The second half of our week based at Ardblair Castle near Blairgowrie, exploring the Cairngorms region.
Wednesday, 12 Jul 2017, - "One of the best views of the Cairngorms" - Hike to Meall a’ Bhuachaille - It was a bit of a drive to go back from Ardblair to Aviemore and the central Cairngorms but so worth it! This circular hike to Meall a’ Bhuachaille (the hill of the shepherd) starts at Glenmore 15km east of Aviemore at the edge of Loch Morlich. There’s a huge campground here and what a superb location for a family holiday - kayaking, hiking, skiing in winter. We start a gentle wander through Glenmore Forest Park heading to to Ryvoan Pass.
It’s a glorious sunny day and the plan is for David to walk what his foot allows him to do and for me to continue on to the peak and meet up with him later. In the end the summit was just too enticing and David made it to the top and suffered later!
On the way through the forest I started to see the very same plants that I had studied at school to enter the Young Scientists of the Year TV competition.
Amazingly I can still identify these two important species, Vaccinium myrtillus and Vaccinium vitis-idaea, inhabitants of the shrub layer of boreal forests!!!!!! I get down for a closer inspection!
An Lochan Uaine, is just opposite my scientific laboratory! The water here always has a greenish tint and reminds us of Alberta, Canada lakes where we were exactly 1 year ago! Viewed from higher up the mountain later in our hike, it's a real standout.
The Bothy at Ryvoan is more or less at the head of the pass and is maintained by volunteers from the Mountain Bothy Association - what a location.
But the view gets better and better as we start the climb up the heather-lined staircase to the peak of Meall a’ Bhuachaille at 2,660′.
We can see the trail that goes over to Braemar - oh, I would love to hike that; and the Cairn Gorm and Glenmore ski slopes stand out to our right. We wonder if this hike is better done in reverse as we keep having to stop to look over our shoulders. Well at least it gives us time to give way to other hikers coming down the steep steps and we can catch our breath too!
The trail climbs steadily and where there are steeper sections with steps we gain height quickly and get ever more expansive views northeast over the massive expanse of Abernethy Forest - the largest area of native forest in the UK. The gradient finally eases off as we get near the peak and a huge cairn marks the summit of Meall a' Bhuachaille.
The cairn on offers much needed wind-shelter. At 2,660’ (810 metres)high, this is a superb viewpoint but it’s pretty breezy and we need to rug up. It’s hard to know where to look first and everyone who arrives here does exactly what I did - turn around and around with open mouths saying, WOW!!!!! Our position is slightly apart from the main Cairngorms and we can view Cairn Gorm, the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom, as well as its northern corries which all look magnificent.
However, it’s one of those days though that doesn’t photograph well. It’s bright and shadowy and hazy and glaring. Human eyes make a much better interpretation than a camera. So I leave my camera in my bag, rug up, and just enjoy the view while we eat our well earned sandwiches. It’s a well trampled trail and dozens of people will enjoy this today. (Another reason to keep the camera in my bag - I never want those strangers in my scenes!!! And everyone wants to shelter of the cairn so we’re all spoiling each others photos of it!). From the summit there’s another well prepared trail to descend back to the forest and the west with good views down to Loch Morlich below. We meet a lovely couple from Northern Ireland and spend much time exchanging travel stories. Eventually we have to let them go. They still have Meall a' Bhuachaille to conquer while we get to drive back home with smiles and a good feeling of achievement! There are other hikes in this area and a good spot to stay to access them would be Coylum Bridge; maybe for a spa too?!! Up the road we had intended to go and see Carrbridge and its most famous landmark, the old packhorse bridge, from which the village is named. The bridge, built in 1717, is the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands. In the end it was going to make the drive home into a 3 hour trip and so we defer for another time.
Thursday, 13 Jul 2017, - Taking a break from Pictish stones for bit (See our blog on the Stones) we go to Glamis Castle, beloved childhood home of the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Located 12 miles north of Dundee it's the ancestral seat of the Earls of Strathmore, now also Earl of Kinghorne and was the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The Victorian gothic castle has fairy tale turrets and looks more like a French Chateau than a medieval fortress because it was extensively restored in the 17th and 18th centuries. The original tower house remains at the centre of the castle today and promises one of the best interiors of all Scottish Castles. The official at the entrance gate tries really hard to sell us tickets for an interior tour but we're here for those turrets, the gardens and the Highland cattle. And there’s an exhibition of the robes worn at the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 12 May 1937.
