Scottish roadtrips – we love them. Miles and miles of empty roads (if you’re in the right places!), lochs, mountains, forests, the sea – almost perfect! Just make sure you put your food and toilet research in before you go!
Travelling the highlands in a motorhome ‘wild camping’ is starting to appear on people’s ‘bucket’ lists and who can blame them? Waking up at the side of a loch with otters playing outside, watching the sunset from your bed – all very appealing, but not for us. We prefer to visit local B&B’s and hotels, meeting new people and sampling the delights of a home cooked Scottish breakfast (more on that in our food section!).
We actively seek out unusual places to stay, usually off the beaten track and always with good reviews - hoping all the time that they are indeed genuine reviews!
The most interesting places to stay are buildings, which have led a former life from cow sheds to railway carriages, converted aeroplanes and lighthouses. If only we had enough free time…
Our Scottish roadtrip 2019 took us to one of the most architecturally interesting buildings we have stayed in so far. The Auld Kirk in Ballater in the heart of Royal Deeside; chosen by us for its proximity to royal residence Balmoral Castle (last on our tick list of royal houses which proved the most elusive of the royal properties for us to visit – we appear to always holiday at the same time as the Queen!).
Its not difficult to guess the previous use of the Auld Kirk – if the name doesn’t give it away then not many buildings feature a granite spire towering over the houses around them! Once inside the B&B, which also operates as a coffee lounge during the day, the features and fittings of the early Victorian Scottish Free Church are readily apparent. Dark corridors, stained glass windows, original chairs. In the breakfast room you will find the original font, you may be lucky enough to breakfast in one of the original priests’ thrones and the guest lounge still has the curtained ‘confessional’! Just don’t be tempted to offload your guilty secrets in there though as it currently provides storage space!
Thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable owners, Kevin and Helen, who have only recently taken over the Auld Kirk and have some very big and exciting plans, we had a fascinating tour of the building and its history. Learning all about the ‘Disruption’ in 1843 when members of the local Kirk had a disagreement with the rest of the congregation and began to hold separate worship in a sheepcote outside of the village. The ‘dissenters’ soon established and built their own Free Kirk, the beautiful building which now houses the Auld Kirk. The congregation worshipped there for many years until eventually combining congregations once more in a brand new church in the centre of Ballater.
Sadly, at this point, many churches were allowed to fall into disrepair and ruin and once beautiful buildings providing service to their local communities began to disappear as nature regained the area around them.
The Auld Kirk is a fine example of a building, which thankfully was not allowed to suffer this fate and now offers a fine place to spend the night in lovely Ballater.
We loved all the original features - it felt like a very gothic, atmospheric place to stay but warm and friendly with owners who will make this a huge success thanks to their attention to detail and friendly personalities. Comfy beds, special little extras including delicious home made shortbread and glass bottles of local water ( it’s a constant source of irritation to me as a none tea/coffee drinker that most hotels don’t offer quality drinking water in their rooms) breakfast was delicious with a wide range of choices on the buffet in addition to the home cooked selection – fried potato scones and haggis the best way to start the day! Plentiful parking in a beautiful area with just a short walk into the centre of Ballater. With hosts who cannot do enough for you from their excellent knowledge of places to eat and visit, to the constant attention they offer you at breakfast and beyond.
Thank you Kevin and Helen for answering all of our many questions whilst cooking and feeding the other guests! We found your building fascinating! Particularly loved the angel currently watching over the guest lounge – a giant version of the famous ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ which graces many a Rolls Royce car. One of the many unusual fixtures and fitting which came along the with building.
Collectors! Kevin is open to offers to find her a new home! Contact him through their website
And Ballater? What did we think? With the River Dee flowing through looking as though a bear would appear at any moment, spectacular mountains and forests surrounding it, some very exclusive shops with royal warrants, probably the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted at Shortys Ice Cream Parlour and picnic benches in the small town centre to eat your picnic or your chips! How could we not love it?
But the part we loved the most was another building having a new lease of life, the old railway station built in 1866 and used by the Royal Family until Beeching closed it down in 1966 (happened to our local station too – must be time to get them all reopened?). As you stand in the courtyard it is hard not to see it full of coaches and soldiers with Victoria and Albert coming through the doors as they made their way to Balmoral.
If only the trainline was still there – what a journey that would be…