This page tells the story of two visits to the eastern side of Scotland in 2014. The first, in March, took us to Aberdeen, Dundee, the East Neuk of Fife and the Falkirk Wheel over three days. In October we travelled to Aberdeen once more, this time for a two day visit to Deeside. The page began life as a PDF file which could be downloaded from Go With Ted. In 2021 it has been converted to a page, with more photographs and updated information.
The March trip
Aberdeen and Dundee
Marischal College, Aberdeen
The trip began with a direct train journey from Durham to Aberdeen, arriving at 1pm in time for a drink of lunch. For those who don’t know the route it’s an excellent journey – in addition to Edinburgh and both the Forth and Tay Bridges there are coastal views for much of the journey with highlights at Alnmouth, Lindisfarne, Berwick and the cliffs on the Scottish border, the Firths of Forth and Tay, Lunan Bay and Stonehaven.
We decided on a walk round to get the feel of the place. Out of the station and within a minute we were at the harbour which, unlikely many, was busy and noisy – lots of boats connected with the oil industry, plus the Shetland Ferry. We walked to the old, planned fishing village of Footdee (pictured left) via the harbourside, past a marine scrapyard with huge rusting chains and anchors, to the mouth of the River Dee, reaching the huge new coastguard station, looking like an airport control tower. There were plenty of information panels around describing how much it, its predecessors and various nearby monuments cost to build, to the exact penny (sorry to reinforce the Aberdonian stereotype). We walked along the beach – despite it being early March it was a clear, sunny day with the temperature hitting double figures, so we weren’t the only ones. This brought back memories of a school visit to Aberdeen in 1967 where we listened to the newly released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being played over the beach tannoy system. We Passed a rundown retail park occupying the prime site on the front, then into town for a quick look at Marischal College, with the granite glittering in the sun (just a little bit of imagination required). Formerly part of the University and now Aberdeen City Council headquarters, it is the second largest granite building in the world – the largest is El Escorial, outside Madrid.
Time for lunch. The Prince of Wales, in a lane off the main drag, Union Street, was the first stop. A bit tarted up since I was last there, with a proper menu rather than gloops of stovies. The beer was good, but the current menu didn’t appeal, so we made do with a bratwurst from a stand outside. Then into The Grill, on Union St itself, largely unchanged since the 1920s (except for the addition of a ladies toilet in the 1990s as it leapt into the modern world). Finally, on the way back to the station, a new pub for me, Aitchies Ale House, unchanged since the 1990s, but still doing a good job as a proper Scottish pub, with bar staff who know their job – everyone spotted as they arrived and table service if you wished. We visited Aberdeen briefly in August 2019, called in at the Prince of Wales and Aitchies and can confirm that both were still on form.
We retraced our steps on the train as far as Dundee, our base for the next two nights in the Travelodge. We discovered that the area around the station had been demolished – the leisure centre, Tayside House, aka Fawlty Towers (home of the former Tayside Regional Council) and the concrete elevated walkways linking the 1970s horrors had all gone. There was nothing there to replace them, though part of the site is now the V&A Museum Dundee – on the list to visit.
The Travelodge was in an old jute mill next to, of all things, a 24hour gym. When I lived in Dundee (oh God…it’s thirty-five years ago) the concept of late night entertainment did not involve that sort of exercise, but maybe I was missing something. The old jute mill area, seemed to still be struggling to find a new purpose….a lot of gap sites remained and, from our window, a new building plonked in the middle looked as though it was based on the design for a bouncy castle. (When I checked it out on Streetview, it turned out to be a mosque….and the design then made a lot more sense…oops).
In the evening we wandered up the Perth Road, little changed since the 1980s…..maybe even more studenty…. and into Mennie’s (aka the Speedwell Bar, pictured above), definitely unchanged, then back towards the hotel via the Phoenix. We passed a chip shop selling deep fried Mars Bars… whoever thought that up first as a sales gimmick which went viral around the world, has a lot to answer for. We listened to stories from the landlord of the Phoenix about the licensed trade over the past 30 years, and tales of Dundee. He was amazed and incredulous that the city had applied to be UK City of Culture, then gave a whole list of reasons why it should be. It’s not just McGonagall, Desperate Dan and the Sunday Post. Dundee was one of four cities the shortlist for UK City of Culture 2017, though Hull was the final choice.
