Part 6 Aberdeenshire… North coast

Next morning we entered the Cheese Pantry to find an Aladdins Cave of cheese treasures.So many beautiful cheeses, including their own which are made on the premises.The very friendly staff were keen for us to taste as many as we wished! We were happy to oblige! We came away with 4 delicious cheeses and a smoked Salmon paté made with their own cream cheese, for less than half of the price of a night on a campsite…and our fridge was re-stocked!First stop this morning was Cawdor Castle, built in 1372 and still lived in by the Campbell family.It was wonderful. A comfortable, homely feel in the rooms was offset by doors that opened onto stone staircases and secret dungeons.I have never seen twin four posters before!The first part of the castle to be built was a central keep, and the legend is that when the Thain of Cawdor wanted to build his castle, he sent his donkey to wander with a panniers of gold. Wherever the animal rested, he would build. It stopped under a Holly tree, so he built his keep around the tree. The holly tree is still there, and when it was carbon dated, it dates to the late 1300’s, when the castle was built!Around the castles were beautiful gardens and a maze, and we decided it was one of our favourite places.We were disappointed not to see Osprey at Loch Garten, and we had been told of a secret location near the castle to see them. We headed there on foot, in quite heavy rain, and saw the nest with a parent bird hunkered down, presumably sheltering the chicks. Hurray!Next, onto Lossiemouth where, as the rain had stopped, we did two walks. The first into the coastal forest, the only place we have ever seen where lichen carpeted the ground, looking like snow!Then, literally in the middle of nowhere, is a hidden corner where bird feeders are set up and regularly replenished. We sat on the bench there, literally feet from the feeders, as birds came and went, including coal tits feeding young. Suddenly, a flash of yellow, and a family of yellowhammer arrived, which were delightful. What a treat.Next a walk to Loch Spynie for some more bird watching, before returning to Lossiemouth, and, in particular the Lossie fish and chip shop!Supper purchased, we drove to the car park at the west beach where we could stay the night.Parked looking across the beach, two birds appeared, hovered and then dived into the tidal lagoon right in front of us. They were Ospreys, and we were treated to a few hours of them fishing! Every time they caught something they were mobbed by gulls. Amazing to watch.Then at 7.45 a jet took off from RAF Lossiemouth and disappeared towards the horizon. A lady passing said ‘There goes the 8pm fly past’ Sure enough, at 8pm exactly the Typhoon jet came roaring towards us and as he reached the shore, pulled into a lightning fast vertical climb, before spiralling down and vanishing!Another treat… and a regular occurrence apparently!The final treat was a super sunset!We both woke at 4am, and peeked out of the window. What a sight. The tide was in, the sun was beginning to rise…. and the Osprey were back fishing!And the cost of that campsite… free! Wow…so lucky! We even went straight back to sleep!Next day was forecast sunny, so we decided to do some walking!! Firstly, a visit to beautiful Elgin Cathedral… built in 1224, but left for ruin after the reformation in 1560, it has been a tourist attraction since the 1800s!On the Bishops house next door, these interesting house shaped gable ends caught my eye.Next door is the peaceful Biblical garden.Then an 8 mile coastal walk from Portsoy to Cullen (home of Cullen Skink… not an animal but gorgeous smoked haddock chowder!). We had parked Boris in Cullen, then caught the local bus to Portsoy to walk back. Sadly, Chris’ English bus pass was not accepted! If we had been on bikes (anyone who knows me should now be laughing loudly!), there was a super bike service point provided in the town square!This was an exhilarating walk.We also saw some beautiful orchids.Lots of beautiful scenery, cliffs studded with birds, sandy beaches and even an impossibly sited castle ruin – Findlater castle.We completed the somewhat hilly trek, and had an award winning ice cream as our prize!Back into Boris and a journey 10 miles along the coast to the RSPB reserve at Troup Head. Another few kilometres walking here was amply rewarded by the views of Scotland’s only mainland Gannet colony… 2000 beautiful birds, which we could see, hear and definitely smell!From the cliffs we were at eye level with these magnificent birds as they flew effortlessly by.The gannets are still mating and laying eggs, so no chicks yet. Gannet chicks are amazing. They turn into fat fluff balls, and their way of fledging is to literally fall out of the nest to the sea far below, cushioned by their fat. They are too fat to take off again, but their fat sustains them until they can!Lastly a few miles along a narrow twisty lane to St Drostan’s beach, our stop for the night, backed by sandstone cliffs.We spent an hour walking to explore some huge caves and rock pools before watching an even more amazing sunset, and then sleeping like logs… we didn’t wake up until after 9.00 am… unheard of for me!

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