Interview: An American in Aberdeen

Each month we give you an interview with a local for an insider’s guide to the area – this month our local is also a tourist.  Alison Chino has recently moved from Arkansas to Aberdeen with husband and four children, and together they are eagerly exploring their new home.  We wanted to find out which family activities they have enjoyed since moving to Scotland’s North East, what Alison would recommend to visitors in and around Aberdeen and what her highlights have been so far. 

What brought you to Aberdeen?
We came to Aberdeen because my husband is getting a PhD in theology at the university here.  It is the fulfilment of a life dream for him to be able to study at a school that has been turning out world-class theologians for centuries.  And it is an exciting adventure for all of us to be able to live overseas for a season.

What do you love the most about Aberdeen city?
I love the city centre!  The first time I walked down Union Street, I was completely enchanted.  There were colourful flag banners above the streets and people everywhere.  The old granite buildings with spires and grey stones twinkling in the sun just swept me right off my feet.  We were fortunate that our first week in Aberdeen was sunny and warm, so we walked and walked around the city, visiting the Maritime Museum and the Art Gallery.  We managed to see quite a lot of the town in our first week here.

What has been your best discovery so far?
In Aberdeen, besides the city centre, we really love Aberdeen Beach.  Living right on The North Sea is sort of surreal for us after being landlocked for the last eleven years.  Even in the cold weather, we love to go stand out on the sand and look out at the sea.  Our kids have also enjoyed going to the harbour and seeing the boats come and go.

Aberdeen Beach

Tell us about one of your favourite day trips in Aberdeenshire.
We have had a lot of wonderful day trips in Aberdeenshire.  We spend most of our Saturdays out walking in the area hills, so it is hard to choose just one, but I think I would have to say Crathes Castle.  We joined the National Trust of Scotland as soon as we arrived, so we have returned several times to Crathes Castle.  We have toured the castle, wandered through the gardens, walked the four mile loop around the woods of the castle, played on the playground nearby and even swung in the trees with Go Ape Tribes.  The castle is a short drive from Aberdeen and it seems like we never run out of things to do there!

What walks would you recommend to visitors?
In addition to Crathes Castles, a couple of areas we have really loved are Bennachie and Glen Tanar.  Bennachie is just a short ways from Aberdeen, about thirty minutes, and the trails are so well maintained.  You can choose a short walk, or do a longer one by linking some of the trails together.  We have approached it from two different sides to cover more of the area, and from either side you get to walk first through gorgeous old growth pine trees before coming out into heather fields and trails that lead to incredible views of the surrounding hills.

We also enjoyed walking along the River Dee in the old estate of Glen Tanar, which is a little further west of Aberdeen. The walk that runs through the estate on both sides of the river is a really easy, flat trail but it takes you past an old chapel and over ancient bridges that cross the river.  We have done several walks that run near the beautiful River Dee and I have loved them all, but this one might be my favourite.

Bennachie in November

Bennachie in November

What are the top family-friendly things that you have seen or done?
Well, our family loves walking so Aberdeenshire is paradise to us, and of course the seaside is pretty amazing.  I think all of our kids would say their favourite day so far has been the day we visited Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven.  Dunnottar is set on an outcropping of rocks that seem to rise up from the middle of the sea.  Even to reach it, you have to climb down a cliff of stairs to the sea shore and then back up a similar rock staircase to the castle.  But what our kids loved is that the castle itself is really a ruin and so they could all run and play within the walls.  There is nothing that you are not allowed to touch, as is the case in most castle tours, so it is a perfect playground for young knights and warriors.  We have three boys, so their imaginations ran wild as they explored the castle.  And of course, being a knight in shining armour makes one very hungry, so we finished that outing with fish and chips by the sea in Stonehaven. Everyone still says those were the best fish and chips we have had in Scotland so far.

Dunnottar Castle, credit Alison Chino

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

What are your impressions of the Coastal Trail?
We have driven part of the Coastal Trail from Aberdeen to Fraserburgh, and it is a beautiful drive.  We went to the Scottish Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh, the highlight of which was touring the old preserved lighthouse there that is built on top of an old castle.  We loved it.  We have also done a couple of walks on the coast that circle old lighthouses, which is fun now that we have been to the museum and know a lot more about them.  I enjoyed learning about the Stevenson family and how they were responsible for designing and building so many of the lighthouses in Scotland.  And of course, we have eaten lots of fish and chips along the Coastal Trail!

Aberdeenshire is known for its Castle Trail – how much of this have you experienced so far?  Any highlights?
Being from The States, castles are quite a novelty to us, so we love visiting them.  So far we have been to Crathes, Drum, Fraser and Dunnottar.  We also visited Edinburgh Castle one weekend.  Everyone’s favourite so far has been Dunnottar, but I also really loved Fraser Castle.  I have been really impressed by the staff at the castles that are managed by the National Trust.  They are all super friendly and informative.  We hope to see many more castles while we are here, and of course, a castle visit it always a highlight for our visitors.

Boys Playing in front of Fraser Castle

Castle Fraser

How will you celebrate Hogmanay?
We are so curious about Hogmanay since this is our first year here!  We have already heard a lot about it, and we would really love to go to Edinburgh for the celebration, but we may already be a little late in our planning since I hear the city will be filled with people in town just for the big day!

If we do not make it to Edinburgh, we will go see the fireworks here in Aberdeen or the Fireballs Ceremony in Stonehaven.

What tips would you give visitors to Aberdeen city and shire?
I would say to go to the Maritime Museum and to visit the Aberdeen Art Gallery.  Also, walk through the Old Town of Aberdeen, by Kings College and St. Machars Cathedral.  Then go to the seaside and the harbour.  We are not golfers, but if you are, the golf courses along The North Sea are beautiful!

After seeing the city, you definitely want to get out into the shire.  Crathes Castle and Drum Castle are both close enough to see in a day, and be sure to make time for a walk in the woods and enjoy the breathtaking landscape!

Kings College in Aberdeen

Kings College in Aberdeen

Which places are on your list to visit in the future?
We really want to visit the islands!  I cannot wait to see the Isle of Skye and we all want to take a ferry to see Orkney and The Shetlands.  Watching the boats come and go from Aberdeen harbour really makes you long to get on one and experience more of the sea.

If you want to read more about the places and outings mentioned here, Alison keeps a blog regularly updated on her travels and family life in Scotland.

Images courtesy of Alison Chino ©.


  • Whitney Loibner
    11th December 2013 2:00 pm

    I can’t wait to visit!

    • EmmaASSC
      11th December 2013 3:19 pm

      Scotland is looking forward to welcoming you! :-)

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