The third-largest city in Scotland, ABERDEEN, commonly known as the “Granite City”, lies 120 miles northeast of Edinburgh on the banks of the rivers Dee and Don, smack in the middle of the northeast coast. Based around a working harbour, it’s a place that people either love or hate. Certainly, while some extol the many tones and colours of Aberdeen’s granite buildings, others see only uniform grey and find the city grim and cold. The weather doesn’t help: Aberdeen lies on a latitude north of Moscow and the cutting wind and driving rain (even if it does transform the buildings into sparkling silver) can be tiresome.
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In the twelfth century, Alexander I noted “Aberdon” as one of his principal towns, and by the thirteenth century it had become a centre for trade and fishing. A century or so later Bishop Elphinstone founded the Catholic university in the area north of town known today as Old Aberdeen, while the rest of the city developed as a mercantile centre and important port. By the mid-twentieth century, Aberdeen’s traditional industries were in decline, but the discovery of oil in the North Sea transformed the place from a depressed port into a boom town. Since the 1970s, oil has made Aberdeen a hugely wealthy and self-confident place. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, it can sometimes feel like a soulless city, existing mainly as a departure point for the transient population who live on the oil platforms out to sea.
South of Aberdeen, the A92 and the main train line follow the coast to the pretty harbour town of STONEHAVEN. Two miles south, the stunningly capricious Dunnottar Castle is one of Scotland's finest castles, a huge ninth-century fortress set on a three-sided sheer cliff jutting into the sea – a setting stricking enough to be chosen as the abckdrop for Zeffirelli's movie version of Hamlet. Once the principal fortress of the northeast, the ruins are worth a good root around, and there are many dramatic views out to the crashing sea. Bloodstained drama splatters the castle's past – not least in 1297, when the entire English Plantaganet garrison was burnt alive here by William Wallace.