Aberdeenshire, very up North in the UK, is not known just for its castles, stunning coastlines and friendly people, but also the adventure activities they had on offer!
I flew up from London Heathrow early on a Monday morning and arrived into Aberdeen Airport by 8:30 in the morning, meaning I could make the most of my time!
The first place on our itinerary was the Glen Tanar Estate, a huge countryside estate in Royal Deeside. Located in the Cairngorms National Park, there is plenty of scenery to set your eyes upon, but also visitors have the chance of spotting wildlife, hillwalking, salmon fishing and even embarking on a Land Rover safari!
Guests have the chance of staying on-site in one of 8 self-catering cottages dating back to the Victorian times. Fully restored and luxuriously furnished, each individually designed cottage offers a cosy winter bolthole or a fantastic summer escape!
After spending a few hours walking around the beautiful estate we headed off for a delicious lunch at The Boat Inn in nearby Aboyne. Once again surrounded by beautiful countryside, the Boat Inn was the perfect stop for a pub lunch, I imagine it is even more snug in winter!
Our evening accommodation was the Glen Dye Cabins, located in a private estate of over 3000 acres! Now, this is where I would want to live if I felt like escaping it all! With air so fresh you can hear your lungs thanking you, the Glen Dye Cabins offer an atmosphere of total freedom. Freedom to run around and explore, making you feel like you are 6 again and discovering a whole new world.
We were lucky to be treated to a Land Rover circuit of some of the estate, we drove past oodles of sheep, hills, rushing rivers, beautiful homes and some of the sweetest accommodations (including a private cabin that offers travellers complete solitude… and a stunning outdoor tub!).
I stayed in no.4 Steading Cottage, a semi-detached, beautifully designed holiday cottage perfect for families and/or groups of friends. With all the homely amenities you would want, including hiking gear, my first thought was I need to come back here with Alex and Baxter, it was perfect dog walk territory and had a very romantic feel to it, we even had our own wood-fired outdoor hot tub under a string of fairy lights.
Glen Dye offers miles and miles of stunning countryside perfect for walking, running, hiking, cycling and even river swimming, after rain is the perfect opportunity to take a canoe to the water.
Day 2 we were up early ready for a quick journey to Crathes Castle, a National Trust owned castle complete with painted ceilings, family portraits, tea rooms, beautiful gardens and nature trails. Whilst we did spend some time admiring the incredible castle turrets, we were here to try out their Go Ape course!
Go Ape is exactly as it sounds, imagine swinging through the forest like a monkey, and you pretty much have it! Go Ape at Crathes Castle includes climbing, jumping, flying, crawling and zip lining, the longest zipline being 125 metres. I have always known about Go Ape, but never tried it before, let’s just say I had a bad experience aged 10 on a school trip in the Isle of Wight. I had climbed all the way to the top of a zip line, freaked out, cried, and had to climb back down again, with my entire group of classmates watching on. This time I just had 3 others watch me as I triumphed the zip line, squealed on the Tarzan swing, and got an extremely muddy bum. I genuinely felt a great sense of accomplishment having completed the whole course (no short cuts, and no public meltdowns!), I also had a lot of fun doing it. I even started Googling courses near me, turns our there is one just down the road at Ally Pally, although a little more Urban and a little less nature.
After enjoying a very homely lunch at Buchanans Bistro, we drove onward to Stonehaven, a pretty coastal town just south of Aberdeen itself. Busy with sailing yachts, Stonehaven is a great gateway to the North Sea, offering a variety of activities for visitors of a range of abilities. We decided to go paddleboarding, another activity I had never tried before, another one I felt a little apprehensive about (more because the North Sea is known to be a little chilly!).
We were met by our paddleboarding instructor Dave who immediately put us all at ease with his friendliness. We changed into our wetsuits, picked up our paddleboards and headed down to the harbour edge. I was absolutely convinced I would be freezing cold as soon as I put my (covered) toe in the water, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were taught how to correctly carry our paddleboards and how to balance on our knees, off we floated into the harbour for a practice. Once we were confident paddling whilst on our knees, Dave taught us how to stand up and keep our balance. My first shock was the wet suit really did work, I wasn’t cold at all, the second was that I found the paddleboards much sturdier than I thought I would (I am very clumsy…).
Once Dave was confident we weren’t going to fall in and drown (just kidding, the water isn’t deep and you can use your paddleboard for a Titanic style floatation device), we all stood on our boards and made our way out into the open sea! I was taken aback at how much I loved it, being in the sea was liberating, I much prefer paddleboarding to swimming, it is less wet! Whilst it did rain for around 10 minutes, the skies opened up and treated us to not one, but two stunning rainbows! I felt like I was floating up into heaven, turns out I was just floating towards Norway!
We stayed fairly close to the coastline, and what a spectacular coastline it is! The perspective from the ocean is completely different, we were shadowed by stunning green cliffs, we paddled into secret caves, and even turned the corner to be met by the view of a 15th-century castle (Dunnottar). I felt like I could drift down the coastline forever and constantly be impressed by its beauty.
On the way back into Stonehaven we were (I am not being dramatic here) surrounded by a pod of dolphins, jumping and flipping out the water. If you travel at the right time of year you can also see whales and puffins if you’re lucky! I genuinely felt sad when we got back to shore and had to vacate the sea, once again I pushed my limits and was massively rewarded. The views alone will fill my memory forever, let alone the workout I just had!
That night we stayed at Thainstone House, north of the city of Aberdeen. What is now the hotel was once a grand family home with roots in the 18th century. The house has been elegantly restored and the staff offer a warm welcome. I was lucky enough to stay in a large, traditionally designed bedroom with a spacious bathroom and even a sample of local whiskey.
We dined as a group in the hotel’s 2 AA Rosette restaurant and were treated to a beautifully presented tasting menu. The ingredients are all locally sourced where possible, keeping the menu seasonal and fresh. For those who don’t want to stay on-site for an evening meal, afternoon tea is delicious and also available at the hotel!
On our last day in Aberdeenshire, our first activity was hiking up Bennachie, a large hill that has been home to people for thousands of years. There are various trails up the hill, visitors have the option of gentle walks as well as tougher hikes, you start through the woodland before walking up past the trees and out into the open countryside with incredible 360-degree views.
Our final activity was clay pigeon shooting at the Lochter Activity Centre, this is a great place for groups of friends looking for something to do! This activity can be tailored towards novices and pros, just let the guys know! I personally was an absolute novice (like with most things) so the instructor really had to go through things step by step with me. I was convinced I would accidentally shoot someone, turns out it is pretty hard to do that, but I did manage to shoot some clays!
My flight home was around 6pm that night, I was back to Heathrow before 7:30pm and home an hour later! It’s easy to forget we can squeeze so much into a short amount of time. I loved my second visit to Aberdeenshire and I am so pleased I pushed my limits, it’s safe to say not only did I really enjoy the activities, but I genuinely felt proud with each one I completed!
This trip was written in collaboration with the Aberdeenshire Tourist Board who kindly hosted my stay.