I still had two more full days and a morning left of my holiday in Andalusia. I had thought about using one day to take the car and explore the nature reserve of La Donana, which has wild flamingos, boar and lynx – but a great laziness came over me. I simply liked Seville too much, and spent all my time here.
I had breakfast on my terrace, listening to the church bells in the cool morning air………
Then I would visit something before the heat of the afternoon set in and before the tourist crowds arrived. Seville’s Golden Age was in the 1500s, just after the rediscovery of the Americas, when all Spanish trade with its new colonies passed through here. In the 1600s Seville lost its monopoly on trade, its river silted up to make navigation harder for ships, and Cadiz became the new centre of trade with the Americas. Still, the Golden Age left Seville with a very large historic centre and many beautiful buildings.
One day I visited the Casa de Pilatos, a typical mansion in the old town……..
And on the other I went back to the Alcazar gardens….
After a morning of sight-seeing I would find a shady terrace for tapas for lunch – the choice of places was huge.
After that I did like the Sevillanos and went back to my flat for a siesta and to write my blog during the heat of the afternoon. Refreshed, I would then head out in the late afternoon for more sightseeing………
…..and then buy ham, wine and cheese for dinner on my terrace. I didn’t do much, in the classic tourist sense of visiting things – but I felt great. Time ceased to have importance, and the first day blended into the second without me noticing. I was getting to really like Seville, and think I could have spent another week there doing very little.
I remembered just in time that for my return to the UK I had to do a Covid test here (day 1) and then book yet more tests in the UK (three more tests!!) and fill in a bunch of forms online. The form-filling was day 2’s afternoon activity in the cool of my flat.
On the third day I was due to leave. I spent the morning pottering around Seville’s old Santa Cruz quarter and could feel the heat already – the last two days had been fairly cool, but today they forecast temperatures would reach 34C in the afternoon and that it would stay hot for the next few days. It was definitely time to go, and I drove back to Malaga airport in the cool of my car’s aircon. I made a quick stop in Osuna, yet another pretty old Spanish town.
That’s all for now!
I will be back to Andalusia– in the autumn or spring next time, when it pleasantly warm, and in some happy future where there is no Covid and no face masks. Next time I will visit Jerez and La Donana, maybe head across the Portuguese border to the Algarve – if I don’t get waylaid again by the charms of Seville and spend all my time there!
Today I travelled back to Seville from Cadiz. En route, I made a very quick visit to Jerez de la Frontera, spending an hour wandering around the old town and enjoying a drink at a tiny café in one of the plazas I had discovered. I liked Jerez, it was a pity I could not spend more time there. Apart from its old town and famous horse-riding school, it is the centre for the sherry industry. Lots of the producers offer tours of their facilities and tastings of their products, but since I was driving I could not indulge myself.
On arrival back in Seville I managed to find my flat’s parking space in the old town first time (no mean feat, driving in the old town is famously difficult) and then set off on foot to find my flat, which was hidden away in a maze of narrow pedestrian streets near the cathedral. It was an atmospheric place spread over three floors – the first two dark and cool, and the third one sunny with a terrace looking out to the cathedral.
Seville’s cathedral is one of the most beautiful in the world. In the 13th century, the Moors built a mosque on the site, and after the Reconquista of Seville by the Spanish in 1248 this was converted to a church. Further building took place from 1434 to 1517 to create what was then the world’s largest church (and even now ranks as fourth largest). The cathedral’s famous tower, la Giralda, is actually the minaret from the original mosque. On the very top is a statue of faith, called “El Giraldillo”, which is also a weather vane, turning with the wind. “Girar” means “to turn” in Spanish, from where the name “La Giralda” is derived.
I had booked my visit online, so could avoid the queue of people looking to buy tickets. I booked the last possible slot in the day, when it would be cooler to climb the 104.5m to the top of La Giralda. Unusually, the tower has ramps in place of stairs – there are many different legends as to why this is, the most colourful being that the first imam liked to take his donkey with him when he climbed the tower for the call to prayers. The view from the top of the La Giralda was suitably spectacular……..
Next, I visited the cathedral itself, which was incredibly beautiful, with many small passages and chapels leading off from the huge central space of the main building. One highlight among many is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Since I had booked the last time slot for my visit, the cathedral began to empty as closing time approached and I had the place almost to myself. I was almost the last to leave.
