Tip-toeing through ancient pines

Following consumption of a delicious star in Braemar, my delightful assistant and I skipped merrily through the pine forests of Royal Deeside to the Old Brig O’ Dee:

The Old Brig O’ Dee, or the Invercauld Bridge as it’s also known, is a splendid piece of granite architecture.

According to J R Hume, a chap who knows a thing or two about bridges, it is “a handsome rustic ashlar bridge, with three main segmental arches and a smaller arch at each end. There are rounded cutwaters, and occuli in the spandrels between the main spans.”Β  I don’t know about you, but when I come across occuli in spandrels, I stop to observe.

Walking across this bridge, which is no longer used as a crossing for traffic, I felt I’d gone back in time. The dusty surface with grass growing at the edges seemed to me just as it might have looked when it was being used for carts and horses in the 1800s (construction began in the late 1700s):

There was a fine view of the River Dee from the top of the bridge:

On the other side, I found signs of spring in a quiet pool next to the river:

Through one of the arches I spied the road bridge now used in place of the Old Brig O’ Dee:

On the south side of the Dee sits a forest regeneration project, kept behind gates that the public are welcome to pass through, as long as they come in small groups and stay very quiet, so as not to disturb the sensitive wildlife within the reserve:Β 

In 1878 Queen Victoria purchased Ballochbuie forest, in which the regeneration project is housed. She didn’t want the old Caledonian pine trees to be sold off to an Aberdeen timber merchant, and her intervention is apparently one of the earliest recorded acts of forestry conservation.

The forest contines to be preserved by the current royal family, as it nestles in the grounds of their holiday home, Balmoral Castle, and it now contains some of the oldest Scots pines in the UK.

We heard capercaillie in here as we tip-toed quietly along the path, but none of them popped up and showed themselves (I have yet to see one in the wild and am ever hopeful of fulfilling this long-held ambition). The trees were very nice though, and it was such an astonishingly warm and cloudless day that we felt we were in the Canary Islands:

For anyone not familiar with capercaillie, here’s a picture of one I snaffled from the Birdlife website:

A fine fellow.

After all that frolicking in the pine forest, we were ready for a bit of refreshment and, since it happened to be lunchtime, we scooted off to the Victorian town of Ballater a few miles along the road for a light luncheon.

Ballater was founded in the early 1800s to accommodate visitors flocking to the nearby Pannanich Wells Spa. At first it was just a small village, but it expanded rapidly when Queen Victoria bought nearby Balmoral Castle, and the railway arrived (in 1861).

Despite still being quite small, Ballater now boasts four decent looking tearooms (I haven’t checked them all out yet), and we went to one I’d been to years ago that I wanted to revisit. My lovely assistant had ham and tomato sandwiches:

And I had sandwiches with tuna salad:

The sandwiches were fresh and tasty, but quite filling, so rather than take tea and cake afterwards we selected a chocolate each from the excellent selection in the chocolate cabinet at the counter.

Regrettably, I was so busy admiring and choosing chocolates, that I completely forgot to photograph the display. I did, however, photograph the two that my assistant and I chose as our small sweet snacks.

My splendid assistant’s choice was a rum truffle, which was prettily decorated with a treble clef:

I found it very difficult to choose, but eventually plumped for a pear ganache:

I had no idea from looking at the outside that the inside would turn out to be so superbly constructed. There was an outer layer of dark chocolate, with the pear motif on top, and inside that there was a milk chocolate layer. Inside the milk chocolate was the beautifully smooth and silky pear ganache:

Before leaving Ballater I was keen to buy some of the famous Balmoral bread, recently brought to my attention by fellow blogger Christine.

Ballater is a very royal town, everywhere you look there are signs of royal patronage. Β There doesn’t appear to be a candlestick maker in Ballater, but both the butcher and the baker have gained the royal seal of approval.

I was delighted to find, on entering the bakery, that they still had four unsold loaves of Balmoral bread. I very happily purchased one:

I wish I could show you a slice of the loaf to give an idea of just how marvellous this bread was (it deserves to be famous, in my opinion), but unfortunately it had all disappeared before I thought of taking a picture of it.

On the up side, this gives me an excellent reason to return to Ballater in the near future, and I can combine my bread buying with a visit to one of the other, as yet unsampled, tearooms.


