It’s official Skye is bursting at the seams and the island’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with visitor numbers. Who knew that the endless over promotion of the island would lead to visitors flocking there in droves! This blog features a far quieter region of Scotland. A region with every bit as much to offer visitors (and in my humble opinion more). This blog (and the one that follows it) focus on beautiful Aberdeenshire home to Scotland’s Castle Trail.
Last week Mr G and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary with a short break in Aberdeenshire. We left Edinburgh with the Wee White Dug on Friday morning, car packed to the rafters. As we crossed the Forth Road Bridge we chatted excitedly about our plans for the weekend.
We decided to take the longer, scenic route north via Glenshee. The A93 is one of my favourite Scottish roads. It winds through Glenshee then Royal Deeside, skirting the banks of the River Dee. It’s the UK’s highest main road and it’s as pretty as a picture.
We had a quick pit stop at the Glenshee Ski Centre. The boy filled his lungs with mountain air and seemed to be enjoying the view. I stood with him, looking at the road snaking off through the glen. I pulled on my cosy hiking fleece as the 10 degree temperature meant it definitely wasn’t a ‘taps aff’ sort of day.
We arrived in Braemar at lunchtime. Braemar is a lovely village which is nestled amongst the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park. It’s probably best known for its highland games – the Braemar Gathering. The games have attracted royals and a whole host of celebrities over the years.
Since it had started to rain we ruled out al fresco dining, and opted to grab a take-away lunch from our favourite Braemar cafe, The Bothy.
While we waited for our order we popped into our favourite shop in the village – the traditional sweetie shop. Much to Mr G’s disgust they had aniseed balls in stock. Whenever I find aniseed balls on our travels, he’s forced to endure 3 days of noisy crunching as I work my way through the bag.
Corgarff Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail
Corgarff Castle is arguably the loneliest looking castle on Scotland’s Castle Trail. With its striking star-shaped perimeter wall, it’s also one of Scotland’s most photogenic castles.
The 16th century tower house stands on an elevated and isolated spot by the Lecht Road, which cuts through a remote pass between the villages of Tomintoul and Strathdon.
If its walls could speak it would weave an enthralling tale of murder, rebellion and turbulent times.
In 1571, the lady of the house Margaret Forbes, and 23 members of her household were murdered when the castle was set alight by the rival Gordon Clan.
In 1689 the castle was torched once more, this time by Jacobite sympathisers determined that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of forces loyal to new monarchs William and Mary.
The castle’s link to the Jacobite cause continued. In 1715 the Earl of Mar arrived at Corgarff to recruit troops for his Jacobite army. The Jacobite Rising of 1715 was a failure, which quickly petered out.
During the 1745 Rising the castle was used as an arms depot by Jacobite troop. That rising was to end brutally for the Jacobites on 16th April 1746 at Culloden Moor.
After the 45 Corgarff became a barracks for Government forces stationed in Scotland, in an attempt to stamp out any further risings.
Walking towards the picturesque castle, past a sea of wildflowers it was hard to imagine it in turbulent times. There’s something about it though that gives me a little chill. It looks ominous and out-of-place in its remote setting.
As we headed uphill my heart sank. Corgarff’s star-shaped perimeter wall was covered in scaffolding. Nothing spoils a photo quite like scaffolding, it’s the bane of my travels.
A few years ago we were met by a sea of scaffolding in Rome – the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, you name it they’d scaffolded it. I raged as I creatively tried to photograph the iconic monuments to hide the ugly metal poles.
Below are my creative efforts to make Corgarff appear scaffolding free!
Glenbuchat Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail
Our next stop was Glenbuchat Castle, another Aberdeenshire fortress set in a scenic location.
No sooner had we got out of the car than we’d spotted the sign announcing the castle was closed to the public. Historic Environment Scotland’s champion scaffolding crew had beaten us again. Glenbuchat was surrounded by a high perimeter fence and enveloped in a mass of the dreaded metal poles!
Once again the boy couldn’t have cared a jot. He found a nice spot in the long grass and sat there enjoying the peace and tranquility.
