The Cateran Trail

Today we’d planned on walking along an old drovers track through Glen Isla, but within minutes of parking up in Auchavan we were drenched by heavy rain, and the path had become a torrent of water. Knowing that we’d only get wetter and colder, but that the weather was supposed to improve in the afternoon, we cut our losses and headed back to the cottage for a cuppa.

The weather did indeed brighten up so we drove down to Alyth, and followed part of the Cateran Trill up and over the Hill of Alyth, from where we had gorgeous 360 degree views. We even got to witness a beautiful sunset as we descended – a definite perk of walking later in the day. Whilst it didn’t have the majesty of say the Cairngorms, it’s still a beautiful and peaceful hill to climb.

Kisses from the Queen’s pony

After breakfast, me and mum-in-law headed for Balmoral Castle – the Royal Family’s Scottish home. Unfortunately we were only going as part of a tour, rather than esteemed guests, but I can but dream. Not surprisingly, visitors travel from all corners of the globe, and the car park was rammed. It’s also compulsory to take a little guided tour of parts of the house, and to watch a video, before you’re let loose in the gardens – our real reason for visiting. Eventually we were allowed to roam free though.

IMG_3274

Like Highgrove, and much to our delight, the gardens aren’t immaculate. I’m not really into that whole overly manicured, pristine, house and garden thing, and it seems that neither are the Royals. I also like to grow veg as as well as flowers, and always think it a shame that more gardeners don’t try and at least become a little bit more self sufficient. The Balmoral Winter cabbages were a sight to behold! So too were their lettuces.

After admiring the flower nurseries, and making a mental note to plant some Winter anenomes for a splash of colour in the darker months, we walked through the grounds to a paddock holding some of the Queen’s much loved ponies. One in particular immediately took a shine to me, and kept givng me very affectionate horsey kisses.

IMG_3305

We then walked through woodland, past the memorial to Princess Alice – former Grand Duchess of Hess, and daughter of Queen Victoria, and down to the River Dee. It’s easy to see why Queen Victoria fell in love with this landscape, and why the Royal Family have such a soft spot for it. It’s absolutely stunning, and private – the castle can’t be seen from the road.

IMG_3297

On the way back to Neids Cottage we stopped off in Braemar – a very pretty town, that gets busy douring the Summer. We found a lovely tea shop serving gluten free cake, and then a butcher where we bought haggis. You cannae beat really good haggis served with neeps (swede), braised red cabbage, caramelised potatoes, and gravy. The weather took a turn for the worse as we drew closer to Glen Isla, and mum-in-law had to drive through a few local floods (sensibly – she’s a trained flood rescue person), but it didn’t detract from the views. This is definitely a part of Scotland I’d like to see more of.

Blairgowrie

As we’d designated today an offical ‘take it easy’ day, we had a lie-in, a huge cooked breakfast, and then headed into Blairgowrie. There’s a large public car park next to Tesco so we dropped Skyra (our car) off, and then followed one of the short walks in a lovely little guide book called ‘Perthshire: 40 Town and Country Walks’, by Paul & Helen Webster.

Despite mist and a fine rain, we thoroughly enjoyed walking along the River Ericht, which runs right through the centre of Blairgowrie. We then ascended to join the Cateran Trail, but unfortunately because of the weather couldn’t see the views over towards the Sidlaw Hills.

The town can easily be described as beautiful, and the river must make an even more stunning sight when in full flow. Blairgowrie is known locally as ‘Berry Town’ because of the amount of soft fruit grown in polytunnels in the surrounding area. We caught glimpses when the mist occasionally cleared. There are also the remains of lots of old mills, some of which have now been refurbished. In 1860 there were apparently 11 mills working just along this stretch of river.

Back to collect Skyra and nip into Tesco, before settling down to watch a film which I’d not seen before, but should be compulsory viewing for anyone partial to Scotland – ‘A Local Hero’. It’s based in Western Scotland and really does capture the magic and beauty of the place. Can you tell that I’ve got a very soft spot for it?

Corrie Fee

I had one of those weird nightmares last night – the one where you think that there’s an old lady sitting over you and staring into your face. Fortunately my waking up and freaking out whilst waving my head torch frantically around the room, didn’t wake Rich or mum and dad-in-law up.

After breakast, Rich, mum-in-law and I drove for 45 minutes into Glen Cova and parked at the Glen Doll Ranger base. There were a few cars and minibuses parked up, but we had the track through the Glen Doll forest and into Corrie Fee to ourselves. We allowed ourselves to be overtaken by a group of schoolchildren and their guides whilst climbing up and out, so that Rich didn’t have to worry about rushing ahead and falling over, but this meant that we could enjoy the magnificent views of the amphitheatre that much longer.  Rich has to work harder than most to stay upright, thanks to having lost his cochlears to NF2 tumours, but did amazingly well and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

At the top of Fee Burn, with the weather having closed in and knowing that it would be just as tough for Rich going down, we decided against climbing up to Mayar and Driesh, and retraced our steps slowly, stopping for a late lunch at the bottom of the corrie. The corrie is a valley carved out by a glacier many moons ago, and the path follows one of the moraines – piles of rock ground up by the movement of the glacier. It’s a wonderful sight to see if you’re in the area, and the path to the bottom of the amphitheatre isn’t taxing.

