Wednesday 27 May 2015

The Cairngorms - Caching on The Haggis Highway

Day 5 - Tuesday
After our crazily long and adventurous day on Monday, we were almost pleased to find the rain had returned on Tuesday morning, which meant for a relaxing day, resting our legs, around Corndavon, which was just lovely.

Day 6 - Wednesday
The weather on Wednesday morning looked like it could go either way.  We had a day of Geocaching planned, completing part of a local series known as The Haggis Highway.

We were hoping to pick up drive by caches on the road running from Braemar up to The Lecht. The fact that they were drive bys meant that there should be parking close by to pick up each cache, so if it was raining, we shouldn't get too wet.

We were starting out at the Braemar end and making our way back up past Corndavon and onwards to The Lecht.  Archie had told us about a very nice cafe along the route, so lunch was also definitely on the cards.

The first cache that we did was called 3 Birches & a Mossy Humpty and was along the road from Braemar to Balmoral down by the side of the river.

Whilst Martin hunted for the cache I went right down to the river side to take some photos of the river, which looked just lovely here.  We had even been blessed with a bit of sunshine to start off our day.

We took a left just before Balmoral to take the road up past Corndavon.  This time there were plenty of stops along the way.  As well as hunting for caches I'd decided that I really wanted to get a good picture of some of the grouse, which were pretty fascinating, once you started to notice them.

There were sneaky little beggars though.  Clearly very used to having to duck to avoid being shot at. They would perch very nicely on the top of cairns, but as soon as they spotted you they ducked down right out of sight.  They are so well camoflaged that you can hardly spot them amongst the heather. I did manage to get a few decent shots, but I can assure you, there are plenty that had me hitting the delete button.

This is my first attempt.  I actually spotted this one, not that you will see it, from the top of the hill and walked all the way back down, leaving Martin to cache hunt by himself.  I managed to get up fairly close, get ready to take my picture and, just as I was hitting the button, he ducked down behind the cairn.  You can just see him if you look very closely.  Honest!!
We then spent an absolute age waiting for one to come out of the heather.  Again, you can see it if you look very closely.
Eventually my patience was rewarded and I am quite pleased with the result.

By now, my very patient husband was beginning to lose the will to live so next stop was definitely lunch.  Any caches we passed on our way, we could pick up on the way back.

We stopped at a really nice place along the A939, unfortunately I can't seem to find it anywhere on the web, so am not sure what it was called.  It is just opposite a small cemetery, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  It doesn't look much from the outside but we had a really nice lunch of Paninis and the best ever lemon curd cake I have ever tasted.  It was definitely well worth the visit.

When we had finished lunch the weather had really come in so we decided that we would head straight up to The Lecht, which was as far as we were planning on heading today.  We would then work our way back, picking up caches on the way.

The Lecht is a big local ski centre and it looked very eerie high up in the mist and the clouds today. It was also absolutely freezing, totally different from what we'd had down in the valley earlier in the day.  I braved the cold to get a couple of pictures, which don't show much, but do give the impression of the cold and the wet.  Martin then headed out to grab the cache, which turned out to be our farthest northerly find ever.
From The Lecht we began to make our way back down the A939, the Old Military Road, and back to the warmth of Corndavon.

As we began to descend, the mist began to clear and we pulled into a viewpoint to pick up a cache by a carved stone sculpture with view holes bored through it.  From here we had great views of Corgarff Castle, though from a distance, it doesn't look very castle like.  Again, another little spot that we would have driven straight by if not for Geocaching.
We just had to stop again, a bit further down the road as we spotted a poor old partridge being dive bombed by lapwings, something neither of us had ever seen before, I don't think I've even ever seen a lapwing!  It was pretty surreal.
We carried on, back past the cafe opposite the old graveyard, where we'd stopped for lunch, the weather clearing all the time, though it was still pretty grey.
We were well on the home straight by now and just a few more caches to do, all in wild and windy spots and we had got to the point where Martin was sent out and I stayed in the car.

We came across a few more interesting sights, these steps that lead up from a layby on the road, but appear to go nowhere at all.  We had no idea what they could be for.
Martin then spotted something that had him dashing back to the car for the camera.  He'd found a cache by an OS bolt.  Literally a bolt embedded in a rock, up a slope by the side of the road.  He found this absolutely fascinating and there was lots of research to be done once we were back at Corndavon in the warm.
Before long we were back where we started.  In the warmth of Corndavon with a log fire and an easy tea on the cards.  Although all we had pretty much done was to drive from Braemar to The Lecht, a distance of about 25 miles each way, we had seen lots of interesting things, had a good lunch and picked up 21 caches to boot.  We were more than happy with that for a day's work!!