My next stop continued the “Seville Cathedral” theme. I visited a neighbouring hotel with a terrace looking out to La Giralda for cocktails. The view was beautiful, even if the sun was uncomfortably strong. Still, I was lucky – today it was only 28C, cool for June in Seville.
After I headed off to have a dinner of tapas in a local bar, before retiring back to my flat and enjoying a last beer with yet another take on La Giralda – this time at night.
It had been a great day – not only had I loved the cathedral, but I was beginning to really like the town of Seville itself, with its beautiful buildings and lazy street life. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow to explore it further.
I slept badly. Although the flat had very good noise insulation, somehow I still sensed the buzz of the activity on Malaga’s streets. We bears need our sleep – after all we hibernate in winter – and I awoke with a sore head to pack my stuff and check out. Extracting my car from the car park was just as slow and stressful as parking had been. With relief I negotiated my way out of Malaga’s old town and on to the motorway, heading for Cadiz.
At first the road was ugly, mile after mile of nondescript tourist development along the Costa del Sol. After an hour I finally emerged from this modern mess, and caught a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar before the motorway left the coast. The Rock was impressive from a distance, but the complications of crossing a border with Covid restrictions in place made visiting impossible. Oddly, none of the motorway signs along the route ever mentioned Gibraltar – I guess the Spanish are still upset that it remains foreign territory, having being ceded to the British in 1713 at the end of War of the Spanish Succession.
I stopped for lunch in the “white village” of Medina-Sidonia.
The village was fast asleep in the early afternoon sun, except for one restaurant with a tiny interior and huge terrace. Here, the entire population seemed to have congregated for Sunday lunch. I managed to grab the last table, which was in the shade and cooled by a fresh breeze and ordered tuna ceviche. It arrived quickly, despite the crowded terrace, was excellent and very cheap – just what I needed after my experience with the “golden prawns of Malaga” (see yesterday’s blog).
After a very pleasant lunch stop I headed straight to Cadiz. Fortunately I had chosen a hotel just at the entrance to the old town, meaning I didn’t have to negotiate any narrow streets to check in and park my car. The hotel was in a former convent, and had been converted in an original way, with a library and living room instead of the usual hotel bar. The central courtyard was bathed in the sound of a recording of a choir softly singing religious music.
After checking-in and freshening up, I set off to explore. Cadiz is probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in Western Europe, having been founded by the Phoenicians in 1104BC. It then became a Carthaginian and then Roman territory, before being so completely destroyed by the Visigoths that almost no very old buildings remain. It then passed into Moorish hands, before being captured by the Spanish, when it bloomed. First it became a centre of exploration (Christopher Columbus set sail for America from here) and then it became a centre of trade with the Americas in the 18th century. Most of the historic centre dates from the latter period.
The old town is almost an island, being attached to the mainland by a long thin strip of sand – something that made it vulnerable to attack by foreign powers jealous of its wealth. It has the usual cathedral, plazas, and maze of small side streets typical of historical cities in Andalucia – with the bonus of views of the Bay of Cadiz and the Atlantic Ocean.
The historic centre is surprisingly compact, and I found I had visited most of it after a couple of hours strolling around. It was quieter and seemed less affluent than the others cities I had visited. Compared to the riches of Seville or Granada, or the animation of Malaga, Cadiz came as a slight anti-climax.
I had dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. The wine proposed by the sommelier was excellent, but my order of tuna was forgotten in the kitchen and arrived overcooked. I complained to the manager, who was unsympathetic, and got my own back by filing a review on TripAdvisor. This was my very first unsuccessful meal in Spain.
I headed back to my hotel to write up my blog. It had not been most successful day, but that’s life on the road. At least I slept really well in peaceful atmosphere of the converted convent.
Having seen the Alhambra in every possible way, it was time to move on from Granada. I took the road through the mountains to the coast. Just after leaving Granada, the road passes a spot called the Suspiro del Morro – the sigh of the Moor. It was here that the last Moorish Emir was supposed to have stopped on his journey from Granada to North Africa. Legend has it that he looked back and gave a great sigh at the sight of the palace he had been forced to surrender to the Spanish. His mother then scolded him with the brutal words – “Cry like a woman, for what you could not defend as a man”.