IMG_3242

The Angus Glens

We woke refreshed from our first night in Neids Cottage. After yoghurt, fruit and a bacon sarnie for breakfast, we fired up Skyra (our car – she’s Scottish) and headed a few miles up the road to a small car park at the far end of Backwater Reservoir. From here we walked just over 9 miles of what the guidebook very accurately describes as a ‘fine upland circuit’, taking in Corwharn and Mildewan Hill. As it was a tad blowy, we stopped for a cuppa and snack inside Drumshade Plantation. Here we were showered not with rain, but with falling pine needles.

Back to the car for a late lunch out of the wind, which unfortunately makes things harder for Rich as due to NF2 induced nerve damage he can’t close his eyes properly to protect them from the elements. We then headed home for some compulsory post-walk cake.

Neids Cottage

An annual trip with mum and dad-in-law has become something of a tradition, so in October we headed up to Perthshire to enjoy a spot of Scottish Autumn weather. Unknowingly, we’d booked what turned out to be half-term week in some of England’s schools, so traffic was heavy on the motorways and the service stations were heaving, but as soon as we reached Blairgowrie it petered out, allowing us to enjoy the scenery and quiet roads.

Our home for the week – Neids Cottage, was deliberately chosen for its isolation. It’s a single storey stone cottage by the river Isla, and comes complete with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living and dining room with an open wood fire, and lots of outdoor space. Unfortunately the cottage owners had locked the attic room, so we couldn’t make it into a little hidey hole, or enjoy the views, but Rich and I still got to enjoy the kingsize ensuite.

As enthusiastic off-roaders, Rich and dad-in-law got very exicted about the 1 mile of dirt track to get to the cottage from the road. Again, this is often enough to persuade Rich to book a holiday somewhere – never mind the house!

The log fire too was a hit, so much so that we turned the heaters off in the rest of the house.The lounge has a large sofa and 4 armchairs so there’s plenty of room for everyone, with a wide screen telly if you want to watch it, or lots of windows if you don’t. Sleeping 8 in total, it’s an absolute bargain, and makes a fabulous base for walking in the surrounding hills, or touring the sites.

IMG_3339

Car crash

Wanting to make the most of our last full day in the vicinity of the alpaca farm, we set off early and parked Scarlett (our hire car) in front of a derelict petrol station near the Silvköparen campsite, next to the one and only lamp post in the car park. Pay attention to that lamp post – it takes on a starring role in the not too distant future.

We’d walked a little of the Gruvdammsruden trail yesterday, and so decided to walk the remoter part of it today – past a lake called Olaf-Jons Damm, up to Notbo, and back down to Sommerhagen and the campsite via gravel roads and forest tracks. Despite being only 80 miles or so from Arlanda airport, we only saw one cyclist and two berry pickers, making the Sala region a surprisingly quiet and appealing walking destination.

We instructed Dervla (our sat nav) to navigate us one last time to our favourite swimming lake, and I excitedly reversed out of the car park, directly into the friggin lamp post. One lamp post in the whole car park. One car – ours. I’ve been driving for five years and have driven in South America and Romania – both places where the standard of driving made us fear for our lives, but never had a car accident. Until now. That the post was already inclined suggests that I wasn’t the first to have driven in to it. Still, after inspecting the damage, and realising that we’d have to leave early tomorrow to sort out the insurance paperwork at the airport, I swallowed my pride, recovered my shaken senses, and drove on to the lake.

Scarlett looking a little worse for wear

Scarlett looking a little worse for wear

Hällsjön felt a bit cooler today, and we couldn’t go skinny dipping as two other swimmers and their dogs turned up shortly after we arrived, but it served its purpose and washed away the stress of the nasty dent in Scarlett’s rear. Poor Scarlett. After heading back to the B&B for a nap we then turned into creatures of habit and returned to the Måns Ols restaurant for our final night’s dinner. We both chose starters of prawns in cream sauce served with caviar, followed by Swedish meatballs for me (when in Rome…) and four generous slices of breaded herring for Rich. Given the quality of the food and size of the portions, it’s no wonder that this seems to be the place to seen at in Sala. Bargain prices too – £35 for a meal for two including drinks and a lakeside setting! So ignore anyone who tells you that Sweden is expensive. The cities might well be, so look further afield.