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.