It’s called the silver city and as my taxi approaches the outskirts of Aberdeen, I begin to understand why. You look around and you see granite buildings everywhere. Granite is a key element in the architecture of Aberdeen, the third most populous city in Scotland.
Why silver? That’s because when sunlight hits the mica crystals in the granite, the buildings sparkle. Even though I reach Aberdeen on a particularly overcast and windy day in March, there is still a lot to admire about the city.
Aberdeen began as two burghs—old Aberdeen and Aberdeen—that eventually became one in 1891. Today, it is a curious mix of its history and a modern “supercity”.
My visit, in fact, began in old Aberdeen, from where I decide to walk around. Before I start, I ask my driver, Allan Reid, if I should be wary of anything. “Just the odd drunk near the beach. So avoid going there after dark,” Reid replies in his thick, beautiful Scottish accent. “It’s a nice city otherwise.”
While cabs will be expensive, a practical—and economical—way of travelling around Aberdeen is to use the bus network. The First Bus app gives you the live location of every bus, the nearby bus stands based on your current location, and also allows you to purchase m-tickets.
As a traveller, I would also recommend bookmarking Union Square on your navigation apps and map. It is the closest landmark to both the Aberdeen railway station and bus station, apart from being a popular shopping location. For those who don’t want to shop, there are plenty of other landmarks, from a horticultural delight to an iconic football stadium.
St Machar’s Cathedral
There’s a particular road in the old Aberdeen region which catches the eye. Known as the Chanonry, it’s a cobbled street which leads to the 12th century St Machar’s Cathedral, located in the city’s university area. It is now known as a High Kirk rather than a cathedral, for it has had no bishop since 1690.
Also known as the Cathedral Church of St Machar, it is a fine example of a fortified kirk, with twin towers built in the fashion of 14th century tower houses; spires were added in the 15th century. According to records at the National Churches Trust, a place of worship was established in this area in about 580 CE. A stone carved with a Celtic cross, an indication of the site’s Celtic roots and believed to have been associated with this original church, is also on display in the church.
A unique part of the architecture is its oak ceiling, erected in 1520. A guided tour document tells me that this is probably the earliest flat ceiling in a British public building. It is also a work of art of real importance, for the ceiling illustrates the verse from Psalm 47 and is decorated with 48 carved and painted heraldic shields, representing historical figures from Henry VIII to the Holy Roman emperor Charles V, according to the National Churches Trust website.
It is only when you climb a staircase through the church gift shop and stand on the upper floor that you can truly admire the interiors of the building—the stained-glass windows, the church organ, and, most of all, the calm and quiet environment.
Right down the Chanonry from St Machar’s is a small gate that gives way to a path—almost a slope—to Seaton Park, which lies on the banks of the Don and is one of the city’s largest green spaces. Aberdeen, in fact, gets its name from the Don river, roughly translating to “mouth of the river Don”.
Walking down this steep slope, I reach the Cathedral Walk, dotted with colourful flower beds and benches, some of which are also memorials dedicated to individuals by their families.
The long pathways are scenic, perfect for a stroll. The public park is also used frequently by students as a path to the university area since Seaton sits between the University of Aberdeen campus and the Hillhead Halls of Residence.
The Don, which eventually reaches the North Sea, passes through the edge of the park—almost like a natural boundary—and if you follow the riverbank, you can reach Brig o’ Balgownie, a 13th century Gothic bridge that has stood the test of time. Since the park is low-lying, it has a tendency to flood. In 2016, a part of the park was turned into a designated wetlands region to tackle flooding issues.
Aberdeen Beach is what gives the silver city its “golden sands”. The city’s long coastline, facing Aberdeen Bay and the North Sea, has long stretches of sand, protected by groynes, or walls, that provide a form of defence against erosion and movement of sediment.
While there isn’t much to do at the beach on the particularly cold, windy afternoon I am there—apart from spotting a few runners keeping pace with their running mates and a couple playing fetch with their dog—Aberdeen Beach attracts water sports enthusiasts and surfers in summer (June-August). The cold is harsh but the panoramic views and vastness of the North Sea are worth every second.
A short walk away from the beach lies Pittodrie Street, home to the Aberdeen Football Club and the Pittodrie Stadium. This is like a small pilgrimage for football fans. Before he transformed Manchester United into one of the most recognisable football clubs on the planet, it was at the Aberdeen Football Club that Scotland’s Sir Alex Ferguson made his name as a football manager.
Under Ferguson, who was at Pittodrie Street from 1978-86, Aberdeen Football Club enjoyed an immensely successful spell, winning three Scottish league championships, four Scottish Cups and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983. It is no surprise that a bronze statue of Ferguson stands outside Pittodrie Stadium, a memorable picture spot for football fans.
But that’s not the only reason for you to visit. Pittodrie Stadium is also the first stadium to feature a dugout, known in the modern game as the technical area, which was devised by former trainer and coach Donald Colman in the 1920s.
How to get there
Reaching Aberdeen: You generally have to take connecting flights from India to Aberdeen. The best option is to head there from Heathrow, London.
Within the city: Cabs might not suit everyone’s budget. FirstBus is a great app to access and use the city’s bus services.
Walk around: Use the fun trail guide maps on the Aberdeen City Council website to explore the city on foot.
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