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KINGS, QUEENS AND CASTLES

There are over 2000 castles in Scotland, and many are open to the public or to organised tours. Some of these castles are just ruins, while others are still in perfect condition, their position overlooking a Loch, the North Sea, Hebrides or sitting atop of a craggy mountain or headland still conveying a sense of power and prestige. There are also castles for sale, and even a castle with just few walls still standing will command a hefty price.

Every castle has its unique features and location and if you like to see castles, then Scotland is certainly the place to see them.

Perhaps the most famous castle in Scotland is Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands – the castle home of the British Royal Family when they come to Scotland.

Balmoral Castle Estate was bought by Queen Victoria in 1848 and the existing castle was demolished and the castle you see now was built in the 1850's. When the Royal Family are not here, the Castle and grounds are open to the public, and they even run Safari tours of the Estate and have cottages to rent too. See www.balmoralcastle.com

The closest villages to Balmoral Castle are Ballater (see www.visitballater.com ) and Braemar (See www.braemarscotland.co.uk ) both villages about 7 miles from the Castle and located in the Cairncorms National Park around 50 miles from Aberdeen. Both villages have accommodation and during the summer months the whole area is a great place for hiking, while in the winter the snows cover much of the land. If you are looking for a quintessential 'Scottish Highlands Experience' then this whole are is a MUST SEE.

This whole area of Aberdeenshire is where there are great views of the highlands and places to hike in the summer months. Outside Aberdeen, many of the small villages are close to a castle too – and all of these villages have their own atmosphere and interest. Just driving and stopping at places that look interesting will fill your day with interest. Right on the coast, south of Aberdeen is Stonehaven, where Dunnottar Castle is located, while north on the coast from Aberdeen is Peterhead, where Stains Castle is located. Other small town villages to look for Kemnay where Castle Fraser is located, Banff where Duff House is located (See www.duffhouse.org.uk ), Turriff where Delgatie Castle is located (See www.delgatiecastle.com ) Aboyne Castle ( See www.aboynecastleestate.com and Dufftown near where Balvenie Castle is located.

Aberdeen – on the North East coast is the third biggest city in Scotland and a good base for exploring the coastline from here, and also travelling to see the castles above. The number of castles to be seen has led to what they call the 'Castle Trail' that you can follow to see castles. Ask at the Tourist information Centre in Aberdeen on Union Street for a map to follow and also to find out which castles are open when you're here. There are also information centres in the small town/villages of Banchory on Bridge Street and Inverurie at 18 High Street.

Besides the 'Castle Trail' there is also the 'Whisky Trail' – where you can learn and taste test Scotch Whisky. The best way to do this is to take a Tour from Aberdeen, so that you can relax and have a wee dram, or just get the name of one or two of the Distilleries that are open and visit them. See www.maltwhiskytrail.com also www.glenfiddich.com and the Strathisla Distillery See www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com on the River Isla at Seafield Avenue in Keith, Banffshire. This is the oldest distillery in Scotland dating back to 1786. The Distillery Buildings themselves are pretty amazing, let alone the whisky inside. This Distillery is owned by Chivas Regal.

Aberdeen is known for its granite stone buildings and if you head here to Union Square, Union Street and Guild Street you will find the centre of the Old town where most of the shops are also located.

Things to see in Aberdeen –

  • The Aberdeen Beach and Queen's Links – Beach Esplanade and Sea Beach area
  • Cononnas Amusement Park (Roller Coasters) is at Sunset Boulevard/Beach Boulevard area
  • Duthie Park – on the River Dee, Polmuir Road. A great park covering 44 acres with ponds, bandstand and a remarkable Cactus Garden.
  • Cruikshank Botanic Gardens – St Marchar Drive See www.abdn.ac.uk/botanic-garden
  • Aberdeen Maritime Museum – located on Shiprow. From fishing boats to Tea Clipper tall ships and Oil Rigs, Aberdeen has seen all of this.
  • St Nicholas Kirk – Union Street, has a history dating back to the 12th century.
  • University of Aberdeen – High Street is where you will find King's College Chapel and Museum. The Chapel dates back to 1500.
  • Aberdeen Art Gallery – Schoolhill See www.aagm.co.uk
  • Her Majesty's Theatre – Rosemount Viaduct and the Aberdeen Music Hall on Union Street. To see what's on and book – see www.boxofficeaberdeen.com
  • Aberdeen Music Hall – see the building on Union Street, with its massive columns in front
  • St Machar's Cathedral – 18 The Chancery, Old Aberdeen. See www.stmachar.com
  • Gordon Highlanders Museum – St Luke's, Alford
  • Craigievar Castle – built in 1626 is also in Craigievar, Alford
  • Tolbooth Museum – Castle Street

Aberdeen has been a centre for the Oil and Gas Industry on the North Sea for many years, so there is a wide range of accommodation options and restaurants to choose from.

