WHEN it comes to bonny sunrises and sunsets, the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire provide their fair share and more.
The bustling Royal Burgh of Inverurie has some fine spots for viewing them, not to mention some pretty vistas all of its own, especially down by the River Don.
There are also plenty of great shopping and eating opportunities in this handsome, expanding market town, making it the perfect base to soak up the wider area, which abounds with historic castles and evocative standing stones.
As Easter Aquhorthies stone circle on the edge of town highlights, people have been living here for thousands of years. The oldest church – St Andrews – dates back to the ninth century.
Inverurie sits on two rivers, the Don and the Ury (in Gaelic the name means “mouth of the Ury”), and is said to have been founded by David of Huntingdon, whose great-great grandson Robert the Bruce was victorious at the Battle of Inverurie in 1308.
The town was occupied by Jacobites in 1745, resulting in a second battle in the town, a victory for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men.
Its earliest charter dates from 1558, but the modern layout took shape after the building of the Aberdeenshire Canal, which linked Port Elphinstone (now part of Inverurie) with Aberdeen Harbour in 1806.
German bombers hit the town once during World War Two, a sobering reminder that nearby Aberdeen was frequently bombed between 1940 and 1943.
Though still largely agricultural – Thainstone Mart is the biggest livestock market in Scotland – the oil boom of the 1970s attracted new industries and people, and the town continues to expand.
What to do
Start your visit with a donder round the compact town centre, taking in the historic town hall – now a busy community centre – war memorial and exploring the two main arteries, West high Street and Market Place.
From there, head towards Port Elphinstone and follow the River Don. Depending on how far you want to go, you may soon find yourself in the open country, exploring woodland and admiring the views of surrounding Garioch, before eventually joining the old canal towpath.
Native Margaret Taylor recommends another favourite walk. “No visit to Inverurie would be complete without a walk up Bennachie,” she says. “It’s a reasonably small hill – certainly not a Munro or Corbett – and because the countryside is quite flat it can be seen for miles around. It’s famous across Aberdeenshire and everyone who lives there has probably climbed it at least once.
“You can do just one peak, such as the Mither Tap, or walk right along the range. It’s relatively easy, though quite steep at the start and rocky at the very top. The views are stunning.”
A visit to East Aquhorthies stone circle, on the outskirts of Inverurie, is a also must. Erected about 4,000 years ago, the ancient pinkish stones are mysterious: archaeologists and historians can only speculate about what they represent or signify. The north east of Scotland has around 100 recumbent stone circles, including nearby Loanhead, at Daviot. The beautifully carved Brandsbutt Stone, which dates back to the Pictish period, is also on the northern outskirts of Inverurie and well worth a visit.
Garioch Heritage Centre, on Harlaw Road, was built in what used to be one of the UK’s biggest locomotive works. This lovely wee museum tells the story of the area through its people with a lively array of displays, exhibitions, illustrations and photographs. There’s a good café, too.
If the weather is poor, kids of all ages (including the young at heart) will jump at a visit to Skyline trampoline park (skylinetrampolne.co.uk), where you can bounce till your heart’s content for as little as £6 a session.
Where to shop
Inverurie Farmer’s Market takes place every second Saturday of the month, from 9am – 1pm in Market Square, showcasing an excellent range of local produce and craft. Vintage enthusiasts, meanwhile, won’t want to miss the weekly Sunday market and car boot sale at the Thainstone centre.
The Whisky Shop on Burnside (inveruriewhiskyshop.com), stocks more than 350 different bottles of the water of life, not to mention a fantastic range of gins. A must for connoisseurs and an ideal start to any whisky trail.
Nearby West High Street has a plethora of stores, including quirky Nickel ‘n’ Dime, a vast emporium which appears to sell pretty much everything, specialist food shop and deli The Green Grocer and some great charity shops.
If you’re willing to make the 10 minute drive to Kemnay, meanwhile, Geek Bothy (geekbothy,co.uk) stocks arguably the best selection of gifts in the north east, and also runs a schedule of craft workshops, taking in everything from silversmithing to lamp-making and needlecraft.
Where to eat
If it’s a full Scottish breakfast you’re after, jump aboard Roy’s Bus, which sits in a layby on the A96 at Pitcaple. Tasty, fun and fantastic value.
Back on West High Street, the Kilted Frog deli serves some of the best coffee, cakes and sandwiches in town, and has shelves overflowing with tasty and unusual ingredients from all over the world.
Fennel, in Ten Burn Lane (fennelrestaurant.co.uk), meanwhile, has earned a growing reputation for seasonal modern Scottish cooking, but if you’re looking for something spicier, the Shahi Darbar Indian restaurant on Ephinstone Road is rated by locals and offers an impressive array of vegetarian and vegan options.
Carnivores, meanwhile, will certainly want to visit the Porterhouse Steakhouse at the Thainstone Centre (porterhousethainstone.co.uk), where the burgers are almost as good as the perfectly cooked steaks.
Where to stay
Country style: Thainstone House offers period elegance with a modern twist, set in extensive, peaceful grounds. The spa alone is well worth the trip. From £65 a night.
Lively: Pub with rooms The Black Bull Inn, in North Street, promises the friendliest welcome in town. Rooms from £70.
Cheap and cheerful: Airbnb.com has a range of self-catering apartments near the town centre, starting at just £32 a night.
What to do nearby
Glen Garioch Distillery (glengarioch.com), in the town of Oldmeldrum, just 10 minutes away, has been distilling whisky since 1797. The excellent visitor centre hosts a range of tours, all of which end in at least one dram.
As Margaret Taylor points out, castle buffs will be in their element here. “Castle Fraser is the closest to Inverurie, but Drum Castle, Fyvie Castle, Haddo House, Leith Hall and Crathes Castle are all within a 40 minute drive,” she says. “And all have fantastic grounds for walking in.”
David Gibson recommends taking in the sea air. “Inverurie is the perfect location for visiting north east fishing villages such as Pennan, under an hour away, where Local Hero was filmed,” he says. “Award winning Balmedie Beach isn’t far either.”
In the coming weeks I will be visiting Kirkwall, Wigtonshire and Troon. Send all your hints and tips, with the best things to do, as well as places to eat, drink and stay, to [email protected]
Source : HeraldScotland