The East Neuk of Fife
Two views of Crail harbour
The following morning we walked through Dundee city centre, past the home of the Beano and Dandy, to the bus station and off to St Andrews and then to Crail for a nostalgic walk round the village. I spent most of my childhood family holidays here – was the beach really that small? Then on to the Fife Coastal Path, starting with the classic view of Crail Harbour (above). If Beadnell is the only West-facing harbour on the East coast of England is Crail the only one on the East coast of Scotland? After an hour and a bit, with good views over to the Isle of May and the East Lothian coast just visible through the heat-haze (this is early March!) we reached Cellardyke. The harbour is deserted but part of the harbour wall is still in use as a drying green. There is much evidence in the building styles here, and throughout the East Neuk of Fife, of the close trading and cultural links with the Netherlands. We had an early pint in the Haven, sitting outside in the beer garden, and then on to Anstruther and lunch – a fish supper from the award winning Anstruther Fish Bar, where ‘your fish today was caught by the MV…..’(is it the same boat every day?), and it was excellent.
In 2009 Ted and I had walked further along the Coastal Path to the next fishing village, Pittenweem, but on this occasion our after-lunch walk only took us through
Anstruther – the Ship Tavern and the Fish Bar to its left
town as far as the Dreel Inn, a nice old pub, and some more tales of Dundee from the landlady who hailed from there, then back to the harbour and the Ship Inn, a fine boozer full of characters.
From Anstruther we caught the bus back to St Andrews and walked round the town past the castle, to the ruined cathedral (pictured). In many ways it is similar to Durham – with the University dominating the town – which means that there’s much more going on than most places its size. We managed the Criterion Bar in South Street – nice atmosphere – and the Central Bar in Market St (a wee bit pretentious, but excellent selection of beer and knowledgeable staff). We poured ourselves on to the bus back to Dundee, for some drink and food in the Counting House – a Wetherspoons pub. I was trying to find another pub but must have walked past it because, in my dotage, I confused the street names. Then it was back to the Travelodge. Ted and I visited Dundee again twice in 2020 for a pint or two and hope to add a page about the city following our next visit.
The Falkirk Wheel
We set off from Dundee by train to Stirling and then to Falkirk Grahamston, followed by a short walk to the town centre bus stances and on to the bus for the Falkirk Wheel. This provided a tour of Falkirk en route, via solid stone villas, 30s bungalows, then through the nice housing scheme, then the grotty scheme, then the crap end of the grotty scheme, then down a lane and into the car park. Quite a bizarre entrance to a major attraction…but I suppose most visitors don’t arrive by the bus. The Wheel itself is amazing. It was our second visit to the site, but this time we had booked a boat trip on the Wheel. The Falkirk Wheel is ‘the world’s only rotating boat lift’. It links the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, replacing a long-demolished flight of locks, and was completed in 2002, as part of a Millennium programme to reopen the Central Scotland canal network. It isn’t easy to describe so the photographs have to do it. It is well worth a visit – check out the website http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk for some of the facts.
The boat trip on the good ship Archimedes (above) lasts just under an hour. I worked out why the Wheel can’t be seen from the main Edinburgh – Glasgow railway line, which passes very close by, and discovered the site of the previous flight of locks. The return boat journey was quite bizarre as we headed onto the Wheel and came to a stop within a couple of feet of a long drop into nothingness.
We headed back into Falkirk for a brief stop at the Wheatsheaf Inn, a nice pub up a lane off the High St. We have since paid a couple of visits to Falkirk and the surrounding area and plan to add a page to the site soon. This trip concluded with a train to Edinburgh, a couple of hours in our favourite haunts, then on to Durham and into the Colpitts, the end point of any journey worth the name.
This is an easy trip by train. The direct morning Durham – Aberdeen train starts from Leeds and arrives Aberdeen at an ideal time. Scotrail services may not be luxury, but they are pretty frequent – 1-2 each hour between Aberdeen and Dundee, Dundee and Stirling and between Stirling, Falkirk Grahamston and Edinburgh. We returned home from Edinburgh to Durham on the 1830 East Coast train with First Class Advance Singles so some free food and a whisky to round off the trip.
