Our objectives for our trip to Scotland were threefold. 1. To attempt a trip with no forward planning at all. 2. In the face of a fairly poor long range weather forecast, to try to dodge the rain as much as possible, and 3. To visit places in Scotland that neither of us had been to before. So, with our route starting to look as though a fly had stood in the ink, and was wandering around the page, it was time to head east again!
Our first stop was Inverary castle, delightfully situated near the head of Loch Fyne. The current castle was started in 1746 to a design by Vanburgh, and was easily the most beautiful one we had seen.
Home to the Duke of Argyll and his young family, it really felt like a loved and lived in home, albeit a very grand one! The main state rooms were stunning, especially the walls and ceilings, which were all original, and so pretty.
Even the weaponry was stylishly arranged!
Outside, the gardens were so well cared for, and again, we had arrived at peak Rhododendron time.
Leaving here, we had picked a nice looking route which headed southeast along the side of Loch Long, thinking we would stop for a late lunch picnic somewhere with a nice view. We were puzzled that there was not one parking place along it’s whole length, but the reason became clear when we reached a small port with MOD fencing around it. A Google search revealed it was the nuclear warhead storage and loading Bay for our nuclear subs!! We didn’t stop to take photos!
A few miles further on and we were passing Faslane our Submarine base proper, closely followed by a tiny cluster of multi coloured graffiti caravans, a peace camp. Our objective was Dumbarton, where there was a museum of shipbuilding. It was all that remained of the shipyards of William Denny, ship designers and builders since the 1800’s. They built the Cutty Sark, and many paddle steamers, ferries frigates and even hovercraft. At the heart of this museum was the 100 metre long testing tank, and some of the beautiful models that were built for testing on it, prior to being created in full size.
We had read that wild camping near Loch Lomond was very difficult, and required the purchase of a permit, and so were rather surprised to find the we could stop free of charge at the car park of the Duncan Mills Memorial railway, adjacent to the Loch Lomond steamship, the Lady of the Lake, which is being restored.
A nice evening walk along the lakeshore was followed by a sound night’s sleep.
Next day we skipped Conik hill as it was hidden in low cloud, and headed for Dukes Pass and the slightly off road Forest Drive, a pretty 7 mile track which passes several lochs. We stopped and did some walks, but were surprised at the scarcity of bird life here.
Then on to lovely Loch Katrine where we had a very enjoyable trip on the 100 year old steam ship, Sir Walter Scott, built at Denny shipyard!
This tiny boat was also steam powered!
We also visited Loch Awe, Brig o’Turk and Loch Venachar before heading to our first campsite for 6 days, the excellent Blair Drummond walled site. It enabled us to get laundry done and catch up with all the housekeeping, as well as visit it’s nearby castle.
Castle Doune is a striking building which is remarkably intact considering it was built in 1380.
This was the huge kitchen fireplace, and these were the marks where they sharpened knives!
Run by historic Scotland, it has a truly excellent, and very amusing, audio guide narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, for this is the castle that featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The historical guide was interspersed with audio clips from the film, and it was fun to see visitors split between those who were grinning, or even giggling as they listened intently, and those who just looked baffled… mainly the many foreign visitors. It was my favourite castle of the trip so far!
Next day we turned North and headed for the Cairngorm mountains, stopping at Scone Palace on the way. Again HHA, so free admission, and another excellent and fascinating visit.
Home to the Murray clan, it sets out the history of the family, including their role in the abolition of slavery, but more importantly tells the tale of how, since 840AD, all the Kings of Scotland were crowned here on the Moot Hill mound.
At each coronation all the visiting nobles brought soil from their home and emptied it onto the mound, so it was as if the King was crowned on the soil of all his kingdom. They sat on the stone of Scone, until King Edward pinched it in 1296 and took it to London. In 1996 it was returned to the new Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. The gardens were again beautiful, and contained a lovely laburnum arch.
There was another maze, with an interesting centrepiece
and some peacocks, including a very unusual white one.
We resumed our journey north, stopping at Blairgowrie for provisions, and then driving up into the mountains to Braemar, where we turned on down a minor road to the Lin of Dee. This spot is where the river is squeezed through a small gorge.
It is also the start of a gorgeous walk following the river upstream and onto the moors. We hardly saw a soul!
Now onto our poshest wild camp. Her Majesty kindly makes spaces available for motorhomes to stop free of charge on her car park at Balmoral! Thank you ma’am.
Next day was devoted to walks.. firstly at the Muir of Dinnett, a National Nature Reserve with 2 excellent walks. A 3.5 mile walk passing Loch Dinnett where we saw Red Kite, Goldeneye ducks with chicks, and Oystercatcher and Lapwing nesting in the fields.
On the hill was a beautiful Pictish stone, over 1000 years old.
Then a second walk to Burn o’vat, a beautiful waterfall hidden in an almost circular cauldron carved out by water and swirling rocks.
Access was through a slippery, wet scramble, but the atmosphere inside was quite magical.
We then drove through Ballater, where the proximity to Balmoral is evidenced by the shops proudly displaying the Royal crests.
Then, down a narrow lane to the Glen of Muick (pronounced Mick). This isolated valley is wild Cairngorms at it’s best.
The waterside fields were full of ground nesting birds, including the elusive Black Grouse, a first for us both.
The biggest treat was the arrival of a herd of Red deer.
They were fairly tolerant of humans, and demonstrated that 4 feet is really not high enough for a deer fence, by jumping over it!!
As we left, the sun came out, so we decided to drive north across the snow road high in the Cairngorms, past Lecht ski area. The top was Windy, wild and wonderful!
We thought we might have spotted a Golden Eagle circle high above a mountain top, bit it never came close enough to confirm.
We descended to the Spey valley, and to a wildcamp on the riverside, adjacent to a fishing area. Fishermen came and went, all casting repeatedly in their quest to catch Salmon which were returning and heading upstream. An idyllic setting and a quiet night!