'Q:Who invented copper wire?'The legend of Aberdonian meanness
'A: Two Aberdonians fighting over a penny'
Oil changed Aberdeen. Before the 1970s it was not much more than a substantial county town and fishing port. But when deindustrialisation and unemployment hit the rest of Scotland, a boom began in the north-east that is yet to end. The bars and clubs of central Aberdeen roar with activity every day of the week as oilies from Scotland, Newcastle, Brazil, the American South - and beyond - carouse and seek carnal pleasures. Choppers buzz in and out of the busiest heliport in Europe and oil support vessels queue for a slot to enter Aberdeen harbour. Onshore, material pleasures fill the minds of ordinary families with above-ordinary household incomes. The oil won't last forever, but the city and its thought patterns have been marked by it for good. Where else in the country will you overhear phrases like "he's only my boyfriend on Tuesdays," or "does it normally cost fifty bucks for a blowjob in this town?"
Aberdeen may be the earthiest, but it is also the cleanest city in Scotland, unique in being constructed almost entirely from one stone, a grey, incorruptible granite. Reflective minerals in the rock mean the granite city glints with silver in sunshine, which is more frequent than you might expect. Handsome Victorian buildings line the streets of central Aberdeen, and, while only a few individually are of national importance, the architecture of the city as a whole has a very pleasing unified effect. I have always liked Aberdeen after getting my first decent job here. In the midst of all the quick-tongued incomers Aberdonians are perhaps a little more reserved and slow than in, say, Glasgow, but they are the most honest, hard-working, and quietly self-confident people in Scotland.
Most cities sit on one river. Aberdeen has two, the Dee and the Don. Whilst the gentle Don wimples its way through rich rolling farmland, the Dee is a different beast altogether, leaping over crags from its source in the high Cairngorms to dash furiously down to the sea by the shortest possible route. 'Bonny Don yearly takes none,' goes an ancient rhyme, 'but Bloodthirsty Dee yearly needs three.'
Deeside's prosperous commuter satellites give way within a few miles of Aberdeen to wilder scenery. At Loch Kinord between Aboyne and Ballater the Dee crosses the Highland line. Upstream are the forests and crags of Royal Deeside. Queen Victoria's royal seal of approval led to a fashion for all things Highland, the apogee of which was the kilted Highland soldier. At Scotland's coldest town, Braemar, the highest road in the country bends south over the Mounth for Perthshire, whilst west, the roadless River Dee dashes from the fastness of the Cairngorms.
The River Don to the north presents a different aspect. Rising in heathery foothills, the majority of the castles in Aberdeenshire's castle trail line its banks or sit in its catchment. Castle Fraser, Fyvie, Kildrummy, Craigievar - some of the finest buildings in Scotland and, to some, Scotland's one unique contribution to world architecture. The Don winds around Bennachie. Celebrated in song and legend, it is Aberdeenshire's most prominent mountain. It may be less than half the height of the Cairngorms, but its isolated position and summit tors make it a landmark for miles around. From the summit, the whole of Aberdeenshire opens up - the Mounth south, Cairngorms west, Aberdeen east, and patchwork fields all the way north to another small but prominent landmark, Mormond Hill.
To the north of the Don at Cruden Bay sits the rambling ruin of Slains Castle, which local legend insists inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Perhaps he was also taken by the similarly gothic Bullers of Buchan, a strange coastline of collapsed seacaves and stacks just to the north. The rest of the Aberdeenshire coast consists of long beaches, neat cliffs and insular fisher touns. Many of these are picturesque but the quaintest is Crovie, a single-street village wedged so tightly between sea and cliff that there is no room for a road. It is connected to nearby Gardenstown by a fine coastal path. The fishing folk are a breed apart, their work dangerous, uncertain but lucrative, with the UK's largest whitefish ports at Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Boats often arrive back to port in the middle of the night, and the harbourside auction houses open early, humming with activity and aroma under arc lamps. Trucks drive off with the purchased catch and the fishermen, proceeds of the last fortnight's efforts lying heavy in their pockets, disperse to families or early-opening bars. By dawn, all that remains are seagulls scavenging remains on the dockside.