If Colin had been fit and well he would have been off hill-walking with the others, but in his current situation he couldn’t do so much so he and I stuck to low level excursions.
One of the most famous buildings on Deeside is Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria’s chosen highland home, which Queen Elizabeth and her family still visit, for a month around the end of August and into September each year. Though the castle itself isn’t open to the public, the grounds can be visited from April till the end of July, and are a very popular attraction. That’s where Colin and I headed on the Saturday while the others set of on a long day hill-walking.
We started out crossing the iron bridge over the river Dee, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and after buying our tickets turned right, through the electronic gates and along the drive – presumably the one the Queen travels too. A circular tour of the grounds is mapped out in a leaflet and at the old coach house you collect phone-like handsets that tell you about the various buildings and gardens, as well as the estate itself, as you continue along the trail. Number 2 was the old coach house where there was an exhibition of photographs – the building of the castle as we know it; the royal family through the years, and a special collection of the cards the Queen has sent out each year. These consisted of photos of family, royal occasions, overseas trips… Some lovely pictures even if you aren’t a big royalist. The next area had a display of mounted (stuffed) animals and birds that are to be found on the estate. It’s a huge estate covering low land and high land, pine forest and meadow land…. so the types of wildlife are quite varied. I took photos of some of the birds because we had been talking about them earlier and this was to show the others when we got back to our log cabin! The grouse was familiar to us all, but the black grouse wasn’t, so hence the picture.
Then I had to take a picture of the red squirrel, our native squirrel, sadly in decline because of the introduction of the grey squirrel. This one is so realistic-looking. They are beautiful creatures and thankfully they are still to be found in highland forests – we actually have some in our local pine forest near Peebles too.
In another of the buildings was a display of carriages and cars connected with the royals, including the old Austin 7 van that delivered meat from the butcher’s shop in nearby Ballater, which still has its “by royal appointment” sign displayed outside the shop. (Photo last time)
There were plenty of vegetable beds to walk past first, then round at the glass house which you can see on the left of the photo above, is a gigantic display of lilies among a mixture of red flowers. The path turns to allow the first views of the castle. It is certainly the perfect “fairy-tale” castle with its towers and turrets.
As you walk further on you arrive at the semicircular garden with its fountain, beyond which you get a great view of the whole building. At the top of the steps are the King George V and Queen Mary gates of 1923. From here you get probably the best view of the castle, and now you continue on the path to the left of the building and walk between the Queen’s rooms and the small sunken garden,
pausing to admire the small fountain with decorative chamois on the top.
The tour takes you round the back of the castle and into the ballroom to see the current exhibition of royal ball gowns - with a diamond theme. We didn’t go inside though it probably was quite interesting, but by that stage my knees were buckling and I was having difficulty putting one foot in front of the other! Food was required! They have a very well appointed tearoom and gift shop round the back, so we sat outside at a wooden table, with tea and a scone – with jam and cream - and watched the chaffinches on their search for crumbs. Finally it was time to make our way back to Braemar, so with a last photo of the castle tower we walked back to the estate offices and returned our “handsets”, then I waited for the transport back to the gatehouse while Colin took off on Shanks’s pony! (on foot, if you don’t know that expression!). It was a good afternoon, though I was probably a bit disappointed in the actual gardens. However I did get a couple of flower photos and I’ll finish off with them, the wild purple rhododendron, and the little wild rose.
Talk again soon.