The road went through some pretty mountain scenery…….
…..before hitting the coast, which was blighted by mile after mile of modern tourist development. My guidebook had recommended the town of Salobrena as being relatively unspoiled, but it impressed me so little that I didn’t even bother to get out of the car to visit it. I did stop at Nerja, a town with a pretty seafront hidden behind the usual ugly modern housing, for an excellent lunch of fresh dorado. From there I headed into Malaga, drove my car through the streets of the old town to the public carpark my hotel had recommended. Parking was traumatic – the ramps leading up and down between the floors of the car park were narrow and winding. My car’s collision detectors continually screamed with alarm at my proximity to the walls. I discovered that the only safe way up was when the detectors on both sides were showing red, which meant I was exactly in the middle of the passage. The carpark was busy, so I had to negotiate several floors of ramps before I found a space, which was just as narrow as the ramps had been. The whole parking experience took twenty minutes and I emerged drenched in sweat.
My flat was right in the centre of the old town, and had a balcony overlooking a busy pedestrian street with bars and restaurants. This was both good and bad. During the day, the atmosphere was fun and stimulating, but at night the partying outside continued until the early hours of the morning – Malaga is a young people’s party town. Even the ice cream shop opposite only closed at midnight.
I headed out after check-in and had a dinner of tapas in a local bar in front of the cathedral, before strolling to the port, where even more bars and restaurants awaited me. I arrived just after sunset and scanned the darkening horizon unsuccessfully for a sighting of the coast of North Africa. I strolled back through the still busy streets of the old town and reached my flat at eleven – which by Malaga standards is a very early time to go to bed.
The next day I set off to explore the city. Despite its reputation as a party town, there is quite a lot to see and do in Malaga other than drinking. My first destination was the Alcazaba – the old Moorish fort located on a hill behind the old city. I clambered up and enjoyed some old Moorish architecture, pretty gardens, the views of Malaga, and – yes, finally- Africa in the far distance. It was nice but suffered terribly by comparison with the Alhambra which I had visited only two days earlier.
It was now lunch time, and I headed to the market to buy lunch and something to cook for dinner. I was tempted by a very busy restaurant selling seafood, spread out over the pavement outside. It was a fun atmosphere – a constant stream of customers, animated conversations in many different languages, and the waiters dodging between the tables with plates of tempting seafood. Our waiter recommended “carabineros” which he explained were large red prawns, so I ordered three, with some octopus and langoustines. The carabineros arrived and were huge and delicious – with the texture of lobster but a much stronger taste. They were much larger than I had expected and I was glad the langoustines had somehow been forgotten by my waiter.
I asked for my bill, and got a shock – each prawn was priced at 19€. I checked the restaurant’s menu and saw that that the indeed they were expensive, but should have been 14.50€ each, so I complained. The waiter tried to explain that these prawns were sold by weight, but I insisted and ended up talking with the head waiter and then the owner, who adjusted my bill. Even the adjusted bill was still over 60€, way more than I had expected to pay for lunch. I was annoyed with myself – travelling teddy bears are often targets for tourist scams, since we are obviously foreign. I had forgotten two basic rules – never order what the waiter recommends and always check the price before ordering. I headed into the market, annoyed with myself, and bought oxtail (a local specialty) for dinner. I saw a few stands selling the “carabineros”…….. for 85€ per kilo! The restaurant hadn’t ripped me off after all – I had ordered some of the most expensive seafood on the planet. Checking the internet, these prawns are known as Cardinal Prawns or Scarlet Shrimps in English and indeed are considered a rare delicacy. I think they should be called “Golden Prawns”.
Walking back to my flat to drop off the meat I had bought, I reflected upon my lunchtime experience. The shock of the bill that had upset me, after so many Spanish meals where I had paid much less than I expected. If I had set out intent on trying an exotic delicacy, I would have been very happy with lunch, and would have told myself that such a meal would cost at least double back home. This thought comforted me and gave me the energy to continue my exploration of Malaga in the afternoon after a short siesta.
First stop was the cathedral, which was even bigger than the one in Granada. Each Andalusian city seemed to compete for the title of most extravagant cathedral and Malaga’s effort took a hundred years to build. The result, although scaled down from the original ambitions, was truly impressive.
