I have just returned from a very enjoyable and eventful four days in the heart of Royal Deeside (Scotland), home of the Salmon laden crystal clear waters of the river Dee and the dramatic green and purple mountains in which the resident regal and adorned stag resides, but the prized game of the wealthy hunter is not the only regal entity to exist in these parts.
Braemar itself is most notably famous for the Braemar gathering which happens on the first weekend in September every year. The royal family along with the rich and famous attend the gathering yearly to celebrate the traditional art of Scottish highland sports best known as the highland games.
The reason for my visit to this part of the country was that I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding of a friend. My friend and many of his colleagues of whom I would later meet, in my eyes have one of the best jobs in the world. I am of course referring to the occupation of Gamekeeper or as they call them in Scotland Gamie’s.
My friend In particular manages thousands of acres of the queens land which sits in the very heart of the cairngorm mountain range, he also doubles up as Prince Charles private Deerstalker. He is a quiet but very biddable character who always has a terrific story to tell about his work. A nature that seems to run common of all Gamie’s.
But back to the Braemar. My weekend started in Europe’s oil capital Aberdeen. I arrived at Aberdeen Airport and drove west for around an hour and 20 minutes along the banks of the river Dee, winding upwards and meandering almost in synchronicity with the river. It was late May and the temperature outside of my lovely air conditioned car was a staggering 28 degrees C. Yes I know (crazy) …….this is Scotland however and it is very well know for its variety of weather even in a single day.
I arrived at my destination unpacked and ventured into the little village of Braemar. Now to put it into perspective I had always had the impression that Braemar with its Royal heritage and famous highland games would be some large bustling little town…..on the contrary it was a small quiet, beautifully positioned little village …..so small that you can walk from end to end in around 20 mins …… (of course that’s if you were timed and didn’t stop in any of the shops to look at traditional Scottish gifts, grab an ice cream or stop to look at the amazing views).
The back drop to this village has to be one of the most see inspiring locations I have ever been and I put it up there with Glen Coe another famous Scottish location. It is very easy to see why the queen and her family have been coming here for hundreds of years. Braemar sits in a valley surrounded by mountains of forrests, heather, cliff faces and the water of life (the river dee). I say the water of life because the dee itself supplies the main ingredient to some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.
The river Dee runs directly through the centre of the village creating a lovely audio and visual ambience to enjoy coffee at one or two of the more strategically positioned coffee shops.
I enjoyed coffee and a breakfast roll at the Bothy coffee shop. I had the pleasure of speaking with the owner and the staff who despite the many people that must pass through they were really friendly and helpful. It wasn’t only here I witnessed heart warming hospitality but all around the shops and hotels.
The locals seem to have an assured warmth, a character that says “We are just fine here and everything will be ok” how could you say otherwise, they are arguably working in one of the most prestigious and beautfull locations and associated with the british establishment. This is afterall the holiday backyard of the royal family.
The wedding service which i was attending was held on the Friday of the weekend at the very famous Crathie Kirk, this is where the queen and her family make their religious pilgrimages whether it’s a Normal Sunday service or a Christmas event.
The church was beautiful. Positioned at the top of a hill surrounded by trees, which framed the entrance perfectly. Inside the church there were many clues such as royal busts and pristine ornate royal wares to indicate a possible royal link however I have been in many churches and mosques all over the world some of which espouse grandeur designs and opulent decor, but I have never been in such an understated royal church as this. Bearing in mind the queen visits here on average 19 weeks of the year I find the whole thing ….well …..just cool.
As I ventured into the church I was greeted by the very down to earth Minister Mackenzie. He has been Minister here for 12 years and more importantly minister to the royal family during that time.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with the Minister after the wedding. I firstly congratulated him on a very engaging and refreshing wedding ceremony. He did everything a great speaker should do such as crowd participation the occasional giggle and a faulty speaker system which just made the whole thing more normal.
He told me many stories of which I shan’t repeat but the most grounding story of all was of a predicament only 2 days prior. He had mentioned that the queen had arrived only a few days previous. One of the policemen had driven up to the Ministers house to brief him for the Sunday service but to his surprise the Minister hadn’t been Informed of the queens arrival. It actually transpires that the queen had emailed him to try and arrange attendance for Sunday service and wanted to discuss the order of service, it turns out that the Ministers Wi-Fi had been playing up and he hadn’t received the email……ha ha I had to really laugh …..even the most simplest of royal occasions can be hampered by technology…I bet queen Victoria never had these problems.
He was such a nice man happy to talk and very down to earth regardless of his duties. As he so put it ..”Sometimes it is so busy when she comes I just don’t have a Scooby what’s going on” priceless quote from a man of the clergy.
After the church proceedings, I attended the wedding reception which was small and intimate, I met some remarkable people especially one gentleman in particular, he was the head gamekeeper at Balmoral Castle and a really nice chap, not posh or aloof but reserved and normal to be honest and the same was to be said of all of the other guests, of course however as you would expect working for the Royal family there is a certain amount of prestige associated with the jobs of those working in and around Balmoral Castle but in the same respect they are normal people who like to party dance and have drink or two well into the wee hours of the morning. A good night twirling kilts was had by all.
This area of Scotland is of course prestige and has a pedigree of Royal heritage running through the very heart and soul of the valley, there are as many six castles within a 16 mile radius.
On closing a common undertone lay true for me about this place was the people and the atmosphere, in life, one often speaks of arriving in a place of tranquillity peace and beauty, to arrive somewhere in life so special you could hang your hat for good , I guess there is no better place on the planet one would wish to be.
The thing I found quite cheeky in a magic circle kind of way is ….well, the locals you see …..they really do know how good they have it ….they just don’t brag about it…..