Tuesday 26 May 2015

The Cairngorms - The Tomnaverie Stone Circle, The Burn O' Vat & Back to Ballater

From Braemar we headed back towards Ballater as we wanted to visit the Tomnaverie stone circle that we had passed the other day, when it was too wet to visit.

There was a geocache there and, as well as the ancient stone circle, there was also a Cold War underground listening post, which we think are always worth a look. We just find it fascinating that all of these underground spots are still around and unless you know what they are, you would walk past without giving it a thought.

Sadly, we weren't the only visitors to the stone circle but we managed to get a few good photos before going to have a look at the listening post and finding the cache.

From here it was time to start to make our way back towards Ballater and Corndavon Cottage, but not without a few stops along the way, the most memorable being the Burn o' Vat at the Muir of Dinnet nature reserve.
EarthCache - Large Icon
We stopped because we knew there was an Earth cache here and we always like one of those. We had no idea what to expect and followed the path as instructed.

We seemed to come to a dead end but the cache description said we should look for a gap in the rocks and make our way through. Really???  It looked pretty narrow and very rocky and there was water coming through the gap.
The instructions said to climb the rocks up to the gap and then to use the rocks on the ground as stepping stones to make our way through.

Well, I went first and when I looked through the gap I was just awe inspired and really excited. Martin could tell it was gonna be good from the look on my face and we both gingerly made our way through the gap.

We ended up in what seemed like a high cauldron with a waterfall tumbling down from the other side.  It was amazing. The sound was really echoing around. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it and were really glad that we'd made the effort to make the walk.
We took loads of photos, but there is a really good one on the web of Prince Charles entering the Vat, which you can see here, so we've trodden in the steps of royalty for another time today.

Time was now really getting on and there was one more thing that we wanted to do on our way back so we made our way back to the car and headed off again.

Our last stop, before trying to find somewhere to eat in Ballater, was the Cambus O' May bridge. This is a Victorian suspension bridge across the Dee just outside of Ballater.  Again, we were on the trail of a cache. Geocaching really does take you to some really interesting places.

On our walk down to the bridge we saw a slow worm, neither of us have ever seen one of these before and we tried to take some pictures but it was very shy.

We went across the bridge and picked up our last cache of the day before making the final leg of our journey.

It was too late to cook so we headed into Ballater and found the fish and chip shop, which had a a few tables and chairs next door where we sat and ate our haddock fish supper.
Finally, after setting out at 9.30am, we returned to Corndavon at 8.30pm, absolutely shattered, but having had one of the best days ever. Hopefully it won't be the last we see of the sunshine but if it is you can't say we didn't make the most of it.

Monday 18 May 2015

The Cairngorms - Braemar to the Linn O' Dee

Following our visit to Balmoral we decided to head to the Linn O' Dee, one of Archie's top tips, via Braemar.

We made a quick stop off at Braemar castle on the way for a few photos and did a quick cache at the cemetery before taking the road through Braemar that led to the Linn O' Dee.

The views along the road were just spectacular and we had to keep stopping to take photos of the landscape in pretty much every layby we passed, and they were pretty frequent.

The river is just incredible, it was all over the place, meandering through the valley, a real reminder of those old school Geography lessons. Here is a very small selection of the pictures that we took along the way.

After a very slow drive we eventually made our way to the Linn O' Dee, which is where a bridge, opened by Queen Victoria in 1857, crosses the River Dee at a spot where the normally wide river thunders through a narrow, rocky gorge.

It was a really lovely spot. We parked at the car park at the top and made our way down to the river side to watch the water crashing through the gorge.
We also walked across to the other side of the bridge, which is completely different. It was one of the most beautiful spots we have ever been lucky enough to visit. You feel like you are pretty much sitting in the river and, with the warm sunshine and light breeze, we could have just stayed there all day.  Just listening to the sound of the river and feeling the spray, watching the sun sparkle on the rocks.  It really did feel like a very special place.

Eventually, we decided to continue on our travels and made our way back to Braemar, a pretty little village on the river.

We didn't stop long but we did discover the remains of Kindrochit castle, completely different to anything else we have seen in Scotland so far, with not a fairytale turret in sight (that's the church in the background).
There was also a really interesting and poignant memorial to the crew of a Wellington bomber, which crashed, on high ground near Braemar, on a routine training flight in 1942.  All eight crewmen lost their lives.
We'd had a brilliant day so far.  We loved Balmoral.  The Linn O' Dee was one of the most beautiful and lovely spots we have ever come across and Braemar was lovely too ...... and our day was still not over.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

The Cairngorms - Balmoral Castle

Day 3 - Sunday
We awoke to heavy drizzle, you know, the kind that wets you right through. We spent most of the day hanging around Corndavon just chilling out.  There was a bit of crochet for me and a bit of bird watching (yes, bird watching) for Martin. There were loads of birds around, that we don't normally see at home, and it gave Martin chance to use the bird book which is always in the car but very rarely sees the light of day.

