There and back again

I’ve recently returned home from a very overdue, week long road trip from Aberystwyth to Aberdeen (via a brief stay in the Lake District).

After a journey of over 460 miles and many, hours spent in the car enduring the tedious monotony of the motorway, it was a welcome relief to finally be welcomed into the embrace of Scotland’s rugged green landscape. Here are some of my highlights:

Loch Lomond

Our first taste of adventure came with a short and spontaneous stopover in Loch Lomond, Scotland’s second largest loch (second only to the mighty Loch Ness!) nestled in the heart of the Trossachs National Park. Whilst we only glimpsed a tiny fraction of this huge expanse of water and surrounding natural beauty, the scene that greeted us at the water’s edge was nevertheless breathtaking.

The loch, smooth as glass, stretched as far as the eye could see. The distant mountains were veiled in low cloud and reflected in the surface of the water below. My photos sadly did the scene no justice whatsoever and I had left behind the wide angle lens which would have been idea for such a place, shame.

Sky meets land and water
Mallard ducks soaring over the water of Loch Lomond
Kaiya on the loch shore

Regrettably our time at Loch Lomond was all too brief as this was only a lunch stop on our route to reach yet further north. Such a beautiful place really deserved more than this flying visit and I hope to return again one day to enjoy it to it’s full potential.

Glamis Castle

A visit to Scotland will almost certainly involve a trip to a castle or two (after all, Scotland is home to more than 1,500 of them!) and the first on our trip was Glamis Castle in Angus.

Glamis Castle

This distinctive castle with it’s faded brick red exterior is steeped in history. The childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and apparent inspiration for Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, Glamis Castle paints an imposing picture as you descend towards it’s facade down a long daffodil and tree lined avenue.

The imposing facade of Glamis Castle

Despite the general consensus the sun does occasionally shine in the most northerly reaches of the UK and today we were blessed (mostly) with bright blue skies and not too unpleasant temperatures. I even took my coat off… !

Happy dog on the lawns of Glamis Castle
Fabulous blue skies
More daffodils
Having a sniff

As we had Kaiya our dog with us, we were unable to venture inside the castle itself. Fortunately Glamis also offers extensive grounds to explore and even the opportunity for a little wildlife spotting. I couldn’t think of a finer way to while away a few hours in the sunshine.

A delicate treecreeper
Striking male pheasant

With spring in the air, cherry blossom trees around the estate were in full bloom. These created vibrant splashes of pink across the landscape which were irresistible to photograph.

A splash of pink beneath bright blue skies
Pink cherry blossom
Playing with depth of field among the blossom

Collieston Beach & the Coast

Is a holiday in Britain really complete without a rainy trip to the beach? Evidently not. Mid way through our trip the weather turned distinctly less spring like, the pleasant sunshine replaced with biting winds and rain. We did not however let this dampen our spirits and set off on a mini road trip up the Aberdeenshire coast.

Scotland certainly had no shortage of birds and wildlife, unfortunately many of these sightings were in inconvenient locations and just a momentary glimpse from the roadside whilst whizzing past in the car. If only we could have stopped for a photo of that roe deer or barn owl glimpsed in fields…

As we continued our exploration of this stretch of coastline I was thrilled to spot a flock of eider ducks bobbing along out in the rough sea. Eiders are the largest duck in the UK and a true sea specialist. On this occasion I insisted we stop the car immediately so I could get some photographs of them. Mission accomplished!

Three male eiders (black and white) with two brown females.

Another sighting was the charming oystercatchers. They appear to be quite abundant up here and you can almost always spot one on open patches of grass, foraging for worms an invertebrates with their impressive red beaks. Despite seeing many of these birds, even right in the centre of Aberdeen city centre photographing them was not easy. Easily spooked and quick to take flight, this was the best of many failed attempts!

Oystercatcher, I think it’s spotted me!