It must have been an impressive building in its hey day. Today, it’s still impressive but very fragile. Thankfully Historic Environment Scotland are taking steps to protect and restore it, so it survives for generations to come.
Kildrummy Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail
Praying that HES had run out of scaffolding poles we set off in the direction of one of Aberdeenshire’s most impressive medieval fortresses – Kildrummy Castle.
Showing our ASVA passes (magic wee cards that get you into most of Scotland’s visitor attractions) at the castle’s ticket office/shop I enquired about scaffolding and held my breath. Phew, Kildrummy was scaffolding free – hooray.
Kildrummy Castle is a vast and impressive ruin. The surviving arched window frames of the castle chapel show that this was once a big, showy affair and not your average castle.
Built by the Earl of Mar around 1250 the castle played a key role in the Wars of Independence. King Robert the Bruce sent his family here to protect them from the advancing English army. As the army drew closer his Wife and Daughter were sent further north and his brother Neil remained to defend the castle. The English laid siege to Kildrummy, bombarding it relentlessly but the castle was impenetrable. Sadly the occupants were betrayed from within by a blacksmith bribed by the English army. He torched the castle and the siege ended with Neil Bruce being hung, drawn and quartered.
Over the next 400 years Kildrummy remained a strategic powerhouse. In 1715 the 6th Earl of Mar launched the 1715 Jacobite Rising from the castle. Remember we met him earlier rallying troops at Corgarff Castle? After the rising failed Mar fled overseas and the castle fell into a ruinous state.
The boy had a ball exploring, and even got inside a big bread oven – probably hoping he’d find food. He was extra delighted and flirted outrageously when he met a pretty female Westie who took a shine to him.
With wine o’clock looming we still had one more castle to visit before we stopped to relax.
Craigievar Castle – Scotland’s Castle Trail
Craigievar Castle looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a book of fairy tales. It’s pretty pink walls conjure up images of handsome princes, wicked stepmothers and tragic heroines. Rumour has it that Craigievar was one of the castles that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle. Looking at Craigievar’s pointy turrets and pink walls it’s easy to see the similarities between this modest Scottish tower house and Disney’s lavish creation.
The boy, puggled (Scots for tired) after a long day of travel and castle visits flopped down on the grass to rest.
Cock & Bull Inn, Balmedie
Tired from exploring Scotland’s Castle Trail, we arrived at the quaint, ivy-clad Cock & Bull Inn at 5:45pm. Mr G was in full wingey hunger mode. When I suggested at check-in that we ate at 6:30pm he shot me a death stare. This wasn’t going to be one of those leisurely get ready for dinner kind of evenings. There would be no time for GHDs and shimmery body lotion. This was going to be a get ready for dinner like you’re at a military boot camp kind of evening!
At 6:05pm washed, clothes changed and with a salvage job done on my hair and make-up, we were seated at a table in the Cock & Bull’s dog friendly bar and ready to eat.
It felt good to relax and my chilled wine spritzer went down a treat. Mr G enjoyed a beer as he waited for his food to arrive. Thankfully, he didn’t have long to wait. His battered haddock and hand cut chips with tartar sauce and absolutely NO garden peas were devoured in record time. He has a real aversion to anything green, salad like or healthy on a plate, although he’ll eat fruit like it’s going out of fashion.
My main of chicken with chantenay carrots, carrot purée, seasonal greens, haggis mash
& a whole grain mustard jus was delicious. I savoured it far longer than my ravenous Husband managed with his dish.
For dessert we both had a chocolate ganache with golden raisin syrup, salted caramel ice cream & caramel popcorn. It was tasty, but extra rich and we were both sunk without a trace halfway through eating it.
Taking pride of place on the fireplace were a couple of Wally Dugs. These iconic white dug ornaments were once found on mantlepieces the length and breadth of Scotland. Not to be outdone, the Wee White Dug settled on the hearth to add to the inn’s wee white dug display!
Later, back at our room we fought an unwinnable battle with sleep. Our afternoon of Aberdeenshire air and castle exploring on Scotland’s Castle Trail had exhausted us – we were soon fast asleep.
You’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you, and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies. – Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Sunset Song)
Until next time ……….