Saturday 18th Sept – With Glyn Bower, our coach driver of Travel Wright of Newark, an early start was made by 31 residents from Winthorpe along with 14 people from the Newark area as we set off on a seven day tour of the Royal Deeside in Scotland. The journey north took us up the A1, passing the Percy Arms at Otterburn on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, where the holiday group stopped in 2004. A photo stop was made at North Queensferry, a village in Fife between the Forth Railway and Road Bridges. Leaving North Queensferry, we travelled up through Perth to the 81 room Angus Hotel in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, which was to be our stay for the next six nights. Blairgowrie, whose Scottish Gaelic name is Blàr Ghobharaidh,is on the south facing slopes of the Grampian Mountains and is the centre of the Scottish soft fruit industry, raspberries in particular. Our hotel and red stone houses surround the town’s main feature and centrepiece of Wellmeadow, a grassy triangle with a war memorial. There, regular markets and outdoor entertainments are held.
Sunday 19th Sept – After overnight rain, which quickly petered out by breakfast, we started out for our visit to the Crieff Visitor Centre on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. A tour was made of Caithness Glass showrooms, as the factory itself had closed for the weekend. Caithness Glass, known throughout the world for high quality paper weights and art glass, takes its inspirations from the colours of the Scottish landscape.
The Highland Drovers Exhibition told an amazing story of drovers, following ancient routes, coming from the Western Isles, Skye and throughout the Highlands, taking their cattle and sheep 200 miles to market at Crieff or Falkirk, many kept going for another 500 miles to London. This trade, which they plied for many centuries, was vital to the Scottish and Highlands economy.
Following lunch, our final visit of the day was to Glenturret Distillery, two miles outside Crieff, on the banks of the Turret River. On entering the visitor centre we were greeted by the massive sculpture of a grouse, the famous trade mark of the Glenturrret Distillery. Home to the Famous Grouse Experience this is the most visited distillery in Scotland. Whilst some members of the group toured the distillery followed by the usual tipple, others had a walk through the local woods. In the courtyard of the visitors centre is a bronze figure of Towser, a long haired tortoiseshell cat. This world record breaking mouse catcher, who has sadly died, clocked up an impressive 30,000 mice in a long and distinguished 24 year career. This will be a hard act to follow for its successor.
I wonder if Towser had a ‘wee dram’ added to her milk before carrying out her nightly duties.
Monday 20th Sept – With a sunny start to the day we visited Pitlochry, a town in the heart of Scotland surrounded by pine forest hills of the central Highlands. The town became famous after Queen Victoria described it as one of the finest resorts in Europe. This brought many affluent people who built many fine mansions in this previously quiet weaving village. Whilst some of the ladies visited the shops the rest undertook a half mile walk to the hydro electric power station. The power station harnesses the waters of the river Tummel which passes through its two turbines, each producing 7.5 MWs (megawatts) of electricity. The power station, famous for its salmon ladder, is an impressive structure. The ladder was specially constructed to enable salmon to by-pass the dam and make an epic journey from their birthplace in the Highland rivers, out to sea and back upstream to spawn. It is estimated that about 5,000 salmon make this journey every year. To enable visitors to see these salmon a glass viewing chamber has been built. Some members of the group did see a salmon in the viewing chamber, but unfortunately I did not.
One of the outstanding beauty spots in all of Scotland is Queen’s View, seven miles west of Pitlochry. There, a panorama of lake and mountain scenery stretches westwards as far as the eye can see. Along with her much loved servant John Brown, Queen Victoria visited here in 1866, but it is thought that the name, Queen’s View may date back to Mary, Queen of Scots visit prior to this date.
Leaving Queen’s View on our way to Blair Castle we passed Killiecrankie. It was here, in 1689, that the Battle of Killiecrankie was fought between Highland Scottish clans supporting King James V11 and government troops supporting King William of Orange. It was a stunning victory for the Jacobites in this first Jacobite uprising.
The 13th century Blair Castle, near the village of Blair Atholl, is the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and is in the heart of Highland Perthshire. The tour started with an instant ‘wow’ of the number of muskets, swords and targes (shields) hanging on the two storeys high wood panelled walls of the entrance hall. Some of the targes were used in the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The castle was full of treasures, including pottery from China, Dresden, Coalport and many other potteries. The magnificent ballroom had 175 pairs of antlers hanging on its walls. In the Atholl Highlanders Room were displays of the uniforms of the Atholl Highlanders. This regiment, a private one employed by the Duke of Atholl at Blair Athol, is not part of the British Army. It is the only private army in the United Kingdom.
