Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Loop Through Northeastern Scotland

August 31, 2007 My in-laws are over from the U.S. for a visit, so we recently took a day trip through Northeastern Scotland. Our plan was to set out from Aberdeen about 8:00, work our way up the Royal Deeside Valley, turn north at Ballater, and then work our way through the mountains and the Whiskey and Castle Trails of the Grampian region. I particularly wanted to make it to the seaside village of Cullen, and then visit the Macduff Marine Aquarium before making our way back to Aberdeen.

Traveling in my tiny 1.2 liter Nissan Micra were my wife, her parents, and my 5-year old son. I can tell you that we won't do that again, as there were times that I didn't think it was going to get us all up a hill. That's more of a city car than something to be used in the hills.

We first made our way down Royal Deeside toward Ballater. We had first intended to stop at Crathes Castle, but we came through before it opened. My son really wanted to see a castle, so I told him we would see one a bit later. We made our first stop right before Ballater, beside the River Dee. A mother had put up a flyer there describing the drowning of her 7-year old daughter in 2006. She wrote that she had only taken her eye off of her for a second, and she was gone. I thought about just how quickly something devastating like that can happen. Then I squeezed my son's hand a little tighter.

We went on into the Ballater Tourist Information Centre, which was housed in the old railway station that Queen Victoria used when she came to Balmoral Castle. There was a display there at the information center with wax figures, and the preserved waiting room that Queen Victoria used when she was at the rail station.

After half an hour in Ballater, we left for the hills. We had a bit of a disagreement over the next destination. Some wanted to go to Balmoral, but we have a trip planned in 2 weeks that will take us right by there. So instead we headed north. The map indicated that we would be driving on a narrow road. Since all roads in Scotland are narrow, I figured that since it was noted on the map this must mean that trees would be brushing the car on both sides at all times. That wasn't far from the truth. We drove most of the rest of the morning on a one-lane road, with wide spots in the road every quarter to half mile for passing.

I had promised my son a castle, and Corgarff Castle was right on our way. The setting for the castle was incredibly remote and rugged, but that has to be the ugliest castle I have ever seen. It just looks like a house, albeit one that dates back to 1550.

Corgarff Castle

We had a quick look, but nobody was really that enthusiastic about going in and touring it. So, we made our way further north to whiskey country. We stopped in the middle of nowhere and had a quick bite from our packed lunches, and then drove past the Glenlivet Distillery. We debated taking a tour, but we were running a bit behind schedule (the two older kids were in school, so we needed to be home at a reasonable time) and there were more interesting things in front of us.

We did stop briefly beside the River Livet and took some pictures at the Glenlivet Packhorse Bridge. We really needed to find a restroom, but were having some difficulties. Don't Europeans have to use the restroom? That's one gripe about traveling around Europe with kids - always problematic to find a restroom.

Anyway, we saw a sign for a visitor's center in the little town of Aberlour. The visitor's center had the restroom we were looking for, but we also discovered a really neat wide open area, walking path, and playground on the River Spey right behind the visitor's center. I played with my son there for 20 minutes before we decided to make the final push toward Cullen and the coast.

When Cullen came into view, it was just as I remembered it. Cullen is such a cool little seaside village. Birthplace of the Scottish soup called Cullen Skink, it is a place that you can just wander around. We first "discovered" Cullen in 2000, when we lived in Germany and visited Scotland. The details of that visit are described here.

Cullen, Scotland

Even though it was cold and spitting rain, my son and I got out and played on the beach while my father-in-law walked up to the golf clubhouse and got some information about playing there. I wrote my son's name in the beach in 5-foot letters just like I did with the other two kids in the same spot 7 years earlier.

On the Beach in Cullen

After we had all the cold we could stand, we made our way to Cullen's renowned Ice Cream Shop and loaded up on candy and ice cream. My in-laws were impressed with Cullen, and said that they thought we should go there on a regular basis. After all, it is less than an hour and a half from Aberdeen. Speaking of which, I still wanted to go to the aquarium in Macduff, so we left Cullen behind. But we'll be back.

The Macduff Marine Aquarium is a neat aquarium for kids, and my son really enjoyed it. They have displays where you feel like you are surrounded by water with the fish swimming around you. There are octopuses, shrimp, lobsters, starfish, and all sorts of common fish varieties found in the North Sea. They also had a touch pool, and my son got to touch a number of starfish.

I think my son could have spent all day in there, but the rest of the group was getting antsy, so we dragged him out of there and made our way home. The trip home was uneventful, except for the wreck we came upon where a large truck was upside down beside the road. (We later read in the paper that the driver escaped with minor injuries).

Our next trip, in two weeks, will penetrate into Rob Roy and Braveheart country.

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Blogger Educator-To-Be said...

What a breathtaking blog! I love your trip descriptions and the photographs. Thank you. Amy

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Karen Bryan said...

Yes finding bathrooms when travelling around in Scotland is a major issue of discomfort and time wasting. I've written about this in the my blog:

1:30 AM  

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