As the whole world struggles to come to terms with a new way of life, I reflect on our quest to find the elusive flying stag
First of all, my apologies, this post has taken me weeks to write. It’s just been a little tricky to motivate myself to be perfectly frank. I swing like a pendulum from, “come on Anna, let’s get this **** done”, to “what is the point?”. Today though, we’re getting **** done!
Whilst there is no doubt we are fortunate to live in Scotland’s capital, we are countryside creatures at heart and our heart’s really do belong in the Highlands.
Before all the craziness that is now going on in the world, we had some free time on our hands, so we decided to head north for a few days.
We had heard tales of a flying stag, whose habitat was somewhere in The Cairngorms National Park. Flying stags are by nature elusive creatures and sightings are rare indeed. There is no official data on numbers and no photographic evidence exists as proof of their existence, that I know of.
The last reported sighting of this shy creature was somewhere around the Highland village of Braemar. So that was where we went.
It has been the wettest February since records began, our waterproofs have been tested to their limits, along with our senses of humour. We were both finding it a challenge to drag ourselves from our winter torpor. But, the promise of crisp snow, mountains and fresh air was doing wonders for our motivation and simply the thought of that was already lifting our soggy spirit’s from the depths.
Only 73 miles from Edinburgh, with our caravan in tow, we set off with not one backward glance at Midlothian’s brown, muddy, rain sodden countryside. Pretty much dead north, the journey took us via Perth and then onto Blairgowrie.
The minute that you enter The Cairngorms National Park, the countryside turns from rather lovely to breathtakingly, wow, heart stopping, staggeringly beautiful and any other such adjective that you can think of.
The sun was putting on a show especially for us it felt,and as we drove, the mountains lay before us, rising from the frozen earth, stretching ahead as far as the eye could see. Veiled in a mantle of fresh, pristine snow. Christmas card perfect, the sunshine making it look as though it had been sprinkled with silver glitter.
Herds of red deer were low off the hill, mighty stags, monarchs of the glen with their harems, and groups of young bachelor boys. All in search of sustenance.
The journey took us along The Snow Roads, a 90 mile scenic route. It begins in Blairgowrie, travels through Glen Shee, Braemar, then follows the River Dee onto Ballater, Tomintoul and finishing at Grantown-on-Spey. We would be going as far as Braemar.
Traversing the highest public road in Britain, at 670 metres (2199 feet) high, it is little wonder that the climate in this region falls in the sub-Arctic category, rare in the UK.
Snow roads are slow roads. With such beauty you don’t feel the need to rush. It’s like one of those meals that you just don’t want to come to an end because it is so delicious.
As we passed through The Glen Shee Ski Centre, the car parks were choca block. So many people enjoying their winter sport, skiing, snowboarding or simply having fun with their sledges and toboggans. Enjoying the snow and the sunshine.
Rain now a distant memory, we arrived at the caravan site, shovelled the snow off our pitch and got organised for the evening.
So far, no sightings of a flying stag.
The next day we made tracks for the Balmoral Estate, to enjoy a circular walk in the snow. Stopping off at Braemar Castle en route.
We parked the car in the village of Crathie, and following instructions for the walk on the walkhighlands website. Here you will find a detailed description of the route. There was the odd moment of head scratching but we did manage to find all but one cairn, probably because the snow was covering the track as opposed to unclear instructions.
We crossed over The Balmoral Bridge, commissioned by HRH Prince Albert, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and erected in 1856-1857.
It was bitterly cold, so we set off at a brisk pace, hands thrust in pockets, keen to generate some warmth.
Balmoral Castle itself, is built of local granite from the nearby Glen Gelder Quarry. I’m assuming that the really pretty estate cottages that we walked past are built of the same stone.
This cottage marked the beginning of the walk, we passed through a gate and into a magical snowy wonderland. I felt that we might be in with a chance of at least a fleeting glance of our flying stag. It was so peaceful and not another soul was in sight.
I felt as though I had stepped into Narnia. The snow crunching beneath our feet. Rays of sunshine finding its way through the dense trees.
As I said, we found all but one of the eleven stone cairns, which were built to commemorate members of the British Royal family and events in their lives. The majority were erected by Queen Victoria. The broken hearted Queen commissioned the largest, a pyramid in shape, in memory of her beloved husband Albert, after his death in 1861.
It was tough going walking through thick snow, but the task of ticking off all the cairns, along with the prospect of glimpsing a flying stag, was akin to a treasure hunt and kept us excited. We bounced along like Bambi.
Now at the end of our walk, we had to concede that we probably weren’t going to spot our flying stag today. But, there was always tomorrow.
We decided that a little pit stop on the way back to the caravan was in order. We had worked up a thirst. The Fife Arms in Braemar would be the perfect rest place.
We made a bee line straight for the bar and ordered a couple of real ales, which, owing to our thirst went down a little too well!
We had a sneaky peak at the more opulent side of this charming Highland retreat, with its amazing collection of art work and decided to enjoy afternoon tea, not today, but before we head south again.
I will tell you all about our afternoon tea experience another time. What a treat it was.