Day 5 – Day trip to Aberdeen

Day trip to Aberdeen – August 15, 2013

The idea of driving into Aberdeen didn’t thrill me even though I’ve done it on previous trips but not all the way into the heart of the city. It probably wasn’t so much the idea of driving as it was the idea of finding a place to leave the car relatively close to the library for the entire day without having to run back periodically and pay to stay longer.

Even before we left Canada, we had pretty much decided on driving from Earlsfield Farm to Insch and catching the train there.

The station isn’t manned but there was a self-serve kiosk outside where you could purchase your tickets (in 2000 we bought our tickets on the train) so we did then hung out on the platform while we waited for the Inverness to Aberdeen train to arrive.

Signal Box at Insch Station with Dunnideer in the background
Signal Box at Insch Station with Dunnideer in the background

If you look really closely at the mountain in the background, you can see the tip of the hillfort just poking up.

Platform bridge at Insch Station
Platform bridge at Insch Station

The train arrived a few minutes before its scheduled departure time to allow folks already on the train to get off and those of us waiting time to board and get settled. It appeared that seats were at a premium because the majority in the carriage we were on had reserved tags inserted in the slot in the top of the seat back. We found a couple of empty seats reserved for stations the train had already passed through and took them. Who would book passage on a specific train then not turn up at the station? I know I certainly wouldn’t.

We passed by Aberdeen airport and as we did, a helicopter was landing. Seeing that sparked me to look for Bond’s headquarters (used in another manuscript in progress) as I had Google street-viewed them before. Knowing roughly where they were located and the colour of their building made it easier and I spotted it almost immediately.

The Central Library was a short walk up from the train station so we made our way there. I wanted to soak in some Aberdeen atmosphere and didn’t want to cart books about with us. I had already made arrangements to drop them off on our arrival.

Poster outside the Central Library
Poster outside the Central Library

On our way to the library, we saw this street sign and I just had to take a picture of it. It would have been better with hubby in the picture, too, but this will have to do… for now. Besides with the steps and the railings, I’m not sure how well I could have framed the entire shot with him in it.

Donald's Way
Donald’s Way Close near the Central Library

After relieving ourselves of the bag of books and using the facilities, we went on a short tour of Aberdeen – across Rosemount Viaduct, which changes names to Schoolhill (where it passes over Denburn Road, and latterly Upperkirkgate. Schoolhill and Upperkirkgate were streets I mentioned in previous drafts of my novel. Then it was down Broad Street in front of the magnificent Marischal College building (now home to the Aberdeen City Council). Even on the opposite side of the street, the building was so massive I couldn’t get all of it into the frame at once, not to mention we were on a bit of a time constraint to see the things I wanted to and photograph them and get back to the library on time to go on our lunch date.

Marischal College
Marischal College
By TFDuesing (http://flickr.com/photos/tfduesing/457006873/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
From Broad Street, we continued on Queen Street past the Grampian Police Headquarters then Shoe Lane where we reached King Street and turned right heading for the top of Union Street and the Castlegate.

The Salvation Army Citadel in the Castlegate
The Salvation Army Citadel in the Castlegate
The mercat cross in Aberdeen
The Mercat Cross in the Castlegate
The Town House from the Castlegate
The Town House from the Castlegate

Aberdeen in the sunshine is a truly, beautiful place. The granite buildings sparkle. After this brief photo session, we quickly returned to the library via Union Street and Union Terrace, alongside the Union Terrace Gardens.

We were a bit late getting back to the library, but not everyone who was going out to lunch was available. Once everyone was gathered by the main desk, we set out to this as yet undisclosed location. I remember we walked up Skene Terrace then kept going at the end of the street. I’m pretty sure we ended up on Huntly Street at Mi Amore (confirm with library staff) a lovely Italian, Mediterranean restaurant.

When we returned, I was given a tour of the local studies department which was the area that helped me so much with my research and will also play a role in the sequel to A Shadow in the Past.