My visit included a tour of the roof. Aside from showing some worrying cracks in the building’s structures, the roof gave great views in all directions over Malaga.
Next stop was something completely different – the Picasso Museum, established in the mansion where the artist was born. I have lost count of how many Picasso museums I have seen – his output was prodigious, and it seems that many of his many heirs settled their inheritance tax bills by donating enough paintings to the state to set up yet another museum. This museum probably didn’t contain the artist’s best work, but as always there were several pictures that demanded that you stand to admire them for a few minutes.
Next, I had intended to visit another art museum, the Thyssen museum, but I had run out of both time and energy. I had a drink in a nice café next to the cathedral………
……and then bought a bottle of wine to have with my oxtail for dinner, whilst the party outside on the streets continued in full swing.
Today was Alhambra day. The Alhambra is a palace built in the 14th century by the Nasrid (Moorish) rules of Andalucia. The area around Granada was the last part of Spain to be reconquered from the Moors, whose empire had once stretched across North Africa and as far as Southern France in Europe. Faced with a hopeless military situation, the last Nasrid ruler surrendered the city and the Alhambra without a fight to the “Reyes Catolicos” – King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabel the 1st of Castille.
That was in 1492, the same year that Columbus rediscovered America. After that the Alhambra suffered some ill-judged additions by later Christian rulers and then fell into neglect for centuries, even at one point being occupied by squatters. It was then “rediscovered” in the 19th Century by northern European intellectuals.
Today the Alhambra is of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world. At the heart of the Alhambra are the Nasrid Palaces, where the Emir and his harem lived – a group of lavish rooms, courtyards and gardens. A sophisticated system captures water from the nearby mountains to provide cooling pools, streams and fountains.
I had booked tickets for entry to the Nasrid Palaces at 11, so I could have a lie-in and a late start. More areas of the palaces were open during the day than during my night visit, but there were also more tourists, many of whom seemed more interested in taking photos than enjoying the atmosphere of this special place. I took my time for the visit, enjoying the cool of shaded courtyards and the constant sound of running water.
After visiting the palaces, I enjoyed the famous Alhambra gardens. They spread over a huge area, and it took me a couple of hours to see them all. In the gardens were yet more fountains and running water. I was lucky – after yesterday’s storm, it was pleasantly cool even during the early afternoon, and the rain had also brought out the vivid colours and sweet smells of the flowers.
I rounded off my visit to the Alhambra by climbing the Torre de la Vela of the Alcazaba, the part of the complex that served as a defensive fort. It offered great views over the city of Granada and back over the palaces and gardens of the Alhambra itself.
After that, I left by the Gate of Justice, which I now considered to be my own secret back entrance, since it was so close to my hotel and since no other tourists seemed to have found it. I had a quick bite to eat in my hotel before setting out again, this time to visit the city of Granada itself. First, I visited the huge cathedral…………
…………before exploring the twisting maze of small streets that made up the Albaicin, the old Arab Quarter.
The area buzzed with small shops and had tea rooms offering mint tea instead of cafes serving beer and tapas. I wandered around, choosing the option that led uphill at every junction. Eventually I reached my destination – the Plaza San Nicolas. Although I’d been to Granada twice before, I had never found this spot, which has the best views of the Alhambra in all of Granada. The palace towers over the city from its steep hill, framed from behind by tall mountains, some still sprinkled with the last of the winter’s snow.
I found a restaurant for a drink, and enchanted by the view, stayed for dinner as well. It was a perfect spot to admire the Alhambra from, and despite the area’s popularity (a big queue formed for my restaurant shortly after I had found my table), the food was very good and reasonably priced.
After a leisurely couple of hours drinking a good local wine, eating a tagine (a speciality in Granada) and taking lots of pictures as the light slowly changed, I reluctantly made my way back to my hotel. There was to be one last surprise in my day – I discovered the hotel’s roof terrace, with its view of the city and, yet again, the inescapable Alacazaba of the Alhambra. I lay on a sun lounger, drinking cold beer and watching the light slowly fade over the city. By this time my phone had long since run out of battery, so sorry, no photos – but maybe it is better that way, since I could better appreciate the stillness of the evening. The city’s many church bells kept me dimly conscious of the passage of time, which seems to pass more slowly here. They finally informed me it was half past eleven, time for bed after another busy day.
