Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Day 26: Balmoral & Braemer

We were served breakfast bang on the dot (8:15am, as requested) downstairs by our hostess’ harried husband who was attempting to serve people who evidently had turned up before their order time. He explained patiently to an American couple how to properly smoke salmon and outlined how Grantown-on-Spey came to be to four idiotic Australians (sometimes I despise my countrymen) who seemed to be more interested in pestering him with questions than letting him do his job.

Grantown was ordered to be built by Sir James Grant, a local lord who, after “clearing” his tenants, wanted a place for them to live, rather than lose them overseas. We had just missed the 250th anniversary of this - our English host seemed quite enamoured with this Sir James and his practices (he was also against deforestation in the 18th century!).

While I ate my porridge (“nasty stuff” our host said - I held up Nutella and assured him “I came prepared!”), the Aussies then got the year of the First Fleet’s arrival hopelessly wrong. We left at 9am because A) I wanted to avoid crowds at the castles, B) I wanted to get there before the Aussies who were also planning to go and C) I was desperate to get to Edinburgh at a reasonable time, made slightly difficult by the spare tyre.

I was cautious on the B roads and single lanes. Some idiot bus driver ignored a sign that showed a sharply rising and falling bridge. It was tiny so the bus could not cross it - but we did, dodging the pedestrians it disgorged. Oh how I hate passing places that look dodgy to a spare tyre.

Balmoral Castle awaited. We walked over the river to the ticket office where we boarded a trailer pulled by a Land Rover which took us up to the castle. We had a pleasant walk past the stables (these held vehicles important to the British royal family, including one which was tall enough inside for the Queen to exit standing up) then through the gardens which were bursting with produce and flowers due to be cut for the royal family on the weekend.

Flowers and food fit for a queen.

The castle would be closed the next day so that the Queen could enjoy her summer holiday there. Yesterday Antiques Roadshow filmed at Balmoral. Staff members were still fussing about how they had looked on television. Apparently the grounds had been crowded - we timed our visit perfectly.

The castle was folly-like, built as a summer escape. The only large room was the ballroom. It held a dinky car used by the Queen then Prince Charles in childhood. It was sweet, watching a reel of child!Charles playing with his sister.

Balmoral Castle

The ground staff were friendly. Ride On Mower Guy even helped a woman get a better shot of the castle. We walked around the part of the castle where Queen Victoria would have stayed then had pancakes at the cafe before being driven back to the gate. A nice little place. It has freaky natural water though. The “brown water” feeding Balmoral comes through peat so it looks like dark urine, even after you flush the toilet!!

I wonder if Queen Victoria ever had pancakes here?

We left just as the crowds were arriving then drove 9 miles to Braemer Castle, which had a slightly more impressive past. It was a fortified 17th century hunting lodge turned anti-Jacobite garrison turned family home. It began as a tower so the guy who owned it wouldn’t get nabbed by jealous neighbours!

A wall encircles the tower. The stairs inside were wider than I expected, but it was never meant to be a stronghold. The family left some years ago so the community runs and restores it now. There was a very friendly woman in the gift shop who I discussed the weirdly negative reviews on Trip Advisor with.

I especially liked the 18th century soldier graffiti in the mess/dining room. Touching it sent an exciting shock from my fingers up my arm. There was a tartan on display in another room; it was given to the lady of the castle by Bonnie Prince Charlie in return for her help. Very interesting castle.

We headed back to Edinburgh at the excruciating speed of 50mph which pissed off a whole bunch of people (trucks and caravans included!) on the dual carriageways. Damn spare tyre of doom. I got honked at by one truck. But we made it back!

We dropped off car, explained the spare tyre to a guy and then got very lost with heavy suitcases on our way to out hotel. Tears and sweat were shed until I, the introvert, asked a nearby smoker where to go. It worked!

Then we had a lunch/dinner at 4:30 at the Hard Rock Cafe. I figured I’d be okay having two meals in one - haha nope. My lack of gallbladder causes some interesting side effects, but I am very glad to be without that dastardly organ.

Later I put on an episode of Star Trek Enterprise which was on TV but my fiancĂ© hadn’t seen season 4 - shock, horror!!

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