Cosy and comfortable cottage on Royal Deeside
In the old days, the tourism promoters called the off-season ‘the shoulder months’. Maybe they still do. Anyway, when an invitation arrived for a wee break in a self-catering property, called Riverside Cottage, in the Royal Deeside town of Ballater, we hesitated for only a moment.
Besides, Ballater has for long been one of our favourite places in Scotland. It had already made it on to our must see list (I mean, on this website.) It’s a friendly and well-kept little town with its silvery granite streets and wooded hills around. We knew it of old…
So, what’s not to like? Well, only the month of November really – a cold shoulder month for sure – but we took the chance.
Where is Riverside Cottage?
On arrival, we found Riverside Cottage tucked away, indeed quite close to the River Dee – but (even better!) only a couple of minutes away from a top-class butcher, a baker with a Royal Warrant and a very well-stocked large Co-op.
Such places are priority for self-caterers!
It isn’t surprising that the town of Ballater, a few minutes away from the royal holiday playground of Balmoral Castle, also has a good number of up-market out-doorsy shops.
But admiring the Goretex and tweeds, the hand-crafted walking sticks and grollaching knives (don’t ask) comes later. Right now we need to stock up…
Shops conveniently close…tick!
But first it’s unpacking and familiarisation…checking kitchen cupboards…ah, found the fridge switch and the heating controls. Easy.
The underfloor heating, gently wafting through the slate, makes the place cosy. There is – tick more boxes – all that you would expect to make a stay comfortable. Quality in every room.
Wait though, outside, tucked away discreetly, there’s a Swedish hot tub that’s heated with firewood. Hmm. Let’s look closely at that later.
Well, that’s us installed. The Border terrier has also given his approval by taking to his basket – but we’ll have to persuade him out of it as we stroll into town for provisions.
Did I mention a butcher? Vegetarians bear with us here, but for those of you of a Paleo inclination, Sheridans of Ballater is top end with mouth-watering product displays and friendly service.
Tell them you’re self-catering and they’ll point you to the easy-prep lines. (Oh, those real rib-eye-burgers…) Royal Warrant? But of course. Princess Anne is sure to like a good sirloin.
And a baker? The royal appointment sign suggests that the Windsors along the road have been enjoying quality baking for generations. Actually, the shop sign says ‘Chalmers – bakers since 1956’.
Be warned – you’ll never want to buy a woolly Warburpton’s plastic loaf again after a toasted slice or two of Chalmers’ famous Balmoral bread, complete with molasses and wholesome knubbly bits…
The Co-op has also already been mentioned but the net result is that everything you need for a successful self-catering break is a couple of minutes’ walk in the compact wee town. Another box ticked. Now we can relax.
Riverside Cottage and a little herb garden
Just spotted the herbs outside. Interesting we could also still pick a few lettuce leaves in November. The kale is of course hardy.
(See pic) Being something of a garden expert (‘coughs in embarrassed fashion’), I hadn’t heard of the particular variety of kale labelled ‘Winter Stopcock’.
Then I realised that the notice was pointing out the location of the winter stopcock that can turn the water off in the event of frosty weather. Oops.
Anyway, the herbs are just a part of the cottage’s environmental friendly credentials. Recycling, efficient heating and insulation are part of the package.
What to do in Ballater
Well, now that we know we are not going to starve while we are here, what shall we do tomorrow?
Remember, it’s late November, short daylight hours – so no heroics on high mountains.
Ballater is the ideal base from which to celebrate the outdoors. For some, it could mean the high tops of the Grampian plateau via Lochnagar, Broad Cairn, Mount Keen or other Munros.
There are plenty of lower-level walks and trails too – with some challenging mountain biking also nearby.
Conquer Craigendarroch – Ballater’s landmark hill
The town also has a distinctive craggy domed hill on its doorstep – Craigendarroch – the crag of the oaks. So it was decided – let’s go to the top. Just walk from the cottage and you’re at the base of the hill in minutes.