Today I set off from Seville to Granada. Just after leaving Seville, I stopped at Carmona, one of the many old historic towns that make travelling in Spain so pleasant.
After Carmona, I made another stop in Antequera, yet another pretty old town. This one had a pretty historic centre, where I stopped for a drink………..
….and an old Moorish Alcazaba with great views over the city and over the surrounding mountains.
Antequera also has Roman catacombs and a site with six thousand year-old Neolithic dolmens which I didn’t have time to visit – really it is the town with everything!
My hotel in Granada was in the centre, right next to the Alhambra. Driving there was tricky, and the managers had sent me detailed instructions with pictures of the route. I had to give my car registration to be allowed to pass the barrier into the old town, and then after navigating many narrow lanes turned up a tiny, steep side road to find my hotel.
After checking in, I popped into town briefly to buy something to cook for dinner, and sat out a thunder shower in my hotel room before heading up the steep hill to the Alhambra for a night-time visit of the Nasrid Palaces. The Alhambra was really atmospheric in the dusk…….
…..and the specially illuminated Nasrid palaces were spectacular. They don’t sell many tickets for the night-time visit, and sometimes I even had whole rooms to myself and could imagine that I was one of the Nasrid emirs. More about the history of the Alhambra in tomorrow’s blog.
I returned back to the hotel at half past eleven, with thunder rumbling overhead and occasional heavy drops of rain falling on my head, but I got home more or less dry. What a great day!
I never thought I would celebrate cloudy weather in one of my travel blogs. I woke up and went onto my balcony to see clouds covering the sun and feel a refreshing morning coolness on my fur. Today it would be possible to explore the city on foot, without roasting!
I decided to see some of Seville’s less popular attractions to the north of the historic centre. First I explored my local area, the Triana, which is famous for its many ceramics shops.
……..before crossing over one of its bridges to reach the area called Alameda de Hercules. The streets were narrow, and I enjoyed the sounds of a city waking up – friends chatting noisily in neighbourhood cafes, someone practicing guitar on an upstairs balcony……It was a charming insight into the real everyday life of the Sevillanos, with not another tourist in sight. There were pretty churches and tempting cafes everywhere.
Despite the large number of cafes, I found it hard to find a place to sit down for coffee. Every time I saw a nice place outside, it was either full, or someone would beat me to the very last free place. I finally found a good table near the remnants of the old Moorish city wall.
I then carried on my walk, stopping to photograph yet more churches. I popped into most of them, and found that in the majority, a mass was being celebrated. Religious life is still very active in Seville.
I then made a surprise discovery, stumbling across the Palacio de las Duenas, a beautiful villa built over the 15th and 16th Centuries, and home to the Alba family, one of Spain’s oldest aristocratic families, for several centuries. The Alba family married a Scottish noble family in the 20th Century, and the current Duke of Alba, the wonderfully named Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo, opened the palace to the public in 2016. He still lives in private upstairs rooms that are closed to tourists. The villa was not in my guidebook, and there were very few other visitors. Often I would find I had an entire garden, courtyard or room to myself. I spent a happy couple of hours enjoying the atmosphere and taking lots of photos.
When I had finally finished my visit of the Palacio de las Duenas, I walked back through the busy city centre, finding yet more pretty churches…………
………before reaching my flat at around 2 o’clock. I sensed the sun was about to break through the clouds, meaning that the temperature would soon shoot up, so I spent the afternoon in my flat writing my blog and enjoying being lazy.
That evening I headed out for a typical Seville evening – dinner in three different places. First, I had tapas at a restaurant on the Guadalquivir River, with views over to the cathedral and bullring in the historic centre……….
Next, I tried a trendy bar with upmarket tapas in an old mansion………….
………before finding a simple street bar located in front of a huge, imposing church for a last beer.
In Seville, it would be very tempting to skip sight-seeing altogether and just wander from one beautiful bar to another.
Now that I am able to travel again, I am taking full advantage, and this time I am off to Andalusia in the south of Spain. Every experienced travelling bear knows that the hot month of June is not the best the time to visit the south of Spain, but for reasons I won’t bore you with, I could not choose the date of my visit.
