Day Nine: Dingwall to Ballanter

After a very comfortable night in our castle, we woke to warm, dry but very windy weather. Stepping out onto the balcony nearly saw us being blown off like kites (well, maybe not quite so dramatic but you get the idea!). Suitably refreshed we made our way to a local RSPB Red Kite centre.

The blurb said it was at the end of a ‘short gravel road’. Of course, by now we should be wary about anything described as ‘short’, but in this case not only wasn’t it short but it wasn’t really gravelled, more like ‘deep ruts, overgrown and with large potholes’, not ideal for a low-slung sports car! So we crawled along, manoeuvring to find the least rutted/potholed bit of road (we still grounded a couple of times, ouch!) to find the visitor centre deserted! No people. No kites. Yes, the opening time was 10:00am, it clearly said so on the door, and it was now 10:15am, but then I guess this is Scotland where timekeeping is a flexible concept! So we crawled our way even slower back down the so-called short gravel road, and thankfully returned to paved roads to continue south.

We crossed the Kessock Bridge to re-enter Inverness, and so completed our circumnavigation of the NC500! I didn’t bother to record exactly how many miles we did cover between start and finish as we went off route a number of times, but it’s safe to say we covered more than 500 miles.

Our journey continued towards Balmoral and our overnight stop in Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park, so we’re back in The Highlands and driving on some of the best roads so far, especially the A939 on the ‘Highland Tourist Route’. I cannot believe how little traffic there has been on our journey, and here again the roads were almost traffic free! Great fun, although at one point Angela was telling me to “watch the road and stop looking at the scenery”!

Did I mention the weather? Sunny and warm, in fact a little too warm … 26°C! Come on, this is Scotland, I thought we’d left all the hot weather down south!

Balmoral Castle was quite busy as you can imagine. Lots of foreign tourists with Americans probably outnumbering everyone else by at least 2:1; they do love the British Royal Family. The castle itself was quite spectacular though I was a little disappointed we didn’t see more than the Ballroom inside, but then it is a private residence after all! The grounds were very impressive, especially so as they are preparing everything for the imminent arrival of Her Majesty and family; all the plants are selected to be at their best in August. The free audio guide handset allowed you to pick what you wanted to hear about the history, the castle, gardens, estate, people and more – very interesting and informative. Angela and I went ‘off-piste’ to find the water garden behind the garden cottage. Not much to look at but a bit humbling to think we were walking the same paths trod by generations of Royals.

We arrived at our B&B for the night, The Old Schoolhouse in Balleter, to be greeted by very welcoming hosts Alan and Cathy. As it turned out we were the only guests booked in for the night so not only did we have our own room (large and comfortable as it was) but also the lovely lounge area with huge sofas and a pew-like seat that must have been from the original school days!

It was another tiring day, and another long walk, but it was worth it!

Did I mention the weather? HOT!

Total distance travelled today was 97 miles.

Did I mention the weather …. !!

THE LAST WORD: it definitely was strange having a sunny day! I wore a dress and no coat needed in the car, YAY! Bit jealous of the heatwave in England but as everyone will be moaning that it’s too hot and putting the despicable air con on I am glad to have the peace and relative warmth here.

I don’t think that I really have much to add to Andy’s resumé, I was not humbled (they are just human beings like us but with more money and an exciting life/past) but I was jealous of their lovely holiday home, seen at its best in the sun. The Estate staff are the Queens personal staff who also work the tourist jobs in the season, so the shuttle could have been driven by her Footman and the amazing girl who worked 2 tills at once to get the [small] queue in the cafe cleared could be her Lady in Waiting! But they were all incredibly polite, welcoming and helpful.

Andy has a new nickname today, Pingu. Because he ‘pings’ so much, not necessarily all the time (although some working days is seems like it) but when he receives a message e.g. a blog comment from our most prolific follower GAL (you know who you are!) he pings on 2 phones, the iPad and his watch simultaneously, he is like a human wind chime!

Anyway, have to rush, lots still to do..

Who do I think I am The Queen? – rhetorical question no need to reply!
Pingu at his happiest playing on a device!
River Dee outside Balmoral
The Castle – can you spot Angela?

Views of the gardens
The stone in the grass marks the entrance to the original castle
The lounge at the B&B – massive sofas!
We’re surrounded by hills!

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