My friend, 2009 Dundee International Book Prize winner, Chris Longmuir, came up from her seaside town by train to be there for me. We had a wee natter and I signed the copy of my book that she had bought from amazon.co.uk earlier in the year.

Another of my online writer friends, Bill Kirton popped in, too. It was brilliant to finally meet him in person. We chatted briefly before it was “show time”!

Only ten people had pre-registered for the event with the library so I was well chuffed to see more like twenty people filling the seats. I chose what I hoped was an enticing segment from early in A Shadow in the Past and began.

Reading at the Central Library
Reading at the Central Library

When I was finished my reading, I fielded questions and answers related to A Shadow in the Past and my friends, Chris and Bill, encouraged me to write a book on Home Children – possibly from the child’s point-of-view.

signing the copy for the library
Signing the copy of A Shadow in the Past for the library
Presenting the book to the library
Presenting the signed copy of A Shadow in the Past to the library

As if I hadn’t already been treated like royalty by the library staff, they presented me with a tote bag filled with books from their Local Studies Department and two Waterstones giftcards.

Receiving a gift from the library
Receiving a gift from the library

It was an amazing day. Everyone in attendance enjoyed by presentation but best of all, I sold and signed three copies of A Shadow in the Past.

When it was finally time to leave, Bill walked with us as far as Union Street where we said our goodbyes. Chris accompanied us as far as the train station where we parted company when she discovered there was a train home that she might be able to make.

Our train left shortly after Chris’s so we headed towards the platform and waited. It felt good to finally relax on the train and recall the day’s events. At the Insch station, we doddled about waiting for the car park to clear before we got in and headed for ‘home’ with a detour up to Huntly for a bite of supper (not that we needed it) so we grabbed a couple of sarnies and packets of crisps from the ASDA and a bottle of wine to replace the one mine hostess at Earlsfield cracked open when we arrived.

Later that evening, the guys cracked open mine host’s bottle of 18 year old Aberlour (after having our 18 year old Glenlivet the night before) and I carried on with wine. More than once, we toasted a successful day.

Oops, I almost forgot… wait I did forget… let’s play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!

Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand

Day 4 – Dufftown to Kennethmont

Dufftown to Kennethmont – August 14, 2013

Yet another gorgeous day greeted us. The further inland we travelled, the warmer and sunnier it became.

Today, our final destination was Kennethmont, the parish where my father was born.

Since it was only a half an hour drive we decided we would do some other things before making the short trip.

So, we started by going in the opposite direction and visited the Cardhu Distillery.

Cardhu distillery
Cardhu distillery

Here we sampled two of their own single malts (again, I could only take the very smallest of sips since I was the driver) – an 18 year old and a 12 year old, and one from a sister distillery back in Dufftown – Singleton.

Like The Glenlivet, not all of Cardhu’s whisky is stored on site. They have it at other locations throughout the country and store the amber nectar for others at their location. That way, heaven forbid, if there is ever a fire, a distillery’s stock isn’t completely wiped out.

Whisky warehouses at Cardhu
Whisky warehouses at Cardhu

Next we were off to the location of the former Ladysbridge Asylum. I found this place on a Victorian Ordnance Survey map when I was writing my novel and decided to use it. If I recall correctly, on the map it was labelled Lunatic Asylum. They certainly didn’t mince their words back then.

Ladysbridge asylum building
Ladysbridge asylum building
opening in the wall at Ladysbridge
opening in the wall at Ladysbridge
Ladysbridge asylum building back
Ladysbridge asylum building back

The main building has been converted to flats/apartments and on the opposite side of the street, a housing estate/subdivision is in various stages of development.

Building on the Ladysbridge site pre restoration
Building on the Ladysbridge site pre restoration

This is one of the original buildings that hasn’t been restored. There was another one between here and the main building in this same state of disrepair but the trees were too thick to be able to get a good photo of it.

On our way to Ladysbridge, hubby spotted a castle in the middle of a field so rather than go straight back to the main road, we took one of the minor roads and weren’t disappointed. This got us as close as possible to the castle without venturing on to private property.

unknown castle
unknown castle

I still haven’t found the name of this castle but I’ve not given up. It will be on one of the maps or in one of the books that I have here.

