I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

turn that wine back into water

Ballater from on-high
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
We checked into our B&B properly after lunch, a bit surprised to find we essentially had an entire wing to ourselves. Certainly an entire floor, they said "your room is upstairs" and it, our toilet, and our shower room, were the only things that were. And after tourist information had asked for a double room, which by the sounds of the phone call was likely to be a twin room turned into a double, the presence of a bunk bed was an eyebrow-raiser.

Thankfully there was a double bed as well. The bedroom was the full depth of building, giving us a view above the caravan park to the hills beyond at one end, and to Craigendarroch over the local housing at the other. The latter window was slightly worrying as it had no curtains, yet also the most scope for being spied on(!)

Also worrying, to us big city types surrounded on a daily basis by the scrotes of Broken Britain, was the knowledge that the front door was never locked and being asked if we wanted a key to our room. Such things are apparently not required in sleepy Ballater, and we felt almost guilty for saying we would like one. It reminded me of my bag quandary in Auckland the other year.

Anyway, the weather was gorgeous and the day was still young. On came the walking boots, out came the GPS and camera, and off we went. In Ballater tourist information we'd snagged a leaflet of local walks and decided to combine two of them: first walk along the river Dee until it met the one which went up Craigendarroch, the big fucking hill. So we started out through the caravan park, past the golf course, through a car park, and up to a church. Except it wasn't a church, it was an ex-church that's now a "restaurant with rooms" called The Auld Kirk.

At this point we actually had no accomodation for the following night (Tuesday). When booking in Aberdeen we'd deliberately given ourself an extra bit of freedom, although I'd tried pretty hard to convince Ruth that staying 2 nights in the same place would give us freedom, as we wouldn't have to check out and find somewhere that day. And I'd succeeded :-) but this place tested that, because it looked like a fucking cool place to stay. But we didn't, deciding instead to explicitly look in advance for opportunities to stay in a converted church on some future holiday.

The Auld Kirk was also the place where the two walking routes joined, so we left the first and joined the second. The trek up the hill is graded DIFFICULT but unlike another one of the same grade, it did not (apparently) require a high level of fitness or proper hill walking equipment. Good job, as I have neither.

Not really sure how far up we were when we turned back. It wasn't all the way, and from some angles it looked quite near the top... but from others it didn't at all. Either way it was a decent walk, got the heart going and the sweat beading, and was exactly the sort of things we'd had in mind for this holiday.

The Auld Kirk
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
We headed back down the hill -- and it was probably a good idea we'd given up, as it started to rain. The descent would have been a bit more slippery and dangerous if we'd not. Back to the Auld Kirk where we waited for about 2 minutes for a waitress to come out, then we gave up and went to a pub in the centre instead. Beer and quiz/bingo machine session later we went back to the B&B. We ran into the landlord who was so happy about our request to stay a second night he did a little dance(!), and he'd just sorted out a curtain on the rear window too. Mint. In the room we happened to catch a good BBC show about learning magic tricks and stuff. Can't remember what it was called or I'd use the name and link to it.

It was only about 6pm. It would have been a shame to waste the great weather and countryside, so we actually went out for another walk. Cambus O'May had been on a signpost in a picture in the Aberdeenshire brochure we'd gone through back in the Aberdeen hotel, partially responsible for convincing us we could head inland for a better time. It's a few kilometres from Ballater along a walking track which traces the old train line, and it was that we headed along, finding its start point after a wander through the local housing estate.

Ice cream van music still in our ears, we wandered for a while, stopping at one point for a chat with a local dog owner whose Collie dog apparently loved rounding up sheep... just so long as it was on its own terms. It hated being told what to do. Daft thing, does it think it's a cat or summat? ;-)

We didn't bother going all the way to CoM though. It was getting nippy, we were getting hungry; we got as far as a decent view of a little castle-turret shaped house and turned back.

This whole Deeside area had done a very good job of reminding me of Tasmania, but I couldn't quite figure out why. It hit me on the way back into Ballater that the reason was fucking obvious: probably more than half of the towns and villages in the state were essentially Scottish, built on very similar lines in very similar countryside. A further similarity was soon evident as we struggled to find somewhere to eat. It was a Monday, and most of the restaurants were fucking shut.

In the end we had a meal in another hotel, which was piping through a fucking terrible local line-dancing AM radio station which interspersed the songs with ads the likes of which I thought had died out in the 80s. The best song by far was Turn The Wine Back Into Water, a Christian country lament from a guy imploring that God sorts out his addiction to grog. Nothing like taking responsibilty for your own actions, eh. I've since discovered, in the course of writing this, that it's by a bloke called T Graham Brown. Now that's a website.

Despite the awful music and terrible decor, the food and service weren't that bad really. Shame we had to tell about 4 different members of staff that no, we weren't staying there (and we never will!).

On Tuesday we were going to do one of the things you pretty much have to do, given how many there are in the local area: go see a castle.

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