44 thoughts on “Tip-toeing through ancient pines

  1. I keep imagining scenes of Gene Kelly dancing from Brigadoon when I see those pine trees and lakes πŸ™‚ As for Balmoral and those incredible sandwiches, with sides and salad and chips (wow!) the famous bread loaf looks very wholesome and v tasty!

  2. I was right there with you, Lorna, traipsing along. Your make your experiences so real, so much fun. I love the details. I so badly want that pear ganache and a Balmoral loaf of bread, and oh, of course a cup of tea – THAT atleast I can go and get myself. It’s 7.30am here in America! Many thanks for sharing this excellent post!

  3. Hello Lorna, that is indeed a fine bridge, as is the river, and the view. And the lunch. And the chocolate. Especially the chocolate.

    Lovely post all round. You did well to photograph the toads, and I hope you manage a capercaillie in the not too distant future, they’re on my list of essential viewing too.

    • Thanks very much Finn. I only saw the toads because they moved, but then they sat very still and didn’t seem to mind me being there. I would dearly love to see a capercaillie. I’ve heard them a few times, and they’ve even seemed to be very close to where I was looking, but they manage to hide very well indeed.

  4. Hi,
    What a beautiful old bridge, and great history as well. The view looks gorgeous, and the stream so clean and fresh, it looks like a really nice spot from your photos.

    Oh my those chocolates are to die for, you just cannot beat home made chocolate, and they are beautifully decorated as well. πŸ™‚

  5. Wow! You’re getting quite a following! Well deserved, too! I love the forest and the bridge. Funny, after you pointed out crow stepped gables in a former post, I started noticing them in various period dramas I was watching (Bleak House, for one). Guess I’ll be seeing occuli in spandrels next! Love the name Brig O’ Dee. Never had any idea the “brig” in Brigadoon was a bridge!

    Sandwiches look very tasty, but of course I thought the treble clef chocolate was the best.

    • I thought of you when my mum picked that chocolate and then I wrote ‘treble clef’! I think I’m noticing crow stepped gables more now, too, after writing about them. The River Doon, and the bridge that crosses it (Brig O Doon) is in Ayrshire, near where Robert Burns hailed from. It features in his poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’. Thinking of that reminds me that I’m looking forward to doing the tearooms of Ayrshire, and I’m hoping to find out a bit more about our bard. I must say it’s jolly nice of people to read my posts, I’m delighted that anyone wants to read my blog, let alone all the lovely bloggers who do. Every time anyone ‘likes’ a post it makes my day!

  6. A fascinating post! So what are occuli? I’m guessing a kind of architectural feature, like a round hole??! I love your photos and I am envious that you heard capercaillie. Ballater sounds a lovely place. I’m trying to overlook the chocolate!

    • I assume that’s what occuli are, but the strange thing is I don’t remember seeing any round holes in the bridge. I didn’t find Mr Hume’s description until after I had got back from Deeside, and by that time I just had to take his word for it. However, he has written a lot about bridges and is obviously an expert, so if he says there are occuli in the spandrels, then I wouldn’t like to say otherwise. I’m so sorry you didn’t hear capercaillie the other day, but if you happen to go up to that bit of Deeside any time soon I reckon you’d have a good chance of hearing them. I’ve heard them at Loch Drumore too, which is near Blacklunans in Perthshire. I don’t know if this has any relevance, but I’ve always heard them on sunny days. Ballater is worth a visit and I believe it goes royalty mad in August. I’d be interested to pop up there one year and see what all the hoo-ha is about.

  7. The forest photos were lovely to see on this beautiful Sunday morning while sipping a cup of tea. Thanks. And it is probably a good thing for me you didn’t photograph all the chocolates. The two you showed looked wonderful, but if you showed me more I would be heading to the store to binge on chocolate πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Lorna, Loved this post! I really miss the first sunny days in March and April when you can smell the water warming up underneath the heather. And you sandwich looked lovely too, mmm! (ok, I haven’t had breakfast yet!) πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Dan, you won’t be missing the chilly winds we’ve got now I don’t suppose – frost this morning, too! The sandwich was excellent, I hope you had a tasty breakfast. πŸ™‚

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