My Slow Travel Guide to North East Scotland will be published exactly two months today! To celebrate what I’m considering to be the start of The Final Countdown (cue Europe), here’s an exclusive sample from the book about the town of Banchory, 18 miles west of Aberdeen.
Banchory is the last major town before you move across the boundary into Aberdeen City, hanging in a hammock of the River Dee as it flows east. Close to neighbouring villages and with the granite torr-topped hill of Clachnaben nearby, Banchory is a handy base for exploring this part of Aberdeenshire. It’s also your best bet for shopping, with a range of gift shops lining High and Dee Streets.
By happy accident, I found my favourite part of Banchory while tracking down the library, located within the pedestrianised Scott Skinner Square. Named after one of the greats of Scottish fiddle music, James Scott Skinner, the square contains a selection of small businesses arranged around a mini amphitheatre of steps.
James Scott Skinner was born in Banchory in 1843. By the time he was eight years old, he was playing the cello at dances across Deeside. Cello playing wasn’t the only string to Skinner’s bow though (pun unashamedly intended). He also trained as a dance teacher and was even invited by Queen Victoria to teach the children of Balmoral Estate in 1868.
In the square is a tiny garden with woven sculptures of a fiddle and treble clef musical note, created by Ayrshire-based willow and steel artist David Powell. One of Skinner’s most famous pieces, ‘Bonnie Banchory’, inspired the creation of three abstract columns around the square’s amphitheatre. On the top of each is a stack of different-sized rods, representing the sound waves of this song.
If you walk south on Dee Street you’ll soon cross the river. Half a mile further along is a T-junction, where the left branch passes over the Water of Feugh. Running parallel to the stone road bridge is a newer footbridge where you can peer down at the Falls of Feugh below. The water surges in two channels around rocky contours before crashing into a slower pool and continuing under the bridges. In autumn, this is a good spot to look for leaping salmon.
Five miles south of Banchory is Nine Stanes Stone Circle, conveniently close to an unnamed road passing through a Sitka spruce plantation. There are six standing stones, a chunky horizontal recumbent and two wonky flankers, making up the nine stones in its name.
When I visited, I’d just experienced an assorted delight of road closures, cafés shut when they shouldn’t have been and insufferable August heat (I have about the same heat tolerance as a Mars bar). I arrived at Nine Stanes a sweaty, irritable mess and, although sitting in the middle of the circle with grasshoppers boinging around my feet didn’t make me any less sweaty, it was a serene way to end the day. Stone circles are good at that.
This one was arranged some 4,000 years ago, used as a burial place and to mark the movement of the moon throughout the year. Its stones now have mossy beards and grassy feet, but after all that time they’re still standing.
As you can see from this sample, Slow guides are just that: leisurely, and written as if the author is walking around with a person wearing a blindfold. I’ve loved writing in such immersive detail, as it’s given me the opportunity to really dive into the nuances of each location I’ve featured in the book. There’s a lot of nature and wildlife, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but this particular entry gives you an idea of the variety of other things I explore too.
I’m so excited to share the biggest project of my career so far with you all. I’m currently working through the proofs and seeing the pages take shape, so it won’t be long until I can finally hold my first book in my hands.