Gartly churchyard
Gartly churchyard

I’ve visited the Gartly churchyard more than once in the past, figuring I had ancestors buried here as I had seen Gartly in various documents but on those previous visits, I wasn’t far enough back in my family tree to be able to find the stone(s). This time, I did know.

Simpson stone in the Gartly churchyard
Simpson stone in the Gartly churchyard

Unfortunately, the stone is very difficult to read but it is definitely my great-great grandparents through my dad’s mother.

Since we still had plenty of time before we had to be at Earlsfield Farm, we decided we would check out yet another churchyard where I knew I had family (this time Robertsons) so back into the car and down to the Royal Borough of Insch – or just Insch for short.

Hubby and I prowled through a cemetery in Insch (in the pouring rain, even) on a previous visit only to discover later on that there was a churchyard at the other end of the village – a much older one.

St Drostans Kirkyard in Insch
St Drostans Kirkyard in Insch

Many of the old stones here were impossible to read – the stonework had flaked off the face of the stone entirely or the stones had toppled (or been toppled) and were lying face down. I was afraid that my Robertson stone would be in that state but luckily, even though it was lying on the ground, it was face up and in good condition.

Robertson stone in Insch
Robertson stone in Insch

By now it was getting late enough, not to mention the need for a WC (shall we say was getting rather urgent) that we could make our way back to Earlsfield farm.

Hugs and kisses from our hosts and good friends and we got the car unloaded and had a wee catch-up with them. Being a working farm, there was still work to do and it would be 6:00 or shortly after before we could have a proper sit down with them. Since we still had some time, I wanted to go and take some more pictures while the weather remained on our side.

I fell in love with this old heap the very first time I clapped eyes on it when the trees were growing through the confines of the walls and knew that it would play a huge role in my life.

Weetshill today
Wardhouse mansion aka Weetshill today

We parked outside the works entrance to the site and walked back along the road until we came to a vantage point where we could see the mansion without trees obstructing the view. The plan is to convert it into flats (seven luxury ones, if I recall correctly). After being derelict for so long, it will be wonderful to see it intact once again.

Once I got my photos, we went back to the car and found our way to the car park at the bottom of Dunnideer.

Dunnideer from the car park
Dunnideer from the car park
Approaching Dunnideer
Approaching Dunnideer

The first part of the trek up the hill was hard enough but after we got about halfway up, it got harder. The incline became steeper and it was riddled with rabbit holes.

Remains of Dunnideer hillfort
Remains of Dunnideer hillfort

The climb was worth every moment, despite me having to stop periodically to catch my breath. I took advantage of those breaks for photo ops and we tried to see if we could spot the steeple of the remains of St Drostan’s Kirk. Too many trees to be sure but we thought we saw it, or it was only a chimney tile.

Bennachie from the top of Dunnideer
Bennachie from the top of Dunnideer
Bennachie from the top of Dunnideer
Bennachie from the top of Dunnideer

The views from the top of the hill were breathtaking. Don’t you agree? It seemed everywhere we were to this point was quite windy, and on top of Dunnideer it was extremely so. It was hard to hold the camera steady.

Me at Dunnideer
Me at Dunnideer

Even within the confines of the remaining walls, way still taller than me (not that it’s difficult) the wind gusted. We stayed and admired the view for a bit longer before making our way back to Earlsfield Farm where we ordered Chinese from the takeaway in Kennethmont.

Each time we’ve stayed here at Earlsfield, we’ve had this room – even on my first solo trip back in 1993! The only difference back then was there was no ensuite.

Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm
Our room at Earlsfield Farm

We spent a truly enjoyable evening with the family in their dining/living room catching up on one another’s news.

Even though it was only a short drive from Dufftown to Kennethmont, we made a full day out of it. After all, the only other free day we would have whilst staying in the area would be the Friday and there was no guarantee the weather would cooperate.

So… let’s play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!!!

Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand

Tomorrow will be another busy day as we’re off into Aberdeen where I’ll be presenting a copy of my book to the library, doing a reading, and hopefully selling loads of books.

Day 3 – Fort William to Dufftown

Fort William to Dufftown – August 13, 2013

We woke this morning to sunshine and blue sky – a wonderful start to the day. However, the low hanging clouds loomed nearby shrouding the tops of the mountains. After the first day, we knew all too well what that meant. However, we didn’t come to Scotland for the weather.

View from our room at Myrtle Bank
View from our room at Myrtle Bank

As we got further inland, the skies cleared even more and it became a gorgeous day for travelling. Not too hot, not too cool. Just right. We stopped just past the town of Laggan at the dam since the sun was out so bright at the time.

The Laggan Dam
The Laggan Dam

Something else I had wanted to see for some time after seeing it online was the old bridge at Carrbridge. Since we had plenty of time, we made the side trip into the community in search of the bridge but even more importantly, the much-needed WC, which was easier to find than the bridge – thankfully.

Old bridge at Carrbridge
Old bridge at Carrbridge

For us, no trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to an old churchyard and some sculptured stones. We got both at the Inveravon churchyard. The sculptured stones were secured away from the elements inside an alcove in the church.

Inveravon sculptured stones
Inveravon sculptured stones
Inveravon sculptured stones
Inveravon sculptured stones
Inveravon sculptured stones
Inveravon sculptured stones

Once we arrived in Dufftown, we stopped at Balvenie Castle even though we had visited there in the past. We rejoined Historic Scotland (after letting our memberships lapse a few years ago) before we came over so it was time to start using it to our advantage.

Balvenie Castle
Balvenie Castle
Looking up one of the fireplaces at Balvenie Castle
Looking up one of the fireplaces at Balvenie Castle

After we established the location of our B&B – Fernbank House – we decided to take a distillery tour since we had plenty of time before we had to check in. We waffled at bit on which one we’d go to, Cardhu or Glenlivet and for today, the latter won.

The Glenlivet Distillery
The Glenlivet Distillery
Display at the Glenlivet Distillery
Display at the Glenlivet Distillery

At the end of the tour we got to sample the product. We’ve both had the 12 year old Glenlivet so I chose the 15 year old and Don the 18 year old. I could only have the smallest of portions since I’m the driver when we’re in Scotland so I had not even a full mouthful of mine and an even smaller taste of Don’s but man was it smooth. We enjoyed it so much we bought a bottle. Will it make it home with us? Not likely, but that’s another story. After our distillery tour, we checked in at Fernbank House.

Fernbank House B&B
Fernbank House B&B

The upstairs window on the left is our room and the smaller one in the middle is our ‘private’ bathroom.

Our room at Fernbank House
Our room at Fernbank House
Our room at Fernbank House
Our room at Fernbank House
Our room at Fernbank House
Our room at Fernbank House

Once we were checked in, we walked back into Dufftown (about a 20 minute jaunt) where we had chicken curry and sticky toffee pudding for dessert at The Stuart Arms Bar & Restaurant. Good thing we were on foot. We needed to walk off all those calories… LOL!

Let’s play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!

Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand

Tomorrow we’re off to Kennethmont but are hoping to do a few other things before our arrival there since it’s so close. The Cardhu Distillery is one our stops, possibly up to the location of the asylum in A Shadow in the Past, Auchindoun Castle, the Gartly and Insch churchyards. But that’s another day.

Day 2 – Oban to Fort William

Oban to Fort William – August 12, 2013

We woke to bright sunshine this morning in contrast to the mostly grey, dreich weather after our arrival. Before leaving Oban, since the weather wasn’t suitable yesterday, we decided to make the trek up the ‘hill’ to McCaig’s Tower.

It’s a good thing the views from up there are spectacular, because the drive up to the tower were far from it. Narrow streets, stone walls, parked cars. I might be 50 shades greyer after the drive.