Hard to decide if red squirrels are easier to see than signposts – but there are waymarkers that suggest a track. The red squirrels are there too – but adept at avoiding the camera.
We lose the track on the east side, amongst the lichen-festooned pines and birch, then find it again. This is the shady side with slippery tree-roots demanding a little care. (When you do this, you will bring walking boots, won’t you?)
But it’s stunning at the top, with the profile of Lochnagar reluctant to show through shifting cloud. After all – it’s late November.
And a flock of crossbills just went through and posed on the pines for a couple of minutes.
There are more detailed instructions on how to climb Craigendarroch on that link.
Fire Up the Hot Tub!
Back at the cottage, night falls. Fire up the hot tub!
Now, this isn’t something you do on the spur of the moment. No, you plan ahead. At least three hours ahead.
Because that’s how long it takes to heat up the water using kindling, small pieces of logs, bigger pieces. Keep that flame roaring, the fire-door open for for maximum air. In short, it needs attention.
This is not hardship of course. I mean, not with a dram in your hand. Besides, the outside area is really well lit.
Tending the tub is a Stone Age man kind of vibe. Actually, no, maybe Iron Age, as you wield the small axe (supplied, of course) to get the wood to the best size for fast firing.
But it’s worth it as – eventually – after dinner, another dram in hand (probably), you climb in to the enveloping warmth and stare up at the stars of the black night.
That evening it was so peaceful, except for the intermittent whining of a certain Border terrier puzzled as to why he couldn’t sit beside us. (Numerous reasons, of course, the main one being he doesn’t like water that much.)
Take the waters in Ballater
Ballater was founded, long story short, as a wee spa report on a bridging point of the River Dee. The nearby spring at Pannanich famously cured an old lady of some skin ailment and the fame spread. Queen Vicky added kudos. Commercial bottling of the water came along in the 1990s.
For a brief moment, as we lolled about in the steamy water, Johanna wandered why the Co-op didn’t stock the widely-marketed Deeside Water. Then she realised it was because, hereabouts, the stuff comes out of the tap and at that very moment we were wallowing in it.
Right. So River Cottage is a do-it-yourself spa break as well.
Things to see near Riverside Cottage
Another day. A snow shower forecast. Slow start. Mrs Windsor’s toast still delicious. Extra slice, then off to Glen Muick.
Another quick flick through through the catalogue of memories – climbing Lochnagar as a teenager; big trips beyond the loch and high on to the plateau; eagles displaying, cross-country ski trips.
Nothing changes here in the wild glen – oh, except for the parking charge at the carpark. (We had no coins – so had to cross our fingers!)
Snow came through, red deer grazing down by the loch, distant eagles spotted, red grouse calling, Border terrier making the best of it. Weather improved, Lochnagar shook its rocky shoulders clear of cloud.
Later, still time to drive up the main valley of the Dee, and swing in by Royal Lochnagar Distillery – the main indoor tourist attraction close to Ballater.
Then just in time to catch the last of the sun before it was back to the cottage.
A Cosy and Comfortable Conclusion
Back in Ballater, we really appreciated the wall of warmth as we opened the door – though it looks traditional the cottage has been renewed and insulated to the very highest standards. Cosy is an overused word but Riverside Cottage can give a working definition.
Cosy, in a sense, also describes Ballater. Folk are friendly and speak in the street to you. Shops are varied; likewise eating and drinking options; art galleries are a speciality and there is even an antique shop, housed in a 1930s former cinema.
Next day, our visit was over. We packed and reluctantly headed homeward. Maybe we were glowing from the immersion in the waters of Deeside. Maybe we just enjoyed the cossetting and relaxing ambience of Riverside Cottage – actually, no question of that.
Yeah, we’d go back – and in any month. We took a wee chance with November but it all paid off.
Riverside Cottage is waiting to welcome you too – at any time of year. Take a look at their website.
For more about Deeside and things to do, follow the link.