It was 2:00 PM on Saturday August 25th, I was tired from taking the overnight train from London to Edinburgh, my friend Sean even more exhausted after flying from Vancouver only 48 hours earlier and joining me on the train. We were walking around the beautiful city of Edinburgh but fading fast, agonizingly waiting until 3:00 PM when we could pick up our rental car. We decided the best way to do this was to get ourselves a mid afternoon snack and coffee at a local cafe just down the road from St. Mary`s Cathedral. As we sat down I noticed one of the men sitting next to us looked oddly familiar. After checking with Sean, we realized that this man was none other than David Hasselhoff, in town for the Edinburgh fringe festival and regaling his friends with stories of Baywatch and appearing on Johnny Carson`s show. Quite a celebrity encounter, but it wouldn`t be the most famous person we saw on our journey to the north of Britain, I`ll save that story for later on in this post.
After our day in Edinburgh we were able to get our rental car and begin our three hour trek through the north east of Scotland to Banchory, where Sean`s sister Nicole lives with her boyfriend Mike. As we were driving up to the A90 and through the country roads we anticipated that Banchory would be our base and from there we could drive all over the north of Scotland on a road trip. This was our plan, but upon our arrival that plan quickly changed as we fell in love with the area and didn`t want to leave!
Located about 18 miles southwest of Aberdeen, along the River Dee, Banchory is a small but very beautiful town overlooking the famous Scottish countryside and far enough out of Aberdeen that it is much more peaceful and relaxing than the city lifestyle I have grown accustomed to this past year. Our accomodation was Nicole and Mike`s angelic Riverstone Coach House, which allowed us a great base and saved us the hassle of finding accomodation every night. Mike, who unfortunately was away for work, left us a very detailed welcome package about the area and had prepared notes about all the local golf courses, something we were very keen to check out. Mike`s parents live within 2 minutes walk of the coach house and were very gracious in having us over a couple of times for drinks and dinner.
Sean and I spent much of our time in Aberdeenshire playing golf. Living in London has had a dramatic effect on my golfing opportunities so personally I was very excited to get back out on the links, especially in the home of golf! What Sean and I were really hoping for however was a true Scottish experience on the golf course. We were `lucky` enough to get this as we teed off at Stonehaven in 35 mile/hour winds and sideways rain. It was easily the wettest round of my life (and thats saying something being from Vancouver!) but it was exactly what we had wished for and it did feel a bit like playing in The Open Championship.
Despite knowing Sean since I was about 5 years old I learned something about him on this trip. He is very knowledgable when it comes to Scotch Whiskey and this turned out to be very helpful as we explored the different regions of northeastern Scotland. This was particularly true as we were fortunate enough to be given the keys to Mike`s quaint family cottage in Glenlivet which was walking distance from the Glenlivet whiskey distillery where a few years earlier Sean had become a guardian of the whiskey. Following our tour of the distillery the guardian was allowed to take a guest up to a secret room for a glass of a 21 year old Glenlivet whiskey. The following morning we drove back to Banchory up the stunning, but chilly northeast coast. Accompanied by Nicole and Mike`s dog, Abby, we walked along the beaches of Hopeman and drove along the coastal road and back down thr0ugh the countryside. The weather cooperated and the views were simply incredible.
On our final full day in Scotland we wanted to make sure we did something very traditional. There was talk of going clay pigeon shooting, but instead we decided on going to the Braemar Gathering where they were hosting a highland games. As we drove the hour from Banchory to Braemar we started driving through streets lined with people seemingly awaiting our arrival. After we ducked into an incredibly convenient parking spot we quickly discovered, somewhat disappointingly, that this was not how Braemar welcomes Canadian visitors, but rather it is how they welcome Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Camilla. As we entered the grounds to watch the caber toss, tug of war, 80 metre run and the sack race, the royalty did the same. It was quite different than last time I saw the royal family as this one was simply a coincidence.
It was a wonderful week in Scotland and I have to say a big thanks to Nicole, Mike, Becky, Ian, Mel, and Abby for making it such a fantastic experience.