Walking up the hill to McCaig's Tower
Walking up the hill to McCaig’s Tower

I offered to take a photo for a young couple since he was taking pictures of her. It’s not often on holiday you get photos of you together. They were very appreciative of the gesture. Afterwards, the guy thought he would try to walk along the narrow ledge on the wall to the next opening. He succeeded but not without a helping hand.

Don lending a helping hand
Don lending a helping hand

We went our separate ways for a bit. We went out onto the observation platform outside the tower for some photos. It was considerably cooler out there without the stone walls to protect you from the wind.

View from McCaig's Tower
View from McCaig’s Tower

Shortly after coming back within the ‘warmth’ of the tower, we met the couple from earlier. This time they returned the favour and he took a picture of Don and me together.

Don and Mel at McCaig's Tower
Don and me at McCaig’s Tower

Before we left, I took one last photo from within the confines of McCaig’s Tower.

Inside McCaig's Tower
Inside McCaig’s Tower

Next it was off to Fort William as we had a date with the Jacobite Steam train that we didn’t want to miss.

Loch Linnhe on the way to Fort William
Loch Linnhe on the way to Fort William
Our rental car at Loch Linnhe
Our rental car at Loch Linnhe
The Ballachulish Hotel
The Ballachulish Hotel

There was no parking available at the train station so we came back to the B&B we had booked for tonight to see if we could leave our car there since we were checking in tonight. Well, they bent over backwards to accommodate us – brought us to the house adjacent to the main building where we’d be staying and we were checked in straight away.

Our B&B in Fort William
Our B&B in Fort William
Loch Linnhe at Fort William
Loch Linnhe at Fort William

A couple from couple from the continent sat in the seats opposite us on the train. We were all quiet until he got a phone call and then pronounced loudly “they’re idiots!”. Well that cracked us up and from that moment on, we visited with them.

As the train approached the Glenfinnan Viaduct aka Harry Potter’s Bridge, it slowed allowing us to get some wonderful photographs.

Glenfinnan Viaduct
Glenfinnan Viaduct

We stopped at the Glenfinnan Station a short ride up the tracks for about twenty minutes where we could get off the train, stretch our legs and take photographs. Then it was back on the train to continue our journey to Mallaig.

waterfall on the mountain
waterfall on the mountain

It was really hard to tell if this church was still used or not because of its remoteness to anything and the plainness of the structure. What’s your call judging by the photo below?

church
church

The heather grew in clumps along the rail line but in places way too close (I thought) to be able to get a decent photograph. But I was wrong. Still, the mountains weren’t as purple with it as I had hoped. Maybe we have to get a bit further north?

Heather along the rail line
Heather along the rail line

The end of the line at Mallaig, and I mean the end. After the train stopped everyone rushed to the street to get a photo of it. Me included. I waited a few moments and as soon as a free spot appeared next to the stone wall, I squeezed in and got this picture.

Jacobite at Mallaig
The Jacobite at Mallaig

We decided on our way to Mallaig that depending on the size of the bottle of champagne on offer (for a fee, naturally) we would get a bottle for the ride home.

After a poke around Mallaig, we stopped at the fish and chip takeaway, got an order of fish and chips each, then sat on a bench on the platform and ate them. After all, we didn’t want to get pished (as they say here) and fall off the train when we got back to Fort William.

On our return journey, our seats were on the opposite side of the train and our carriage was closer to the back due to the way they turned it around. We got different views this time, but our friends from the continent were our seat mates again.

Once the train got rolling, the bottle of champagne and two glasses were brought to our table. Don asked for two more and after they were brought to us, he opened the bottle. It had been shaken enough with the jostling of the train, being picked up and sat down that when it was opened, it sprayed all over everything and everyone – including people across the aisle!

Mountains on return trip
Mountains on return trip

On the way to Mallaig, we saw a herd of about ten deer on the mountain. We were hoping we’d see some on our way back and we weren’t disappointed although there weren’t as many this time round.

Deer on the mountain
Deer on the mountain
Loch Eil shrouded in steam from the engine
Loch Eil shrouded in steam from the engine

After sharing our bottle of champagne (what didn’t get sprayed away) – and yes, it burns your eyes – our companions bought us each a beer and we continued our journey in convivial company.

