Royal Deeside

The Queen (aka our dearly beloved Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle) (just in case you were mixing her up with some other monarch; there are still a few of them about, after all) has rather a nice gaff in Royal Deeside, known as Balmoral Castle.

In search of a nice cup of tea and some sunshine this morning, my charming assistant and I headed north to Royal Deeside, driving through the barren but lovely countryside of the Cairngorms national park:

We drove past the Glenshee ski centre, which was almost entirely devoid of snow, and were reacqauinted with a sculpture I always enjoy saying hello to:

The sculpture is by Malcolm Roberston and is entitled “Tommy and Wife”. They seem to me a very British sort of couple, the wife gazing up to the north:

While her husband looks longingly in the opposite direction:

Our first port of call was the sleepy village of Braemar, where we had a choice of tearooms and opted for one we’d never tried before.

It was very Scottish, if Scottish means tartan tablecloths at every turn:

Whenever I’m in a completely new place I’m tempted to try the scones, but I’m always a bit nervous about it. However, I’m delighted to say that I had one of the best scones I’ve had for ages (and I have had quite a few over the past weeks). My delightful assistant and I decided to share one as they were quite big and we wanted to leave space for luncheon in rather a nice place a bit later on. By the time I’d got my camera out, half of it had mysteriously vanished:

Some years ago, quite possibly as many as 23, my assistant and I had a weekend break in this area and it was quite an eventful little trip. On the way to Braemar the car’s radiator exploded (not strictly speaking true, but I thought it had at the time and I use the word now for dramatic effect) and we got a lift in a police Range Rover. At Braemar we had to get a new radiator cap and while the local garage was helpfully sourcing one for us, we took shelter (it was snowy) in the wonderful Fife Arms Hotel, where they were very kind to us and plied us with steaming hot cups of tea. Now, whenever I pass through Braemar and see the Fife Arms, I look upon it very fondly (my apologies for the squintness of this picture; all day I had problems taking photos because of the strong winds combined with my unprofessional camera technique (no tripod)):

After a few freezing minutes of being buffeted by an icy wind taking photos and wandering around like tourists, we took refuge in the car again and drove on to the village of Crathie, famous for Crathie Kirk and its proximity to Balmoral Castle. Crathie Kirk is where the Royal Family apparently attend church of a Sunday when holidaying up in Balmoral, and I can’t say I blame them as it’s presumably the cheapest day to get in.  If you go on any other day of the week they charge you £4.00 admission. At least, I assume you can get in for free on a Sunday, I’ve never tried it myself, although I imagine they expect you to cough up for the collection, so perhaps it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

On the up side, at this time of year you can park in Crathie car park for free, and we took advantage of this to have a walk around some of the perimeter of the Balmoral estate. You have to cross the river Dee to get to Balmoral from Crathie, and there’s rather a fine iron bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that takes you the short hop across the water:

When you get over the bridge there’s an impressive gateway, leading to Balmoral Castle, in one direction:

In the other direction is a small road, along which we walked in the sunshine, until we reached another bridge that took us back over the Dee. This bridge is very different in design from the first one, but beautifully elegant and pretty in its white paintwork:

On the way back to the car park I spotted a purse hanging on a tree. It was emtpy, so some honest soul had obviously handed any cash, etc. into the local police.

By this time I was becoming ravenously hungry, after only half a scone at morning tea time, but fortunately we already knew where we were going to have our lunch, and so I drove off with some gusto, and not a little impatience, to our next stop. It’s another of these matches made in heaven – a farm shop and a tearoom combined:

It was lovely and sunny inside the tearoom and we both ordered one of their soups of the day: carrot and leek. It was thick and delicious, served with both brown artisan bread and oatcakes, with little butter curls, and my only regret was that the bowl wasn’t bigger:

After our soups we found room for some tea and a cake each. I went for Victoria sponge, having missed out on one in a cafe recently (see Tearoom of the Week (4)) and my assistant chose a piece of tiffin:

The sponge was nice but the tiffin, in particular, was excellent. It had been made with dark chocolate, so it wasn’t too sweet but it was incredibly chocolately and delicious:

As you may have noticed in the Victoria sponge picture, there was some attractive hand-painted china in the shape of tea mugs and a milk jug. Both the mugs and the jug had two holes for holding them with, rather than the usual one. This made lifting and pouring/drinking a very stable experience:

When it comes to covering Aberdeenshire, as it appears I have already begun to do (maybe I should just soldier on and put everything in one guide book to tearooms in the whole of Scotland?), this farm shop and tearoom will definitely be one of my top picks.