A couple of times each month during the summer an alternative way of reaching Aberdeen by rail is a day trip by steam train hauled by the locomotive Tornado (above) from Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge then via Perth and Dundee. We made this journey in 2019 and can recommend it. Details at http://www.a1steam.com/aberdonian
We had thought about spending the two nights in St. Andrews, but accommodation is expensive (often very expensive…too many Americans wanting a round of golf on the Old Course) and Dundee makes a good alternative. Our hotel was the Travelodge Dundee Central, 152-158 W. Marketgait, DD1 1NJ.
This is Pittenweem, the next village along the coast from Anstruther.
On day 2 we used a Stagecoach Fife day ticket which brings good savings over expensive single fares. Buses run every 10 minutes between Dundee and St Andrews (30 mins evening and Sunday), hourly between St Andrews and Anstruther via Crail, and hourly direct (Mon-Sat daytimes) between Anstruther and St Andrews. As of February 2021 the North East Fife day rider (which includes the journey from Dundee city centre over the Tay Bridge) costs £8.20. The Fife Dayrider Plus covers the whole Stagecoach Fife network plus journeys between Fife and Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth and Stirling costs £11.50. Details at http://www.stagecoachbus.com .
The bus from Falkirk town centre to the Falkirk Wheel is the No 6, heading Westbound on Upper Newmarket St, about 7 mins walk from Falkirk Grahamston station, every 15 mins. An alternative route for those visiting the Wheel from Glasgow and Edinburgh is to take the train to Falkirk High Station (every 15 mins) and walk along the Union Canal towpath to the Wheel.
Boat trips on the Wheel can be booked in advance online at http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk . It wasn’t very busy when we were there but it does book up in advance at busy times. The visitor centre at the Wheel does a nice line in tacky souvenirs.
Ted has a pint in Mennie’s, Dundee
The pubs mentioned in the text are:
Aberdeen: Aitchies Ale House, 10 Trinity St, AB11 5LY; The Grill, 213 Union St, AB11 6BA; Prince of Wales, 7 St Nicholas Lane, AB10 1HF.
Dundee: Counting House, 67-71 Reform St, DD1 1SP; Phoenix, 103 Netherggate, DD1 4DH; Speedwell Bar (Mennie’s), 165-167 Perth Road, DD2 1AS.
Anstruther: Dreel Tavern, 16 High St, KY10 3DL; Haven, 1Shore St, Cellardyke, KY10 3BD; Ship Tavern, 49 Shore St, KY10 3AQ.
St. Andrews: Central Bar, 77 Market St, KY16 9NU; Criterion, 99 South St, KY16 9QW.
Falkirk: Wheatsheaf, Inn, 16 Baxters Wynd, FK1 1PF.
The October Jaunt
Typical Deeside scenery
I hadn’t been to Deeside except when I was driven non-stop the long way round from Aberdeen to Perth via Braemar. This was almost forty years ago, and the day after a wedding, so I remember nothing through the hangover. This time, we set off once more by direct train from Durham to Aberdeen arriving at lunchtime. Then we caught the 201 bus from Union Square Bus Station for the two-and-a-quarter hour trip to Braemar. The journey provides a good introduction to the granite houses and tenements of various ages as it passes west through Aberdeen, then through the series of upmarket Victorian suburbs strung along the former Deeside railway line to Culter. Onward to Banchory, with its modern suburban development pretending to be rural – the bus takes a trip round the houses. It then travels through proper rural countryside and enters the Cairngorms National Park, where the countryside becomes more Highland in character. We passed through Aboyne, Ballater and the Balmoral estate until, finally, the bus reached Braemar.
There was time for a quick look round in the drizzle. There are clearly good walking opportunities in the area but the village itself is bit of a tourist trap and twee. The Hungry Highlander Fusion Cuisine takeaway sounded interesting, but it was closed and I wasn’t able to check whether they sold haggis pakora, and the gift and sporran shops didn’t appeal. We did find the time for a couple of pints in the large lounge bar of the Fife Arms Hotel (pictured), which acts as the local pub. It was not so special that it would be worth going out of the way for…but it was welcoming and friendly. Then it was onto the bus back to Ballater.
