North East Scotland is the low-lying eastern region of Scotland bounded by the Firth of Forth to the south and the Moray Firth to the north; its cities are Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth. It's not an administrative region, but has a distinct cultural identity, and (especially in rural Aberdeenshire) dialects that are distinctive and to English ears anything but distinct.
Most visitors will approach from south to north.
It's quickly reached from Edinburgh, and much of west Fife is commuterland and industry, yet here are the ancient abbey of 1 Dunfermline and exquisite coastal village of Culross. The scenery improves east of 2 Kirkcaldy; Falkland Palace lies inland, and the coast ("The East Neuk") has a series of picturesque fishing villages. From here there are boat trips to 1 Isle of May, a nature reserve. The highlight of Fife is classy 3 St Andrews.
|Perth and Kinross |
The River Tay rolls out of the mountains at bonny 4 Perth, which is the usual gateway to the central highlands via Dunkeld. But its lowland environs are equally attractive: Glendevon into Gleneagles is one of the prettiest glens in Scotland, and Crieff is a fine town. The autumn colours around Perth can rival those of New England.
Its city of 5 Dundee was once a drab industrial place, but it's now rejuvenated with galleries, museums and a couple of unusual sailing ships. Next door is the golf resort of Carnoustie, and further north the fishing town of Arbroath. Inland, set in farmland and fruit-growing country, is 2 Glamis Castle. Mountains rear up beyond, towards Glenshee.
A large county, centred on the grey granite city of 6 Aberdeen. Other fishing ports along its coast are 7 Fraserburgh and 8 Stonehaven. Lots of castles here, from ruined dramatic Dunnottar on the coast, through Castle Fraser, Haddo House, Fyvie, Crathes and Craigevar, to the brooding Victorian grandmother of Baronial architecture 3 Balmoral.
Mostly rural, bordering the Moray Firth, and its main town 9 Elgin is a small place noted for its cathedral. The hills and valleys just south produce excellent single malt whisky: Dufftown (unlike Rome) was "built upon seven stills". Further west, Findhorn has a kibbutz atmosphere, amidst sand dunes and gentle hippy smiles.
The defining feature of the northeast is that it's lowland in spite of being a long way north: the geological fault line between lowlands and highlands runs diagonally across Scotland from Helensburgh near Glasgow to Stonehaven near Aberdeen. Beyond is geologically highland but culturally still lowland. So the region has fertile farmland and good overland routes, and has always been well connected to the economies of the south. Cattle, fishing and knitwear are the traditional industries but in the 20th century its fortunes rose, and later waned, with the North Sea oil and gas industries. Inland are the Grampian mountains (old, rounded granite domes, quite unlike the spiky peaks of the west) with forests and upland heaths. Queen Victoria was fond of this region and built a luxurious castle at Balmoral: she chose well.
For Fife, Perth and Dundee, use 1 Edinburgh Airport (EDI IATA). It has a good range of flights across Europe, from London and elsewhere in UK; and it's west of the city so you can connect without getting embroiled in city traffic. Take the direct Jetbus from the airport to Halbeath Interchange for bus connections across Fife, or to Inverkeithing for trains north via Kirkcaldy and Leuchars (for St Andrews) to Dundee and Aberdeen. Some trains for Perth also run via Inverkeithing, but some don't: take the airport bus or tram to Haymarket where all northbound services call. With a hire car, turn west and within ten minutes you're crossing the new Forth Bridge into Fife, and Perth and Dundee are about an hour away.
For Aberdeenshire and Moray, use 2 Aberdeen Airport (ABZ IATA). There's a reasonable selection of flights from Europe and London. Onward public transport is good towards Aberdeen and the coast, but you'll want a car to explore north.
The East Coast main line follows the coast, spanning the Forth and the Tay by spectacular bridges, so the main cities are well connected to central Scotland and England. Trains from London Kings Cross (via Peterborough, York and Newcastle) usually involve changing at Edinburgh, but 3 or 4 trains daily continue to Dundee and Aberdeen. The Caledonian Highland Sleeper runs overnight from London Euston to Dundee, Carnoustie, Arbroath, Montrose, Stonehaven and Aberdeen. It serves other stations (eg Perth, on the train portion for Inverness) but in the very early hours of the morning; you'd do better to take the Lowland Sleeper to Edinburgh then a standard daytime train onward. The return southbound times are less inconvenient.
There are frequent trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow across the northeast as far north as Aberdeen, amd a train runs between Aberdeen and Inverness every couple of hours.
The main road from the south is motorway standard as far as Perth and Dundee. From Edinburgh the M90 leaps across the Firth of Forth (no toll) and heads north to Perth: either bypass Perth on M90 and head into the highlands on A9, or take A90 along Tayside to Dundee, Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Peterhead and Fraserburgh. From Glasgow follow M80 to Stirling then A9 to Perth.
