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Stories of Aberdeenshire

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If you’ve ever watched BBC TV’s Trawlermen or Fish Town, you’ll be familiar with the couthy (friendly) Scots language dialect of North-East Scotland. Doric, as it’s known, is full of fascinating words and phrases such as loon (lad), quine (girl/woman) and fit like? (how are you?), that you won’t find elsewhere in Scotland.

It might sound a bit odd at first, but taking some time to appreciate this unique language and, more importantly, the deeper cultural heritage of the North-East, will enrich any visit to this less-discovered part of Scotland.

Take a look at some of the cultural highlights below and then plan your trip in Aberdeenshire. You’ll soon see that this is a remarkable region full of stories, songs and the supernatural. A place where crafting skills and balladeering are passed down through generations. A place that has influenced and still influences literary and musical greats.

STORIES OF SPIRITS AND THE SUPERNATURAL

Many Scottish regions offer stories of ghosts and ghouls, myths and legends, but none are more compelling than those from Aberdeenshire.

The haunting ruins of Slains Castle, Cruden Bay

The haunting ruins of Slains Castle, Cruden Bay © VisitScotland/North East 250/Damian Shields

That’s a bold claim, but in support, one of the region’s most famous holidaymakers – Bram Stoker – drew inspiration from his many trips here, for his greatest literary creation. He completed his renowned gothic horror Dracula in 1897. If you don’t believe us, explore the octagonal room in Slains Castle, near Cruden Bay and then read the novel!

Stoker, in turn, has inspired generations of filmmakers, writers and actors – not least a local theatre group called Modo, who in 2019, produced Doricula – a performance, at Slains Castle, of Dracula in the local Doric dialect! Local writer Mike Shepherd has extensively researched Stoker’s time in the North-East and brought it vividly to life in his book When Brave Men Shudder: the Scottish Origins of Dracula.

The influence of the North-East can also be found in some of Stoker’s other works including The Watter’s Mou – a smuggling tale set in Port Errol, The Lair of the White Worm and The Mystery of the Sea.

Dracula is just one of the supernatural tales with North-East roots that you’ll come across here. There’s a rich vein of other stories to uncover across Aberdeenshire.

The Wine Tower at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

The Wine Tower at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses © VisitScotland/Discover Fraserburgh/Damian Shields

Find out why the rocks below Fraserburgh’s Wine Tower are painted red. Why Helen Rogie and Margaret Bane met a fiery end in 1595 and why Jock the Giant o Bennachie was bewitched into a deep sleep and locked in a deep dark dungeon forever. Unearth these and many more eerie tales, in Supernatural Stories of North-East Scotland.

THE BALLAD CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

With a long legacy of farming, fishing and forestry in Aberdeenshire, comes an enviable tradition of storytelling, which often takes the form of song and verse.

Busy ports along the Aberdeenshire coast in particular, have seen the ebb and flow of people coming and going for centuries. As a result, this is where many of the ballads and stories have come from.

Fishing boats moored in Gardenstown Harbour, Banffshire

Fishing boats moored in Gardenstown Harbour, Banffshire

Use the Stories of Aberdeenshire map to learn about The Elfin Knight and Jock o Braidislee. Or hear the tragic story of Mill o Tifty’s Annie – a partly true tale of forbidden love and murder. You can visit her gravestone to this day in Fyvie kirkyard.

The folklore from this region is both captivating and inspiring. Take a look at A Celebration of North-East Characters to gain a deeper appreciation of this ancient land as you tour around.

There’s also overwhelming evidence that the traditional ballads of the North-East have influenced musical genres such as Bluegrass, Country, even Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as a number of renowned international and local performers.

Songs written by celebrated artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, who have extended family connections with the area, Dolly Parton, Richard Thompson and even the Grateful Dead, share their roots with traditional ballads from the region.

For instance, Bob Dylan’s Pretty Peggy-o, from his 1962 debut album, has its roots in Fennario – Baez and the Grateful Dead also recorded versions of this. It’s well documented that Fennario in turn has its roots in the traditional North-East ballad The Bonnie Lass o’ Fyvie!

There are many more traditional ballads to enjoy as audio files on the Stories of Aberdeenshire map.

ABERDEENSHIRE’S TRADITIONAL CRAFTS AND SKILLS  

Human connections through Aberdeenshire’s rural communities and across this fertile land are easy to see. Not least of all, through the area’s traditional crafts, where time-honoured skills have been handed down through the generations. Watch the videos below to learn more about the fascinating crafts of the region.

Straw Crafting

It is thought that in bygone times, corn dollies were made by farmers and local folk to ward off evil spirits and secure future good harvests.

With expertise handed down through time, today, this remarkable craft is still practiced in Aberdeenshire with traditional corn dollies and a whole host of beautiful and sustainably-made mementos produced. There are even occasional workshops available, where you can make your own.

Working with Leather

Leather-making is another traditional craft that you’ll find in the North-East and links to the long history of using horses for farming and for getting about.

Whilst leather is still used for saddles and other equestrian accessories today, this tactile material is also used for many other things, such as bags, belts, even leather plant pots! Small group workshops run from time to time in Aberdeenshire, if you’re looking to turn your hand to something a bit different.

Lacemaking

New Pitsligo, between Banff and Fraserburgh, is a village where you’ll find some of the finest handmade lace in the world. It is thought that lace production started here in the 18th century as a way for villagers, particularly the ladies, to generate extra income for their households. It is also thought that New Pitsligo lace became more popular during the 19th century when Queen Victoria placed a large order for the product.

Today, lacemaking is embedded in the local community, with dextrous skills and patterns handed down to keep this intricate textile craft alive for the future. There’s even a New Pitsligo Lace Club that meets online each week.

Quilting

You’ll also find quilting groups in some local communities here too. Winters in the North-East can be quite cold, so there’s nothing quite like a brightly-coloured and deftly-sewn quilt to warm both spirit and body! Traditional (and more contemporary patterns), reflecting the legacy of the craft, and skills continue to be handed down from grandparents and parents to children and grandchildren.

The Stories of Aberdeenshire map contains over 50 amazing examples of Aberdeenshire’s unique cultural heritage. There are plenty more stories and experiences to discover across the area. But the best place to appreciate them is right here in the North-East.

So, mak yer wye tae Aiberdeenshire, connect with some of the region’s couthy craiturs to learn more, and remember to use #storiesofaberdeenshire to share your experiences as you go. Using a popular local opener such as fit like? is sure to spark a warm conversation! If you want to hear more spoken Doric then why not tune into Doric TV?

 

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