With the arrival of November came an eagerly awaited weekend break in Aberdeenshire. We planned to spend it hiking in Royal Deeside, chasing snow on The Snow Roads, eating comfort food and sitting cooried by a fire. Pretty much the perfect winter break.
Our home for the weekend would be Little Gannochy, a self-catering holiday let from Cottages and Castles. Located in Angus on the Aberdeenshire border, it would be the perfect base for our planned activities. With three bedrooms, three bathrooms, four public rooms and two acres of walled garden to call home, we’d invited my mum, Casper’s goofball nephew Harris and The Teen (or Ex-Teen as she’s twenty now – yikes) to join us.
We left Edinburgh early on a frosty November morning, grabbing coffee and croissants for breakfast en route. Our comfort food mission was off to a flying start. The car was packed with humans, wee white dugs and luggage. It was a tight squeeze, but we didn’t mind. We were off on a Scottish adventure – yippee.
First stop Glenshee, en route to Braemar.
Coffee, cake and wildlife spotting in Glenshee
As we wound our way into Glenshee we caught our first glimpse of snow. The mountain tops were dusted with it and looked awfy bonnie.
My mum had never seen stags in the wild before, so I promised I’d do my best to spot some. Mr G jokes that I’m as blind as a bat until it comes to wildlife, then I can see every creature within a mile radius.
As soon as we entered the glen I started shouting “over there – and there”, but it was hinds I was spotting. There were no majestic stags to be seen.
Then, on a pit stop at the hidden gem that is the Devil’s Elbow (a notorious double hairpin bend on the A93 that was bypassed in the 1960s) I struck gold. “Up there, on the hill”. Bingo – a group of stags were watching us, watching them.
As we walked along the old stretch of road another Scottish beastie made an appearance – the Black grouse. The more we peered at the heathery landscape, the more of them we saw.
It was bitterly cold so we popped into the cafe at Glenshee ski centre to warm up. Tea @ The Shee is dog friendly and a good place to grab coffee and cake en route to Braemar.
Walk – Mar Lodge Estate
We arrived in Braemar too early for lunch, so drove into the Mar Lodge Estate for a potter.
Parking at the Linn of Dee we strolled towards the River Dee to watch it thundering through a narrow gorge known as the Linn o’ Dee. It’s a beautiful spot, but not one you’d want to get too close to.
After leaving the gorge we wandered back to the car park to walk a section of the Glen Lui Trail. It led us through woodland, before emerging on an open hillside. The twa wee white dugs were in their element, investigating interesting sniffs in the heather.
We didn’t stray far as lunchtime was approaching. It was time for more comfort food and a nice glass of wine.
Lunch – The Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar
Mr G and I have been singing the praises of the Fife Arms Hotel since lunching there in May. The hotel is a work of art (the interior is exquisite. They have Picasso and Freud paintings hanging in the public rooms) and the food is fantastic. After listening to us raving, my Mum’s expectations were high.
The twa wee white dugs created quite a stir when they trotted into the hotel dressed in their winter sweaters. Who doesn’t love seeing dogs dressed to impress?
Seated in the hotel bar, we ordered a glass of wine each – and water for designated driver Mr G (he’s a good lad).
After perusing the menu Ex-teen ordered a venison burger. Not a glimmer of guilt did she have after spotting Bambi earlier. My Mum and Mr G opted for chicken and leek pie with mash and I chose veggie stew with dumplings. To me, there’s no finer comfort food than stew and dumplings. Our mains were all delicious.
The dessert menu was too tempting to resist. Mr G and Ex-teen had lemon tart with Italian meringue, while my Mum chose a dark chocolate brownie with cherry sorbet. After humming and hawing I went for orange set custard with chocolate and cinnamon cream. Another three delicious dishes were devoured.
We’d love to have lingered in the Fife Arms, but were keen to make the most of the remaining daylight. And yes – my Mum left a big fan too.
Walk – Balmoral Cairns
After leaving Braemar we drove to the Balmoral Estate for a walk at the Balmoral cairns. There are eleven cairns hidden in woodland on the estate. Most were commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate family events.
We bumped into her favourite Scotsman on the way to visit our first cairn.
My Mum loves hiking, but she’s no fan of hiking in pine plantations – too tall, boring and claustrophobic is how she describes it. The Balmoral cairns are surrounded by tall trees, many of them pine. I suspect she was quietly cursing our choice of walk. If she was, she soon forgot the boring part when we reached Prince Leopold’s Cairn. The cairn stands on a clearing and looks down on Balmoral Castle.
After a short rest, we headed further uphill. The light was fading, but we had time to take in one more viewpoint.
The Purchase Cairn was built in 1852 to commemorate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert buying the Balmoral Estate. The view of Royal Deeside from the cairn is superb.
We’d definitely earned a lazy night by the fire.
Little Gannochy, Angus
It was dark when we arrived at Little Gannochy, but warm light was emanating from the house. Inside, it was as warm as toast – the perfect welcome on a cold winter night.
Downstairs we had a large kitchen, TV lounge, study, dining room, utility room, WC, formal lounge and conservatory. It was really spacious. The decor was traditional which suited the age of the property perfectly.
Little Gannochy had a homely feel, thanks to little decorative touches like scatter cushions, candles and fresh flowers. There were books everywhere too and games to play on rainy days.
Bowls, poo bags and a huge dog bed were waiting for the boys.
