Posted in Scotland

11th July – Grantown-on-Spey – Balmoral

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Leaving The Black Isle and it’s quiet charm behind, we headed over the Kessock Bridge via Inverness towards our next destination in the Cairngorms National Park. Grantown-on-Spey is on the northern edge of the park and is a pretty small town that attracts many visitors to the area. Our first outing was a woodland walk with a mixture of tall pines and deciduous trees, natural pools and wildflowers, the sunshine was short lived and the sky turned stormy so we didn’t linger.

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At Loch Garten for many years there have been breeding ospreys, but not in 2019! Trying not to be disappointed, we walked to the centre and watched red squirrels dashing around the trees, a greater spotted woodpecker working its way up the tall pine trees, a fleeting glance of a crested tit and then, perched high in a tree was a single osprey, success for us in seeing one adult bird. It was a long way off and we used the RSPB telescope to get a good look, such a majestic and handsome bird.

 

On the walk back I noticed some fungi, a nice traditional shaped, reddish toadstool and some really weird ones called Devil’s Tooth Fungus that looked like bleeding marshmallows! There were moths flitting around the trees and disappearing before  could see what they were. Eventually I watched one land on a tree trunk, and then it vanished. After a careful search I saw it, brilliantly camoflauged, mimicking the colours of the tree trunk to perfection. I think it was a Striped Twin-spot Carpet having looked it up; birds are so much easier!  Having seen leaves turning colours, hawthorn berries starting to colour up and bright red rowan berries, it seemed like Scotland has skipped Summer and is heading straight for Autumn.

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Further along our walk passed by a loch with mallard, tufted duck and a pair of swans, we heard a great spotted woodpecker calling and eventually saw it high in the trees. The trees lined the loch right to the edge in places, the waters were a silver grey colour creating the perfect surface for a great reflection. Pine trees looked like their trunks had been covered in frost, on closer inspection it turned out to be a type of lichen with grey intricate leaf swirls.

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Doubling back on our journey we headed for the infamous Loch Ness, it would have been a shame to miss it out having come so close, so we booked a boat trip along a section at the top. The sky was heavy and grey, rain threatened at any moment and the wind was getting stronger. The trip started by passing Bona lighthouse built by Thomas Telford, once the smallest manned, inland lighthouse in the UK, it helped shipping negotiate the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness for nearly 200 years.

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Passing from the canal into the loch itself the steely grey surface reflected the trees lining the edges, and in one tall tree we were shown an osprey on its nest. Eventually getting to Urqhart Castle ruins once the site of many battles, it later became a place where Victorian aristocrats visited following royalty to the area. The boat returned from here and another box was ticked, so to speak. If the weather had been kinder, we would probably have visited the castle but we can leave that for another time.

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On our drive south through the Cairngorms, the wide open moorlands with rolling hills in a tapestry colours was very easy going on the eye, dotted with sheep and lambs and it made a relaxing drive The greens and browns of the heather looked like a patchwork over the hillside, areas having been control burned during the winter time to regenerate the plant and promote new growth. This provides food for grouse and sheep, ultimately generating income from what can be a harsh landscape. It opens the ground out providing different habitats for birds and insects, bees making pure heather honey providing another source of income. The heather was a beautiful sight, it’s vivid colour in swathes across the hillside, so many tiny flowers all together forming a carpet of pinky-purple.

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Pausing in the pretty Victorian town of Ballater for a couple of hours we noticed many of the shops had Royal Plaques stating their patronage of the premises over the years. There were many nice buildings in the town, including an old station converted to an information centre and an attractive church in the town’s green and floral centre.

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Next stop Balmoral Castle which I had been looking forward to since we planned the trip months ago. I wasn’t disappointed, it certainly is a castle fit for a Queen with an ornate and turreted exterior and large clock tower. We visited the Ballroom which was the only one open to visitors, lined with stags heads, large paintings and displays of artefacts, but no photography was allowed. Moving into the garden, Royaleverything was neat and orderly. Colourful rose beds close to the castle, a few statues with large manicured lawns. We were so lucky the day was warm and sunny which made it all look fantastic, the flowers smelled beautiful, especially the sweet peas and roses.

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An attractive large conservatory is full of pot plants for displays in the castle and a long greenhouse close by is full of colour and keeps a succession of plants ready for use. The vegetable garden is all organic and the growing season is timed for harvest of fruit and vegetables in August when the Royal family arrive.

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Walking along the Riverside walk, the River Dee sparkled in the sun as we passed by on our way to admire the Queen’s Fell ponies and several mares with foals at foot, quite a picturesque scene. We really enjoyed our visit and on our way out red squirrels were running over a shed roof and squabbling over the peanut feeder.

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At Royal Lochnagar we had our first experience of a whiskey distillery, it is one of the smallest in Scotland and is situated very close to Balmoral Castle. Our guide was excellent informing us all about making the golden liquid; the tour taking place on a day of action so we were able to see and smell some of the processes from raw barley right through to the enormous barrels in storage. To my surprise, I really liked the taste and it wasn’t the ‘fire water’ as I thought it would be.

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Author:

We retired at last and 2017 is the start of our next chapter. We now have a home on wheels in which to travel around Europe, follow the sun and whatever else takes our fancy.

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