It has never been a better time for a LGBTI person to visit Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Landscapes of green fields and farmland, there’s a lot more than just whisky and wonderful men dressed in kilts.
Aberdeenshire, in the north-east, is seeing a massive regeneration.
The area is hosting its first Pride in nearly a decade in 2018. And while there will be double the number of Pride events in Scotland next year, Grampian Pride will still be the furthest north in the UK.
Communities are also bursting with pride at the release of a new film on DVD made in the area, Whisky Galore.
A remake of the 1949 Ealing Comedy of the same name, the film starring Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher is a love letter to Scotland. Visually arresting and beautiful, it’s a sharp, snappy comedy that will appeal to both nostalgic viewers and first-time watchers.
But what should you do when you get up to Aberdeenshire?
1 Visit a whisky distillery
Scotland is home to around 120 malt and grain distilleries, making it the greatest concentration in the world. In fact, there are 20 million barrels of whisky in Scotland at any one time.
Learn how experts take ingredients from the land and bring it from barrel to bottle. At the Wee Tasting Tour at the Glen Garioch (said Glen Geerey) distillery, a guide takes you through a 90 minute masterclass on how a distillery works.
You can use a bung flogger (a cleaner tool than it sounds) and learn some Doric slang on the way. Like ‘I’m nae a green as I’m cabbage lookin’, meaning ‘I’m not as daft as I look’. Or ‘Ye’ve droont the mullart’, meaning ‘too much water in your whisky’.
Be sure to go for the deluxe tasting experience, in which different spirits are perfectly matched with chutneys and cheeses.
2 Or just try as much whisky as you can
When you’re in the home of whisky, you should try as many as you can. Many hotels and distilleries offer tasting experiences.
The classic choices from locals typically include Highland Park, Glen Garioch, Balvenie, and Macallen.
Glenmorangie, while now available in many places in the UK, is also a favorite.
3 Share a drink with friends
It’s not uncommon for friends to share a dram of whisky or brandy in a quaich, a special kind of drinking cup.
A uniquely Scottish item (also called a ‘friendship cup’), they’re used for all kinds of celebration including weddings, births or even if it’s just the weekend.
Find a beautiful spot overlooking the seas or green mountains, or cozy away in a stone room hideaway with a roaring fire, and raise a quiach to your mates.
4 Eat some grub (but not a deep fried Mars bar)
Believe it or not, not every Scot dines on a diet of deep fried Mars bars.
In Aberdeenshire, there is a pride on local produce and making the best of what you’ve got.
Formartines is a must go-to while in Aberdeenshire. Not only can you say hi to the turkeys roaming around the nearby field (and you can buy one for your Christmas dinner), you can dine on locally bought and organic where possible produce. The halloumi chips are so worth it.
Eat on the Green in Udny Green is there if you fancy going up-market. The menu and the decor is driven by the motivated personality of the chef Craig Wilson.
Get steaks done perfectly at Meldrum Hotel, or go for cheap and traditional at the Prince of Wales – the oldest pub in Aberdeen.
5 Stay somewhere incredible
There are a lot of options for places to stay in Aberdeenshire, but no doubt the prime jewel is Meldrum House.
A stately rustic castle with a modern extension, it’s surrounded by acres of greens to play golf. The rooms are the sizes of what you would expect to find in America, not Aberdeen.
Don’t miss on the whisky cellar, tucked away, and drink a dram with some expert advice to find one you love.
6 Visit film locations
When Whisky Galore filmed in Aberdeenshire for around 16 days, a lot of the locals became extras.
They took over cafés for green rooms and scouted out caves for production. Many say tourism has boomed in the area since the film’s release.
Tour around the beaches and historic fishing village of Portsoy, especially the views of Moray Firth.
For more information on visiting Scotland and locations featured in Whisky Galore, go to Visit Scotland’s website.
Whisky Galore is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.
7 Build a boat in a week
For those wanting to get their hands doing something practical, Portsoy Boatshed offers the opportunity to build your own boat.
Perfect for those with little ones or even as a bonding exercise, you can spend a week at a hotel close by and spend days learning wood-working skills.
You can then take the boat home. And if you’re brave enough, you can take it out on the waters close by (but beware it’s very cold).
8 Take part in some Highland games
Want to try something physical, Scottish, but don’t have a week to do it?
Take part in some Highland games at the Lochter Activity Centre. Try welly wanging, shot put and hammer-throwing, and put your team against each other with a tug-of-war.
Or if you’re not that interested, you can also spend your time posing in a kilt like I did. (It may or may not have been a table cloth).
Bonus tip: While wearing a kilt, if you’re standing the hem should end a little past the top of the knee.
9 Spend the evening at Cheerz
There’s only one gay bar in Aberdeenshire, and that’s Cheerz.
While it might not have the glitz of your typical big city bar, it’s a community-run place that’s fiercely loved (and lovingly mocked) by locals.
If you’re tired from all the whisky, you won’t have a bad night grabbing a pint of beer and enjoying the drag talent.
10 Meet some people and support Pride
Rural isolationism for LGBTI people is a real thing in Aberdeenshire. With dating apps often being the only way of meeting anyone, there’s a danger people can feel alone and trapped.
But tourists are a perfect way for people to change that.
Deejay Bullock, with the charity Four Pillars, is the co-chair who is planning Grampian Pride.
‘Because we only have one pub, there’s not a great sense of community. Cheerz is the furthest north gay pub in the UK, and there’s nothing outside of that,’ he told GSN.
‘For them, Pride next year will rebuild that sense of community. It will show LGBTs, as a whole, can come together.