Aberdeenshire, it is Scotland's "Undiscovered Country." Located in the northeast of Scotland, Aberdeenshire encompasses more than 6,300 kilometers (2,400+ miles) It stretches from the beaches and cliffs of the North Sea, along the banks of the River Dee, and on to the edge of the Cairngorms. A once popular UK holiday destination, the City of Aberdeen (founded on traditional industries like fishing, textiles, ship builsing and papermaking) and the surrounding shire, was changed forever in the 70s with the discovery of oil in the North Sea. In the past 40 years its population has grown by more than 50%. Since 2001, Aberdeenshire's population has grown by 9.1% compared to Scotland's overall growth at just under 4%.
Once known as the "Silver City with Golden Sands" oil brought an economic boom to the region and a new title to the city, "Oil Capital of Europe." With that boom, hotels, B&Bs, flats to let, and virtually all other accommodations were soon filled with migrant oil workers and tourism fell. Quite simply tourism income was not needed.
Today, with the downturn of the North Sea Oil industry, Aberdeen (and the shire) is working hard to rebrand itself as the "Energy" Capital of Europe with a turn to high tech electronics and renewable energy resources. However, its doubtful the area will ever again allow itself to become dependent on a single industry. With this rebranding has come a renewed appreciation of what tourism can contribute to the region's wellbeing. Indeed, it has much to offer, including ...
The Castle Trail --- offering a very recently updated 20 castles to be explored, more castles are found per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. Some offer B&B services while one serves as the summer getaway for the Royal Family. Balmoral is found in Royal Deeside near the village of Crathie. It has been the home to the Royal Family since the days of Queen Victoria.
The Malt Whisky Trail --- 17 distilleries call Aberdeenshire home from the big names of GlenLivet and Glenfiddich to the smaller Fettercairn, in operation since 1824.
If your interests run to golf Aberdeenshire is home to some of Scotland's oldest courses. If museums and galleries are more to your taste, there is a wide selection as well, including the Scottish Lighthouse Museum
The boom of oil may have changed the perception of the City of Aberdeen for some. Aberdeen's gardens were so beautiful that the city was barred from the annual "Britain in Bloom" competition after winning it 10 times, including 7 of the years from 1969-79. However, the beauty returned when, in 2014, Aberdeen again claimed Gold!
Oil has never taken away from the city's remarkable sandy beach. Nearby visitors can enjoy one of the real surprises - a pod of dolphins at play. Other wildlife attraction include Scotland's wildly popular puffins.
Aberdeen's nickname as "The Granite City" or "The Silver City" is credited to the construction of so many buildings from granite quarried nearby. The 'silver' is caused by the glint of mica found in the granite. As Scotland's 3rd largest city it offers a modern cosmopolitain atmosphere filled with shops, pubs, restaurants and more.
In fact, Aberdeen is, not unlike Edinburgh, both a new and an old city. Old Aberdeen and the area around the University of Aberdeen is a popular visitor destination offering quaint shops and cobbled streets for a far more "all in" Scottish experience than one is likely to find on the tourist crowded "Royal Mile."
Rebranding Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will not be easy. A review of Visit Scotland's "Top Twenty" tourist sites in Scotland does not include a single entry related to Aberdeen or the shire. However, organizations like Visit Aberdeenshire are hard at work trying to share all that the region has to offer with anyone who will listen.
Can Aberdeenshire gain equal footing with the likes of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loch Ness, and the Highlands and the Islands? Only time will tell. Those destinations are deep-seeded iconic representations of Scotland. More likely, Aberdeenshire's best hope may be to achieve a solid "second place." For those who've made their initial pilgrimage to Scotland, Aberdeenshire deserves serious consideration if and when a return visit is in your plans.
• Visit Aberdeenshire (website)