THERE is no sugar-coating the unholy quartet before my eyes – one shop to let, a brace of vape stores, and on to another vacant shop. Welcome to Union Street, one of Scotland’s great throughfares – and once the heart of Aberdeenshire’s retail action.

This surface gloom is not the whole story this weekend, though, as I find impressive community rebirth and a flurry of reasons to visit Aberdeen, even if the closest you’ve come to being an oil executive is watching Dallas.

Like all Scottish cities, Aberdeen is shorn from glorious contradiction. On one hand, a hotbed of old and (fossil-energy-fuelled) new Unionist money it’s not just a case of Unionist Street. Scotland’s third-largest city is also once said to have risen against its English garrison, giving Aberdeen its Bon Accord motto.

And today Europe’s oil capital has a whopping statue of William Wallace and his most stirring patriotic words at its core, whilst its most remarkable granite building – Marischal College – has Robert the Bruce plonked right outside.

The National:

On a dreich day when Aberdeen’s granite refuses to sparkle, Union Street and its Brexit, Covid and austerity-ravaged empty premises can be a hard sell.

Effervescent Jacqueline Van Den Akker, of Grampian Escapes And Tours, is having none of the negativity, though.

“There is a real community-led push by the Our Union Street initiative to bring people and businesses to our Granite Mile. Volunteers are getting stuck in; building things from the bottom up with art popups in vacant lots, painting of shop fronts and weeding of gardens,” she tells me.

Our Union Street and its hundreds of volunteers work across a handful of chosen themes, all pushing for improvement. There are incentives to attract new businesses in, like new stores getting offered a welcome package that includes internet facilities. There is talk too of resurrected long-forgotten walking tours that already have their content in place.

And there are visible green shoots around Union Street; not least in the impressively revamped Union Terrace Gardens, whose flora will really come into its own this summer. After much controversy over competing plans, this missing link connects the city in a way I cannot remember seeing as an adult.

At one end is Union Street and at the other, the delights of Aberdeen Art Gallery, which has been reborn as one of Scotland’s truly unmissable museums. In between are sweeping paths accessible to all, bright new spaces that look like tramcars (one houses the excellent Common Sense café) and arched units that will soon house cultural attractions.

Aberdeen used to be such a regular winner of Britain In Bloom there are stories it was banned from entering. With these new gardens and the glorious park trio of Duthie, Hazlehead and Seaton, it should think seriously about re-entering.

Van Den Akker’s enthusiasm is infectious and especially impressive considering she only came to Aberdeen for a job in the oil industry. She loved it so much she stayed on, buying into the old tourist slogan of this unique city. “Aberdeen really is the ‘silver city by the golden sands’ and just a lovely place to both live in and visit,” she told me.

I enjoy a weekend wrapped in a volley of superb dining spots. Maggie’s Grill brings more positivity, as they recently moved into these bigger premises. I’m glad they did as I tuck into proper poutine made using local butcher brisket with a view through to floor-to-ceiling windows to Marischal Collage and its fairytale spires.

Gidi Grill brings an impressive taste of West Africa and an owner I feel sorry for as ever-changing UK immigration laws block him from bringing in more staff with specialist knowledge. I finish off at The Craftsman with a delicious vegan breakfast bemoaning that it is too early to try the fine Scottish ales they have on tap. A special mention to Mackie’s 19.2 where my coffee comes with a wee cone of their delicious local ice cream attached.

The National:

From Aberdeen’s beach, I can see towards the famous port – the epicentre of Scotland’s oil and gas industry. Today, further south across the grassy promontory lies another harbour – home to a new, rapidly expanding industry that is now making waves across Aberdeenshire. The new harbour will welcome almost 60 cruise ships this year, bringing thousands of new guests. This month, the cruise season kicks off with the AIDAsol. At 253m, it is the longest cruise ship to have berthed here. By 2027, VisitAberdeenshire is aiming for 100 ships.

I end my trip popping into the Visit Scotland iCentre on Union Street. Greeting me is Jess, who threatens to be even more positive than Van Den Akker, enthusing about places I’ve not been yet like the Botanic Gardens and Donmouth Local Nature Reserve, with its seals. With Aberdeen, there is always more.

The same goes with wider Aberdeenshire, where one of Van Den Akker’s tours brings the likes of the epic Fraserburgh Harbour Lighthouse, Dracula’s castle at Cruden Bay, boat-fresh fish and chips in Peterhead and the chance to spot basking sharks and killer whales all in the same day. I resolve to come back to Aberdeen city and shire – not least to see how the community rebirth of Union Street is going.

For more information on Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire see here.