Just outside Fort William, we crossed over the Caledonian Canal and the locks known as Neptune’s Staircase.

Caledonian Canal - Neptune's Staircase - at Fort William
Caledonian Canal – Neptune’s Staircase – at Fort William

As we were getting ready to detrain, a young couple across the aisle asked us which part of Ontario we were from (as they had overheard our conversation) and come to find out they were from Ottawa – basically in our own backyard.

We said goodbye to our companions and made our way back to our B&B.

Our room at Myrtle Bank
Our room at Myrtle Bank
Our room at Myrtle Bank
Our room at Myrtle Bank
Our room at Myrtle Bank
Our room at Myrtle Bank

Let’s play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!

Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand

At 11:00 pm last night I still hadn’t got all the pictures I wanted for this post downloaded. I was a bit bleary-eyed from being up so late so decided to finish up this morning.

After our breakfast, our next destination is Dufftown. Will post more tonight.

Day 1 – Glasgow to Oban

Glasgow Airport to Oban – August 11, 2013

My plan is to blog every day (dependent on Internet connectivity) but the majority of the places we’re staying all boast having wi-fi on their websites. So we’ll see how well it goes.

For fun, I’ve come up with a game to play throughout our travels. It’s called “Seeking Sarah Shand”. The idea is, I’ll post a photo of my book at various locations – sort of like “Where’s Waldo” but different. You try to guess where the photo was taken and either email your answer to me (for those of you who aren’t comfortable leaving comments on blogs) or leave it in a comment. There will be clues in the written part of the blog post since I couldn’t be that mean… or could I?

This is the route we plan on taking to get from Glasgow to Oban where we’re spending the night at High Cliff Guest House.

Despite not leaving Toronto on time, our flight got in to Glasgow Airport fifteen minutes early, which was quickly eaten up waiting to get off the plane and then at the car rental desk. Our booking couldn’t be found so they gave us an even better car – a silver Vauxhall Astra turbo-charged diesel with a six speed manual transmission. It took me a bit to get used to shifting but the driving bit on the wrong side of the car and road came back straight away. Hubby isn’t comfortable driving here so he navigates and lets me drive.

We didn’t go the route we originally intended and in I really wish we would have ignored “Sat Nav Sally” at Tarbet. The A82 was narrow and bendy enough in stretches and it was always at the most inopportune moments that we met traffic on a bend crowding into our lane.

On arrival at High Cliff, we couldn’t check in right away but were able to leave the car there, so we walked down to the town to get a late lunch/early supper so we could have an early night. Being up since early the morning Saturday, we needed lots of sleep tonight.

High Cliff B&B
High Cliff B&B

It rained on our way into the town center so we didn’t walk up to McCaig’s Tower. We would have gotten drenched had we attempted it. Maybe the weather tomorrow will be more conducive to an up close and personal trip (by car on our way to our next stop.

McCaig's Tower from the harbour
McCaig’s Tower from the harbour

In the end, we went for a fish tea at The Caledonian Hotel (the large beige coloured building with the tower).

The Caledonain Hotel from the harbour
The Caledonian Hotel from the harbour

While we ate our fish, chips and salad, the rains teemed down. We were glad we were inside where it was dry. There was more than one poor soul walk by looking like a drowned rat.

We waited until it let up and made our way back to the B&B. Rather than lug two heavy suitcases upstairs, we only took out what we needed and put those things in two cloth shopping bags I had packed.

Our rental car
Our rental car

These next pictures are of our room…

Our room at High Cliff
Our room at High Cliff
Our room at High Cliff
Our room at High Cliff
Our room at High Cliff
Our room at High Cliff
View from our room at High Cliff
View from our room at High Cliff

And now it’s time to play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!

Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand
Seeking Sarah Shand

So leave me a comment with your guesses where Sarah turned up for these photos, and if you’re not comfortable doing that, drop me an email (melanie@melanierobertson-king.com).

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