My itinerary was centred on Sevilla, but the only direct flight was with Ryanair leaving at 0700 from Stanstead so instead I took BA to Malaga. I arrived to an easily bear-able (sorry!) 26C and picked up my hire car. Instead of taking the direct route along the motorway, I opted for a scenic drive across country, passing through the pretty “white town” of Alora before heading into the mountains to El Chorro, the starting point for the famous “Camenito Del Rey” walk.
The 8km path clings to the side of a sheer cliff with spectacular views down into the gorge. When planning this trip, I had been disappointed that all the tickets for this popular walk were already sold out, but when I stopped to take pictures, I soon changed my mind. Walking for two to three hours in the afternoon heat would have been very unpleasant, and it was much nicer to enjoy the scenery from the comfort of an air-conditioned car.
The road left the mountains and headed across rolling hills, planted with olive trees or grass. The open views and empty, fast roads gave a sense of freedom and being on holiday. I accelerated across the empty landscape to join the main motorway leading into Seville. I found my flat easily, and more importantly found the underground parking next door – parking on the street in Seville is impossible. My apartment was in the Triana district, just across the river from the historic centre.
After checking in, I hurried straight to the Alcazar, a fifteen-minute walk that felt longer in the 35C heat. I noticed that almost everyone I met was wearing a face covering. I checked on my phone and indeed, this was required by law in Spain, so I reluctantly slipped on my own mask – which of course made walking in the street even hotter and sweatier.
Fortunately the Alcazar was worth the effort – it is a palace built for the Christian kings of Spain from the 14th century onwards, over a period of 500 years. Many architectural styles were used in its construction, but the most beautiful parts copy Moorish architecture.
I tried to dodge the intense sun beating down onto the palace’s courtyards, spending my time in the beautiful Moorish reception rooms……….
…..before heading for the famous gardens.
Even though it was now seven in the evening, the sun seemed even stronger than in the mid-afternoon. In the afternoon, my hat protected me, but now. whenever I had to leave the protection of shady trees, the sun hit me with a ferocious broadside that roasted my whole body and soon had my fur drenched in sweat.
I left the Alcazar Gardens at closing time, and walked backed through small, winding and shady side streets to the centre and the cathedral, a huge structure that dominates the city and which I planned to visit another day. I stopped briefly for a well-deserved drink in a small traditional bar, decorated with typical Andalusian tiling, before heading back to my flat. There are very many bars and restaurants in Spain, which spill out onto welcoming open-air terraces on the street. The law allows people to take off their face masks when sitting down to eat or drink, making an already popular pastime even more widespread amongst the Sevillanos than usual.
On my way I saw an ice-cream seller and could not resist ordering some to try to cool down. I soon realised my mistake – the refrigeration unit was not up to the challenge of the heat. My two scoops of vanilla and strawberry were already melting, and streams of sticky liquid ran down my cone. I had to gulp it all down quickly before the whole thing disappeared, and got my paws and arms covered in gooey liquid.
I was relieved to reach the cool of my flat, where the air conditioning had finally kicked in to offer a welcoming 21C respite from the heat. I rested for a bit after a hectic day before heading out for a pleasant dinner of tapas at a neighbouring bar. The Triana area was very busy, with the streets full of people sitting on terraces and talking animatedly. It was still hot, but now – at 10 in the evening when most locals go out – pleasantly so. It was a nice way to unwind after a very busy day.
Sorry, no photos me today – with my sticky sweaty fur I didn’t feel very photogenic. An internet celebrity like me needs to carefully manage their online image!
I am so sad, it is my last day in Scotland. I said goodbye to my friends before setting off on the long road south to Carlisle, where I had chosen to break the journey back home.
First, I visited one last Aberdeenshire castle – the bright pink Craigevar. The inside was closed, but from the outside it was probably the prettiest castle yet.
My road then took me back to the Cairngorm Mountains. At first it went through green meadows, with the snow-topped mountains flitting in and out of view in the distance. I stopped briefly at the pretty little town of Ballater, on the River Dee…..
……before making a longer stop at Balmoral, the summer residence of the Queen of England. I didn’t have time to visit, and for security reasons the castle is located so that it cannot be seen from the road – so no photos I am afraid. Instead, I enjoyed Balmoral coffee, Balmoral chocolate and haggis flavoured crisps in the coffee shop at the entrance to the estate.
