What it's like
Aberdeenshire and Kincardine: it's a big country in at least two senses of the word. The Scots word 'dour' describes the grey granite of Aberdeen – the lowish-rainfall, high chill-factor climate – and even the tough, strong people who consider their language, the Doric, as the pure English of which anything else spoken in these islands is a degenerate dialect.
There's some great walking to be had on the windswept North Sea coast. On the lowlands inland, combine walking and whisky along the gentle Speyside Way: no trail anywhere passes more distilleries than this one. Of the other big rivers, the Dee was developed as walking country by Queen Victoria and has just got better ever since. Quiet Donside is noted for its seven distinctly different castles.
Aberdeenshire is famous for its big hills. But it ought to be more famous than it is for its small ones. A dozen of mini-mountains, many of them topped off with naked granite, are loved by the locals and ignored by anybody else. There's Clachnaben and Bennachie, Tap o' Noth and the Buck o' Cabrach and Corriehabbie. Glenlivet Estate is great for its waymarked moorland walks.
But if the small hills get ignored, it's because of the big ones. Lochnagar, and the high Cairngorms above Braemar: these are Britain's bleakest and most fearsome, high plateaux of granite gravel and sudden huge hollows, where you peer down from your crag top to a silver river, a large herd of red deer, and a surprise summer snowfield.
- Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven A short but romantic cliff walk to one of the most attractively ruined castles in Scotland. Return via the Shell House in Carron woods.
- Bennachie The rockiest of Aberdeenshire's mini-mountains, with good paths and a big view towards the sea
- Lochnagar Up by Meikle Pap, down by Queen Victoria's 'wee bothy' at Glas-allt-Shiel, a serious, richly varied mountain walk on clear paths. Down by Dubh Loch: even wilder. Or a simple stroll around Loch Muick
Must see and do
- Take a peek up John Brown's kilt Queen Victoria's faithful servant is on the Blue Trail at Balmoral, on a pedestal high enough for a sneaky peek. Ugly castle, excellent walks.
- Drink whisky in the Highlands' highest village The highest village is either Braemar or Tomintoul, depending how you measure, but the whisky's much better in Tomintoul.
- Find out if you're a 'loon' or a 'quine' Doric for a lad, and a girl, respectively. 'Ay ay fit like?' is the Doric greeting
Destination County : Aberdeen & Grampian