The Grey City: Aberdeen

It’s a grey day as we pull out of Leeds Station heading for Aberdeen. It had started with an early alarm clock and taxi to the station where I clearly chose the wrong coffee vendor; it was large, very hot and tasteless. I like traveling by rail; it seems so much more civilised than flying, especially when there are interesting places along the way. The Virgin train was quite new, clean, comfortable and almost empty when I boarded. I logged onto the wifi and spent some time checking emails, we arrived in York in no time at all, and the train started to fill up, as it did at each stop along the way. We headed due north through the farmlands of north Yorkshire, passing through Thirsk and Darlington. From the train one gets a great view of the City of Durham, with its cathedral and castle. I wished I could have alighted there to take more time to get to know the place, but I had an appointment in Aberdeen I could not miss.

The towns and cities along the east coast are steeped in in history and rugged beauty. A fleeting glimpse of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture near Gateshead heralded our arrival into Newcastle. As we crossed the Tyne I had a great view of its famous bridges, and the iconic Sage Cultural Centre. The Tyne Bridge opened in 1928 and bears a great resemblance to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, whilst the more recent Millennium Bridge became famous for revolutionising swing bridge design. Onward and upward we hugged the Northumbrian coast to Berwick on Tweed and the boarder, then into Dunbar. In no time arrived in Edinburgh Waverly. The stewards and the accents changed from Yorkshire and Geordie to Scottish. After crossing the Firth of Fourth iconic rail bridge we headed back towards the east coast. As we arrive in Dundee we cross the river Tay on another steel bridge from the industrial revolution. We are now in oil-rig territory all the way to Aberdeen. Each town is doing its best to attract oil and gas dollars.

The Caledonian Hotel was a short walk from the train station, so I went in and left my luggage and headed out onto Union Street to familiarise myself with the City. The buildings are granite, hence Aberdeen’s nickname as the grey city, the weather also plays its part in that name. I wandered into the Tolbooth Museum which is a small multilevel space housed in the city’s first prison. Exhibits showed the brutal conditions people were kept in. Generally incarceration was not used as a punishment that was usually commensurate with the crime. Removal of the tongue for slander, a hand for theft etc. The exceptions to this were political prisoners, especially the Jacobite revolutionaries who were crammed in large numbers into small cells, and Quackers. One woman imprisoned for several years for simply lobbying to have her husband released. The other types of prisoners were members of the ruling classes who got into debt. They could go about their business by day but had to reside in the prison at night.

The very grand University has a statue of Robert the Bruce at the front, and many old buildings still remain.  As I passed a wedding party were entering the courtyard for photographs.

The formal commencement of the Whisky Trip was to meet in the Grill Bar on Union Street that evening. It may seem a contradiction, but the Grill Bar serves no food, so we dined at an Indian restaurant first and then commenced the Tour with a dram of Speyburn 10 YO at the Grill.  This is a lighter style Speyside malt, with evidence of being finished in sherry casks.  A taste of bigger things to come.