Upstairs, were two en suite bedrooms with gigantic beds, a twin bedroom and family bathroom. Two more guests could be accommodated in the adjoining property Littlest Gannochy – a cute bolthole for two plus dog, or overspill accommodation for a larger group.
We spent the evening in the TV lounge – chatting and grazing on buffet foods, while my Mum gave us the lowdown on ‘Strictly come dancing’. It was a lovely, lazy family night in.
That night, four humans and twa wee white dugs slept soundly at Little Gannochy – windows ajar to let in the cold, country air.
The next morning we gathered round the dining table for breakfast. We chatted about our plans for the day over coffee, toast and a hearty bowl of porridge.
Walk – Loch Muick
It was beautiful outside – cold and bright. We planned to start the day with a scenic hike. It doesn’t get more scenic than the Loch Muick Loop near the Royal Deeside town of Ballater.
The twa wee white dugs were in their element with our choice of walk and charged along the track towards the loch. The boy acted as our pace setter. He’s always at his happiest in Scotland’s remote, open spaces.
In the distance we could see the snowy summit of Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s 282 Munros (mountains over 3,000 ft).
The loch was still and reflecting the rugged mountain scenery beautifully. It was lovely and quiet, other than the call of buzzards circling overhead. We could see stags up on the brow of the hill too. Wildlife and stunning scenery – absolute bliss.
We spent a hair raising couple of minutes of our walk, watching my Mum cross an icy wooden bridge, with no safety rail. The rest of us had shuffled across, bent double and sticking to the middle of bridge. My Mum on the other hand, teetered precariously close to the edge – one wrong foot and she’d fall into the rocky, water below. She took a walk on the wild side, ignoring our pleas to “get over to the middle”. Thankfully, she made it across in one piece and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Lunch – Brown Sugar Cafe, Ballater
After several hours of hiking we were verging on hangry, so headed to the dog friendly Brown Sugar Cafe in Ballater for lunch.
It was nice to sit down for a blether and tuck into soup, sandwiches and hot drinks.
Twa hungry wee white dugs watched us like hawks. Their staring earned them some titbits.
Chasing snow – The Snow Roads
We’d seen snowy mountain tops, but we wanted to feel the crunch of snow underfoot. The best chance of that happening, would be if we took a drive along The Snow Roads towards Tomintoul.
It’s a stunning route and beautifully remote. We couldn’t resist a stop of the iconic Corgarff Castle with its star shaped perimeter wall. It was bitterly cold there, and except for a couple of curious sheep, we didn’t meet another living soul.
After castle exploring we headed off in search of the white stuff.
We found what we were looking for at The Lecht Ski School – it was a winter wonderland there. Mr G and I hopped out of the car, twa wee white dugs in tow and charged into the deep, fresh snow. My Mum and Ex-Teen watched from the warmth of the car.
The boy was in raptures. He nearly wagged his tail off with excitement and spent fifteen minutes rolling in snow, as his slightly bemused nephew watched on.
We were hyper when we got back in the car, as Mr G and I love snow every bit as much as The Wee White Dug does.
To warm ourselves up again, we stopped for takeaway hot chocolate and warm mince pies at Goodbrand & Ross, near Corgarff Castle.
The coffee/gift shop was a welcome oasis amidst the remote, frozen landscape.
Watching the sun setting at Tomnaverie Stone Circle
Tomnaverie Stone Circle was our last stop of the day. Aberdeenshire’s unique, recumbent stone circles are my favourite in all of Scotland.
We timed our visit perfectly, arriving just as the sun was setting over the snowy summit of Lochnagar in the distance. The huge recumbent stone, perfectly framed the scene.
Five thousand years of history and a snowy sunset – what an incredible end to the day. We stood in silence and watched in awe, as our forefathers probably had thousands of years before us.
Coorie in time
After our day outdoors we settled into another lazy night by the fire back at Little Gannochy.
We slept soundly again that night and reconvened at the dining table for breakfast the next morning. After breakfast it was time to say goodbye to our cosy weekend abode.
We had one final place to visit, before heading back to Edinburgh.
A visit to House of Elrick Gin
We’d been invited to the House of Elrick Distillery near Newmachar. The gin distillery is located on an 18th century estate with links to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Roses from his garden in Rome grow on the estate – a gift from the prince to the Jacobite estate owners. Not only that, the gin is made using water from Loch Ness. I love Scottish history, adore Scottish gin and am a fan of quirky things, so House of Elrick was right up my street.
Owner and Master Distiller Stuart greeted us on arrival, then gave us a behind the scenes tour of the distillery (it’s not yet open to the public). It was really interesting learning about the gin making process and hearing how Stuart was a self taught distiller. I loved the room where the botanicals were stored. The smell of rose petals, citrus, herbs and spices was gorgeous.
After a whistle-stop gin tour, Stuart showed us round the estate, telling us about his plans to transform it into a luxury wedding venue, with accommodation and a gin making school.
We left the distillery clutching a bottle of House of Elrick Gin and a box of botanicals that Stuart had kindly gifted us. Look out for posh G&T and gin cocktails coming to a blog near you soon. (For another wonderful Scottish gin tour, check out this blog).
And so ended another perfect weekend, spent exploring Scotland. The days may have been short and the weather cold, but we thoroughly enjoyed our winter break. Our plans had been to hike, spot wildlife, find snow, eat comfort food and coorie by a fire. We achieved everything on our list.
Our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time…