The final destination on our coastal detour was Collieston, a quaint and picturesque little fishing village and favourite seaside holiday destination of the Stott family for generations!

Keeping with tradition we too enjoyed a stroll on it’s firm golden sands, albeit briefly before the drizzle became a deluge and we gratefully returned to the shelter of the car.

Collieston beach
A soggy stroll
Kaiya on the beach in the rain

Balmoral Estate & Castle

Another day in Scotland, and another castle! I simply couldn’t return to Scotland without visiting Balmoral, the rural highland retreat of the royal family since 1852 with the magnificent Balmoral Castle as it’s centrepiece.

After hour or so’s drive from Aberdeen, through winding countryside and mountainous terrain you reach Balmoral Estate, nestled in the heart of Scottish wilderness. Crossing the stone bridge over the River Dee and entering through the iron gate into the grounds, you really do feel like you have stepped into somewhere rather magical.

Balmoral Castle
View from the bridge crossing the River Dee
A closer view of the castle and it’s tower
Kaiya on the river bank
Winding pathways and immaculately tended lawns
Balmoral with shutters closed for privacy. What stories are hidden behind those windows?
Kaiya in front of the huge wooden entrance door. Sadly the interior is not open to visitors!

Wandering around Balmoral’s vast ancient pine forests there was an almost eerie atmosphere. You are dwarfed by towering trees of scots pine, birch and aspen, illuminated by the dappled sunlight shining through the canopy. The air is still and silent, apart from the sound your footsteps crunching through the leaf litter and delicate birdsong drifting down from branches far above your head.

Beneath the canopy of the ancient woodlands

Sadly however, I didn’t see any red squirrels…

Lichen and moss clinging to these ancient trees

Winter is harsh up here and Spring arrives late, as a result the luscious gardens I hoped to see were not yet in bloom but I can imagine the great spectacle that welcomes visitors at the height of the summer.

One of the few flowers already in bloom around the estate

The view from Queen Mary’s garden was nevertheless impressive, a picturesque scene of Balmoral Castle framed by forest and wilderness and undulating hills. The garden’s most prominent features was the famous monogrammed gates bearing the initials of King George V and his Queen Mary.

View from the gates bearing the initials of King George V and Queen Mary.
Queen Mary’s monogram, with the date of the garden’s creation 1923
Kaiya with the castle in the distance
Looking through the gates

It’s easy to see why Balmoral was the favourite home of our late Queen Elizabeth II. Why would you ever want to leave here?

The Kelpies

All too soon our week in Scotland was over and it was time to begin the long journey back home, fortunately there was just time for one last detour…

Falkirk in southern Scotland is home to one of the UK’s most familiar and intriguing landmarks, the remarkable Kelpies.

Distant Kelpies, nestled within the beautiful Helix Park

These vast steel monuments were designed and constructed by local artist Andy Scott in recognition of Falkirk’s pivotal role in the steel industry of Scotland in the 18th and 19th century, and the Clydesdale horses who helped make this possible.

The Kelpies are modelled on two real Clydesdale horses, Baron & Duke who worked for Glasgow City council until 2014. You can really feel a sense of moment in these static structures and even a hint at these two horses very distinct personalities.

The Kelpies, their steel plates glinting in the midday sun

Completed in 2013, the Kelpies are made up of 926 individual plates of steel assembled around a ‘skeleton’ frame. It’s not until you get up close and personal to these equines that you fully appreciate their intricate craftsmanship and enormous scale. From your vantage point some 30 meters below these impressive beasts really do take your breath away.

The Kelpies with visitors beneath for scale
A closer view of one of the Kelpie’s intricately detailed heads
A passing kestrel soaring high in the sky!
Kestrel (heavily cropped)

‘Echo the great beasts
that work among us

unbridled in this kingdom
between canal and firth

here to harness the river
carry each weary traveller.

Bow down
your strong heads
to taste the water

Stretch up
your long necks
to face the sun…

– Jim Carruth

Photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2023

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