Aberdeen – The Granite City

Following my day exploring the Capital of the Highlands (read about that here), I decided to spend my final full day in the Highlands exploring a bit more of the Scotland’s railway and visiting another of the country’s seven cities, Aberdeen, the Granite City.

A group of Inter7City’s in Aberdeen Depot

Part of the reason for this trip was to hopefully try out one of ScotRail’s newly refurbished Inter7City High Speed Trains, however waiting for me on the platform at Inverness was a more usual, but rather less exciting Class 158. These operate a lot of non-electrified services in Scotland, having been introduced in 1990 by, the then British Rail Scottish region, ScotRail. Initially these operated inter-city services, however after the introduction of Class 170s, these were cascaded to more regional services such as the Far North line.

Departing from platform 2, we passed Inverness Depot and sidings, which along with a collection of ScotRail units, also had a brace of class 37s with a Network Rail train stabled. Millburn junction is where the Inverness-Aberdeen line diverges from the Highland Mainline and from here we headed northeast towards Inverness Airport and Nairn. Despite the railway running along the southern perimeter of the airport, there isn’t currently a station here, however plans have been announced for one to be constructed. As with most infrastructure projects this has encountered delays, but the latest estimate is that construction will start some point between 2021 and 2024 (so who knows…)

Inverness Airport is clearly visible from the railway between Inverness and Nairn

Due to the storm the area had experienced the night before, our train lost quite a lot of time due to combined wheel slip and inspection issues, meaning as we arrived at Inverurie we were running around 20 minutes late. With this delay meaning there would be around a 40-minute wait until the next Inverurie-Aberdeen shuttle, I made a last-minute decision to jump out at Kintore, Britain’s newest railway station.

First opening in 1854, the original Kintore station was 550m further south but was closed 110 years later in 1964 as part of the many railway cuts occurring at the time. Whilst the reopening on Kintore was announced in 2012, construction did not begin until 2019 following the completion of double tracking between Aberdeen and Inverurie. Delayed by Covid, the new station was finally opened on 15th October 2020, just a couple of weeks before my visit.

Kintore Station

The new station unfortunately doesn’t have much character and is a bit ‘clinical’ with two basic platforms, a standard footbridge with lifts and a couple of waiting shelters. However, the station does feature signs and benches from the original station, and if it being ‘clinical’ meant costs were low enough for it to proceed then I’ll take that over no new station. The station is quite good on the sustainability front, with the largest number of electric vehicle charging points in the Highlands (32) along with plenty of cycle parking and bus stops. With the station also being just off the A96 and having plenty of parking, there is hope that commuters will park here and take the 18-minute train journey into Aberdeen helping to reduce congestion.

After an explore of Kintore and a quick walk to the local shop, I jumped onto the next Aberdeen train (another class 158) for the short trip into the city. The only station between Kintore and Aberdeen is at Dyce, which sort of serves the adjacent airport, however, is on the wrong side of the airfield to be of use to most passengers. For the Avgeek though Dyce station has great views over the Loganair maintenance apron, especially from the station footbridge!

Union Terrace Gardens in it’s current state

Arriving into Aberdeen around 1320, I decided to first have a walk around the city, aiming to see a few of the sites that I had noted online. My first point of interest was Union Terrace Gardens, which sit above the railway just to the north of Aberdeen station, and are home to statues of both Robert Burns and William Wallace. Unfortunately, what the internet didn’t tell me was that the gardens are currently undergoing construction work, meaning they were fenced off and the view of the statues was obscured.

Despite the disappointment with the gardens, I was glad I had headed that way as over the road were both Aberdeen Central Library and His Majesty’s Theatre, both of which were impressive buildings, the former having some colourful detailing, whilst the latter has had a modern extension added which fits in well with the rest of the building.

Aberdeen Central Library with its colourful lamp poles

From Union Street Gardens I headed down Kirkgate to the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting, the ‘Mother Kirk’ of Aberdeen. Interestingly the church is a member of both the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church, hence the addition of ‘Uniting’ to the formal name of the Kirk. Parts of the church dates from the mid-1750s and it is now a Category A listed building.

At the end of Upperkirkgate is Marischal College, part of the University of Aberdeen that is on long-term loan to the city council which has had its headquarters in the building since 2011. With construction beginning in 1837, many consider the building to be an icon of the ‘Granite City’ with its stunning façade having helped the building being listed as Category A.

The stunning Marischal College

The final site that I wanted to visit before grabbing a late lunch was the Mercat Cross which occupies the market square at the top of Castle Street, marking the city’s historic right to hold markets since it received Royal Burgh status from King David I of Scotland in the early 1100s.

Heading down the hill from Castle Street, I was genuinely slightly surprised as I turned a corner by the Maritime Museum (which was closed) and was presented with a pretty large ship docked in front of me. Although I knew that Aberdeen was a port city and with its oil trade is served by plenty of large ships, my entire time in the city so far had been out of sight of the port and so I was slightly shocked by the fact the ship was so close when I first caught sight of it.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Just over Market Street from the docks is The Craftsman Company Coffee & Ale House, somewhere I’d found online for lunch that looked interesting and seemed to be independent and local. Due to Covid restrictions the Ale wasn’t available, however the Coffee was divine and the way they’ve set up their online order page allows you to pick and choose exactly how you want your drink with a number of coffee blends available. Alongside the coffee they have a small menu of brunch items and handmade pizza which whilst not extensive is great for a light lunch.

Due to the timings of the trains, the fact lots of places were closed due to Covid, and the fact I had an early train in the morning, my visit to Aberdeen was brief. Following my very late lunch at The Craftsman Company, I headed back to the station, took a quick trip south to tick off a couple of stations and then headed north one stop to Dyce. As I eluded to earlier, Dyce is a great spot for plane spotting and so with the choice of an hour waiting at Aberdeen station or an hour here with the nearby chip shop, I chose the latter and enjoyed a wonderful fish supper whilst watching some of Loganair’s aircraft be manoeuvred ready for the following day’s flights.

Some of the Loganair aircraft visible from the footbridge at Dyce station

Whilst my visit to the Granite City was fleeting, it is definitely somewhere I want to head back to when museums such as the Maritime Museum and The Tolbooth Museum are open, and I can discover more of the city’s history. Food wise, The Craftsman Company is definitely worth a visit, especially for a lighter meal or just for a coffee and I’m sure there are lots more independent cafés and restaurants within the city just waiting for me to discover them.

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