It was pouring down rain as we got an early breakfast (goodbye, porridge and poached egg) and took a taxi to Waverley station. The ride to Aberdeen was uneventful, with lovely scenes of seashores and green fields along the coast. We picked up a cab at the station and went to the airport to pick up our rental car. The most helpful and jolly rental people did their best to find us a small car – we had been upgraded to a Jaguar, which we all agreed was too much, so we ended up with a Vauxhall. (First gorse, then monkey puzzles, now a Vauxhall! All my English children’s book references have come to life.) It looked pretty much like this:
The rental people made sure we had “satnav” and programmed it for us so that we could find our destination (taking care of the old ladies? fine with me!). We edged out onto the highway, which luckily was a very small one, and following the satnav lady managed to turn around and go in the right direction. She navigated us onto the tiniest of back roads, which was perfectly fine with me. Within a few minutes we were in the land of sheep and fields and those lovely signs that warn, ominously, “oncoming traffic in middle of road.” Following our mantra – look right, look left, stay left – seemed to do the trick.
We happened to see the sign for Drum Castle, which was on our list for later, so we impulsively drove down the lane and took the tour. By the time the last owner died in the 1970s, the Irvine-Forbes family had lived here for centuries. (Washington Irving – spelling differs over the centuries – is a member of the family.) It was quite a surprise, not to say a shock, to his two younger brothers to find that their older brother had donated the castle to the National Trust. But they arranged for a small piece of the land to be nominally theirs, which allowed the title of Laird to go on.
You can only visit the castle by a docent-led tour. Our docent recited the history and pointed out the plasterwork in the hall, distinguished family portraits, etc. The high point was the library, with this special reading chair, bound volumes of Punch (just like every country house I’ve ever read about), and this remarkable self-portrait by Hugh, one of the sons of an earlier laird from the 18th century, dressed as the Angel Gabriel.Isn’t he magnificent? And no better than he should be. (Click the image to get the full glory.)
I also admired this simple little quilt in the cradle. The plant sale in the courtyard tempted me but of course I had to refrain, so here is a trough of succulents instead.
Leaving the castle we saw these cattle behind a fence, reaching up to eat the delicious leaves on a tree.
If it hadn’t been pouring down rain, we might have followed this elderly couple, quite bent over but still persisting. The grounds include an ancient wood and a formal rose garden, but they must await another visit.
We made our way on to Ballater without any trouble and even found a parking space right in the square. The Gordon Guest House has something like eight rooms, with ours looking directly out on the square and up to the hill of Craigendarroch. It has high ceilings and a magnificent bathroom with a jacuzzi (which I doubt we will use but you never know) and proved to be the best accommodation of the entire trip!Here’s a picture of our beds not longer after we arrived. Can you possibly tell who has which bed???
The owner, Martin, is very friendly, with a strong Scottish accent, and happy to offer recommendations about food, drink, drives, walks, and everything we might need.
We unpacked and set off for one of his suggestions, India on the Green. (Oddly, our taxi driver in Aberdeen told us that he used to own a restaurant in Ballater but sold it to “the Indians” some time ago. Then someone else told us that the restaurant had closed because of embezzlement by the son of the owner – something complex and bad. Could it be the same one?) Anyway, the restaurant was among the best of our trip so far: serene, delicious, fresh, perfect. I had the Bangla Fish Malai with scallops, and it was divine.
Like every English village, Ballater has a World War I memorial, this one in front of the church. Notice how well cared for it is, and notice also the bright sky and lovely clouds at 8:30 p.m. We’re getting farther north, and the sun sets late and rises early here in the summer…