Cairngorms 2015 A week in the Scottish mountains

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Friday 19th June

On the first day of our holiday Aurora, Mummy, Daddy and Grandma awoke in a Premier Inn near Durham, having driven there the evening before after I'd got home from work. Due to an entertaining assortment of working late, train delays and overnight roadworks we'd only arrived at 1:30am so we all felt a little groggy.

Aurora was so tired she fell asleep again whilst climbing out of bed.

Still, a good cooked breakfast later and we were on our way to Ballater, the town in the Cairngorms where we'd be staying for the coming week. The traffic was light and the driving easy, although the last hour or so was along the extremely winding A93 where we got stuck behind several caravans and other vehicles almost entirely inapproriate for roads first build in the early 18th century.

A93: highest public road in the country.

Still, we got to Ballater in the end and we got to see plenty of beautiful scenery along the way. Once we turned into the right street, we got our first look at where we'd be staying.

Langdale, our home from home for the next week.

It was a fairly grand old late Victorian house with a spacious garden and generous driveway. Once we'd got the car parked, and taken a very welcome stretch, we headed inside to look around.

The dining room had a table that would have been big enough for twice as many people.
The kitchen was thankfully somewhat modernized since its initial construction.
I neglected to take a picture of the sitting room - this was just an additonal reading room.
The view from the upstairs rooms were great... When the hills weren't shrouded in cloud.
The lawn was Aurora's main go-to "run round like crazy" area.

After exploring all the rooms - and it took a little while to get through all of them - it was time to unpack and settle in. Thankfully we'd been a little more restrained than our Keswick trip, largely by virtue of bringing very little food and booking a Tesco delivery for the evening of our first night. Hence it was only a half hour or so before everything was inside and we were relaxing in the lounge.

Once Tesco had delivered our supplies later that evening we had dinner and then retired to bed to recover from the two day journey.

Saturday 20th June

We had a leisurely start the next day. After a lie-in and a late breakfast we decided to amble into Ballater and nose around for a little bit.

The centre of the little town was filled with pleasant green spaces.
Ballater did not develop until around 1770; first as a spa resort to accommodate visitors to Pananich Mineral Well, then later upon the arrival of the railway in 1866 it was visited by many tourists.

Ballater is a fairly small town, with around 1,500 permanent residents in the 2006 census. We strolled around the fairly compact centre for a little while. Michelle and her mum headed into a few of the shops while Aurora and I ran around the greens. Well, one of us ran around the greens whilst the other observed from the comfort of a bench - I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide who was which.

Glenmuick Church stands at the town centre and dominates the skyline.

After a little time in the shops, especially the second hand book shop, we headed home for a bite of lunch. Then it was back out again to a confectionary shop that I'd spotted on my travels and Aurora's first Mr Whippy ice cream.

Many napkins bravely gave their lives in the cause of Aurora's ice cream.

While we ate our ice creams I noticed that a large building next door looked wrecked and was totally boarded off. It seemed recent and indeed it turned out to be - the building was the Old Royal Station and used to be a museum and exhibition centre, but only the previous month it was sadly gutted by fire. A shame to have missed it, I bet it was interesting.

After another stroll around we headed back home to take it easy for the rest of the day. It was a really pleasant evening and we kept Aurora amused with the aid of copious quantities of bubble mixture. She chased hundreds of them around and only caught but a handful before they burst - it's probably a metaphor for the economy or something.

Grandma, the bubbles keep bursting! Daddy can't be making them properly.

We spent the rest of the day taking it easy. That's what holidays are for, after all!

Aurora always finds ways to amuse herself.

Sunday 21st June

The next day we were rather undecided about what to do. In the end we more or less ended up doing nothing except hanging around and playing dominos.

I'm bored, Daddy.

Still, as afternoon was slowly edging into evening, I decided that Aurora and I needed some fresh air. Mummy and Grandma decided they wanted some quiet time so just the two of us set off to see what sort of adventures there were to be had.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. —G. K. Chesterton

We headed off to find the Deeside Way, a long distance path that follows the route of the Deeside Railway, which closed in 1966. We met up with it where it headed through the town.

The route to the old railway was well signposted through Ballater.

The route followed a well made up path. The initial stretch was a pleasant tree-lined section which headed out through the outskirts of Ballater and into the fields beyond.

This section reminded me very much of the similar route Aurora and I had taken in Keswick a few weeks earlier.

As we left the town behind us, however, the view opened up. Deeside is a broad glacial valley with a wide, flat base covered in fields and steep-sided hills on both sides, so the views were pretty... But a little distant.

The path struck out across the patchwork fields that cover Deeside's broad valley.

Aurora had built up a lot of energy over the day so she spent about the first fifteen minutes running away from me - waiting briefly for me to catch up and then running away again.

