We had a nice compartment - since it had been previously reserved, no one intruded in our space and we were able to keep our luggage near. Of course, I was totally enchanted with the landscape as it flew past my window. Green, lush, even in July! It was a two-hour trip, but I loved every minute of it! The train pulled into Aberdeen. Our friends met us near the end of the tracks – it had been about a year since we had seen them. The joy and success of this first trip to Europe was due to the graciousness of our hosts.
We were soon transported to our host’s lovely one story farm house on the outskirts of Aberdeen – on the way we were treated to delightful sights of Scottish countryside – up two lane and one lane roads, alongside pastures populated by Highland Coo. The home was lovely and our accommodations most comfortable. As it turned out, our hosts were also our tour guides. And, what wonderful places we were able to visit! We started sight-seeing practically the minute we arrived. Because it is advisable to just keep on going when arriving in another time zone to acclimate to that time zone, we set out for the south east of Aberdeen, in Aberdeen shire, and the remains of Dunnottar Castle. Dunnottar, located on a cliff jutting out into the sea, majestically guards that part of the Scottish east coast. A long foot path took us to the entrance of the castle. It was unbelievably fascinating and daunting.
The next two wonderful days found us exploring several castles. In between rain showers, the sun presented itself. This was not bothersome, as I preferred this climate to the heat of Texas! On our list of castle touring, we visited Crathes Castle, a 16th century fortress with a magnificent walled garden. Everything was superbly maintained representing a conglomerate of periods. I am now hooked on castle visiting. After Crathes, we visited Drum Castle which belonged to the Irvine family for six centuries. This Jacobean style castle houses beautiful period furniture, paintings and artifacts in large numerous rooms. The Keep is one of the three oldest tower houses in Scotland dating from 1290, and The Common Hall was later turned into a Library in the 1840’s. So much history to absorb in such a beautiful way! On the Castle grounds, separate from the castle, sits a 16th century chapel where the Irvine’s regularly worshiped.
The third castle on our list was Balmoral, a Scottish Baronial designed estate, also in Aberdeenshire. This was definitely a dream come true to be able to visit the country/holiday home of H. M. Queen Elizabeth the II. Since the Queen often resides on the estate, the main part of the house was closed to visitors. We were allowed to visit one part, the Castle Ballroom, still used for balls and the only part of the house open to the public. The architecture was spectacular – the estate’s first residents were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the mid 1800’s. It was bequeathed to the current Royal Family. The visitor’s pavilion is quite accommodating with a nice coffee and gift shop. Some of the surrounding grounds were also open for exploring, so we walked down a dirt road alongside the River Dee. The day was grey and cool, the river energetic and rhythmic as we walked. Majestic trees provided a glorious canopy. The scent of the earth and foliage was divine – I was in one the most gorgeous spots in Scotland!
After Balmoral, we drove west to Braemar through more spectacular Scottish countryside – from lush forests to softly rolling hills. Definitely strategic in its location, Braemar Castle was originally built in 1628 as a hunting lodge by the Earl of Mar. During some later dispute, the castle was burned by the neighboring Farquharsons who ultimately ended up with the property. The castle was restored in 1748 as a garrison post. At the time of our visit, the family of Farquharson still owned the property. The interior living space was accessible by a spiral stair well. However, the design of the defensive “curtain” of the castle is in a unique star shape. Fascinating. I am so enthralled with castles! However, it was time to return to Aberdeen. In so doing, we traversed through charming towns via two lane roads. In one charming town, whose name has escaped me, we stopped for a respite. There in the main square of the town, we saw our first double decker bus, and best of all, what looked to me like a Clydesdale with a cart! In the same square!
The following day we became acquainted with Aberdeen, strolled around the shops and the Provost Skene House. The next day we were again on the road headed west, past Braemar Castle. We stopped at Corgarff Castle. When first sighted, it didn’t look that imposing – on a hill, all by itself. But this building, set on lonely moorland, has a colorful history. The dirt road leading to the castle winds up to the top of the hill. The square tower building is predominant and was constructed in the mid 1500’s for the Laird of Corgarff. Tragedy befell the Forbes family in 1571 when most of them perished in a fire. Various disputes over many years ensued and the Earl of Mar took possession in 1715. It was later converted to a military post when the exterior wall in the shape of a kind of flattened star with musket slits was constructed; much like its sister castle in Braemar. This, then, became another garrison. The Forbes family descendants, however still resided there. In 1801 the castle returned to private ownership and went through a variety of existences. But, in 1827, the military again took possession but abandoning it in 1831 when the castle began to fall in disrepair. However, it has been restored and now a museum. Its austere presence in the countryside is definitely befitting a military post.
One of the highlights of this day was the visit to the Glen Livet Distillery on the Glen near the River Livet (Glen Livet is over 150 years old.) Following many years of illicit distilling in the glens of the region, smugglers did not like the fact that the government finally sanctioned distilling if one obtained a license. Even with the law on one’s side, it was still a dangerous business to distill legally. And so began the long history of what is now Glen Livet Distillery (originally licensed in 1824) and its founder George Smith. The modern distillery was fantastic. I had not yet been to such a place and I was quite impressed by the cleanliness of the main area where the copper stills are located. The smell was erotic and luscious. Two main ingredients make Glen Livet’s scotch whisky, malt barley and water. The secret, as Glen Livet states, seems to be the water. The River Livet comes down the mountain to the distillery which, in itself, is 900 feet above sea level. The process is a long one, but the result is amazing. There are many distilleries in this part of the world; the countryside’s harsh climate is perfect for such. Farmers sell their grain, distillers make the magic and the world enjoys the final result. Following our tour of the facility, we had a tasting of the whisky produced. Scotch whisky must be aged at least three years, but many are aged longer and released at varying intervals. Leaving Glen Livet we traversed over part of the northern Grampian Mountains through a ski town of Aviemore. We discovered a small Loch; I wish I could remember the name, for it was such a lovely peaceful place. The golden sand was soft under foot; the water glittered in the sun with only a few white-caps. Red sails dotted the surface of the water. A remarkably tranquil spot.
On our last day of sightseeing, we were able to visit Glamis Castle, near Dundee – ancestral home of H. M. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Although the castle has been enlarged over the centuries, it is believed that it originated around 1264 as a hunting lodge. The property was recognized as a thaneage at that time – but by 1276, thaneage changed to “feudal barony” and the property was granted to Sir John Lyon. The castle has been in the possession of Sir John’s descendants, the Glamis and Bowes Lyon family since that time. Eighteen Earl’s of Strathmore/Kinghorne have lived under the turrets and in the halls of this haunting building. Some of the oldest sections are open to the public: dining room, old crypt, drawing room, chapel, billiard room, and some royal apartments – most with amazing architectural features. There is a museum and restaurant (once the Castle Kitchen) on the premises. Lovely gardens are adjacent to the building, which is further surrounded by fertile land populated by cattle. This castle is the largest I’ve ever seen – after entering the grounds; the long drive is just the preface to what looks to be a storybook building.
Alas, on our final day in Aberdeen, we board our train and begin the journey back to Glasgow. I am still enthralled by this mode of travel as the marvelous scenery whizzes past me. Once in Glasgow, we find our hotel (which happens to be an 18th century townhouse) and our room (on the top floor); we lug our suitcases up the stairs. When we have settled, we go for a walk around Glasgow. I am somewhat cautious and probably not as open to exploring as my daughter. So we just walk – through the impressive botanic gardens – then make a brief stop in the Hillhead branch of the Glasgow library. We do finally settle for the night and ready ourselves for our return flights to D/FW. Farewell Scotland, you have my heart!