Monday 29th May 2006
We caught the first ferry from Larne to Cairnryan for our return to Scotland. It was cold and raining again but the seas were calm. We stayed overnight at Lockerbie – at what has become one of our favourite hotels, Dryfesdale. We were greeted with a warm welcome – and our usual table had been kept for us for dinner.
Tuesday 30th May 2006
Today we drove to Edzell to meet up with Carol’s relations, who had gathered especially for the occasion. An extremely warm welcome greeted us with a shared family gathering. We later set off on the 16 mile drive from Edzell to find our accommodation. Sited in the beautiful surrounds of Glen Esk, the “House of Mark” had once been an old Scottish manse. It and the adjoining stables have been converted into a most comfortable B&B which had the added advantage of offering an evening meal as well.
Wednesday 31st May 2006
Carol’s relations, Elizabeth and Allan, picked us up from our B&B to take us out for the day. It turned out to be something of a whirlwind tour of the local attractions. We were first taken by what is known locally as the Cairn O’Mount road. This entrance to Deeside gives the visitor a high level view of the majestic mountains to the west whilst winding across open moorland and through pine forests. In keeping with tradition, we each placed a rock on the cairn itself which is at the highest point. We then drove through spectacular Highland scenery stopping at Ballater for morning tea, where Carol pinched all the raspberry jam for her scones. I pinched the cream!
Next stop was Crathie Kirk – the Royal family’s local church when at Balmoral – but as the church was not open to visitors we took the next best option and visited the nearby Royal Lochnagar Distillery! The guided tour there was excellent – not just because it finished with the traditional sample dram of whisky.
On returning to the main road, we realised that Crathie Kirk was now open, so we proceeded to join other visitors in viewing this special icon of Scottish and Royal history. The present Church was built in 1895 and overlooks the old Kirk yard where the remains of the original 14th-century church can still be seen. John Brown, Queen Victoria’s personal servant, is buried there within the old cemetery walls. Many of the features of this local church from the plain granite walls to the impressive Scots Pine roof and stained glass windows in the chancel and transepts are among the many gifts donated over the years by individual members of the Royal Family. Well worth seeing.
We continued on to Braemar village for lunch in a small village restaurant. Main courses were, at best, basic, but the desserts were decidedly wicked – in particular the rhubarb and apple crumble and cream! Maybe as an aid to our digestion the whirlwind tour became something of a tornado as Allan whisked us – at some speed – along the narrow roads that are a feature of the area. Perhaps he was demonstrating his earlier acquired driving skills as a local police officer.
We arrived back at the House of Mark in time for dinner at 7:00 pm which, unbeknownst to us, was to be shared with a group of six women who meet annually to reminisce over their years together at St Andrew’s University thirty-five years ago. The conversation was lively, humorous and, at times, intellectual even – and the wine flowed freely. A perfect end to a perfectly full day!
Thursday 1st June 2006
We called in to say goodbye to Elizabeth and Allan before compensating for the previous day’s indulgence by taking what is known locally as the “Blue Door” North Esk River Walk.
The blue door correctly describes the almost too discreet entry to the “Walk”, which would have been all too easy to miss if we hadn’t been warned. The path meanders along the banks of the North Esk River past pools where salmon abound, amidst stands of conifers and leafy glades. The banks are the homes to otters, and red squirrel may be spotted in the surrounding trees – though, try as we might, we didn’t spot either.
For all that, it provided the sort of magically serene break that we both needed, and as such, comes highly recommended to any of you who happen to be in that locality.
Friday 2nd June 2006
Alas, a day when it was necessary to get LRC’s recurrent squeak looked at to ensure that it was not of the “fatal” variety. After spending some hours awaiting the diagnosis, it appeared that “she” would survive – and we with it, without horrendous surgical or post-operative care costs!
Saturday 3rd June 2006
We arose early and, on the advice of our host, went castle-hunting along one of the walking trails that meander through the glen. For reasons unknown, we failed to find the castle that day but stretched our legs for a couple of hours through scenery that was not what we had come to expect elsewhere in the glen – being barren and somewhat forbidding. We did, however, stumble upon the “Queen’s Well” in Glen Mark, built by public subscription to celebrate a visit by Queen Victoria in September 1861 to the spring that feeds it. Carol wondered why on earth Queen Victoria was out there!
