillery tour follows its own traditions, lore and recipes for everything from malting the barley to the height and size of its stills. The unique characteristics of each Speyside whisky distillery result in delightful, hand-crafted whisky from each one. All offer visitors a sample of the finished product and some include an informative nosing and tasting while others give an insight into the complex art of blending whisky and malt.

You can follow the world-famous Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside to seven working distilleries, including a fascinating cooperage and a historic distillery. From Benromach to Dallas Dhu, a perfect time capsule of whisky-making; from Glen Moray to Strathisla, home and heart of Chivas Regal; from the Glen Grant distillery to the Speyside Cooperage where real coopers work with incredible speed and skill; from Glenfiddich to The Glenlivet and the Cardhu distillery, Scotland's whisky trail signposts lead you through the picturesque lush countryside of Speyside, the world's favourite malt whisky region.

It is ideal to visit for a weekend in May, or in September for the whisky festivals, when distilleries, whisky shops, bars, pubs and whole villages welcome visitors with drams, special nosings, ceilidhs and other parties. However, at any time you can enjoy famous names and share well-kept secrets with knowledgeable locals in well-stocked bars and friendly pubs.

Malt whisky trail link - www.maltwhiskytrail.com

Discovering whisky distilleries: a legend in the making...

Whisky distilleries are spread throughout the key distilling regions of Scotland and a visit to one or two will explain how each unique whisky is crafted. No visit to Scotland is complete without a visit to a working Scotch distillery. How better to capture the true spirit of the nation?

From mountain to glen and islands to lowlands you will find beautifully sited distilleries still dispensing individual charm, history and the local ‘water of life’. All waiting to be discovered, wherever you are in Scotland.

For further information, please dip into: www.discovering-distilleries.com and the Scottish Malt Whisky Society’s website at www.smws.com.


Craigievar Castle
Three new routes added to Scotland's Great Trails

THREE new long-distance routes have been added to Scotland's national network of trails - the Berwickshire Coastal Path, the Rob Roy Way and the Great Glen Canoe Trail.

There are now 23 routes in the network, covering more than 1,500 miles of Scottish landscape.

Pete Rawcliffe, of Scottish National Heritage, explains: "In Scotland we're very lucky to have so many long distance trails running through some of our finest scenery, so it's great to add another three routes to 'Scotland's best'. "

The trails offer people the chance to go out and enjoy the countryside close to where they live as well as exploring further afield."

The trails stretch from the Borders to the Highlands and SNH said the network allowed people to explore some of Scotland's best landscapes on well-marked and quality paths. The Berwickshire Coastal Path links Cockburnspath to Berwick-on-Tweed.

The Rob Roy Way runs between Drymen and Pitlochry and follows the paths used by notorious outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

The Great Glen Canoe Trail passes through Loch Ness. It will allow people to paddle from coast to coast between Fort William and Inverness.

The list of Scotland's Great Trails is reviewed annually. SNH say other routes are under development and could be added to the network in the future.

Conserving Scotland’s unique heritage

THE National Trust for Scotland has an amazing diversity of sites in its care – ranging from historic battle sites, castles and glorious gardens to stunning mountains, nature reserves and areas of unspoilt countryside.

Among its properties in Aberdeen and Grampian Highlands are Fyvie Castle, Crathes Castle, Drum Castle, Craigievar Castle, Castle Fraser, Haddo House, Mar Lodge Estate, Leith Hall, and Pitmedden Garden and Museum of Farming Life.

Many of its sites and properties hold events throughout the year including re-enactments, costumed tours, music, theatre and guide walks. And you can enjoy a taste of Scotland at many of its restaurants, tearooms and cafes.

The National Trust for Scotland is a charity – not a government department, and, to a certain extent, is dependent on voluntary financial support in its work in conserving Scotland’s unique heritage.

For further information please dip in to: www.nts.org.uk

Aberdeen’s fascinating series of Heritage Trails

THE City of Aberdeen has a very rich cultural and natural heritage which has been developed as an attraction in itself by the introduction of a series of Aberdeen Heritage Trails. to complement the existing Grampian driving trails.

The City's Heritage Trails project has delivered a range of social and environmental benefits and encouraged greater use of the existing leisure and recreational facilities. It has improved the city's image and helped build a sense of place through strategic cultural investment.

Marischal College, in the city centre, was once and integral part of Aberdeen University but has been refurbished at a cost of £70 million as the new headquarters of Aberdeen City Council. It is the second largest granite building in the world

The series of trails include the Granite Trail, March Stones Trail, the Old Aberdeen Trail, Maritime Heritage Trail and North Sea Trail.

Aberdeen is, of course, heralded worldwide as the Granite City - there are granite buildings everywhere from the grandest of monuments to the humblest of tenements.

The North-east of Scotland’s geological base is granite – the colours ranging from light white-grey to blue, pinks and reds. The Tower of Drum (circa 1300) and the more elaborate Crathes Castle (circa 1500) illustrate the early use of granite in fortifications

For further detailed information on Aberdeen’s Heritage Trails, please dip into www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/acc_data/service/cd_trails.asp