A light in the north

The water of life: Whisky (without the ‘e’)

The northern lights of old Aberdeen,
mean home sweet home to me,
the northern lights of Aberdeen are what I long to see.
I’ve been a wanderer all of my life.
And many a sight I’ve seen,
God speed the day
when I’m on my way
to my home in Aberdeen.

– Aberdeen’s song

The Footdee (or Fittie) lighthouse and the fishermen’s cottages are shrouded in a sea fog, a hair… symbolic for the day that’s in it… 400 miles south in London, Theresa May with one of a pen, is cutting Britain’s ties with Europe.

It is fitting to be in Aberdeen on this day, for this fishing port has been pivotal in the modern day history of Scotland and Britain and their place in Europe.

Around the corner in the harbour a fleet of container ships is a constant reminder that Aberdeen has also been the oil capital of Europe.

It is this oil discovered 50 years ago in the North Sea which has subsidised Britain’s economy and fuelled Scotland’s independence crusade.

But it is running out and by many estimates much of it will be gone in just 30 years.

It was flowing some 25-30 years ago when I decamped here to University. I learned quickly of its impact on this Granite City and its citizens. More importantly I learned quickly the wye tae spik proper, what to order in a bakers and where to drink.

Aberdeen, because of its location on the north-east coast of Scotland, has always seen itself as part of Europe – you can hear it in their tongue with Scandinavian influences informing the local Doric dialect.

The way we were: When we lived in Aberdeen

Not that I knew that when I ordered a roll on my first day here in the bakers only to be presented with flattened salty-tasting croissant.

The roll I was after they call a softie. I suspect they were playing with this innocent 17-year-old Glaswegian but I learned to love it over nine years living in the city both before and after University, as I did the people with their dry wit and warmth.

The buttery, or roll, originally salted for the Fittie fishermen so that it would not go stale while they were at sea, will be on the breakfast menu on my overnight stay here, as will more countrywide Scottish delcacies such as haggis and porridge. They like their salt here and the Scottish way is to eat your oats with salt.

Aberdeen is thankfully much as I remember it…. I used to mow the grass by the beachfront next to Fittie but to my shock my old students’ union is now a craft beer haunt.

Well, if it had to go…?

This is no ordinary craft brew though, it is an Aberdeenshire success story, BrewDog which having conquered the market in Britain is opening its first bar in Ireland this year.

We visit the brewery a few miles out the city for some tastings, as you do, and to learn of their modern self-confessed geeky approach to their craft.

I’d say more craftsmanlike, crusading and thirst-quenching… they have ventured into gin and are even talking about taking on the holy of holies, whisky.

That ;puts the tin hat on it: An armoured knight with a smile

Whisper it around her, particularly in Glen Garioch (pronounced Glengeary) where they wince at BrewDog’ bid to alter the rules of whisky so as to produce a drink which hasn’t been distilled for at least three years.

Whisky is a serious subject, as it should be, in the north-east of Scotland and it is a mark of status if you are a member of the Whisky Club at the plush Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course.

You can put your name on a waiting list for a whisky locker and the chance to be in a club which includes Sir Alex Ferguson who first made his name as manager of Aberdeen FC.

Fergie, like the wanderer in the city song considers Aberdeen and the north-east as his spiritual home, as does former First Minister Alex Salmond whose constituency is here and who spent the early hours of the morning after the Scottish Referendum at Craig Wilson’s Eat at the Green village restaurant in Udny Green.

I believe that ‘Kilted Chef’ Craig would have lifted his spirits with his anecdotes, not to mention the food. I devoured his Aberdeen Angus beef like a dog would a bone while the scallops tasted of sea and the crisp air.

The things that drams are made of: Fergie’s locker

This being the gateway to the Highlands, history is everywhere and where history is you will find country houses, castles, curses and ghosts.

Our last stop is Fyvie Castle where Thomas the Rhymer is said to have put a curse on the family for not letting him in one stormy night while a green-dressed lady is said to haunt the halls.

The ghosts of my own past follow me as I retrace my steps at end of day near my cosy Altens Hotel billet. I take a trip down Memory Lane to Cove Bay where I bought my first home. It is pitch black as I make my way back up from the shore and I get lost.

Or maybe I am in no hurry to leave.

The wanderer has returned to his home…. in Aberdeen.

Sitting pretty: In Brig o Balgownie as a young fella


How to get there: Aer Lingus operated by Stobart Air operates 11 flights per week Dublin-Aberdeen. Lead-in fares from €34.99 one-way. See www.aerlingus.com.

Where to stay: Aberdeen Altens Hotel. Seewww.aberdeenaltens-hotel.co.uk. £80.75/€95.

Where to eat: Eat on the Green www.eatonthegreen.co.uk. £39/€45 for two course or £45/€50 for three courses. Home of ‘The Kilted Chef’, Craig Wilson, it uses the north-east’s finest natural larder.

Where to visit: BrewDog Tour £15/€18 www.brewdog.com/brewery tour of Ellon brewery including tastings.
Glen Garioch Distillery Tour www.glengarioch.com/. £7.50/€8.50 including tastings.
Fyvie www.nts.org.uk/Visit/Fyvie-Castle.com. Adult £12.50/€13. Family £29.50/€32. Ghosts, legends, art, arms and armour.
Meldrum House: www.meldrumhouse.com. Fine dining and the Cave Bar.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail

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