A Shire Delight
Aberdeenshire covers close to 2,500 sq miles of Scotland. It is big! We took a trip across the county’s southern reaches – driving from Angus into the Grampian mountains, into Royal Deeside and then to the north sea …
Many heading to Deeside pass Cairn o’ Mount – or Cairn o’ Mounth – a spectacular point that gives you panoramic views from Aberdeenshire across Angus to Fife and Pertshire. The road that climbs from Fettercairn in the south to Banchory on Deeside is a favourite for road cyclists – a steep climb either way rewarded with an adrenaline-filled downhill rush.
There’s been a road through these hills for centuries – if not millennia. Undoubtedly one of General Wade’s military roads from the 18th century, hooves and feet have trodden this path since before the Roman army ventured this far north in AD84. Before that? Well, the Cairn dates from at least 4,000 years ago … so the area is layered in history and heritage.
As you head north, you’ll most likely spy walkers heading west to climb Clachnaben. An iconic Aberdeenshire hill it can be seen from many a mile – its granite outcrop creating a superb viewpoint. From the top you have 360 degree vistas across the area – rolling hills, woodland that stretches across the Forest of Birse to Finzean and Ballogie beyond. The commercial forests across the parishes are a mix of tree species – from scots pine, sitka and Norway spruce to hybrid larch and Douglas fir. But this is a managed landscape where commercial forestry sits alongside substantial areas of native, semi-natural and plantations where conservation is undoubtedly the primary focus.
The families involved in managing this land have – in some cases – been here for hundreds of year. More recently, the Birse Community Trust has been created by all involved in the landscape to promote the common good of the area. To that end, the Trust – an award-winning charity – manages a number of buildings and projects for and on behalf of the local community – from community woodland to restored mills, a church, community hall and even an historic soutar’s shop. The shoe shop was built in 1896 by James Merchant on a croft and survived almost untouched until his death in 1941. It is a remarkable time capsule – the only survivor of its kind in Scotland. The Trust maintains and conserves the shop and provides guided visits.
Continue north and head into the Dee valley – through Banchory – and you’ll discover a completely different landscape. The remote uplands are replaced by rolling hills and a patchwork of fields. Farms through the valley are involved in all manner of enterprises – from growing cereals and rapeseed to rearing livestock including cattle and sheep.
In this south facing oasis is a unique house that captures the grandeur of its Georgian past. The recently refurbished Raemoir became a hotel in 1943. Today, it is one of a number of houses across Scotland that are changing the way they meet the needs of visitors. It has been transformed into an ‘exclusive use’ destination … not ‘exclusive’ in the sense of unattainable, but exclusive for those who wish to hire it for family gatherings, celebrations and events.
The property provides a range of accommodation – 18 en-suite double, twin and single rooms all finished to the highest standard. Four of the rooms are in an adjacent building – the Ha’Hoose – which dates from 1715. As guests you’ll have everything you need. As an hotel, Raemoir won a reputation for its service and dining, winning accolades and awards in recognition of their work over more than 20 years. Now an exclusive hire, those standards have been maintained. They have three different private dining rooms available – The Garden Room (up to 12), the Oval Room (up to 40) and the Georgian Room (up to 70).
Aberdeenshire boasts a fantastic larder – from top quality beef and lamb to fabulous fish and seafood as well as grains and vegetables. The Raemoir chefs use foraged and locally sourced produce. Unless requested, you won’t find out of season products on the menu – they’re very particular and proud about provenance, ensuring their history of 2 Rosette and Michelin recommended cuisine remains an integral part of the experience. Whatever your requirements – be it indoors or alfresco at their fire pit – they’re on hand to help.
The house is stunning: from the panelled lounge that looks over the grounds and Dee valley beyond to the impressive dining room – at one time the Oval Ballroom and still used as such when the occasion suits. The aptly named ‘Big Fish Bar’ tips a nod to one of the area’s most popular pastimes – dominated by a ’96lb monster’ mounted above the well-stocked whisky cabinet. Finally, the marquee alongside the house can accommodate up to 200.
Raemoir is a great base from which to explore Royal Deeside. There are whisky, castle and golf trails to discover. If you want to unwind and just enjoy your surroundings, you can walk for miles from the house: the grounds extend to some 14 acres comprising beautiful gardens, parkland and woodland through which you can walk to access the Hill of Fare behind the house. The walk to the top provides more panoramic views across Scotland’s north east countryside … views to Aberdeen (Westhill is just a 15 minute drive away) and the sea.
And that’s where our travels took us next – a half hour drive to the coast south of Stonehaven.
We stopped at the superb Milton of Crathes arts and crafts village – just east of Banchory – for a bite to eat at the Brasserie. For train lovers, there’s the Crathes Station project – a heritage railway with team, diesel and battery electric vehicles all housed in an award-winning station building. It is also on the Deeside Way.
We mentioned castles. When Scotland’s Castle Trail was launched – it had to start somewhere. And there can be no more dramatic a location than the castle that is ‘Number 1’ on the Trail: Dunottar.
The ruined castle sits atop a massive conglomerate – a 440 million year old outcrop of coarse-grained sedimentary rock – teetering above the crashing waves of the north sea. A visit is a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
Dunottar has a traceable, rich and colourful history that stretches back to the 3rd century. Once the home of the Earls Marischal, it has hosted William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II. For Scots, the castle is most famed for the small garrison that held out for an incredible eight months against the might of Cromwell’s army to save the Scottish Crown Jewels – the ‘Honours of Scotland’ – from destruction. If you are planning a trip, please follow this link for all their visitor information. There’s free parking – and a walk to the castle that descends quite a number of steep steps before a climb back up to the castle. There are also clifftop walks – including a walk into Stonehaven.
This is a gem of a region: so much to see in such a relatively small area – and Raemoir provides a unique location to stay with friends and family. Spend a weekend, a week … or more! There’s so much to discover and explore and – as you travel across the countryside on either side of the Dee, you get a sense of perspective on the complex mix that helps maintain such a spectacular part of Scotland … for the benefit of those who not only get to visit, but also for those who call it home.
This was a whistle stop drive – a snapshot: we were not staying at Raemoir – simply popping in to see the property.
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Thanks for reading.