Walking in the Highlands at Braemar

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September 30th 2013
Published: October 6th 2013
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The springs of the bed at the Youth Hostel in Braemar came up to our expectations and we both had a much better sleep than our last hostel experience at Glencoe.

We were wise and had a lie in and let the crowd of walkers get their showering done and cook or prepare their breakfast before we emerged for the day. The showers were actually very good with lots of hot water and pressure. The only thing we both still have to work out is how to keep the floor of the outer side of the shower cubicle free of water so you can dry yourself without fear of dropping your clothes and getting them wet.

By the time we got to the kitchen we had the place almost to ourselves. The guy who manages the place is a talkative soul and perhaps he was pleased to have people from NZ as he had visited there 10 years ago and wanted us to know all about his experiences. He spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent and at times was difficult to understand. He was helpful with information on the local walks and places to visit.

One of the things we hadn’t realised when we booked for the two nights on booking.com was that the hostel turfs you out at 10.30am and closes up while the cleaning is done and you can’t get back in until 4pm in the afternoon. This wasn’t going to be a problem for us today but we weren’t sure what would have happened if it had been pouring with rain and you had nowhere else to go.

However, the day wasn’t too bad with just the usual high overcast and no rain in the forecast.

Gretchen had put together two of the local walks for the morning activity, a total of about 10km and so we set off to join the first which was just a short distance away from the hostel.

The route followed a small stream that eventually ran into the River Dee which flows down the valley and past Balmoral. It was an easy stroll along the banks of the stream and then the river with nice scenery of the valley as we went. On the hill on the other side of the river the green fern had turned yellow and en masse it made an appealing sight from a distance.

As we came to the end of the walk we took a stop on a seat and just took in the quiet scene all around us. That is until we noticed a man across the river in tall grass suddenly bob up. He was too far away to make out what he was up to with the naked eye so I put the video camera onto zoom. He appeared to have a small camp and have been sleeping there in the open air. We checked later with the manager in the hostel and he confirmed that people do this as they pass through the area. Just how they keep warm in the cold overnight temperatures though is a bit of mystery as they would need plenty of insulation.

We crossed onto the next walk that would take us part way up a glacial moraine and give a different set of views of the valley than the river walk.

Initially we had a problem finding the start of the moraine track even though we could see above us where the moraine was and it was only when we heard the quacking of ducks that we knew we weren’t far away as the small map we had of the local walks showed a duck pond on the track we were looking for. The ducks were keen to see us and they came swimming over looking for food but we had to disappoint them as we had nothing with other than boiled sweets which they would have found difficult to digest and not to their taste.

It was a steady uphill climb along a farm track and then the path switched to run through a grove of low growing trees before we got to a point where according to the information we had the trees did not grow naturally .We put this down to the lack of enough dirt covering on the moraine. Instead ahead of us was a vast area of heather although it was now a brown/green colour and we wished we had been here a couple of months ago when it would have been in flower and would have been a mass of purple. When you looked closely there was still the odd bush with a small bunch of flowers.

In the distance we could the sound of a helicopter and sure enough one flew up the valley towards Balmoral. It was a small army helicopter so not one the Queen would travel in but perhaps it was on a routine patrol or one that is kept on standby in the area as an escort to what was probably a larger machine for when the Queen had to visit somewhere while she was on her summer holidays.

The downhill path eventually started as we began to get hungry and a quick look at the watch revealed it was just after 1pm so it was no wonder the tummy was gurgling.

The track finished on the other side of the duck pond but the ducks didn’t bother to swim our way knowing that we had let them down an hour or so ago with no food for them.

After lunch in the car we drove off towards Balmoral and took a loop road that took us past the gates of the Queen’s castle although you couldn’t see anything much from the road. A sole policeman was outside the gates and although this all looked very low key we were sure there must have been more security in the guardhouse or nearby. The land though looks quite open and we speculated what would happen if you waded across the rather shallow Dee River and climbed the climb onto the property as there didn’t appear to be any high fences around the fields you can see.

The little back road took us through woodland, following the River Dee to Ballater and we took a half hour to check out the small town and the Royal Railway Station that has been preserved even though the railway tracks are long gone. The station is now an information bureau and has been retained in pristine condition with the station platform looking like it was ready to see the arrival of the next train if only the railway ran here still.

Before we arrived back in Braemar completing the loop we called into the church at Craithie just across the river from the Queen’s castle and checked out the interior which had some descriptive stain glassed window. The pew that the royal family would use was covered with a dust cloth we guessed to keep it clean for their next visit. The church is only about 300 metres away from the gates to Balmoral and Gretchen reckoned the family would be able to easily walk the distance as long as someone was on duty to stop the traffic on the main road. But I can’t recall seeing television pictures of her arriving by anything else other than a car.

Before we finally returned to the hostel we had one last place to visit and that was the sports ground that is used for the Highland Games held here every year in the first weekend of September.The park is not a flash affair and looked quite like many small town A&P grounds that we might see in NZ except that there were a couple of open grandstands to give more seating for part of the usual crowd of 15,000 people that flood into this small town with a permanent population of just under 1000.

The hostel tonight was only going to have a few guests according to the manager who chatted away to us as we cooked our Angus beef Sheppard’s Pie and vegetables and when he still carried on when it was ready to eat we wondered whether he wanted to join us or could find someone else to talk to. He finally got the hint and we tucked into our dinner undisturbed.

Tomorrow it’s back to the lowlands and some more family research on Gretchen’s side while we stay a couple of nights in Cumbernauld.

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