Aberdeen’s history with granite has had a tremendous impact on the area. Follow this trail through the city’s heart to witness some its most breathtaking architecture, including the second largest granite building in the world!
Set out down Union Street from the Visitor Information Centre towards St Nicholas Church, separated from Union Street by a 45m long façade. You may like to stop and take a free tour (donations welcomed) of the church and its graveyard which is said to be haunted by a raven haired woman in white! St Nicholas is the biggest parish church in Scotland and its carillon consists of 48 bells, making it the largest in Britain.
2. Music Hall
Continue past the church to the Music Hall and turn right onto South Silver Street. The Hall comprises Archibald Simpson’s Assembly Rooms of 1820 which front Union Street with massive fine-axed Ionic Pillars, behind which resides James Matthew’s Music Hall of 1858. In 1896 the Hall became Aberdeen’s first cinema, showing several short films including one featuring hand stencilled colour. Nowadays the Hall often plays host to The Scottish National Orchestra.
3. Golden Square
South Silver Street unfurls onto Golden Square where a statue of the Duke of Gordon now resides, although it originally stood at the Castlegate. The statue was designed by Thomas Campbell and was cut by hand from a 20 ton block of Dancing Cairns stone. The work was carried out at the yard of Macdonald and Leslie, the most important granite yard in the city at the time.
4. Art Gallery
Once across Golden Square, follow North Silver Street to its end and turn right on Skene Terrace, then head right along Rosemount Viaduct. Go straight across at the roundabout, taking time to admire the Art Gallery on the corner before continuing onto Schoolhill. The Gallery is free if you’d like to take the time to admire its 28 turned and polished granite columns, which represent a whole variety of stone being worked in and around Aberdeen in 1905.
5. Robert Gordon’s College
Behind the Art Gallery is Robert Gordon’s College. The two-storey granite building designed by William Adam was opened in 1730 and is an early example of building with the stone, which came from Loanhead Quarry in the Rosemount area of the city.
6. Provost Skene’s House
From Schoolhill turn right onto Flourmill Lane to view Provost Skene’s House on the left. The building dates from 1545 and is one of the city’s few surviving examples of early burgh architecture. Inside is a series of period room settings from the 17th and 18th century, where you can view the paintings and period costumes on display. You may also like to replenish your strength by enjoying a light snack in The Cellar.
7. Marischal College
Head back turning right into Schoolhill, then right into Broad Street where you will find Marischal College on your left. The college is said to be the second biggest granite building in the world (the largest being the Escorial in Spain) so there’s no missing it! The college is a blend of two styles: A. Marshall Mackenzie’s ‘perpendicular gothic’ (1890’s) and Archibald Simpson’s earlier more austere architecture (1837). The building is now set to become the City Council’s impressive new headquarters.
Continue past the college and return to Union Street where you will find the Townhouse on the corner. This is quite possibly one of Aberdeen’s most beautiful buildings. Built between 1868-1874 by architects Peddie and Kinnear, it incorporates the medieval sandstone Tolbooth which is one of the oldest buildings in Aberdeen. The Tolbooth used to be a gaol but now houses a museum focusing on the history of crime and punishment within the city.
9. Market Cross
Turn left and follow the road up to Market Cross on the corner of Union and King’s Street, It was constructed in 1686 out of sandstone, the most common stone used before the introduction of granite in the 19th century. A hundred years after it was constructed, the way of life symbolised by it and its soft stone was pushed aside to make way for urban and industrial growth and granite.
At the far side of Market Cross stands the imposing Salvation Army Citadel which was modelled on Balmoral Castle. The building dates from 1896 when the city’s granite industry was at its peak, with 300,000 tons of stone being quarried locally, 40,000 tons of which was exported through Aberdeen harbour.
The walk: An easy going, circular walk around the city centre’s streets.
Parking: As well as public car parks there are also the Kingswells and Bridge of Don park and ride services, situated just off the A944 and by the AECC respectively.
Distance: Just under two miles
Time: Allow around an hour plus time to visit some of the attractions along the way.
With thanks to www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/trails visit their website to find out more about trails within Aberdeen and the surrounding area.