In the grounds was Diana’s Grove, home to some of Britain’s tallest trees. One tree, Abies grandis (Grand fir) was an astonishing 177 feet (54 metres) high. Diana’s Grove is named after the Roman goddess of hunting and not the late Princess Diana. The nine acre walled garden with a statue of Hercules, which gives the garden its name, had many fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and flower beds. Close to the centre of one of the ponds was a heather-thatched duck hut.
What luxury the ducks had?
Tuesday 21st Sept – This was a free day for our coach driver. Many of us, using public transport, visited the city of Perth, once the capital of medieval Scotland. Now the county town of Perthshire it is known as the Fair City. The city centre is compact with a variety of shops along a mainly traffic free High Street. On the side of the city are two open public parks with the mighty River Tay flowing alongside.
A visit was made to the nearby Scone Palace, one of Scotland’s grandest stately homes. Scone (pronounced ‘skoon’) stands on the site of an abbey destroyed by John Knox’s followers in 1559. Scone Palace is a breathtakingly beautiful place of power and mystery with some people saying it is the rightful home of the celebrated Stone of Scone - also known as the Stone of Destiny. This stone, on which Scottish monarchs were crowned, Robert the Bruce was crowned at Scone in 1306, occupies a unique position in the history of Scotland. The stone was removed by Edward 1 in 1296 and fitted into a wooden chair at Westminster Abbey. In 1950 it was stolen by a group of Scottish students and found in Arbroath Abbey, before being returned to Westminster Abbey. In 1996 it was returned to Scotland as a symbolic gesture and is now kept at Edinburgh Castle.
A replica stone is sited outside the chapel on Moot Hill. Its plaque reads:
“ A replica of the stone upon which the Kings of Scots were crowned on Moot Hill until 1296 when Edward 1 took the stone to Westminster Abbey.”
Scone Place, which is the family home of the Earls of Mansfield, yes, a Nottinghamshire connection, houses a fine collection of quality porcelain, ivories and 18th and 19th century clocks. The number of clocks reminded me of Angelsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire where there are 37 rare clocks. Scone Palace was alive with the stories told by the guide.
Wednesday 22nd Sept – With squally showers we set off to visit Glamis Castle, (pronounced ‘Glahms’) which is the historic seat of the Bowes-Lyons Family. The lands were presented to them as a gift by Robert the Bruce in 1372. The Bowes-Lyons family still own the castle as the Earls of Strathmore. The castle was the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the birthplace of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret and the legendary setting of Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth.’
Our one hour tour of Glamis Castle was surprisingly conducted by an American lady, who had only been employed there since April of this year. The stories, legends and myths which our guide told lead us to believe that this was the most haunted castle in Britain. A young black boy, the ghost of a Negro servant who was badly treated around 200 years ago, haunts a stone seat by the door of the Queen’s bedroom. The ghost of a woman with no tongue is said to haunt the grounds. One of the seats in the small family chapel, with seating for 46 people, is always reserved for the ‘Grey Lady.’ This ghost, which supposedly inhabits the castle, is thought to be Lady Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis. She was burnt at the stake, as a witch, on Castle Hill, Edinburgh in 1537 on charges of plotting to poison the King. No one is allowed to sit in this seat whenever the family hold functions there. These are a few a few of the tales that I can remember of the ghosts haunting this castle.
This guide was the best I have ever encountered on the Winthorpe Village Holiday Group holidays. Her knowledge, without any notes, humour and personality were excellent.
Our final visit of the day was to Dundee, the fourth largest city in Scotland, lying on the north bank of the Firth of Tay and famous for its cake and marmalade. Dundee is also known as the ‘City of Discovery.’ This is a reference to RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery berthed at the Discovery Point riverside exhibition and is the centre of visitor attraction in the city. The RRS Discovery was the last wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed and built in Dundee for Antarctic research, she was launched in 1901. Her first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-4, carrying Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first successful journey to the Antarctic.
The city, which bustles with tourists, has traffic free streets in its centre with a wide variety of shops large and small. Many of the streets around the centre have elegant Georgian terraced houses. At one end of the paved High Street is the eight foot tall bronze statue, of possibly the most famous comic of all time, Desperate Dan with his faithful pet Dawg in tow. On the opposite end of the High Street is the imposing Gothic Cathedral of St. Paul, built in 1885.