Buses connect the main towns to Edinburgh and Glasgow hourly. Citylink is the main operator but has competition to keep fares low; there's even an electric bus between Edinburgh and Dundee.
Aberdeen has overnight ferries to Orkney and Shetland.
There are no ferries from Scotland to Europe, Faroes or Iceland. The nearest continental connection is from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to IJMuiden near Amsterdam.
Buses and trains are frequent along the well-populated coastal strip as far north as Aberdeen, and from Perth north up the A9 to Dunkeld and Aberfeldy. Note that St Andrews doesn't have a railway but there's a frequent connecting bus to Leuchars railway station. An hourly bus 201 runs up Royal Deeside from Aberdeen to Ballater (for Balmoral) and Braemar. Hourly bus 35 runs from Aberdeen past the airport to Banff, Buckie and Elgin. Public transport is otherwise sparse and you'll need a car.
- Castles: choose from Blair Atholl, Craigevar, Crathes, Dunnottar, Fraser, Fyvie, Glamis, Kildrummy, Loch Leven, and innumerable smaller battered stumps.
- Palaces and grand mansions: choose from Balmoral, Culross, Falkland, Haddo House, Scone . . .
- Old fishing villages: along the Fife coast are Elie, Pittenweem and Crail; north of Dundee find Arbroath, Montrose, Stonehaven and Peterhead.
- Glens: Glendevon and Gleneagles, the Tay valley, Glenshee and Glenisla, Deeside and more . . . anywhere except dreary modern Glenrothes.
- Golf: the renowned courses are at St Andrews and Carnoustie.
Over the years numerous traditional Scottish dishes have been created in North East Scotland, and no trip to the region would be complete without trying the local cuisine.
The Forfar Bridie
Originating from the county town of Angus, Forfar. Bridies are said "to have been 'invented' by a local baker in the 1850s." The name may refer to the pie's frequent presence on wedding menus, or to Margaret Bridie of Glamis, "who sold them at the Buttermarket in Forfar." They are made from pastry filled with mince (with or without onion), steak or even chicken, with butter and beef suet, salt and pepper. Similar to pasties, but because they are made without potatoes, they are much lighter in texture. Bakers in Forfar traditionally use shortcrust pastry for their bridies, but in the rest of Scotland, flaky pastry is preferred (It is possible in butchers or even fishmongers in Forfar to find flaky pastry bridies). Before being baked, the bridie's filling is placed on pastry dough, which is then folded into a semi-circular or triangular shape; finally, the edges are crimped. If the baker pokes one hole in the top of a bridie, it is understood to be plain, or without onions. Those that do include onions have two holes. the bridie continues to be a popular snack in Forfar with many locals eating them for lunch at the weekend.
The Arbroath Smokie
Arbroath smokies are a type of smoked haddock – a speciality of the town of Arbroath in Angus. The Arbroath Smokie originated in the small fishing village of Auchmithie, three miles northeast of Arbroath. Local legend has it a store caught fire one night, destroying barrels of haddock preserved in salt. The following morning, the people found some of the barrels had caught fire, cooking the haddock inside. Inspection revealed the haddock to be quite tasty. Towards the end of the 19th century, as Arbroath's fishing industry died, the Town Council offered the fisherfolk from Auchmithie land in an area of the town known as the fit o' the toon. It also offered them use of the modern harbour. Much of the Auchmithie population then relocated, bringing the Arbroath Smokie recipe with them. Today, some 15 local businesses produce Arbroath smokies, selling them in major supermarkets in the UK and online. In 2004, the European Commission registered the designation "Arbroath smokies" as a Protected Geographical Indication under the EU's Protected Food Name Scheme, acknowledging its unique status.
- Malt whisky: the best known distilleries are around Dufftown in Moray, but with an estimated 126 Scotch Whisky distilleries across Scotland, you'll seldom be far from one. Only a minority are open to the public, and an overlapping minority market a "single malt", but most of the output is blended into the various commercial brands. Those actively in production in 2017 just in this region alone are: Aberargie, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balvenie, BenRiach, Benrinnes, Benromach, Blair Athol, Brackla, Braeval, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Craigellachie, Daftmill, Dailuaine, Dufftown, Eden Mill, Edradour, Glenallachie, Glenburgie, Glencadam, Glendronach, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glen Keith, Glenlivet, Glenlossie, Glen Moray, Glenrothes, Glen Spey, Glentauchers, Glenturret, Inchgower, Kininvie, Knockando, Knock, Linkwood, Lochnagar, Macallan, Macduff, Mannochmore, Miltonduff, Mortlach, Royal Brackla, Roseisle, Speyburn, Strathisla, Strathmill, Tamdhu, Tamnavulin, Tomintoul, and Tormore. We gonna need a bigger ice-bucket.
A natural loop is to tour along the coast through the northeast, follow the Moray coast road into Inverness, then return south through Speyside and the central Highlands towards Perth.
A shorter loop is via Deeside into Braemar.
|North East Scotland (Scottish Parliament electoral region)|