North of Royal Deeside is the lesser-known valley of the Don, Aberdeen's second river.
This relatively little-visited corner of the northeast is an historian's and archaeologist's dream, as it is littered with medieval castles, Pictish stone circles and Iron-Age hillforts. A quarter of all Britain's stone circles can be found here (if you are prepared to look hard enough).
Local Sights & Activities for Don Valley
The Local tourist offices have free leaflets on the region's archaeological sites, with background information and details of how to find them. The main sites are included in the tourist board's Stone Circle Trail. There's also a well-signposted Castle Trail, which includes the area's main castles. One of these castles, Corgarff, stands at the southern end of the notorious Lecht Road, which runs from Cock Bridge to Tomintoul. This area, known as The Lecht, is one of Scotland's main ski centres.
The solid farming town of Inverurie is 17 miles northwest of Aberdeen on the A96 to Inverness. It makes a useful base for visiting the numerous castles and ancient relics dotted around the area. The Tourist Information Centre is in the Town Hall on Market Place. Tel. 625800. Open Apr-Sept Mon-Sat 0900-1700; July-August 0930-1800. The Thainstone Mart, south of town just off the A96, is one of the largest livestock markets in the country, and interesting if you like that sort of thing. It's held Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 1000.
Phone code: +44 (0)1467
Inverurie Accommodation & Eateries
The best place to stay around Inverurie is the magnificent Pittodrie House Hotel, near Chapel of Garioch, Tel. 681444, 27 rooms. This fine baronial mansion originally belonged to the Earls of Mar, and the 2,000-acre estate was granted to them by Robert the Bruce for their loyalty at the Battle of Bannockburn. The opulent surroundings are matched by the superb cuisine.
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Thainstone House Hotel, to the south of Inverurie off the A96, Tel. 621643, is a luxurious country mansion offering excellent cuisine and leisure facilities. There's also a decent selection of cheaper guesthouses and B&Bs, including Breaslann Guest House, Old Chapel Rd, Tel. 621608.
About six miles southwest of Inverurie, off the B993 (turn first left after the village of Kemnay), is the magnificent Castle Fraser, T01330-833463 (NTS), castle, shop and tea-room, Apr-June and Sep Fri-Tue 1200-1700, Jul-Aug daily 1100-1700; garden and grounds all year daily 0800 till dusk, castle, garden and grounds £8 concession £5. Built in 1575 by the 6th Earl of Mar and similar in style to Crathes and Craigievar. The interior was remodelled in 1838 and many of the furnishings date from that period. There's a walled garden, tearoom and trails through the estate. A 'Woodland Secrets' area has recently been created where children can play amongst wooden sculptures, there is a bamboo snake, tepees and even a tree-house.
Close by, and signed off the B993, is the 4,000 year-old Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle. This archaeological site is overshadowed by Bennachie (1,732 ft), by far the best hill in the area and thought to be the site of Mons Graupius, in 83 AD, when the Romans defeated the Picts. It's a straightforward two-hour walk to the summit and the views from the top are great. There are various trails, though the most commonly used route starts from the Bennachie Centre, 1 mile beyond Chapel of Garioch, signposted off the A96 at Pitcaple, 5 miles northwest of Inverurie, T01467-681470, Apr-Oct Tue-Sun 1030-1700, Nov-Mar Wed-Sun 1000-1600. Near here is the Maiden Stone , a 10-ft-high Pictish gravestone with relief carvings showing what looks like an elephant, along with other creatures not normally found around these parts.
For more details of the various Bennachie Hill walks and the 'West Gordon Way', T794161. Bennachie Centre, T681470. Near here is the Maiden Stone, a 10-ft high Pictish gravestone with relief carvings showing what looks like an elephant, along with other creatures not normally found around these parts.
A few miles west of the turn-off to Chapel of Garioch, the B9002 heads west off the A96 to the village of Oyne, site of the Archaeolink Prehistory Park, T01464-851500, Mar-Oct daily 1000-1700, Nov-Feb 1000-1600 (last entry 1500), £5, concession £4.50, children £3.40. This state-of-the-art interpretative centre takes you on a journey back in time. It's a great introduction to the numerous ancient sites in the area and explains why the stone circles were built and what the various carved symbols mean. The 40-acre park includes various interesting features such as a reconstructed Iron Age farm, Stone-Age settlement and Roman camp, as well as a hilltop Iron-Age fort. The Archeodrome features audio-visual presentations which bring to life the ancient history of the area. There are even prehistoric craft workshops- and thankfully, a modern tea-room.
Near the village of Daviot, north of the A96 off the B9001 from Inverurie, or reached via the A920 west of Oldmeldrum, is the Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle. This impressive 6,000 year-old site is 500 yds from the village and consists of two stone circles, the smaller of which encloses a cremation cemetery dating from 1500 BC.
Thirteen miles north of Inverurie is Fyvie Castle, off the A947 between Oldmeldrum and Turriff, T01651-891266, (NTS) Apr-Jun and Sp Fri-Tue 1200-1700, Jul and Aug daily 1100-1730, grounds open all year daily 0930-dusk, £7, concessions/children £5.25. This grandest of Scottish baronial piles is a major feature on the 'Castle Trail' and shouldn't be missed if you're in the vicinity. The castle's five towers are each named after one of the five families who have had the pleasure of living here over the centuries.
The oldest part of the castle dates from the 13th century and, apart from the great wheel-stair and the 17th-century morning room, the extravagantly opulent interior is largely from the Edwardian era. There's a superb collection of portraits including works by the likes of Raeburn, Batoni, Gainsborough and Hoppner, as well as 17th-century tapestries and collections of arms and armour. The landscaped grounds and Fyvie Loch are also worth exploring, and even the tearoom is great.