I spent the first part of the walk primarily looking at Aurora's back.

Eventually Aurora settled down a little bit, saying "I'm a bit tired from all that running, Daddy" - I knew at that point someone was going to sleep well tonight.

I think I'll walk for a bit now, Daddy.

One thing I noticed as we walked was a profusion of rabbits running along the path ahead of us. It was after six o'clock in the evening so it wasn't surprising to see them out, but it was obviously a really good spot for them since the path was lined with burrows. Aurora was sufficiently intersted in them that I had to dissuade her from actually crawling down some of them - I think perhaps she's been watching a little too much Peter Rabbit on CBeebies.

Hunting wabbits

As well as rabbit holes, Aurora was also on the look out for little treasures, as always. Fairly soon the pockets of my backpack were bulging with pine cones, pretty pebbles and anything else that was considered noteworthy.

Look, Daddy, treasures!

The walking stayed easy and there was some beautiful views along the way. I could also see some really attractive old houses nestled in amongst the hills - it would be lovely to have a holiday home here, but I wouldn't fancy driving up to it in the winter.

Lovely old place on the hill - if it doesn't look big then take a closer look, at least half of it is obscured by trees.

After this point the route started to rise onto an embankment - the beauty of walking on disused railways is that it rather insulates one from tedious undulations in the terrain. We started to encounter small bridges over various obstacles below and as I found in Keswick, Aurora was surprisingly sensible and cautious crossing them.

The views from one of the bridges we crossed.

The path dipped briefly to cross the fast A93 road, a prospect made slightly more tense by the comparative lack of visibility in both directions - needless to say I carried Aurora at that point, much to her dismay at the time. After crossing the road, we headed into an attractive wooded stretch of the walk.

Into the woods.

It was around this point that Aurora started to play up a bit and become rather irritable, a sure sign that her earlier running had finally caught up with her and she was getting tired. We passed over a stream and stopped for a few minutes to play Pooh Sticks and give her a chance to rest.

Tullich Burn, shortly before it flows into the River Dee.

It was clear that Aurora was definitely flagging, even after a little break, so I abandoned my plans to make it to the ruined church I'd seen on the map a little further on and decided to head home. I coaxed Aurora into the backpack carrier, which wasn't easy, and set off home.

It was about seven o'clock by this point and I was starting to get more than a little peckish so I set a decent pace on the route home - the threatening grey clouds starting to roll in ahead of us were also a rather good incentive. I was glad I'd brought my walking poles as carrying around fifty pounds of toddler on your back does get tiring after a mile or so.

We chatted away as we walked, with as much breath as my pace allowed, but I did notice Aurora start to get a little quieter as we went along. As we came into the outskirts of Ballater once more, I could hear her start to snore.

Going... Going... Gone.

We got back home without further incident - the whole route was about 3.5 miles all told. Based on how much shoulders were feeling after the final stretch I'm really not sure I could do much more than about two miles with Aurora on my back, as heavy as she is now - I guess the next few years are going to be that awkward stage where she's too young to walk long distances, but too heavy to carry.

As for the weather, well so much for the grey clouds rolling in - they passed us by within half an hour and left a beautiful evening in their wake. The perfect way to relax after a very pleasant evening stroll.

Blue sky! Well, sort of.

Monday 22nd June

Monday dawned rather overcast, but we decided that we'd spent enough time indoors and it was time to head off and visit some castles - there were, after all, quite a cluster of them in the area.

Crathes Castle

First off we headed to Crathes Castle, about twenty-five miles to the east. It's a sixteenth century castle that was built by the Burnett of Leys family and held by them for almost 400 years. These days, however, the whole property is owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

Crathes sits on land given as a gift to the Burnett of Leys family by King Robert the Bruce in 1323.

Once we found the correct turn-off for the castle - specifically not the one proposed by the TomTom - we had a pleasant drive along the avenue leading up to the property.

Crathes Castle sits in 530 acres of gardens, woodland and fields.

Once we made it to the car park we had a further stroll through the carefully manicured grounds that surround the castle to reach the ticket office.

I'd hate to see their gardening bill.

Then it was across to the castle itself. It had something of the look of a fairytale castle, but a little squashed - as if Prince Charming went totally over budget in a very early episode of Grand Designs and had to scale back his designs quite drastically.

The castle's overall design was impressive, if a little squat.
Construction of the current tower house was begun in 1553 but, delayed several times due to political problems during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, it wasn't completed until 1596.

The interiors were both fascinating and beautiful in by turns, although I can't show any actual evidence of the fact due to the Trust's blanket ban of photography within the property. I was allowed to take a few pictures of the grounds from the upper storey windows, however.

A view of the grounds and extensive walled gardens from one of the top floor rooms.

