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.
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.
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.
We spent the rest of the day taking it easy. That's what holidays are for, after all!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ancient topiary hedges of Irish yew dating from 1702 separate the gardens into eight themed 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.
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.
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 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.
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".
"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/