Sunday 4th June 2006
We left Glen Esk this morning for Aberdeen and on the way visited Balmoral Castle. Nestled within the stunning Highland scenery of Royal Deeside, on the banks of the river Dee, this is the Scottish home of the Royal Family.
Originally a 16th-century tower- house, it was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848. The woodland near the castle is said to have reminded Prince Albert of Thuringia in his own country and, whether as a result of this or not, he bought the house and estate as a gift for the Queen. In 1853 William Smith was commissioned to design the castle in the Scottish Baronial style. In 1856 the building was completed, it now being a full and working estate with around 100 buildings surrounding the castle itself.
The castle not including its land and estate is valued at around £160 million and remains privately owned by the Royal Family. Today, the Balmoral Estate is still a working one, occupying over 200 km² of land. The Royal Family employs around 50 full-time and 50-100 part-time staff to maintain the estate and look after the animals etc.
Our first stop was at the most attractive newly-completed Gift Shop and Café, where we enjoyed much needed coffee and scrumptious Scottish shortbread. We decided to take the audio tour – a wise decision, as it enabled us to take a leisurely stroll through the magnificent grounds and those parts of the castle open to visitors.
Our enjoyment of this was helped not a little by the fact that it was a warm, sunny and beautiful day. Apart from taking away some wonderful memories, Carol now has an official Balmoral Castle jacket – with, of course, the obligatory Coat of Arms!
Tuesday 6th June 2006
We set out for Inverness for an overnight before our expedition to the Orkney Islands.
On the way we visited “Crathes Castle”. Crathes is a magnificent 16th century tower house standing on an estate granted to the Burnett family in 1323 by King Robert the Bruce, and was held in that family for almost 400 years. The castle contains a significant collection of portraits, and intriguing original Jacobean painted ceilings survive in several rooms. The castle estate covers 530 acres of woodlands and fields, including nearly four acres of a walled garden.
Given the sort of day it was – bright, sunny and warm – we enjoyed immensely our leisurely stroll through the informality of the woodland walk. In striking contrast lay the beauty of the more formal garden we next visited. This provided a different environment but was no less enjoyable.
Foodie news: Lunch in the castle café was close to gourmet class: a shared brie, onion marmalade and red grape sandwich was consumed with gusto!
We had booked at the Lochardil House Hotel which was so difficult to find that we had to resort to buying a street map – duh! The search was worth the effort though, because we were shown to a beautiful large room overlooking the garden. The restaurant also had a garden view and the food was excellent even if the service was a little unprofessional.
Wednesday 7th June 2006
A beautiful sunny day today – and ideal for our cruise on Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle – although it started out being “one of those days”!
We had bought tickets and boarded what we thought was the correct boat. Fortunately, however, an overhead conversation between the skipper and a passenger made us realise that we were not on the cruise that we had planned to take.
We just had time to scramble off and make our way to the correct jetty and boat. The half hour cruise down to the castle was absolutely stunning and made up for the earlier hiccup. As it turned out, the timing of the cruise could not have been better as it allowed us “our” hour at the castle before the “coach” hordes descended on it.
Thursday 8th June 2006
Our target for the day was Brodie Castle. A strikingly handsome Scottish castle, located just 30 minutes from Inverness, Brodie is the embodiment of 16th century grandeur. Home to a superb collection of porcelain, furniture and 20th century art, and renowned today for its unique daffodil collection (which one of its owners had spent many years developing).
Amongst the many paintings on display is that of the wife of an early Brodie. She was burnt to death in an upstairs bedroom. The painting was altered after her death to show her pointing upwards to the room where she died, though the guide suggested that it may have been meant to indicate where she was supposed to have gone – heavenwards!
While we were less taken with the interior of the castle and its treasures than some others we have visited, we did enjoy an extensive walk through some beautiful woodland that encircled the large man-made lake.