COWS AND HORSES - one of the delights of seeing Scotland is seeing the countryside and the domesticated Scottish animals that live here. From Scottish terriers to Skye Terriers, Scottish Deerhound to Shetland Sheepdogs to the great long horn, shaggy coated Scottish Highland Cattle, Aberdeen Angas cattle to Clydesdale draught horses and Shetland Ponies – these all originate from Scotland and can now be seen in countries around the world, the original cattle, horses and dogs having been exported from Scotland in the 1800's.

When you are here in Scotland, if you get a chance, try and watch some Sheepdog Trials where a dog and its owner pitch their skills against a time clock to pen the sheep. See www.scottishnationalsheepdogtrials.org.uk

Caledonian Canal –

There are many ways to get to and around Scotland, with fast Motorways, overall good roads, rail and air services but often the more time you spend on the journey, the more you see. Backroads take you to smaller villages and make it easier to stop to just take in your surrounds. Heading out into the countryside as a 'Scottish Rambler' (Walker) will put you in touch with Nature, and riding a bike or riding a horse will also bring you closer to see the country too. A very special journey however is to travel on one of the Scottish Canals, or walk or cycle beside the Canal on a towpath.

Scotland has a small number of Canals and just like in England they have created an internal waterway across the country. There is the Monkland Canal, Crinan, Forth & Clyde, Union and Caledonian Canals and all of these are special, and if you have the time, travelling on one or these canals will also be a highly memorable time.

To read more about the canals of Scotland see www.scottishcanals.co.uk

When you think of the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, these were both monumental engineering feats and visionary developments, creating a massive time and cost savings for ships using them rather than traversing around the South American or African continents. These canals also meant that ships and their cargos were less likely to be shipwrecked.

The Caledonian Canal, while not as significant as the Panama and Suez Canals, was also a great engineering feat. The Canal crosses the land from the North Sea of Scotland to the Irish Sea on the west side, with 28 locks and 22 miles of canal, linking from canal through Locks to Lochs (lakes) along the way making it a 60 mile (97 Kilometre)long waterway for boats to travel the distance. The canal first opened in 1822, and was designed to enable ships at the time to avoid the risk of the dangerous seas near the islands lying off the northern tip of Scotland. When the age of steam replaced the age of sail, these bigger ships were too big for the canal, and today it is pleasure craft, barges and smaller craft that use the Canal.

It takes time to travel through locks, but that too is a big part of the journey, just seeing the lock doors close, the water rise and then moving through to the next part of the canal or Loch, watching birds, people, the sky and clouds pass by, all creates a magical journey. There are a number of Barges that take guests and if you google Caledonian Canal cruises you will find a number of operators.

On the North Sea end of the Caledonian Canal you will find Fort George a fort built in 1748 near Ardersier, while on the Irish Sea side there is Fort William where a fort was built in 1655, but has since been demolished. Fort William is just below Ben Nevis Mountain that rises to 4406 feet, the highest mountain in Britain.

Even if you don't travel on the Canal, there are plenty of villages and places to see in this area of Scotland. Inverness is the biggest city here next to the River Ness, and a good place to base yourself and see both Inverness itself and the many villages around it, or cross over Scotland to the west side by road.

In Inverness there is Inverness Castle and Inverness Cathedral as well as the town to see. You can also take Dolphin Cruises from Inverness and a good place to see is the old Victorian Market on Academy Street. Two places just outside of Inverness that you should try and see are Culloden Moor the location of the disastrous battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charming and his Scottish supporters took on the might of British King George II and his army and were slaughtered.

Not far away either is Cawdor Castle, built in the 14th Century, just outside Nairn. This castle has a connection to William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, with Macbeth called the "Thane of Cawdor".

Loch Ness – See www.lochness.com is also west of Inverness, about 13 miles (21 Kilometres). The Loch has been made famous because of the Loch Ness Monster. People come here in the hope of seeing it, but even if you don't see it, you will be entranced by the sightings that have occurred and the stories that surround them. The ruins of Urquhart Castle are located here too next to the Lake and there is the Loch Ness Trail walkway and also the Great Glen Way walkway – a 70 mile trail that leads you through some beautiful scenery. You need to be well prepared to do these walks as the weather can quickly change and being caught in a blizzard is not fun. There are also lots of places for cycling, fishing, hikes and even rock climbing too.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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