The stunning centrepiece is the gorgeous silk and beaded dress worn by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Designed by Madame Handley Seymour it has hundreds of beaded flowers, thistles and oak leaves around the hem and along the edges of the train. Just behind is the five-and-half-metre long robe of estate. It was woven on handlooms by Warner and Sons of Essex by forty embroideresses, who worked in shifts of twelve at a time taking two months to complete.
The purple silk velvet, lined with ermine has ten different types of gold thread it including floral emblems representing the countries of the British Empire: the thistle of Scotland, the Tudor rose of England, acorns for the UK and colonies, the fern of New Zealand, the protea of South Africa and the lotus flower, symbolising her status as the last Empress of India.
It's a glorious day and we enjoy a stroll to thefamous walled garden. But oh dear. Did we misread the brochures? This is supposed to be superb......but in fact it's seriously lacking attention and dare I say, plants. In its day it would have been spectacular and as far as walled gardens go it is enormous! However, some of the roses I walk past have the most divine perfume. Now if only that could be bottled exactly as it is in the garden.
From there we walk through the pine forests and see the carved wooden statues from Macbeth. Glamis Castle is the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth and is referred to several times in the play: "Glamis thou art", and, "and yet woulds't wrongly win: thou'dst have great Glamis". It is widely believed that Duncan was murdered here by Macbeth. The statues remind us of the ugly chainsaw art we saw in Washington State. The wood is bright and garish but the three witches around the cauldron seems to be darkening a bit in keeping with their wicked spellmaking.
By contrast the Italinate garden border is well stocked and colourful and two enormous arbors of trees run diagonally across the garden. David really likes these gardens and spends some time photographing. Tomorrow night there is a Proms concert here in the grounds and preparations are being made all around with marquees, speakers, lights and barriers. Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer who won "Britain's Got Talent" in 2009 is starring.
We play with the exterior shots for a while and then remember one of the things we’ve come for. The highland cattle! BUT WHERE ARE THEY??? I have to go and ask. They’ve been removed because tourists kept climbing in the paddock with them..................... So we will be leaving Scotland without a highland cattle photo....another good reason to return!
Friday, 14 Jul 2017, - A sunny walk along the huge River Tay at Dunkeld - Feeling a bit flaky after our late night last night I sit outside in the warm sunshine consuming two mugs of tea and one of coffee a trying to get motivated to go out for a walk. Or do some yoga. Or do some weights. Or do anything other than sit in the sun being flaky! I'm in serious danger of succumbing to complete inactivity due to inclement forecast instead of looking out at the beautiful sunshine and making up my own mind! We have frequently commented that the sheer surfeit of weather forecasting in Great Britain is stopping people doing stuff. Can't have a BBQ, can't go to the hairdressers (it's true - ask any hairdresser!), can't go for a walk, can't, can't, can't. What happened to umbrellas, warm and waterproof clothes or even just winging it! Anyway, the sun definitely seems to want to hang around. It's time for real exercise.
Dunkeld is just up the road and the River Tay runs through the city. The Tay is the longest river in Scotland at 119 miles and is one of the five big Scottish salmon rivers - the others being the Spey, Dee and Tweed and the Nith. Beginning life as a tiny spring on Ben Lui and changing its name several times before it passes through Loch Tay, by the time it reaches the end of its majestic journey it's almost 2 miles wide and can carry more water than the rivers Thames and the Severn combined. Some of the best salmon fishing beats on the entire River Tay are located close to this historic middle Tay Valley town.
The riverside is a lovely spot for a lazy afternoon, with the cathedral and the old larch trees providing a romantic backdrop. We're feeling lazy and though we set out on a five miler we get as far as the salmon hole, sit on a bench to have our sandwiches and don't get any further! The sun is warm and lovely and so we stay for an hour or so before lazily strolling back the way we came past the Dunkeld House Hotel which offers afternoon tea, a spa, Scottish dancing, and a river view.
