Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up on the side of Cairngorm mountain, at the ski centre just near to Aviemore. We made our departure from the Loch Tummel campsite this morning reluctantly; where else will we get a pitch with a view like this?! We needn’t have worried, we followed the road toward Tummel Bridge which was stunning, huge line trees lined the road and every now and again the trees would break away leaving stunning loch views for us to enjoy.
We made a stop at Tunnel Bridge to see the old picturesque Pack Horse bridge, dating from the 1700s and sites on the old Military Road.
We followed the Old Military toad over Glen Garry towards the A9. The scenery was just spectacular and I was giddy with excitement, I’ve REALLY missed the mountains during lockdown!
We followed the A9 all the way to Aviemore where we made a quick stop to refuel with both diesel and food and drink. We soon found the deli and got ourselves local cheeses, scotch eggs, sauce rolls, all the Cairngorm gin I could find and fit in!
We then, with the help of the Search for sites app, found our way up to the Cairngorm Ski area car park, sat almost at the top of Cairngorm mountain in the UK’s highest car park, which was to be our home for the night.
Luckily for us the weather had held out up until this point despite a terrible forecast and we enjoyed the scenery immensely on our ascent.
Also luckily for us, that weather changed immediately after we had set up and the heavens opened literally to the second that we’d finished swivelling the seats and unloading food boxes etc off the end onto the front seat. We batterned the hatches down and spent the next 15 hours being battered by a terrific and absolutely TERRIFYING thunderstorm. There was a slight lull about 9pm where we got some nice pics (above), but the rest of the night was absolutely terrifying. I was awake the entire night with Jazz- Keith managed to sleep through the majority. 😂Our neighbours kept their pop top up and survived somehow?Ive never heard such loud bangs and the light show was just incredible even if I was peeking out the side of the duvet whilst reading about Faraday cages. Eventually I fell asleep at 6am for two whole hours and 8am we had a phone call from our next site, Stonehaven. They’d flooded overnight and basically had to close. What on earth would we do next? Our battery was almost flat after a night wilding, running the fridge cool box and lights most of the night; it was 40 degrees in the van and only just 9am yet we couldn’t open the door or windows due to swarms of wee beasties; yes, the after the storm came the Great Scottish Midge. Argh!
So what did we do!? Well; after a slight panic and a brief “that’s it, shall we go home?” we pulled ourselves together, hit the phones and asked for some recommendations on the wonderful VW CamperChicks FB page. Who am I kidding, before all of that we literally abandoned our side of mountain retreat in 5 minutes flat! Ruby was covered in midges inside and out, so my answer was to drive downhill as fast as possible with all the windows open and hope they get blown out! It worked. Boom! In doing this we nearly lost our food boxes too but happily they and us survived to tell the tale and eventually (2 minutes later!) we found lower ground with NO midges and were able to have a sneaky freshen up shower and then a regroup over a midge free bacon sarnie.
Now I’ve recounted the sorry saga it doesn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic as it felt at the time but at the time we were stressed, tired and fed up. Once we sat down with our cuppa we learned that a terrible train accident had happened in Stonehaven, leaving 3 families mourning loved ones; that also helped us find some perspective.
Plan B was hastily formed; and thankfully the local Covid lockdown in Aberdeen made the Ballater Caravan Park have some available pitches for that night. Plan for the night sorted, we cracked on, we would sort tomorrow out later.
We had a stop at Carrbridge, just about 15 minutes out of Aviemore to see the amazing pack horse bridge, said to be the oldest surviving in the highlands, before grabbing a coffee and taking the scenic route across through Tomintoul and over to Ballater. The drive was just incredible- we had awesome weather and the views were just magnificent.
The striking purple heather was prominent for as far as the eye could see. It was Heather so nice to see (sorry!!) The Cairngorms really put on a spectacular show for us.
We made a stop at the grounds of Corgarff Castle; an interesting medieval tower house with a varied past- originally used in the 16th century as a noble residence which turned into an army base for Jacobite sympathisers and then went on to be used by whiskey smugglers.
From here we continued along the very pretty River Dee and made our way into Ballater to Ballater Caravan Park. We were so thankful that they could accommodate us at such last minute that we forgot to double check about pitches and as such found ourselves trying to peg our tailgate awning into hard standing with normal (Poundland) tent pegs! Face palm alert right there! Much to his credit, I think it was the thought of no shower (the facilities were closed at BCP), Keefy achieved the unachievable and got the blasted things in eventually, and peace and order was restored in Ruby the VW after a turbulent 24 hours.
After a shower and a beer, we took a short wander into the town. Ballater immediately stole our hearts with its pretty riverside location, quirky high end shops, 3 delis, a butchers and a lovely looking beer garden. Ballater, being so close to the Royal estate of Balmoral, has a number of shops holding Royal Warrants. If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me, and we set about sampling as much food from the local butchers, delis and bakery as possible.
