Within a 3-hour drive of Edinburgh, you can be amongst some of the most breath-taking scenery in the world.
Mid-Scotland is altogether too prosaic a title for all that lies south of the Great Glen and north of the Forth-Clyde basin. The grandeur of its scenery and the rich embroidery that history has stitched into its towns calls for some more resounding description. Grampians are the mountains but Grampian is the new name for the old county of Aberdeenshire and its near neighbours.
The county of Argyll has also been enlarged and renamed Strathclyde. Few welcomed the changes so there can be no harm in ignoring them when it is convenient. ‘From Grampian to Argyll and the Isles’ is one description which, while not strictly conformist, does sound like the clash of claymore and the shout of clansmen that once echoed from one end to another of these lovely but turbulent valleys and hills.
In Grampian, or more specifically, in Aberdeenshire, the Spey, the Don and the Dee fan out to carry the melting snows of the Cairngorms through some of Scotland’s most lyrical mountain and forest scenery to the shores of the moody North Sea.
Between their estuaries, around the Buchan coast, there is revived seaward activity at the fishing ports of Buckie, Banff, Rosehearty, Fraserburgh and Peterhead.
While at Cruden Bay the cause of all the activity – North Sea oil from BP’s Forties Field – made its landfall to the south of the long, sandy bay by the famous golf links. That was long after the 20th Earl of Erroll sold Slains Castle (or more accurately, New Slains Castle), pictured above.
From Aberdeen come rumours of scenes reminiscent of the California gold rush, but it is hard to believe that sturdy, steady, granite-grey Aberdeen could ever be deeply changed by anything quite as transient as an oil boom.
Inland, at any rate, the Dee still shimmers over the rocks at Braemar and Balmoral, hiding the salmon from the wading fisherman just as the heather on the moors above hides the grouse and the pine forests the deer.
Westward in the Cairngorm mountains, Aviemore longs for a hard bright winter to set its ski slopes alive after the summer climbers have gone.
Further south the Grampian valleys allow the rivers to widen into long, narrow lochs. Seen from the surrounding hillsides the valleys cradle them like strips of molten silver, such as this picture of Loch Garry.
From an elevated viewpoint between Pitlochry and Kinloch Rannoch, the ‘Queen’s View’ down Loch Tummel must be the finest in the whole of Scotland – at least Queen Victoria thought so and, understandably, the Scots were very quick to broadcast her enthusiasm.
The river Tummel joins the Tay below Pitlochry and flows on to Perth to form the wide Tay estuary which separates Perth and Dundee from Fife. It is here, at the Linn of Tummel, just before the confluence of the River Tummel and River Garry, that the Tummel is most spectacular, as it powers its way through the rocks.
This estuary is crossed by two famous bridges: the railway bridge which replaced the notorious ‘disaster’ bridge opened in 1878 and blown down in a gale the following year with the loss of 75 lives, and the modem road bridge, opened in 1966, to replace the congested but well-loved ferry.