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Aberdeen

Updated on May 26, 2010

Aberdeenshire was formerly a county occupying about half the bulge on the east coast of Scotland and running southwestwards from the coast into the heart of the Grampian mountains. After local government reorganization it became part of the Grampian region.

The old county was split into four, the largest part forming the Gordon district. In the northeast is Banff and Buchan district and in the south that of Kincardine and Deeside, while the city of Aberdeen forms a district of its own.

Except in the southwest, the land is hilly rather than mountainous, and towards the east coast often quite flat. Towns are few and most of the people live in farms and villages. Although the soil is generally poor, generations of farmers have worked on it, so that it now produces fine crops of oats and even barley on land 300 metres above sea level. Despite a fall in the number of people employed in agriculture, farming remains important to the area's economy.

The hills provide grass to feed the sheep and such famous cattle as the black Aberdeen Angus breed, which has no horns. Although Aberdeen-shire is nearer to Norway than any other part of the Scottish mainland, the weather is so mild in the central and southern parts that raspberries and other fruits can be grown.

With Peterhead and Fraserburgh to the north, Aberdeen was once the centre of the Scottish east coast herring fisher)'. However, the herring is no longer so plentiful, and instead of fishing, North Sea oil has become Aberdeen's most important business. Many of the firms working on the oil rigs off-shore use Aberdeen as their base and it has a busy airport.

Another great industry of the past, granite working, has also declined. Red and pink granite came from Peterhead and the Hill of Fare, while Aberdeen granite, light-grey in colour, was hewn from Rubislaw Quarry. The quarries at Kemnay provided white granite for the Thames Embankment in London. The slabs of granite used for street paving in the past were called setts. The work of the sett-maker, who split lumps of granite into regular shapes, required great skill.

In the 19th century many sailing clippers were built at Aberdeen, including the famous "Thermopylae" of 1868.

Paper making is an important industry along the lower reaches of the River Don, and Aberdeen has also engineering workshops and factories making canvas, linen, paint, chemicals and fertilizers. Tools are made at Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Other industries include distilling, forestry, and food and fish processing.

The City of Aberdeen

Most of the houses and farms of the district are made of granite, and so much of Aberdeen itself is built of it that people often call Aberdeen "the Granite City"

In 1337, Aberdeen was burned to the ground by Edward III and his men. The citizens rebuilt it, and in 1411 men of the city marched out to Harlaw and there defeated the much larger force with which Donald, the Lord of the Isles, was proposing to capture the city. In 1644, however, Aberdeen was burnt again, this time by the Marquess of Montrose.

When in the i8th century the city had yet another fire, it was decided to rebuild it in granite. Now, more of its buildings are of granite than in any other city in Britain.

Aberdeen is unlike most coastal cities, for its buildings do not stand right by the edge of the sea. This means that the people are lucky enough to have a broad common between their houses and the fine sands which stretch between the rivers Dee and Don.

The name Aberdeen may refer to its position at the mouth of the River Dee; for aber means mouth, and the word Aberdeen could therefore mean "the mouth of the Dee". However, some people believe that it means "the mouth of the Don", which is 3 kilometres to the north, and certainly this is where the cathedral of St. Machar and the old part of the city lie. A legend says that in the 6th century St. Machar was told to find a river winding like a bishop's crook and build a church there, and in fact the River Don does wind rather curiously at this point, near the cathedral.

Coast Scenery and Glimpses of History

Aberdeen is a good place from which to explore the surrounding country. The city is the best road and rail centre for this northeastern corner of Scotland south of the Moray Firth. A visitor with a car can leave Aberdeen for the north over the Bridge of Don, just east of the beautiful old bridge known as the Brig o' Balgownie. For coastal scenery, the visitor can motor up to Newburgh and cross the River Ythan, from whose mussel beds pearls were obtained which now grace the Scottish crown. To the east rise the extensive dunes of the Sands of Forvie, and to the north the pleasant one-time fishing village of Collieston.

A little farther north there is a place called Hell's Lum (lum means chimney) where easterly winds drive the waves into a roofless cavern with such force that the water is flung high into the air. There is a similar scene at the Bullers of Buchan, north of sandy Cruden Bay. Buchan Ness is the most easterly point of Scotland, and farther north lies Peterhead, with its great harbour of refuge where fishing fleets may shelter in stormy weather.

Northwards towards Fraserburgh is Mor-mond Hill where, in 1700, a white horse was cut out of the turf. On the other side of the hill a stag has been cut out of the turf. From Fraserburgh it is worth walking out to Kinnaird's Head, where a lighthouse has been built on the remains of an old castle.

Another route, which runs northwest from Aberdeen, has considerable historical interest. First there is Dyce, which has a Bronze Age stone circle, as well as traces of forts and other relics of the people who lived in the Iron Age. Farther to the northwest there is a prehistoric fort on Barra Hill, and beyond Old Meldrum is another stone circle near Daviot. There is another old fort, as well as a 16th-century castle, on the hill of Dun-nideer, near Insch. Finally, the road comes to the market town of Huntly and the ruins of Strath-bogie Castle, which was once the home of the Gordons, whose powerful chief became known as "Cock of the North." (Gordon is a district in the new Grampian region.)

Following the River Dee

The most popular area for visitors, however, is Deeside, to the west of Aberdeen; particularly the upper part at and above Ballater. Here little streams tumble down to join the Dee and lovely paths wind through the woods, past pools which delight the angler, and then lead out to long and exciting routes among the mountains. The royal castle of Balmoral, which was rebuilt by the Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria, stands beside the Dee, and near it is Balmoral Forest. When the sovereign is not staying at the castle, the public may usually visit the grounds, but the best view of the building is from the hill above Crathie, across the river. Seen from this position, its towers rise above the dark trees like those of a fairy palace.

Still further up the Dee is Braemar, where in September the Highland Games are held. Scotland's most celebrated athletes come to the Braemar Gathering and compete with each other in tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, playing the bagpipes and in other highland skills. Children, too, compete in Scottish dancing.

The River Dee has its source in the Lairig Ghru Pass in the Cairngorm Mountains. It flows between Ben Macdhui (1,310 metres), the second highest mountain in Britain, and Cairn Toul (1,292 metres). The Cairngorms are a nature reserve, and also a holiday area popular with climbers and skiers.

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