Castle Crazy

Scotland’s Silver City is known for many things: its beautiful parks that have culminated in it winning numerous “Britain in Bloom” accolades; the tranquility and the fun that its sandy shores provide and a cosmopolitan collection of the biggest shopping and dining brands. However, whether you come to see the nature, the beach, the entertainment of a bustling city or even the glittering granite skyline, there is something else that you can see in particular abundance – castles. We are not just talking about a handful of castles, but over 300 and that is because Aberdeen is fortunate enough to be located on the outskirts of Scotland’s Castle Country. As the title alludes to, if you want to find castles, then you are certainly in the right place as Castle Country has more castles per acre than anywhere else in the UK. Consequently, whatever shape, size or colour you like your castles in – you are certainly going to find one that fits the bill!

Therefore, if you are staying with us in our Aberdeen apartments and are looking for a fun day trip full of majesty and rich heritage, make sure to check out Scotland’s dedicated “Castle Trail”. Consisting of 17 castles ranging from dramatic ruins to fairy-tale enchantment, there are so many wonders to explore and many are only an hour or so drive away from Aberdeen. For details of all the 17, make sure to check out http://www.visitaberdeen.com/assets/castletrail.pdf to get your Castle itinerary sorted. However, to give you a taster of all the fun that lies ahead, read on below to find out some of our personal favourites.

  1. Balmoral Castle

When talking about castles in Aberdeenshire, there is certainly one that can never be missed out – Balmoral Castle. Castles tend to have associations with royalty and that is certainly the case with Balmoral Castle because if it being located in Royal Deeside was not a big enough indicator, it is the much beloved holiday home of the royal family and this goes all the way back to Queen Victoria’s time who was actually the monarch to purchase the castle as she loved it so much after visiting it on a romantic break. However, the castle you are seeing today is not actually the original because Queen Victoria had it knocked down and then rebuilt – when you are a Queen, you are able to wield that level of power!

Apart from the royal connection, it is a stunning castle to view in its own right with the majestic grounds and the illustrious ballroom being particular highlights to look out for alongside the special exhibits. Due to the grounds and architecture being particularly well maintained and preserved – it is clear that it will stand the test of time and will be enjoyed for generations to come.

  1. Crathes Castle

Complete with the magic of turrets, towers, wielding staircases and gorgeous grounds, this 16th century tower house has all the enchanting features you associate with majestic castles. Complete with the finest and the most elegant decoration on the inside, particularly keep an eye out (or up!) for the lavishly painted ceilings,  there is also so much more on the outside to explore with over 200 acres of quintessential British woodland and countryside to roam. Between the aesthetic beauty and the sweet-smelling aroma of the luscious rose gardens, this is a castle to hit all the senses. Likewise, it is perfect for all the family with a children adventure’s playpark and most importantly of all, the ultimate UK tree-top adventure: Go Ape!.

  1. Dunnottar Castle

Some of us like our castles in a form that is akin to the splendour of those found in Disney movies, however some of us like them a little bit more dramatic – if so, Dunnottar Castle is the one for you. Exhibiting magnificence in a slightly different form, there is nothing quite like the indomitable, breath-taking cliff-side location of Dunnottar Castle which is rumoured to be one of Scotland’s most impressive ruined castles. Surrounded by the ominous North Sea, this ancient and wonderfully gloomy castle conveys the rich stores of its past. With famous historical figures such as William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots having visited the castle, this is certainly a castle for all the history buffs out there particularly as it was the infamous sight where a small garrison held out against Cromwell’s army for eight months and subsequently saved the Crown Jewels. Likewise, even movie fanatics will be particularly taken by this castle because as it tells the stories that are akin to those only found in the movies, it is no surprise that it has actually been featured as the landscape to many a feature film due to its cinematographic wonder. Therefore if you are wondering why the castle may seem so familiar, that is potentially because you have seen it showcased in movies including Hamlet featuring Mel Gibson as well as Victor Frankenstein (it was even partly inspiration for Disney’s Brave!).

  1. Cragievar Castle

However, for those fonder of the traditional castle type which emanates an ethereal and enchanting atmosphere, look no further than Cragievar Castle. A charming seven-storey castle, what particularly makes this castle stand out is its luminous and iconic pink coloured exterior – certainly one for those little girls who dream of being a princess. If you feel a little bit of magic in the air then it would not be surprising because Walt Disney was so taken by the castle, it is supposedly what inspired his pioneering imaginative spirit to conjure the renowned castle motif associated with the Disney brand. Still home to family portraits and ornate ceilings, the castle retains many of the treasures collected by the Forbes family across their 350 year residence there and it is that family atmosphere that really gives the castle that unique and welcoming spirit.