A short visit was made to the MacManus Galleries, of a splendid Gothic Revival-style and built in 1867. The building houses a museum and art gallery with a collection of fine and decorative art as well as a natural history collection. This city centre building is bright and airy with a church feel about it in the café, where there is a beautiful stained glass window dedicated to a lady missionary.
This was the best day of my holiday. Watching videos in the Discovery Point riverside exhibition transports you to the most heroic voyage of exploration of its time, the Antarctica. Then, boarding the RRS Discovery and taking a tour around this ship, looking at its design features, where the crew worked and slept, imagining the hardships the crew endured. It was great stuff. No wonder that this ship is the icon for Dundee.
Thursday 23rd Sept – A fine dry day was the start of our Royal Deeside Tour. The route, on the A93, followed the Dee, a prolific salmon river, through the Cairngorms National Park, Britain’s largest national park. The river valley is home to many fine castles including Royal Balmoral Castle, the Highland home to the Royal Family since 1852. The scenery was of grazing Highland cattle and sheep amongst lush grass, a few white crofts dotted around, with a mixture of deciduous trees alongside the road. Overlooking, on the hillsides were coniferous forests. It was humorous to see a road sign saying “Lambs do not know the Green Cross Code.” This scenery changed with a gentle climb of 1000 feet (304 metres) through the bleak Glenshee along the edge of the Grampians Mountains. A short blustery stop at 2500 feet (760 metres) up was made at the Glenshee Ski Centre. This is the largest ski resort in Scotland with slopes of 3000 feet (910metres) high. Leaving Glenshee, with the road falling, there were in a nearby valley some ‘Dragon’s Teeth.’ These pyramid shaped concrete blocks were used during the Second World War to impede the movement of tanks and mechanised infantry. The idea was to slow down and channel tanks into ‘killing zones’ where they could easily be disposed of by anti-tank weapons.
Passing Braemar, our first stop was to the small village of Crathie on the edge of the Balmoral estate. The village is famous because, when in residence, the Royal Family regularly attends the charming village Church of Scotland Kirk, opened in 1895. John Brown, Queen Victoria’s ‘loyal servant’ who was born in Crathie is buried in the churchyard. Continuing eastwards and over the single-arched Bridge of Gairn we came into Ballater for a lunch stop.
Ballater, a delightful Victorian town in the centre of Royal Deeside, has profited from the needs of the Royal Family at Balmoral, just eight miles away. Many of its shops have ‘By Royal Appointment’ signs; even the now closed railway station has one. This railway station, once used by the Royal Family, has now been converted to shops. Leaving Ballater we now retraced our route back to Braemar passing Balmoral Castle, with the Royal Standard flying, along the way.
Braemar, an old-established town, is surrounded by the Grampian Mountains and woodlands and benefiting, like Ballater, from the royal presence at Balmoral. It is home to the world famous Braemar Gathering and Highland Games, where the Royal Family has traditionally attended.
Friday 24th Sept – On a sunny morning with a biting easterly wind we set off on our return journey back to Winthorpe, by passing Stirling, Glasgow and Lockerbie. Lockerbie was the scene when on the 21st December 1988, a terrorist bomb exploded on board Pan Am Flight 103, destroying the aircraft over the town and killing 270 people.
Memories came flooding back when we stopped for lunch at Gretna Green, as we made this same stop in September 2005 on our way back from Oban. Gretna Green, close to the English border, is famous for runaway marriages.We did see one couple who had just got married in the World Famous Blacksmith Shop. Leaving Gretna Green we travelled over the Pennines on the old Roman Penrith to Scotch Corner road, (A66) down the A1 arriving back in Winthorpe at 7pm.
Pat Finn. October 2010.
On the 27th September 2010, six days after our visit to Scone Palace, 500 years of history was wiped out in an instant when a delivery lorry smashed into a 16th century archway reducing it to rubble. This priceless archway was all that remained of the ancient approach to the Augustine abbey, which once housed the Stone of Destiny. Repair work is now underway.
“Trying to save some cash on your grocery bills, ma’am? Asda’s delivery drivers have a royal appointment with staff at Balmoral.” (Daily Mail Headline 23rd September 2010.)
Last year, the staff at Balmoral Castle started shopping online at the giant supermarket Asda, where its delivery vans are making weekly visits. Local shops, in Ballater, have seen business drop by up to 40%.
Ballater has more ‘By Royal Appointments’ signs than anywhere else in Scotland, how long will they remain?