Well those who know us will know a major update is in order as we’ve been traipsing around Scotland and Turkey the last few weeks! I did a brain dump of our Scotland travels at the beginning of our time in Turkey, and will slowly publish some posts on Scotland based on those notes before I move on to Turkey.
At the beginning of April Andre’s parents came and spent two nights with us before embarking on their own Europe tour. While they were with us we explored a bit of Greenwich and hired some bikes to ride through Hyde Park which was nice.
The day they left for their tour we flew up to Edinburgh. From Edinburgh we took the train to Stirling to collect our Kilted Campervan. Over the course of our trip we found it had its pros and its cons. It was handy to have a campervan we could just take wherever we wanted, but we found B&Bs are so prolific in Scotland (and there’s hardly anywhere remote enough to be ‘off the beaten path’) that it wasn’t entirely necessary. It had a different set up to most campervans I saw online. Instead of a double bed in the back, the rear seat lay flat and the two front seats lay back to basically create two single beds instead of one double – and of course were not remotely flat. I slept much better in it than Andre did. Also, its cooler did not work so they had put in a separate cooler. This took up a lot of space in the back which was awkward for cooking (as the kitchen was in the back too) and meant we had to move our bags around a lot. But it looked bigger than the original cooler which was probably handy.
The van also had a pop-top which you accessed through a man-hole type opening in the roof, and once that was closed it created another bed in the top (as it had a padded floor), where Christine slept. It actually felt more comfortable than the seats Andre and I slept on! It handled the three of us but despite what the website says I really don’t think you could fit a family (2 adults and 2 children) in there. I mean, you could sleep them in there, but with luggage and stuff I don’t think a family would fit. Especially not with the extra cooler!
Once we picked up the campervan and figured out how it all worked we cruised on up to Dundee to pick up Christine, stock up on groceries (and buy pillows!) and leave for our adventure! I had no intention to go very far the first day, and indeed all we really got to see were the Aberlemno Pictish stones. These are a range of stones carved by the Picts which are on display by the side of the road (the biggest is in a publicly accessible churchyard). We had a bit of fun finding them as Google Maps told us they were at the church but really they are all along the road. Fortunately there was a sign by the biggest one in the churchyard which gave the general direction to find the others. Some were very eroded and hardly anything was left visible, but others were still very impressive.
Our first night was spent in Montrose at a caravan park by the beach. We parked on a grassy area but there were gravel pitches available. The bathrooms were pretty good and there were bunnies everywhere! On the grounds, that is, not in the bathrooms 😉 We also discovered that night that the van gets a bit chilly!
The next day we made a stop in Aberdeen for Andre to pick up an extra jumper to wear to bed as his pyjamas were not warm enough, and some thick socks. Our passing visit in Aberdeen reminded me a bit of Townsville – it seems to have a pretty major port and while it doesn’t look like it has anything of special interest to tourists, it looks like a nice place to live.
The highlights of this day were the two castles we visited. The first was Dunnottar Castle, south of Aberdeen. Dunnottar is a ruined castle and set up and marketed as a tourist attraction. It was £6 to get in and you could buy a guidebook (which I think Christine did) and there were interpretive signs all over the well maintained site. It is in a spectacular location, on a cliff jutting out into the sea, and played a significant part in Scottish history as William Wallace once laid seige to the castle.
The second castle we visited was New Slains Castle, north of Aberdeen. I was actually aiming for Old Slains Castle, but accidentally located New Slains Castle on the map and we ended up there. This was a win, because the remains of New Slains Castle are a lot more impressive than the remains of Old Slains Castle. We didn’t know until afterwards anyway, as this castle is certainly not set up, nor marketed as, a tourist attraction. For starters, we came across a dirt road and didn’t want to take the van off road, so parked it and walked the rest of the way (700m according to Google Maps). The dirt road took us between farms and once we got past the farms a large wire fence appeared beside us. I made the comment to Andre and Christine that I hoped the castle wasn’t fenced off!
Well, we got to the castle, and it kind of was, but the gate was wide open. We stood at the gate for a moment and stared at the ruined castle, wondering if it meant we were allowed in. We took about three steps through the gate when I noticed a sign on the fence. It was very faded, but said something along the lines of (I’ll have to check the photo I took of a less faded copy we found later in our visit) – “Do Not Enter – Dangerous Building. The owners of the castle have been requested by Aberdeen Council to keep people out of the castle as it is dangerous.” We took this to mean (especially as the gate was wide open) “we don’t really care if you go in butwe’ve put the sign up to keep the council happy”.
