Kincardine O'Neil has a long and illustrious history. It stands on the north bank of the River Dee between Banchory and Aboyne and for centuries overlooked one of the most important fords across the Dee. Today, while many Deeside settlements show the influence of Aberdeen's prosperity in the arrival of newly built executive housing, Kincardine O'Neil is remarkable in having very few buildings less than 100 years old.
At one time there were 36 fords across the River Dee. The importance of the ford at Kincardine O'Neil was especially important, for it lay on the direct route north from the Cairn O'Mount road. King David I brought an army across the Dee here in 1150. And in 1296, Edward I of England's 35,000 strong army not only crossed the river here, they also camped around the village, consuming an entire year's supplies of food and drink in a single day.
Later the ford lay on the most direct drove route for cattle moving from northern Aberdeenshire to the markets at Crieff and Falkirk. When the Dee was in spate the drovers had to wait. Other travellers could make use of a ferry that crossed the river 300m upstream from the ford. A ferry was still in occasional use as late as 1937 when a flood washed it away and wrecked it. By this time the fare was 2d and the last crossing of the day was made at 10.00pm.
Kincardine O'Neil also attracted wealth as a result of three annual fairs culminating in the Bartle Fair held early in September, when many thousands of cattle were bought and sold on Bartle Muir, 500m north of the village, over a three day period. On fair days peddlers descended on the village from far and wide, where they set up shop in the street and in the kirkyard.
Fairs often descended into little more than drunken riots and it is said that residents often climbed onto their thatched roofs to get a better view of the fighting in the street below. An effort in 1777 to clear the kirkyard of "cursing, lying, tricking, stealing, brawling, fighting and every indecency at every corner" on market days failed through the efforts of surrounding residents, who boosted their incomes by selling food and alcohol to the market day crowds.
On the eastern edge of the centre of the village is the attractive ruin of the Church of St Mary, built in the 1200s and in use until replaced in 1862 by the Parish Church you can see today on the other side of the A93.
Overlooking the heart of Kincardine O'Neil is the Gordon Arms Hotel, built as a coaching inn in the 1830s. In summer the village was a staging post on the coach service to Braemar, while in winter it often served as the terminus for the service from Aberdeen. A glance at the coach schedules shows why commuting is such a relatively new activity: depending on the weather, the 26 mile journey from Aberdeen to Kincardine O'Neill could take between 8 and 11 hours.