I take a quick squizz at the cathedral and the tomb of Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, better remembered as the Wolf of Badenoch - a nasty man. I wanted to see the Apostles Stone (a Pictish stone ) but it's in the Chapter room to the side and there's a very engaging guide or historian and a group of four tourists who are giving me "help us escape" stares!! There's a view of the bridge over the Tay and the river banks are full of colourful Montbretia.
Dunkeld is a lovely village of largely whitewashed shops, cottages, hotels and cafes. There are plenty of tour buses parked but I think people must be pretty well spread out around the riverside as well as the village centre as it doesn't seem overcrowded. David thinks it's more likely a pit stop as there's an attendant taking money at the public loos!!
There are so many hiking opportunities in this area and Blairgowrie makes a really useful centre to base yourself. This link walkhighlands will show details of what's around
Saturday, 15 July, 2017 - Time to leave Scotland and it's a day of hits and misses It's raining this morning but the forecast down the coast is better. I have a full agenda for us - well, for me really as David groans with each of my selections. It's not his favourite sort of day! First up is a the Dupplin Stone - a Pictish Cross inside the church at Dunning. But Uh oh. "Monument closed".
Second up is The Kelpies at Grangemouth but a bit of miscommunication has us going in the wrong direction for 15 minutes. About turn, cover the same road again and arrive at The Kelpies by about 11am. We can see these huge stainless steel horses heads from the A1 but it takes another 3 miles to drive round in a circle to get to them. It's lashing with rain so David negotiates a free drop off for me and pushes me out with camera and umbrella. I get some great shots while he loiters.
The 30m high Kelpies weighing 300 tonnes each are installed on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Made from structural steel and clad in stainless steel by artist Andy Scott they represent mythological transforming beasts that have the strength and endurance of 10 horses. They are truly magnificent. There are loads of people here today braving the weather. In fact, more than 2.5 million vistor have been here since the official opening in 2014. There are two sets of 1:10 scale models of the Kelpies which have been displayed locally, nationally, and internationally at events and locations including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Chicago and New York.
Third item on the agenda today is Berwick upon Tweed and a little walk around the town where the artist LS Lowry came for holidays and painted. Neither of us are huge fans of his matchstick men paintings in industrial Manchester but these paintings seem a bit softer and not so grubby.
Berwick upon Tweed was a fortified town and the walk takes us around the ramparts and out along the to the lighthouse. It's not a remarkable lighthouse but the very top of the cone is a single piece of stone. I need to see it!
It's a very breezy walk and I can imagine Victorian women taking a daily constitution along here hanging on to hats and long dresses blowing in the wind. All the Lowry sites around this walk have a print of his painting and we manage to see another couple of Lowry scenes before David is losing the will to live. His highlight are the allotments here. I agree they are pretty enviable!
We make it to the huge thirteen arch bridge that crosses the Tweed and that's about as much as I can ask David to do. I'm disappointed of course. I think that when we've made an effort to get to a place to see something we need to make the most of it but this is not doing anything for him.
I make a final attempt to see the Lowry paintings which were supposed to be on display at the gallery but that's another blowout. They're not there! The photo below is the subject of one of another of his paintings. If only we’d been able to compare!
So leaving Berwick upon Tweed we have just one leeeelte last thing to. David groans. A Stone Circle! The Duddo Stones about 10 miles away. It's a lovely stone circle in the middle of a canola field and a 10 minute walk from the country lane. David takes his photos in a couple of minutes and heads back to the car. I need longer. There are five Stones but trying to get them all in the same image needs a bit to work. I have an idea of what I want (which includes a lovely evening sky but I'm not going to get that at 5pm) and I take a bit longer before I'm finished.
It's been a long day. We're tired and we're overnighting at a Premier Inn outside Durham. We get there about 7pm, nibble on a cooked chook and an assortment of stuff from the car - I don't care tonight that we don't have a healthy nutritious dinner. We just need food, a shower and bed. Today has been all about me. Thank you David for making it happen. I love you.