Tourist Information: St Nicholas House, Broad Street, Aberdeen. 0224 632727.
(posted Nov 2011): Aberdeen (0224 575959).
Aberdeen is a city of surprises - silver granite baronial buildings, reminders of a great past, modern glass office blocks which spell the North Sea oil boom, and flowers. Flowers and yet more flowers, all the year round. The city's floral year begins with carpets of crocuses in February, followed by drifts of daffodils to make Wordsworth's Lakeland 'hosts' look lonely. Then, throughout summer and autumn it becomes a city of roses, a million or more of them, in parks, city centre, at bus stops, open spaces and even in a three-and-a-half mile long rose bed along the central reservation of the ring road - the week-long Rose Festival is now an annual event. Aberdeen's love of flowers spreads far from the city centre to parks where heathers, azaleas and rhododendrons crowd Hazelhead Park, and the Duthie Park, whose magnificent Winter Gardens has produced cacti which won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower show. Even a city graveyard at Nellfield has been turned into a rose garden filled with highly perfumed blooms. Beyond the city, many of the famous castles of the North East are also noted for their fine gardens, especially Pitmedden, Crathes, Leith Hall, Haddo House and Castle Fraser. Aberdeen is well linked to the south by rail. InterCity 125 trains make the journey from London in a little over seven hours, taking in some fine scenery on the way. The BR station is in the city centre, five minutes' walk from Union Street or the harbour. In recent years Aberdeen has earned the title 'Europe's Off-shore Oil Capital', and it would be hard to miss the oil influence. The airport is one of the busiest in Britain and the city has an international look to it.
Aberdeen obtained its first charter in the twelfth century and was important enough to have its own mint. While much of the rest of Scotland was being torn apart by war through the centuries, Aberdeen grew into a prosperous well-doing city, noted for going its own canny way, but it was never the mean city that the music hall comedians love to make jokes about.
The silver-grey granite which is Aberdeen's chief building material lends an air of solid worth to the city and ensures that its great buildings endure. Thus one of the pleasures for the visitor is just to wander in the city, enjoying these buildings, and listening to the local dialect which has survived as unscathed as the city itself. In Aberdeen, a boy is still a 'loon' and a girl a 'quine': if an Aberdonian asks where you are going, it sounds like 'Far ye ga'an? And if he wants to know why he asks 'Fitwie?'. Aberdonians are not solemn people, but enjoy life even if they do refer to the Library, Church and Theatre which stand side by side as Education, Salvation and Damnation, and if the little alley close to St Nicholas Kirk is named Correction Wynd. It is really two cities, the modern city with harbour and all the oil influences and Old Aberdeen, once a separate burgh and an ancient university town built round the fourteenth-century St Machar's Cathedral. Round the cathedral lie cobbled streets of quaint, sombre houses leading to King's College, Aberdeen's first university founded in 1495. In the main city stands Marischal College, established in 1593 as a Protestant rival to King's College, with which it amalgamated in 1860 to form the present day University.
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