Scotland manages to cram in an awful lot of traits for such a small country, it has nature, wildlife, it’s own history & cultures and despite not being far away, can manage to seem a million miles away.
Friends are getting married and seizing upon this as a great excuse to explore more of the country, we pick up our car from Aberdeen and drive into the Cairngorms, where home for the night is the Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Craigendaroch Suites. Bit of a mouthful huh – it appears to be a timeshare style property with individual lodges for long stays as well as the traditional hotel if like us, you’re only passing through.
How I wish it wasn’t just a one night stay – not only is our room a dream, but the hotel itself appears to be set in the type of wilderness that even a short walk would clear all those city-dwelling cobwebs. But the next morning, waking to a blue sky, we know we have to be on our way but even so, reception staff talk us into taking in a nearby Loch for a quick walk.
Loch Muick isn’t far from the hotel, a mere 20 minute drive from Ballater and while we don’t have time to do the entire loop, the paths are easy to follow and we’re keen to see what the fuss is all about. And it’s worth it – the quiet, the peace, the scenery, it all just seemed to seep into our souls and brush away the weariness that comes with those who live in a big and busy city, long hours spent in front of computers and the hamster wheel of being always on the go.
It feels like two very different people who finally tear themselves from the view and stop off for a spot of lunch in Ballater’s Station restaurant – sharing some fantastic Calamari and the freshest Fish and chips I’ve come across in a long time.
We’re staying at the Stables of Drumtochty castle – now converted into flats, 1/6 of these stables being larger than our entire house, these were some lucky horses. Close enough to the beautiful Fasque House, scene of the wedding, our views driving across the hills and valleys brought home to us why Scotland is home to so many poets and authors – it’s poetry in a view.
After the festivities are over, having partaken in our share of Ceilidh, whiskeys, more kilts than you can shake a stick at, whiskey and oh did I mention even more whiskey, we get back to the serious business of sightseeing and make for the pretty village of Stonehaven. But more importantly, lunch is the order of the day – foolishly we didn’t plan and make a booking at the famed Tolbooth restaurant, but the pub opposite has tables outside and with the sun shining down, a large crab and mussel platter and a chilled glass of wine are no brainers.
Post-lunch, we head for Dunnottar castle and I must admit, with the sun shining down, having eaten the most fantastic meal, I’m not feeling any particular desire to traipse around a castle, being far more inclined to flop down on a grassy knoll with some ice-cream but dutifully we head over anyway. And I am so glad we did – the castle is nothing like I could ever have imagined. It was even better. Perched somewhat dramatically on a clifftop, it evokes a glamour and drama greater than any of its other historical counterparts. The views, as would be expected, are sublime. But it is something else, the sense that history and tradition are rich here, against this castle that has seen so many centuries and we are just bit players in it’s life so far.
It’s a wrench to leave this and come back to London, but we return, loads lessened, souls unburdened and a jaunty spring in our steps.