Once we'd explored the interior we came out feeling rather peckish, but before we sought food we decided we might as well take in the walled gardens while we were there.

The gardeners had quite a fondness for topiary.
Ancient topiary hedges of Irish yew dating from 1702 separate the gardens into eight themed areas.
The walled gardens covered around four acres and were threaded with paths and hedges.

The gardens were beautifully maintained and very pleasant to walk through. Aurora, however, was becoming a little dissatisfied with seeing all this grass that she wasn't being allowed to run across - she did have some fun running back and forth along all the straight paths, however. The rest of us got the fun of running after her.

Aurora was a little restless but still had a smile for the camera with Mummy and Grandma.

As we explored the garden further we realised there was far more to it than we'd originally imagined - lunch would have to wait!

More topiary - this place must go through a lot of pairs of shears.
The gardens held quite a variety of plants and features in the different areas.

Eventually, however, our appetites reminded us that there was a limit to how long lunch could wait and we decided to head back out and towards the café. There was just time for Aurora to throw a few pennies in the fountain and a few last looks, however.

Aurora enjoyed throwing money away - I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere...

Then it was back up the hill and into the café for sandwiches and chocolate cake - or in Aurora's case an empire biscuit which consisted of jam sandwiched between two shortbread biscuits topped with icing and a cherry. Looked nice, I made a mental note to try one sometime.

After a brief interlude of Aurora pelting around the gravelled courtyard - giving Daddy more exercise in the process - whilst Mummy and Grandma finished their lunch, it was time to move on.

Craigievar Castle

The other castle we decided to visit was Craigievar, a seven-storey seventeenth century castle set in the rolling foothills of the Grampian Mountains. It was a fairly short drive to the north of Crathes castle although we did have a little trouble finding it - the TomTom tried to take us down a narrow hedged footpath at one point, which I spinelessly refused to attempt in our fully laden family car.

Still, we made it in the end and with an hour or so still left to look around the place. Aurora was excited to see the new castle, but I could also tell she was tired.

We made it to Craigievar, but Aurora was starting to get tired.

As we left the car park there was a lovely view across the valley, although it was somewhat wreathed in mist.

The view from the path to the castle was somewhat spoiled by the aggressively overcast weather.

As we approached the trees parted to reveal the castle. In many ways it looked similar to Crathes although the contrast between its minimalist lower stories and the profusion of turrents above gave it even more of a fairytale appearance.

To the castle!

We headed inside and discovered that the interior was only viewable by guided tours - fortunately there was one due to set off shortly and we headed to the basement to wait for it with a group of other assorted visitors.

Craigevar, Muchalls and Glamis Castles are considered to have the three finest ceilings in Scotland.

We didn't have long to wait and shortly we were heading upstairs to the great hall. Unfortunately as the guide started her presentation, Aurora decided that she'd had enough of being quiet and started to chatter loudly as well as try to wriggle out of my grip and run around. Not wanting to spoil the tour for anyone else, there was nothing for it but to take Aurora straight outside and leave Michelle and her mum to finish it in peace.

Aurora was quite upset at being taken outside and had a fit of weeping about wanting to see the castle but I could tell she was getting tired and there was no way she'd make the rest of the tour without further incident. Hence I instead opted to take a walk around the grounds with her while we waited.

Aurora and I had a pleasant stroll around the castle grounds while we waited.
The path lead on toward fields and woodland.

Aurora was still upset from earlier, however, and she was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with so I decided the only sensible course was to head back to the car and wait there with her. There was time for a little play along the way, of course, which helped calm her down somewhat.

Despite being tired, Aurora still couldn't bring herself to just walk back to the car.

As we approached the car park there was the momentary distraction of a herd of cows in the adjacent field. I was initially concerned Aurora might find them a little scary, being ten times her size, but I needn't have worried - she was so unconcerned, in fact, that I had to restrain her from trying to climb the barbed wire fence to "cuddle them".

Hello cows, will you be my friends?

As we got back to the car I had a rather nasty moment as a very solemn looking lady addressed me with a question that never ends well: "excuse me, do you own the car with registration...". Fortunately it turned out that this was someone else's car and a good job too - it seemed they'd had a pretty serious collision with it in the car park as the passenger side door was crumpled beyond all recognition. Oops.

Anyway, we got ourselves tucked in with our respective iPads and waited. It's a good job we had the distractions because it turned out the tour was a long one - I was actually starting to get a little worried by the time they turned up at the car park well over an hour later. Still, they'd had a good time and Aurora had been a good girl with her iPad to play with.

We got back home for a welcome dinner and an early night in preparation for the longish drive to Loch Ness the next day.

Created By
Andy Pearce


"Salons de Cawdor Castle" https://www.flickr.com/photos/50879678@N03/10801745474 © Copyright Bernard Blanc and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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