From Balmoral I drove past the village of Braemar and its castle…….
……before the road climbed into the Cairngorm Mountains. These mountains are different to the ones in the west – greener, rounder, and somehow bulkier and even more imposing. The last snow was melting on their summits – you can ski here in winter. I stopped several times to photograph the beautiful, rolling scenery.
From the Cairngorms the road descended through lush pastures with beautiful shades of green and red. I stopped to take a photo and a herd of cows gathered together to have their group portrait taken by me.
I soon arrived in the city of Perth. I made yet another stop at Scone Palace, the place where the kings of Scotland were crowned.
The inside of the palace was closed, but in any case I didn’t have time for a visit. Strolling around the grounds, I found the replica of the Stone of Scone, used in the ancient coronations – the original was removed to Westminster Abbey by King Edward I of England in 1186.
The Stone sits atop a raised mound of earth – legend has it that the lairds invited to pay homage to the new king would bring soil from their native territories with them in the boots, and empty this soil onto the site to show allegiance. Over the centuries this created the mound you can see today.
The grounds of Scone Palace were also very pretty, with several marked trails to explore…………..
……..and new friends to meet.
On regaining my car, I turned around for one last look at Scone, the last stop on my tour of Scotland. Ahead of me lay the long road to Carlisle, and then the even longer drive back to London.
That’s all for this trip. Over 12 days I had seen some of the world’s best scenery, met puffins, deer and dolphins, visited many very different castles, caught up with old friends……and done lots and lots of driving. I will definitely be back – twice, in fact. Once to see the big cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow (more easily reached by train than driving) and once to stay in a cottage in one place for a whole week. I’d like to get to know one area really well, do some serious walking and maybe some paddle boarding. Out of all the great places to choose from in Scotland, this trip has helped me choose the very best place to spend a whole week – but it will remain my secret until I return. I don’t want it to become too popular!
Thanks for reading – keep checking my blog to catch up with my latest adventures!
Aberdeenshire is famous for its old castles – there are supposed to be over 260 of them – so today I decided to visit some of the ones near Tarves, where, as you remember, I was staying with friends.
First was Castle Fraser, ancestral home of the Fraser clan and later the Fraser-MacKenzie clan. It is a typical old “tower house” castle. Over the centuries different lairds continually added new wings to the castle, extending the original structure horizontally and vertically. Visiting the castle involved lots of climbing up and down stairs in the tall defensive towers you can see in the photo. One of the rooms contained the “laird’s lughole” – a secret room from where the laird could eavesdrop on the conversations in the main hall.
In each room we met National Trust of Scotland volunteers, who would enthrall us with stories of the castle’s past owners. My favourite was the story of Charles Mackenzie, who lost a leg during the Napoleonic wars and then returned to Scotland to lead a long and active life. He had over twenty sophisticated artificial legs built, which impress medical experts even to this day. There were different legs for different activities – walking, dancing, horse riding. Since the laird fathered fourteen children, I wondered if there was a leg for procreation, but was too shy to ask.
Next was Haddo House, which was built in a completely different, Georgian, style – like an English country house.
It was the home of the Gordon family, and had its own stories. The house dates 1732 but most of the interior is Victorian, dating from 1880. When the newly-wed Lady Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon arrived at the house after her honeymoon, she hated the old Scottish interior so much that her husband gave her £100,000 (now worth £12-13 million) to completely remodel the house. She did a great job, but unfortunately it was not allowed to take photos inside the house. Lady Ishbel and her prime minister husband would often receive Queen Victoria, who would ride over from Balmoral Castle. Haddo House sits in very pretty gardens, which in turn are part of huge grounds that include a lake, forest and deer park.
My final castle visit was Fyvie Castle. Like Castle Fraser, this was built in the “tower-house” style.
It was the home to various families, ending up with a branch of the Gordon family who eventually gambled and drank away their fortune and sold it to Alexander Leith, a local boy (possibly a descendant of one of the original owning families), who had made his fortune in America. He installed an impressive music room but left the structure and feeling of castle unchanged. Fyvie was probably my favourite castle of the three – very atmospheric, with lots of old weapons and armour on display.
From there I headed back to Tarves for another really good dinner and long evening of reminiscing with my friends.