We ended up eating out at the Balmoral Inn, in their beer garden and enjoyed a very nice meal here, which handily was included on the half price eat out for August scheme. 5 pints between us, a starter and a 2 mains for £34 was impressive, especially given the portion sizes and quality.
We had a quiet night (after the 10:30pm cut off- before that was a bit noisy but we are anti social campers remember 😂) at Ballater Caravan Park .
Thursday dawned a glorious day once again, we couldn’t believe our luck! We packed away, moved Ruby off the pitch into the town car park and headed for the Royal Station. This was once used by Queen Victoria as she arrived for her time at Balmoral. Whilst the building still remains and they have a reconstruction carriage ( we couldn’t see it due to Covid) the station area was very disappointing. We are lucky as here in Norfolk we have the marvellous Wolferton Station situated near to Sandringham. Here though they’d built a housing estate around the platform and other than the concrete platform there was not sign of it previously being a Royal Station. They could have made the whole thing a feature but it sadly hasn’t happened. There is a disused railway line turned into a cycle track and we’ve made a mental note to bring our bikes and give it a go next time.
On our way back to Ruby we managed to pick up rock pegs which was good as we ended up needed them at every site that followed. Phew!
From Ballater we travelled along the Dee, waved at HRH at Balmoral, stopped for a couple of pics at Braemar Castle and arrived at our next site, Braemar Caravan Site. We managed to again secure a last minute pitch here and move our Stonehaven booking forward to the weekend, letting them dry out hopefully.
Braemar Caravan Park is LOVELY. One of favourite sites we’ve been too. Yes, we had marvellous weather which helped, but the pitches were big and nicely manicured, the views were splendid. It’s a bit pricier than we would normally pay but the location was walkable to Braemar and many walks (not all high and steep one either)
We took a wander into Braemar after our lunch and enjoyed a walk down the high street. The views of the River Dee were great, the water cascading under the bridge on the high street.
We did a circular walk taking in the site of the Highland Games, eerily quiet, and a couple of miles down the river. It honestly was spectacular.
After our walk we called in for a drink in a cool bar next to the old station, before heading back to Ruby to discover we had new neighbours.
Click the video to see our neighbours, it’s well worth a watch.
As you can imagine we were giddy with excitement by this point. Keith cooked a phenomenal bbq, dubbed our Royal barbie as it was Angus steaks and steak and haggis sausages from the Royal butchers accompanied by coleslaw, potato salad and Wardolf salad from the Royal Deli. Royal or not, those steaks were hands down the best I’ve ever eaten!
Friday soon came round, and we were up and about fairly early (for us anyway!) as we wanted to do the Queen’s Drive walk from the site before picking Ruby up. The Queen’s Drive can just about be seen from the campsite half way up the hills across the road. It’s a carriage route that Queen Victoria used to enjoy, and we can certainly see why. The views were lovely, and we once again enjoyed walking amongst the purple heather and being alongside the tall pine trees. The scent was delightful.
We also saw two red squirrels during our time in Braemar.
I honestly felt quite sad as we packed up to leave. I could have done a few more days here easily and we both agreed we will definitely make a return sometime – but whether we’ll be as lucky with the weather again, who knows?! Thank you to the camper chick who recommended these places to visit.
Before we left Braemar and the Cairngorms, we wanted to visit the Linn o’Dee, just 7 miles down a dead end road along the River Dee.
The Linn o’Dee is a famous beauty spot managed by National Trust for Scotland. There is a Victorian bridge and the cascading water of the river Dee has carved through to a steep and narrow gauge before spreading out into a shallow section ideal for bathing. Keith remembers visiting here as a child: his Aunty and cousins lived in Banchory for some time and for many years Keith came up and spent summers here during his youth.
It really is a magical place. Apparently Queen Victoria used to come here for picnics and as chance would have it, we also brought a picnic, so we were able to continue our accidental homage to Queen Victoria by raising our (Royal Butcher) scotch eggs to her!
We had a paddle in the river, the temperature was lovely with it being a hot day, in fact I was extremely cross with myself for not having my cossie. I never in a million years thought to pack it. What a wally as that was my opportunity for a wild swim. Instead I rolled my shorts up as high as physically possible and made do with a lovely paddle instead but then sulked all the way to Stonehaven for not thinking to shove some dirty clothes on to swim in.
Keith had to pretty much drag me away from the Linn O’Dee as time was ticking on and we had a 2 hour journey to get to Stonehaven via the very pretty Glenshee ski area.
We both felt quite sad leaving, we’d really had such a brilliant time. It far exceeded any previous trips we’ve made to the East – we know the weather definitely helped, but the food, drink, scenery and wildlife really reminded us of our beloved America. More so than anywhere else in Scotland. We felt proud of ourselves for finding a corner of Scotland that was new to us – we’ve done lots of Scotland trips previously and wondered after our last time whether we’d done it to death. Cairngorms National Park, as Arnie says “we’ll be back”
For now though it was onto Stonehaven.
Until next time