Wee Little Highland Fling

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August 17th 2009
Published: September 20th 2009
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Had to run up to Aberdeen for a site visit so thought this was the perfect excuse to see a bit more of Scotland. This is the kick off for UK travel frenzy and in the space of 3 weeks have managed to fit in visits to Scotland, North England (Lake District) and Wales (Pembrokeshire).

Scotland is at this stage in my journeys my favourite part of the UK for scenery. I love the drama of the highlands and sweeping moors and as each time I visit I manage to score a wild mix of blue skys and stormy weather the sky is as much part of the trip as the country itself.

This trip i was joined by Daryl who amused himself for most of the Wednesday while I did my work (have a walk around the site, have a chat to the General Manager, meet all the Unit Managers, sit in on a couple of Joint Unit Inspections, lunch) then I was freeeee to wander the high roads and low roads of bonnie Scotland. Started with a quiet cup of tea overlooking the north sea littered with container ships and watching the rain blow in from the north until it blew me right inside the cafe as I didn't want my tea too watered down!

Being in Aberdeen it would have been rude to hit the road right away so we went into the Centre for a wander around. It's not called the granite city for nothing as most of the buildings are a lovely weathered grey stone. They do put a lot of effort into window boxes and hanging baskets so you get these dramatic bursts of colour to contrast with the monotone that is the city. Didn't probably give it as much love and attention as i could have, but the Dee Valley was calling and we had to find somewhere to stay before nightfall as no accommodation was booked for the entire trip (it's called winging it ... with varying success).

Having hired a car we decided to take B roads to make it a bit more interesting so set 2Ts (our Tom Tom) to an 'alternate' route to get away from the main roads. I of course then ignored 2T's to throw in a few side expeditions to interesting little places like Drum Castle (bit like a manor house rather than 'castle' to me), the Cullerlie Stone Circle and the like. Eventually we decided it might be advisable to find somewhere to stay and we ended up in Banchory (about 20 mile from Aberdeen) going door to door to see if a B&B was available, nada, eventually found our way to the Banchory Services League accommodation for our very romantic twin room (considering it was about 8pm, it was better than sleeping in a car and quite cheap too). Dinner in was fab and the sticky toffee pudding with custard started a dessert trend for the entire 5 days (yep, every single day).

Thursday after brekkie it was back on the road to wander more back roads in the beautiful Dee Valley (or Royal Deeside as it's collectively known). It's a lovely part of the world, no wonder Lizzie keeps a little place there at Balmoral. Once again detours were the order of the day with a visit to Tarland home of the Tomnaverie stone circle and the Culsh Earth House (not that inspiring) and then a stop mid morning at the Muir of Dinnet to do a gentle walk to the Burn O' Vat which is a deep, water gouged bowl of rocks that you can enter (mind the water!). Onward to our destination of the day Ballater and a chance to experience a good old fashioned Scottish Highland Games (another massive distance of about 20 miles).

Highland Games are amazing - it's like a school athletics carnival with lots of things going on at once. In the middle of the main ring the dancers are being judged, the bagpipers are off to the side, the boys are throwing heavy things on the other side and around the outside are the foot races! Throw in a tug of war and a couple of sack races and it doesn't get much better than that! Luckily for us the weather stayed good until right near the end and we got to experience the joys of the caber toss - nothing like flipping a tree end on end to show your manly strength - definitely my highlight!

Onward on the eternal hunt for accommodation so another 10 mile or so down the road (very extensive trip so far) to Braemar - scooting past Balmoral (closed due to Lizzy's annual occupation anyway) and after a couple of B&B's success was ours. A wander down the road to Braemar Castle, which was less about the castle than about hunting wabbits! I don't think i've seen so many cotton tails in my life - they have the good life in the UK.

Day 3 we decide to range a little further from Aberdeen, but started the morning with a trip to the Linn of Dee a narrow gorge like bit high up the Dee River. We decided it was such a nice overcast day a bit of exercise so set off on a bit of a wander (too much photographic work to worry about foot work) and then got a bit more adventurous and walked up and over a hill. Of course it started bucketing down so we walked up and over the way we came and back to the car, soaked to the skin, but suitably exercised! Having made a plan to range and see other bits of Scotland we set the course for Fort Williams over on the West Coast. Didn't quite make it that far, but enjoyed the drive and managed to make it as far as Tyndrum for our best accommodation so far, single beds ... seperate dorms! Given we'd already checked every place in the previous town, it was 8pm at night, I was hungry and we took the last 2 beds - bargain.

Day 4 early morning we were up and off for one of my favourite drive bits through the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Park. Driving through the highlands is so pretty and at places the road cuts down quite dramatically with waterfalls of mountain run off and the lovely bright green contrasting with the mauvy heather. After striking out for brekkie in Glen Coe we made it to Fort Williams for a bite to eat before turning north for the Loch run to Inverness. As you go up the centre of Scotland it's water a plenty, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness all in a row. Mandatory to stop at Fort Augustus to see the Caladonian Canal at the southern tip of Loch Ness, Loch Lochy has the coolest name and Loch Oich is a wee little thing! Had a quick visit to Urquhart Castle which disappointingly is so controlled by the National Trust that you have to pay to go in to have almost any view. I just climbed the fence right at the bottom end of the carpark for a free long distance view ... just watch your footing as I managed to slip on the steep bank and do a serious injury to my dignity (and started a bit of a trend with others following my lead, well, without the slip sliding action).

Onward to Inverness to find a B&B and actually see a bit of the city in daylight. Made friends/bribed a sea gull for some close up shots, checked out the river, ate more food and sticky toffee pudding (Daryl had it every night) then sleep as back to Aberdeen on Day 5.

Day 5 we decided to head back down to Aberdeen through the northern route through the Cairn Gorm National Park (the Dee Valley is at the south of this). Best day's driving out of the whole trip. We went down to Aviemore to go up Cairn Gorm it'self (funicular, not walking) arrived at the top to find ourselves in the cloud bank - odd moments of clarity, but generally just a ghostly, foggy greyness. Saw some rather foggy deer as they wandered past up the mountain/hill - it's not really that high, then back down and onwards through the lovely, lovely, lovely national park. Highlights were Carrbridge (it has a bridge and tea), almost running over a red squirrel (yep a real honest to god red one, not the usual skanky greys), a nice bowl of soup overlooking Corgarff Castle (we thought it was a white house ... oops!) and of course the lovely, lovely, lovely scenery. Another hightlight for me was stopping at Kildrummy Castle which is primarily well preserved ruins. The joy of our visit here was that we were the only people in the place, it was late afternoon, not raining and you can clamber about at will.

Eventually made it back to Aberdeen and flew back to London ... I love Scotland!

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Drum CastleDrum Castle
Drum Castle

more like a manor house than a castle to me

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