  1. Castle Fraser

Located only a convenient 16 miles from Aberdeen, if you are looking for splendour and grandness there is no castle that quite fills the brief like Castle Fraser which is one of Scotland’s most impressive baronial tower houses. Dating back to the 15th century, Castle Fraser is really orientated around the stories of its lairds and thus is rooted in Scottish history dating from the medieval and Victorian times. Particular highlights include the atmospheric simplicity of the Great Hall as well as the stunning panoramic views that are afforded from the round tower.

Fancying paying a visit to one, two or more of these castles? Of course! Well about challenging yourself and seeing how many you can visit in one day, or alternatively, how about a holiday dedicated to exploring the riches, treasures and captivating stories of these properties? With each of these castles offering something different, you can never explore too many – just make sure to check the opening times of the castles because they are subject to seasonal operating hours.

Images: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balmoral_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crathes_Castle

http://www.castlexplorer.co.uk/scotland/fraser/fraser.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunnottar_Castle

http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/alford/craigievar/

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Welcome To Royal Deeside

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When people come to visit the UK, it is often due to the desire of exploring the rich historic tapestry that is often associated with the country. Indeed people want to explore the scenic landscape and its historical landmarks that tell the enlightening stories of times long gone. Moreover, it is not just the stories of the past they crave, but also those that interweave tales that involve the monarchy and royalty because after all, who does not wonder what it would be like to to be a majestic ruler? Therefore, it is no surprise that iconic Great British landmarks are comprised of renowned attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile and Buckingham Palace which are steeped in history with a royal glow. However, when people think of cities like Aberdeen, more often than not they have associations of a corporate destination, as opposed to a place where they could visit for leisure purposes. While Aberdeen is prime business territory, it is clear that it offers much more than that and while The Spires is located only minutes away from the bustling city centre complete with shops and restaurants, it is also important to consider what lies in the other direction – Royal Deeside.

So you may be asking, what makes Deeside so royal? Well, it is the royalty, Queen Victoria in particular, that has made the area so renowned due to it being a popular holiday destination with them both in the long ago Victorian times and even today with Queen Elizabeth. The phrase, “royal seal of approval” certainly applies in this context! A particular royal landmark that particularly cannot go without being missed is the Balmoral Castle seeing as Prince Albert built Balmoral Castle particularly as a retreat for himself and Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was such a fan of the area, she bought land there and even famously proclaimed “Every year my heart becomes more fixed on this dear paradise“. As a regular holiday destination for the royal family, Royal Deeside is unmistakeably a prime visiting spot for any Royal fanatic. A particular sign of interest to look out for on a trail across the towns and villages that comprise Royal Deeside is the Royal Warrants which symbolises the businesses that are a supplier to the Queen’s household – Ballater in particular is a favourite with businesses from butchers and garages being fortunate enough to have the Warrant bestowed upon them.

A particular highlight of Royal Deeside includes the “Victorian Heritage Trail” which has been a tourist favourite for over 150 years and is where you can even walk in the footsteps of the royalty. Along this trail you will encounter all kinds of quaint, charming and scenic villages and towns such as Banchory, Ballater and Braemar which are in stark contrast to be the fast-paced city life of Aberdeen. Braemar in particular is renowned for its Highland Gathering which is known to be one of Scotland’s best and is a major tourist draw – potentially as it remains a royal favourite.

The other element that makes Royal Deeside so iconic is its absolutely stunning landscape which provides the perfect backdrop for all kinds of activity in nature from walking to cycling to skiing to just pure wildlife watching – it is a tranquil haven away from the bustling streets of the city. While Aberdeen is marked for its sparkling granite skyline, Royal Deeside is renowned for the diversity of its nature and the enchanting atmosphere – from mysterious forests to the gentle tinkle of crystal clear rivers to dramatic mountain faces. Every corner is undeniably a photo opportunity and a chance to escape reality!

From castles including Balmoral, Crathes and Braemar to distilleries to heritage centres, there is so much to found and enjoyed in Royal Deeside whether you are travelling by yourself or with the family. Therefore, when you come to stay with us in Aberdeen, do not feel restricted by the city boundaries – there is so much more to be found on a day trip out of the city; particularly with The Spires sitting at the entrance to Royal Deeside.

To learn more: http://www.visitaberdeen.com/royal-deeside/

                                http://visitroyaldeeside.com/

Image: http://www.lifeofpottering.co.uk/2015/05/the-cairngorms-balmoral-castle.html

The Water of Life

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The amusing thing about life is that with each and every day, there is something being celebrated. For example, there is a designated national awareness food day for almost every food item imaginable (particularly in the USA). Recent illustrations of this is that on May 17th, we will be celebrating National Walnut Day (not one for those with peanut allergies!) and a few days ago unbeknown to me, on May 11th, the world was celebrating the ultimate foodie’s dream day: National Eat What you Want Day. Why am I lamenting on thoughts of days and food? Well, apart from it being the Year of Food & Drink as part of VisitScotland’s latest annual campaign, it is also Whisky Month and tomorrow (May 16th) is actually World Whisky Day. Not just National Whisky Day, but World Whisky Day meaning that a plethora of crystal tumblers around the world will be raised in salute to Scotland’s national drink. Therefore, being located in Scotland it would be almost criminal for us not to mark this special occasion, particularly with our headquarters being in Aberdeen, which is only an hour away from many a small and unique distillery. Therefore, in a land known for its tartan and haggis, we are taking a moment to focus on and appreciate the national drink of Scotland.