I chose Ballater for the overnight stop, partly because of the good bus service but largely because it had a couple of entries in the Good Beer Guide (and they both remain in the 2021 edition). We stayed in one of them, the Alexandra Hotel, which is a fine example of a comfortable, friendly and inexpensive small hotel with good bar meals and decent beer in the lounge bar and a full breakfast cooked to order in the morning.
We went out on the town for a couple of pints. The Balmoral Bar appears to be the main boozer. It is perfectly OK, though when we were in, it was dominated by a few people watching footie on the telly. Any character has been modernised away, though there are some interesting old photos and posters on the walls. The Glenaden Hotel, also known as the Barrels, is the other entry in the Beer Guide. It was quiet but friendly on a Monday night and there were two interesting real ales, both new to me, and both about 5%ABV. We were persuaded to try both.
The Queen’s favourite Chinese takeaway and, below, her favoured off-license, also patronised by Prince Charles
In the morning we had a good look round Ballater. It feels more like a proper town than elsewhere on Deeside. It is a planned town, solid without being too self- satisfied, self-contained with a good range of local shops, a butcher to die for and a Co-op. Ballater is where the Queen does her shopping when she is at Balmoral – I spotted her favourite Chinese takeaway, off licence and chemist, but she didn’t seem to patronise the charity shop..
Around Ballater is excellent walking country with a number of local marked routes. We only had time for a short walk to Bridge of Gairn then back via the riverside path, as a taster of what is available. We would be happy to return, and to use Ballater as a base.
Time to climb back on to the 201, with a first stop at Aboyne. To us it appeared to be little more than a snooty collection of large houses, as far away from Aberdeen as the merchant classes could commute in Victorian times, and lacking in any real character. We had a pint in the Boat Inn, situated by a bridge over the Dee….on first appearance it was more of a restaurant, but we found a public bar round the side. It has been comprehensively modernised but the beer is good.
Then it was on to Banchory. Though it is an older town, it felt more like a fairly well off suburb of Aberdeen, and there was not a lot to see or do on a Tuesday lunchtime. The public bar of the Douglas Arms was in Beer Guide (still is), and through the window looked like a fine old boozer. However it didn’t open until mid-afternoon, so we had a pint in the Burnett Arms across the road…friendly enough, but we were definitely by far the most sober person and bear in there at 2pm.
Finally we returned to Aberdeen and a couple of drinks (see the Prince of Wales and Aitchies Ale House above) before catching the evening train to Durham. We had a cheap first class advance ticket this time, so we benefited from the free food and drink – twice, because there is a crew change at Edinburgh. On the final leg the crew were keen for us to finish the bottle of red wine, rather than throw the remains away at the end of the day – so we obliged and poured off the train at Durham.
The Deeside bus service is good for a rural area. The 201/202/203 Stagecoach Bluebird service, runs from Aberdeen every half hour as far as Banchory, every hour as far as Ballater and every two hours to Braemar. There are some gaps on schooldays as buses divert to serve school students. Aberdeen Bus Station is part of the Union Square shopping centre, which is adjacent to the railway station. Single fares are expensive – a single from Aberdeen to Braemar is £12.45. A day ticket (the Aberdeen Zone 6 dayrider) is £16 and worth it if doing anything more than a single journey. Details of times and fares from http://www.stagecoachbus.com .
The pubs mentioned in the text are:
Braemar: Fife Arms hotel, Mar Rd, AB35 5YN
Ballater: Alexandra Hotel, 12 Bridg; e Square, AB35 5QJ (this is where we stayed); Balmoral Bar, 1 Netherley Place, AB35 5QE; Glenaden Hotel, 6 Church Square, AB35 5NE.
Aboyne: Boat Inn, Charleston Rd, AB34 5EL.
Banchory: Burnett Arms Hotel, 25 High St, AB31 5TD; Douglas Arms Hotel, 22 High St, AB31 5SR.
Cellardyke harbour and drying green
NOTE: Please not that due to coronavirus restrictions we cannot be certain if and when places mentioned will be open. Transport frequencies may also be severely reduced.
Prices mentioned are current at February 2021
Thanks: To Dave Kerridge who accompanied Steve and Ted on the Aberdeen to Falkirk trip.
Copyright: Text and photos: © Copyright. Steve Gillon. 2014, 2021.