Day Fifty Nine

We continued to follow the Highland Tourist Route today, ostensibly
to visit the Mar Lodge Estate.
We passed out of farm country today and into the Cairngorms
National Park and Cairngorms mountain range. As with other
national parks, beautiful stone villages still dot the landscape and
there are a few grazing sheep about, but other than that, the rest is
wild. There are many, many rivers, some a trickle, other metres wide
and fast. The only thing they have in common is that we saw no
otters in any of them, although there was one stone that made an
excellent otter impression. Got very excited there for a moment.
Credit where credit is due.
The overwhelming memory of today for us both, will be the endless
heather. We drove through an ocean of it, covering fields, hills,
mountains and villages alike. The heather has so infiltrated the
mountains that in the distance, it and the grassed areas contrast to
make the landscape look like a patchwork quilt. The colour ranges
from pale pink to purple, but most of it is a deep pink against a
small bright green leaf. The flowers are tiny, but en masse present a
riot of colour.
Our attempts to find Mar Lodge Estate prove to be a comedy of
errors. There is no GPS coordinate, so we refer to the map and
instructions. Seems basic enough, and off we set. Some miles down
the road and after a few false stops, we realise that we have must
have missed it, and u turn. Nope, not there. Chris is determined that
we must be heading in the wrong direction, reverses the path from
west to east. Nothing. We try the first route again. Nothing. This
takes a good hour, but it looks lovely in the brochure, so we persist.
In the end, we decide the instructions are bad – they give the
impression that its 3 miles past town, off and unmarked road, but in
fact it should say, go into the town and take the unmarked road and
go 3 miles down that, and then a further 3 miles. We finally get
there….and look at us growing all the time…no-one, I repeat, noone,
has lost their cool, got grumpy or stormed off. Yay us 🙂
I’m so glad we persisted. The estate is in the heart of the national
park and protected by the Scottish National Trust as a 30,000 ha
home for the red squirrels, red deer and pine martens who live
They have good taste in real estate, these little creatures. It’s
stunning. We take a long walk though two different areas. The first
is through an open area with ancient native pine trees as well as a
regeneration area. The path follows a fast river over many levels and
waterfalls. The water is crystal clear, unlike other rivers we have seen
which are quite dark with tannin. You can see each stone and the
sides of the gorge through it. This area too, is awash with heather.
So pretty.
Chris, in adventure’s true spirit, takes a new, uncharted, path back
to the car. This is not for the faint hearted. There’s more than one
river to navigate against and my earlier comments as to the size of
the property should be noted. Still, I trust his skills in this area
completely, and off we set.
This second walk takes us though native pine and birch forest. The
ground is alternatively grassed, pine needled and mossed
underneath. It’s like walking on sponge, so nice and squishy
underfoot. If I was a pine marten, I would want to live here. Every so
often we come across the most amazing mushrooms which I get on
the ground to photograph. Such great colours and so many
different types.
Chris also finds the sweetest thing tucked into the base of an old
tree. Made either by children, or adults like me who have grown up
on a steady diet of Beatrix Potter, are two homes, fashioned for
mice. They take advantage of the hollows between the tree roots
and have walls made from twigs, mossed roofs and flooring.
Sweetly, they are decorated with little blue flowers over the front
door and tiny little pine cones as trees in the “front yard”. The
houses are side by side in the same tree and could be straight out of
a Beatrix Potter book. She would have wiped a tear from her eye to
see them sprung to life from her imagination. I hope as I write this
tonight, that a little mouse (or six) is snuggled up on on those
squishy soft floors and is sighing a mouse version of “ahhhhh”as
they pull a little moss blanket over them. Too cute.
We make it back to the car after only a few moments of “perhaps
we might have to retraced our steps”doubt, and just in time too, as
the rain starts to set in.
As we leave the park, we get treated to my favourite light. Sun
through dark sky, in the late afternoon. With rain as a bonus, there’s
a rainbow right in front of us that keeps morphing in front of us as
the car moves. Even the rainbows are different here – they are
smaller and you can see both ends. No doubt a result of the
longitude, but quite a nice one. I can see the bottom of the rainbow
as it skips ahead of us. FYI, no pot of gold that I can see…. I get a
great shot of it though, over a stone cottage next to the Estate,
against a black sky.
We set off for the final part of our drive, to the town of Banchory
where we will spend the night. There’s a BBC2 three part special
starting tonight that I’ve been looking forward to all week – it’s a
scientific research project recreating the burrows of three burrowing
mammals – rabbits, badgers and water voles, complete with
unobtrusive cameras in all chambers and all sorts of monitoring
equipment following their lives through a spring season. It took a
year to research, set up and film. Very excited to see it. Bet they
didn’t think to use moss on the roof and have pine cones and
flowers for garden! Still enchanted by those little houses in the
Time for me to sign off. Little furry things in burrows await my full