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Deeside farmer creates world’s first Aberdeen-Angus tourist trail

Ken Howie
Ken Howie

The world’s first Aberdeen-Angus tourist trail has been created by a Deeside farmer.

Ken Howie has an enthusiastic passion for all things Aberdeen-Angus.

As well as running the 32-cow Cairnton herd of pedigree Angus cattle, Mr Howie along with his wife Margaret and daughter Nicola, runs the Deeside Activity Park.

Launched in 2003, the activity park offers a range of activities including quad biking, archery and clay pigeon shooting. It also features a farm shop and cafe serving the farm’s own Aberdeen-Angus beef.

“I have been involved with Aberdeen-Angus cattle since I was a little boy,” said Mr Howie.

“My grandfather had Aberdeen-Angus and Herefords at Auchnagatt, and when we started farming on our own in 1989 the obvious thing to do was to follow the Aberdeen-Angus.”

The 175-acre Cairnton Farm, which is based near Aboyne in Royal Deeside, is also home to three holiday cottages and Mr Howie takes great pride in showing guests his prized Angus cattle.

Last year the difficult decision was made to downsize the herd and 36 cattle were sold.

Ken Howie with some of his cattle.
Ken Howie with some of his cattle.

Mr Howie said the funds were needed to help boost the activity park business, which has suffered as a result of the oil and gas sector downturn.

“From its inception in 2003 up until 2015, the activity park was really a successful business; it worked very well,” said Mr Howie.

“The last two years have been awful, because we rely very heavily on the oil industry. The ‘company day out’ was our main trade but it just doesn’t exist now.”

He said the business has gone full circle in the past two years.

“The park was started to allow the farm an easier road but the reality is, it’s the farm that came to the rescue of this business [activity park],” added Mr Howie.

Having made no secret of the recent business struggles, Mr Howie said the focus of the business, as well as that of the farming industry, was “survival”.

To that end, he set about creating the Aberdeen Angus Trail, which officially launches in May.

Branded ‘The World’s Only Aberdeen Angus Trail’, Mr Howie’s initiative sets out to create a connection between the world-famous Aberdeen-Angus brand and the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus.

“I’m enthusiastic and maybe even passionate about the Aberdeen-Angus breed,” said Mr Howie.

“It’s one of those globally recognised brands that screams quality. The thing that has surprised me on my various trips overseas is that although people recognise the term ‘Aberdeen-Angus’, they don’t associate it with Aberdeenshire and Angus.”

He said the trail had been created along the similar lines of the Malt Whisky Trail and to date 14 businesses and organisations are involved.

Each point along the trail features a story board with information about the Aberdeen-Angus breed and its link to the venue.

The trail story board at the Deeside Activity Park.
The trail story board at the Deeside Activity Park.

The trail starts at Glamis Castle in Angus and ends at Ballindalloch Castle in Banffshire.

Although Glamis is no longer home to black cows, the castle and its surrounding lands have a rich history with the breed.

The Queen Mother, who was born at Glamis, was an enthusiastic breeder of Aberdeen-Angus cattle at Castle Mey in Caithness and she was also patron of the breed society.

Her grandfather – the 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne – took a keen interest in developing his herd and bred several beasts in the late 19th Century which went on to achieve notable show success.

Later this year a statue of one of the breed’s founders – Hugh Watson who was a tenant of Keillor Farm in Angus in the early 1800s – will be unveiled at Glamis.

The next stop on the trail is Saddler’s Bakery in Forfar, which uses locally-sourced Aberdeen-Angus beef in its famous Forfar Bridies. The Saddler family has been producing Forfar bridies since 1897.

The trail then travels north into the region of Aberdeenshire, first stopping off at the Mitchell family’s Castleton Farm Shop and Cafe, near Laurencekirk.

Although no Aberdeen-Angus cattle are actually reared at Castleton – the farm’s main enterprise is more than 200 acres of soft fruit – the shop and cafe are proud supporters of the brand, stocking Aberdeen-Angus beef for its customers.

Next on the trail is the Howie family’s Deeside Activity Park, followed by Cairnton Farm Cottages.

Thereafter, it moves to the Alford Heritage Museum, which has a whole section dedicated to Aberdeen-Angus cattle.

Alford has strong links with Aberdeen-Angus cattle – it even features a bronze statue of an Angus bull known as Jeremy Eric which cost more than £50,000 to erect.

Mr Howie hopes the trail will help connect tourists to the breed's origins.
Mr Howie hopes the trail will help connect tourists to the breed’s origins.

Tillyfour Farm, which was home to William McCombie who is widely regarded as ‘the grandfather of the breed’, is also located near Alford.

Mr Howie said William McCombie was a great marketeer who strengthened the breed’s reputation.

The next stop on the trail is Hattoncrook Farm Deli at Whiterashes, near Newmachar.

Run by Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society senior vice-president, Angela McGregor, the deli features beef from the McGregor family’s Newcairnie herd of pedigree Angus cattle.

The trail then moves on to Turriff – first to the Turriff and District Heritage Society and then the town’s Fife Arms Hotel and Bistro.

“Turriff has had a long and important connection with the breed for a lot of years. There’s a lot of good herds, past and present, around about Turriff,” said Mr Howie.

The second last stop on the tour is the library at Banff Castle, which was once home to the first society office.

Mr Howie said: “The editor of the Banffshire Gazette was Ranvenscroft and he was also the first editor of the herd book.”

Ballindalloch Castle, Strathspey
Ballindalloch Castle, Strathspey

The trail finishes up at Ballindalloch Castle, which is home to the oldest long-standing herd of Angus cattle in the world.

Back in the 1800s, it was Sir George McPherson-Grant of Ballindalloch who set out to improve the breed. Along with Hugh Watson and William McCombie, he is regarded one of the breed’s forefathers. The castle and surrounding estates are still owned by the McPherson-Grant family.

So what next for the trail?

Following its official launch in the middle of May, Mr Howie said he hoped the trail would become a popular tourist attraction for visitors in Scotland.

There was scope for more organisations and companies to get involved, however only independent companies would be accepted and they must be located in Aberdeenshire or Angus, he added.

“I hope that the trail will encourage visitors to the come to the area. And if nothing else, I hope we will all benefit from one anothers’ visitors and customers,” said Mr Howie.

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