First things first, it is undeniable that we have to take a look back to when Scotland’s favourite export rose to prominence. With a history that dates back to the 15th century, the first known event involving whisky was all the way back in 1494 when Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey in Fife gained the king’s permission to create acqua vitae. Unfamiliar with acque vitae? Well, once translated from Latin, it means “water of life” and this is where whisky’s name stems from; the Gaelic translation. It may sound ironic; however water from Scotland’s burns and streams is indeed a critical component of the whisky making process.

Back in the day, whisky was often associated with rebellion with much being done by Scottish distilleries to avoid the menacing English taxman. The epitome of this was that in the 18th century, there were only eight legal distilleries versus four hundred ILLEGAL ones. However, nowadays, whisky is held in much higher esteem because when we say whisky is one of Scotland’s biggest exports, it is not in jest because whisky actually accounts for more than 85 per cent of Scottish food and drinks exports and is worth a massive £4.3 billion.

It goes without saying that a visit to Aberdeenshire (and Scotland for that matter), is not complete without a visit to a distillery. Both highly educational and enlightening, the experience will differ per distillery from whether you get to witness the blending process or whether you can engage in a cheeky tasting, but it is always a certainty that you will be able to pick up your own bottle of the “water of life” to ensure that you have an authentic piece of Scotland with you. Scotland is home to the only whisky trail in the world, in Speyside, where you will be able to find more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries each possessing their own unique recipes and history. From Glenfiddich to Glenlivet to Cardhu, these are the famous whiskies we all know, and can be found on this illustrious trail.

However, you do not have to look as far as Speyside to find a fully-functioning distillery. If you are staying with us in Aberdeen and are in search of something to do, even with the family, there are eight distilleries only an hour from Aberdeen which may be smaller in scale, but still have their own exciting story to tell and unique whisky recipe to taste. Fettercairn, Knockdhu and Glen Garioch are some of the names featured and of the eight overall distilleries; at least half of them do have visitor centres making for a perfect day-trip from Aberdeen.

glen-garioch-distillery-tour

Similarly, a whisky day-trip is also a possibility with a stay at The Spires in Glasgow due to its close proximity to two distilleries: Auchentoshan Distillery and Glengoyne Distillery. A visit to either or both is a good idea because Auchentoshan is only 20 minutes from Glasgow’s city centre and offers whisky masterclasses and at Glengoyne, you can even craft your own personal blended whisky! Even if you are just looking for a place to relax after a long day of business meetings or exploring the city, Glasgow is renowned for its plentiful supply of whisky bars such as the Bon Accord Ale House which offers a fairly large selection due to it being home to over 300 whiskies. Consequently, it is of no surprise that it is held in very high esteem in the nation.

glengoyne5

If you are thinking of staying with us in Birmingham, you will not miss out on any of the fun there either because Birmingham is certainly not immune from the whisky scene either with it having now hosted an annual Whisky Festival for the past three years. This is no small festival we are talking about either, as while the first festival was attended by an acceptable 200 fanatics, this figure doubled in 2014 to 400 and in 2015, 600 tickets were released as the figure was expected to jump yet again. As a result, it is no surprise that after London, Birmingham’s Whisky Festival is the largest in England. It is clear there is a passion for whisky amongst Birmingham’s residents due to the launching of whisky collections by venues like The Plough, as well as the opening of Hard to Find Whisky; a whisky store that specialises in the selling of rare bottles of whisky. Emphasis is on the word “rare” as some bottles can even be sold for significant sums of money; does anyone have £35,000 to spare?

With it being National Whisky Month, there is a whole host of events going on across Scotland and in particular, there is a wide range of whisky madness occurring all around the globe tomorrow due to it being World Whisky Day. Over 11, 000 people are expected to attend nearly 150 events registered around the globe and if you happen to be staying with us in any of our locations, it is clear that you will be not far from any of the festivities.

Always remember to drink responsibly and with caution 

Sources: http://visitbirmingham.com/what-to-do/birmingyum/events/whisky-birmingham-2015/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinkadvice/11099642/What-does-whisky-mean-to-Scotland.html

http://www.visitaberdeen.com/attractions-and-activities/whisky-distilleries-in-aberdeenshire

https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/whisky-distilleries-breweries

http://www.visitscotland.com/about/food-drink/whisky/

Images: VisitScotland, http://www.trossachs.co.uk, Telegraph