My ride today completed a seven map coast-to-coast that began what feels like ages ago in Map 39 on the misty Isle of Eigg. I was heading more or less due east all day, except for the first 5 miles when I decided on a whim to head due west instead. I felt I needed to give the Cairngorms every chance to impress, and since the weather was fair and I thought I had enough time, I headed first upstream from Braemar to the Linn of Dee.
I didn’t know what a Linn was; but I wanted to find out. I rode along a lovely, broad, flat bottomed valley as far as the small, quiet road was willing to take me, knowing that every mile out would have to be repeated coming back. But it was all very worthwhile and I was moved to take several pictures of the shallow, bouldery river, framed by the trees and hills. This was a bit more like I was expecting of an area made up of mountains, although the really big boys were still beyond sight. Somewhere up there was Ben Macdui, second only in height to Ben Nevis. The Cairgorms lay to claim to numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the list of highest British mountains; but they keep themselves at a distance from the casual traveller. Only the serious walkers make their close acquaintance.
It turned out that a Linn is a watercourse that has cut through a shelf of hard rock, creating a narrow gorge and a waterfall. The Linn of Dee was a favourite picnic spot of Queen Victoria. There was a pretty stone bridge carrying the road over the Dee at precisely this point, affording a good view, and it made a good place to start my journey downstream towards the sea. Retracing my steps as far as Braemar, I stopped briefly for second breakfast and then began the journey proper in the early afternoon.
It was all very smooth going. I passed Braemar Castle without seeing it, thanks to the tent of scaffolding that currently surrounds it. I passed Balmoral Castle, Liz’s place, without seeing that either, because it is surrounded by tall trees. You can visit if you want; but I chose to press on, happy to have crossed Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s narrow bridge over the Dee, that leads to her front gate. I did just spot the Royal Standard flying over the tallest of the castle turrets, so we can assume she was in.
The lesser B road along the south bank of the Dee was a delight. At times it hugged the riverbank, while at other times it made its way peacefully through pine forests. I saw barely a car. Every hour or so, there was a bridge over to the northern bank, heralding the arrival of a large riverside village or town. I visited, in turn, Ballater, Aboyne, and finally the larger and busier Banchory. All three were fine, genteel looking places with excellent opportunities for taking refreshments. Which I duly did. Everywhere seemed very dry, though. The River Dee was low and the extensive “greens” and squares in the villages were a parched yellow, even without my yellow lensed glasses. I can’t imagine it was due to excessive sun, however. Not here, not this year.
My final leg was to the coast at Stonehaven and for this I had to leave the Dee valley behind and do some proper hill climbing. There is something very satisfying about seeing the sea in front of you and knowing that you have almost reached a very literal journey’s end. I believe this marks my sixth crossing from west to east in this adventure. But this one had a special ending. Ever since I learned of its existence, I had wanted to swim in the Olympic sized open air heated pool in Stonehaven. Now was my chance. Just. I arrived at the entrance at 6.23pm. My train to Glasgow left the station at 7.31pm. As it happened they shut down the till at 6.30pm, too, and I was last through the old metal turnstile by the skin of my teeth. The pool is heated to a constant 29 degrees celcius, or so they claim. I’m willing to believe it. The sun came out and shone weakly while I swam a few very long lengths in the salty water. All around the walls were painted a seaside cream with cheerful blue and yellow trim. Colourful bunting hung overhead. Deck chairs and loungers were optimistically arranged on the far side of the pool. The signage was all art deco style and the changing rooms had wooden cubicles. It was fab.
I had to get out at 7pm; but I was ready. The large group of young lifeguards, resplendent in their dayglow jackets with walkie talkies in hand, were keen to get on with cleaning and closing the place up. There was just time for a welcome shower before I had to quickly dress and leave for my train.
At this point I should say a few words of thanks to the nice people at Ordnance Survey. They have been taking a keen interest in my trip, which is very kind, and the other day I received a couple of presents in the post. One of these was a highly absorbent micro travel towel, printed with a map of my home area. Not only does it look cool, it works!
I had brought it along for this moment, and I was amazed how I completely dried myself with a small square of material no bigger than a handkerchief. Incredible. So thank you! It reminded me how, when we had games lessons at school, which (unlike today) would end with everyone going through the communal showers in the changing rooms, you would be given 2 paper towels by the teacher to dry yourself if you forgot your towel. That, they said, was all you needed. At the time it felt cruel. Now, I’m not so sure!
I found the station in relaxed fashion and reached the platform a full 3 (three) minutes early. Seamless. I changed trains in Dundee where there was time for a short bicycle tour of the city centre in the late evening sunshine, and I took a kebab onto the next train, which I am still tasting hours later. Not every day can offer such an eclectic range of entertainment. As one sign today put it, it was ”Deeside-edly” good. Sorry – I’ll get my coat.