He spotted oyster catchers, wheatears, red legged partridges, chaffinches and lots of others that we struggled to identify.

Eventually, even though it was still pouring with rain, we decided to head out for a bit of a drive, just to stop us going stir crazy. We weren't out for long and didn't see much to report about but may revisit some of the places if we get a bit better weather.

We were soon back, tucked up in the warmth of Corndavon, with plans for a log fire and a chicken dinner for tea. Simple pleasures.

Day 4 - Monday
It was Bank Holiday Monday and the only day of our week with no rain forecast, well we were going for it.

We decided that we would head out early, and stay out for as long as we could, to make the most of the good weather. What a day it ended up being. We headed out at 9.30am and didn't get back in till 8.30pm. We crammed in loads, so much that I don't think it will all fit in one post so here goes ......

We decided to start off at Balmoral, after all it was a big part of the reason for us being in this part of Scotland and also one of the 50 things I wanted to do before I hit 60.

From where we were staying it was a lovely drive of about 20 minutes through the mountains, which looked just lovely today with a bit of sunshine making an appearance.
We parked up on the Balmoral car park in good time for opening, as a few pink balloons were being tied up in celebration of the birth of our new princess. We were only the second car to be parked and managed a quick walk up to Crathie Church before walking over the bridge to the ticket office where we smoothly exchanged our email booking confirmation for our tickets.
We were the first visitors of the day and hoped for some good pictures with no other people in. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was transport to take us from the ticket office at the gate down the drive to the stables where we picked up our Audio tour handsets.
On our drive in we saw the original corrugated iron pre-fabricated ballroom, bought by Prince Albert after seeing a corrugated iron cottage at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was in use by 1 October 1851, and would serve as a ballroom until 1856. It now services as an estate workshop.

We decided to do things a bit out of order as I really wanted to get some good pictures of the castle before there were lots of other people about so we started off by visiting the 'new' Ballroom, which was fascinating. It was not as big or grand as we were expecting but it was full of bits and pieces and lots of information and pictures of the royal family.

From the Ballroom we walked from the castle to the garden cottage and we got some beautiful pictures of the castle across the lawn with the daffodils in flower. It is such an iconic building and it was just lovely to see it first hand, rather than on the TV.

Garden Cottage is where Queen Victoria sometimes used to take breakfast, deal with State correspondence and write her diaries. The original wooden cottage which was built in 1863 used to be occupied by a gardener, with two of the rooms set aside for Queen Victoria. The first recorded use of the cottage was as an isolation hospital for Queen Victoria's Lady in Waiting who developed scarlet fever in 1864. By 1894 the wooden cottage had fallen into disrepair and was demolished.

The present stone cottage, clad in part with wood from the forest at the West end of the Estate, was completed in 1895. The interior and exterior of Garden Cottage have altered little from this period despite modernisation and we wandered around the outside of the garden cottage, looking through the windows.

From the Garden Cottage we made our way through the gardens, which were looking very sparse. From speaking to the Gardeners the garden is made ready for when the royal family arrive in August, with lots of beds of flowers for cutting and plenty of fruit and veg. Whilst there was not that much to see today, there was lots of evidence of the work under way to get the gardens ready for August with greenhouses and cold frames full to bursting with seedlings.. We have never seen so many seed trays full of all kinds of flowers, salad, herbs and vegetables.

From the gardens we made our way back to the start and looked round a number of exhibitions, with more photos, including all of those used as the royal Christmas cards, which were just fascinating and gave a real insight into the life of the royal family whilst at Balmoral.

Having spent time here ourself and seeing just a fraction of the estate we could fully understand the love that they have for the place, it is just beautiful. We did deliberate on taking a land rover tour around the estate but decided to save that for another visit, though it looked like it would be a great way to spend an afternoon.

Our visit would not have been complete without a trip to the tea room and a wander round the gift shop, so we had a quick sandwich and piece of cake before deciding where to head to next.

We did spot this in the gift shop and, considering Princess Charlotte had only been born the day before, we thought they were pretty darn quick off the mark!
Whilst the website says to allow at least an hour and a half for your visit, we easily spent about two and half hours there in total and could happily have stayed for longer. At £11 (2015) each we both thought this was really good value for money and would definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area at the right time of year.