Just back from a couple of days in various parts of Aberdeenshire and am happy to report that, not only is the Doric alive and well but that the area is surviving as robustly as you would expect. It’s not just that the P&J carries headlines as distinct from Scotland’s Central belt as any other ‘foreign national’ newspaper (they it was reputed to have brought the news of the Titanic’s sinking with “Local Man Lost at Sea”) but the whole place has its own feel from landscape to architecture.
I had forgotten what a big place it is—and not just because it takes you hours to get from Peterheid to Fochabers or Turra to Elgin. While there is flat land, its bulk is the rolling farmland that goes up and down a lot more than Ayrshire or the Mearns. They also seem to have gone in for fair sized wind turbines too because these are scattered all amidst the farms and villages and not just the more deserted moors beyond New Pitsligo. And when you come to the coast, even at a major river mouth like the Deveron, you are impressed with beetling headlands that seem to be a local specialty.
The thing that touched me the most was the blizzard of small towns you pass through that seem to be working as such. Much of it must have to do with the sheer distance to get into Inverness or Aberdeen and the antiquated paucity of what passes for a rail service or even a decent trunk road in the A96. But whether Huntly or Banff, there is a High Street with a selection of shops that aren’t just charity remnants and little of the run-down, seen-better-days that characterises much bigger places like Dunfermline or Motherwell.
Places like MacDuff may not be booming but the harbour’s full of working boats (unlike Banff where it’s mostly yachts) and there’s work to be had in the boatyards and chandleries. And, on the outside of town there’s a John Deere dealership with a yardful of green toys to tempt the farmer, whose big fields under broad skies must make for arable farming at least as rich as in my own East Lothian. To be sure there are derelict sites and grim estates, such as you find anywhere in Scotland. But here is wearing better than most.
Climb on any Stagecoach bus that trundle between towns on a spider’s web. Not only is the driver friendly to the point of striking up a conversation with you but buses seem to operate as a kind of mobile coffee morning where half the bus is bantering away with the other half and even the teenagers break their cool to talk with the elderly. And, as in the Borders, don’t dare clump towns together—people are highly aware of which town they are from. A Macduff man living in Banff (on the other bank of the Deveron) 20 years is still not regarded as local. Perhaps that’s what keeps Highland League football so lively.
On the two brilliant sunny days I was there, Aberdeenshire presented itself at its crisp wintry best. I can imagine what clouds of Nor’easter storms might do to damage that ambiance but maybe that also helps the sociability. Because, unlike the more money-grubbing suburbs to which I’m afraid places like North Berwick now belong, however reluctantly, the North East seems to have less of fixation on house prices and career and more of a grasp on what matters in life—family, friends and a bit of fun to break the monotony. The schools are good; there’s good work to be had still; the pubs are friendly.
I’m sure, while they’re growing up there, young people can’t wait to get out of such a quiet and unprepossessing part of the world. But once they’ve seen it and realised how cut-throat and impersonal it can be, especially in the big cities, I imagine there must be a fair number who show up back in Turriff or wherever to bring up their own kids, maybe run the John Deere dealership and remind themselves how to tell a quine from a bitcallant.