We must have spent a good hour or so wandering around the castle complex, trying to figure out how many restorations and additions it had been through from the different layers of brickwork visible in crumbling walls, and trying to figure out what each room had been in the past and what it might have looked like. It was clearly not maintained at all – rubbish everywhere as people had obviously used it as a campsite, and grass growing everywhere. We found one tower which still had its spiral staircase in tact, so after examining the underside (which had been reinforced at some point with concrete) and sending Andre up to test it out, Christine and I followed. It was about four floors high and had an excellent view from the top of the sea and surrounding farms. I felt a bit like the castle ruin belonged in a Famous Five book!
That night we headed inland towards the Cairngorms National Park. We stopped at a caravan park just outside it, in Huntly. This caravan park had two toilet blocks, but as it was off season one was closed (no drama – they were both very close to us). They also both had dishwashing sinks available with hot water on tap. While the night got cold and windy (although we were well protected from the wind by the surrounding trees and bushes), the morning was pleasant enough that I walked around without my windproof jacket.
On our third day we arrived in the Cairngorms. We really enjoyed our time here. On the way we came across the Glenfiddich Distillery so stopped to take a tour. While I have been to many beer breweries I have never been to a whisky distillery before. Our tour even included some whisky tasting which was pretty much wasted on Christine and me, but Andre enjoyed finishing off our samples! The tour is free and interesting, so it’s worth a visit if you have time. They got their money’s worth out of us as we left with a bottle of whisky, a whisky glass and a few gifts for people!
Once in the Cairngorms we stopped at Greytown-on-Spey to visit their information centre and have lunch. Lunch wasn’t terribly inspiring but the information centre was useful. From there we headed on to Aviemore, which is very much a tourist town. It reminded us a lot of Jindabyne – you could tell it’s a major ski town in winter but there is plenty to do in the area during summer so it stays alive and kicking. We stayed a bit outside Aviemore though, in an area called Rothiemurchus. I’m not really sure how to describe Rothiemurchus. It’s not really a town – Aviemore is the town. I think it’s an estate, but it operates more like a village, with an information centre, activity hire shops (skis, mountain bikes etc), a few hotels/B&Bs, a campsite and many private enterprise activities around – there’s a fly fishing place, a high ropes course, etc etc.
The campsite at Rothiemurchus was by far the most expensive place we stayed, and we didn’t even have a powered site. It’s popular even in the off-season. Its powered van section was full, but they had an overflow non-powered section towards the bottom of the campsite, past the tent site. I would have actually preferred to stay on the tent site, as it was prettier – well cleared aside from lots of big pine trees – while the campervan section was a (probably more natural) mix of vegetation with fewer pines and gravel pitches. We had access to the tent site’s toilet block, and it was the most interesting campsite toilet block I’d seen. It had individual bathrooms, some with a toilet and sink, and others with a toilet, sink and shower! It also had a dishwashing room indoors (most dishwashing facilities are outside the toilet blocks) and, like all the other toilet blocks we’d used so far, was very warm.
Once we had set up the van, Andre and I went for a walk on one of the tracks through the surrounding national park which started right at our campsite, while Christine stayed behind to do some study. The track took us through large sections of pine trees, much like the tent area of the campsite, and past a pretty creek. We didn’t do the full track as we had to be back in time to have dinner and attend the activity we’d booked for that night.
That night we attended a nocturnal animal-viewing session from an animal hide built on a local property. It was a bit exxy to sit in a dark room for 3 hours hoping you would see animals – £25 – but it’s not pure luck, they do set out food for the animals and have been doing it long enough to know the local animals and predict their movements. We were told there’s a local family of 3 pine martens, but that recently only one had been appearing, and that badgers had been a bit thin on the ground recently as they are in the process of moving from their winter to their summer abodes, so this disrupts their normal feeding patterns. Well we were lucky enough to see the best that could be expected for the time of year – one pine marten, one badger, and a family of mice! The pine marten didn’t stay for long, but our hostess told us his 5 minute visit was a little longer than the average. The badger on the other hand hung around for a good 15 – 2o minutes, virtually inhaling every peanut he could find!
If you take this tour, you can mostly disregard the advice on the information sheet you get given when you book which advises against wearing bright coloured/noisy jackets. I left my windproof jacket in the car as it’s bright greeny-blue and just wore my rather thin hoodie, and while the walk back at 10.30pm was tolerably cold, it was abnormally still and would have been awful if there was any wind. Once you are inside the hide you can take off your jacket as it’s heated.
Well, my word count tells me this post is up to 2000 words so I think I will leave it here for now. I’ll try to have some photos and another update added soon!