26 thoughts on “Royal Deeside

  1. This is definitely my favourite post so far. It’s a beautiful country and (thank you) for sharing these wonderful photos with us. I loved the big iron wrought gates leading up to balmoral and then very quaint bridges. The white one (was so dainty!) As for the tearooms, the farmhouse/tearoom was definitely a find, the soup, oatcakes and bread looked very appetising indeed! It must have been the perfect day out…

    • Thank you so much for your enthusiastic comments! I was very happy when we found that lovely white bridge, it’s sort of fairtytale-like. The farmhouse tearoom was indeed excellent, I’ll be going back there for sure.

  2. Ooh I love all these places – although I’m guessing at the location of the tearoom/farmshop. If it’s one on the South Deeside Road, with a placename that is unusual to pronounce, my neighbour was recently telling me it’s superb and I must go. Beautiful pottery mugs as well.

    Did you by any chance taste the famous Balmoral Bread? It’s made only by a certain bakery, Chalmer’s I think?, and really is very nice. I sometimes get it in Aberdeen, but most of the time it’s sold out.

    • I think you’re right about the tearoom, and I would definitely encourage a visit, it’s lovely. I didn’t taste the Balmoral bread, but now that you mention it it does ring a vague bell with me. Is the bakery in Ballater by any chance? There are various Royally appointed shops there, and I think one of them is a bakery. I’ll need to try some next time I’m up that way, thanks for the reminder.

  3. That soup looks spectacular! I have to find a recipe. The shot of the Dee through the fence diamond was my favorite outdoor, because I like water so much, but the others were beautiful as well.

    The part about the charging church made me laugh. They all charge one way or another, don’t they?

    Oh, and the statues were very nice, too.

    • Do you know, that soup tasted very like the lentil soup I make at home, and it did have quite a few lentils in it although they weren’t mentioned in the name (carrot and leek). I could guess at the recipe, I might try making it and see if it tastes anything like the stuff I had and if it does I’ll give you the recipe!

      One of these days I will get inside that church, it’s not that I mind paying £4 for upkeep, it’s just that they’re cashing in on the Royal connection, whereas it used to be that all churches were open all the time for free. Changed days.

      I love those statues! 🙂

  4. Love the bridges. Those oat cakes look delicious too – I wonder if I can find any in Australia. Seems a bit daft, but who knows? And the farm shop is gorgeous!

    What exactly is tiffin? Would love to know – it looks quite make-able.

    Beautiful photography – it’s whetting my appetite for a trip to Scotland. Great post, Lorna 🙂

    • Thank you very much Nicole, I think you need to make a visit to Scotland! I would have thought you could get oatcakes in Australia, can you not? They’re really easy to make, I could give you the recipe if you like.

      Tiffin is a chocolate and biscuit-based traybake, with fat of some kind and often with syrup to sweeten it. I don’t think I have a tiffin recipe but I keep tasting amazing ones all over the place, and every time they’re different.

  5. You should be getting commission from the Tourist Board. You do a wonderful job of making Scotland sound even more enticing than it already is.:-)

    • Hooray, I now have it in print! I’ll just copy and paste this into an email to VisitScotland, if you don’t mind 🙂 Thank you very much for your comments, selling Scotland as a tourist destination wasn’t my initial intention, but the more I visit tearooms the more I feel I should be including a few other facts about the areas. There is a lot of lovely scenery and there are so many delightful little places to wander round, as you know yourself. It’s no’ a bad wee country.

  6. You’ve got a delightful selection of photographs in this post. I love Tommy and his wife, they are indeed very British – it could easily be myself and my wife.

    Like Marian (almostnothingbutmusic), I really like the shot of the River Dee through IKB’s bridge too – he’s a hero of mine (absolutely the only thing that Jeremy Clarkson and I have in common!), it looks like a bridge that was really built to last, like all IKB’s projects. Victorian engineering and the beautiful view of the river makes a great juxtaposition of man and nature.

    And as ever, a mouth watering selection of confectionery! As Suth2 said, the Scottish Tourist Board should stand you a big mug of fine tea and a chunk of cake.

    • How marvellous, that the sculptures could be of you and your wife! That has cheered my morning 🙂

      Thank you for your lovely comments, I agree with you about the splendid IKB, but with a name like that he surely had to amount to something great.

      If the Scottish Tourist Board happen to read this and feel moved to stand me a big mug of tea and a chunk of cake I would be delighted to accept.

  7. It is so amazing that you find so many great places to eat! The photos of your countryside blow me away. The bridges, the architecture, and the landscapes are so beautiful.

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