Travel Blog by Prashanth M

Castles of Scotland

March 28, 2013 by Prashanth | 6 Comments

If you live in the UK for quite long time and don’t visit any castle, then it’s a unpardonable offense. Being someone who loves architecture and historical places, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to visit the castles around Scotland during my stay. I managed to pay visit to quite a few castles – couple of the prominent ones, few less known ones and one which I stumbled upon accidentally. Though I had a wish list to visit few more castles to visit, but managed to miss them. Here are top five castles that I visited, in the reverse order -

PAYANIGA - Castles of Scotland

5. Tolquhon Castle: I stumbled upon this Tolquhon castle (pronounced as ‘toh-hon’) when I was searching for a place to explore on my cycle over a weekend. Finally I ditched the idea of riding as my friends too got interested in visiting and we drove down to the castle. Constructed in 16th century, this small ruined castle is hidden within the countryside in Aberdeenshire. Though very close to Aberdeen, the castle is secluded and very less frequented by the visitors. With fields on all four sides, the view from the castle is eye soothing. And if you are in luck and visiting the place during harvest season of rapeseed plant, you are bound to be in the middle of yellow sea.

PAYANIGA - Castles of Scotland

4. Balmoral Castle: Constructed in 14th century, Balmoral Castle comes with a huge estate of close to 50,000 acres and is one of the residences of the British Royal Family. Situated on the banks of river Dee, the estate contains a wide variety of landscapes and well maintained flora. For someone who love long strolls or sitting by the riverside and have a leisurely time, Balmoral is the right place.

PAYANIGA - Castles of Scotland

3. Balvenie Castle: Though the name Balvenie is known to Scotch lovers, many might not know that it gets the name from Balvenie castle. It had snowed the previous night I visited. With everything in the vicinity painted white, the castle stood-out in the frame. Situated on the outskirts of Dufftown, it overshadows the Balvenie distillery and is neighbour of Glenfiddich, the world’s best-selling single malt. This is the place to enjoy the view of the castle with an 18 year old single malt to accompany.

PAYANIGA - Castles of Scotland

2. Dunnottar Castle: A castle which comes with a beautiful view. Situated on the outskirts of Stonehaven, is a ruined medieval fortress. With sea breeze caressing us, a day out on a sunny day is worth every second spent there.

PAYANIGA - Castles of Scotland

1. Urquhart Castle: Along with a wonderful view, this castle gets an upper hand with an added mystery of Nessie monster. Yet another ruined castle, was first built on the banks of Loch Ness in 13th century. With plenty of cruise services around, it makes a nice getaway spending time searching the mysterious Nessie monster.

Though most of the castles I visited dates back to medieval to 13th-14th century and ruined completely, they are very well maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. If someone wants to visit these castles, it is obvious that one ends up paying up entrance fee in most of these places. Better idea is buying the tickets to these castles online using a credit card which gives some discounts to the buyer.

Flying trains of Linlithgow

September 23, 2012 by Prashanth | 3 Comments

Time was close to midnight and still there was no sight of sleep despite being a long day. The day started at four in the morning at Coventry with a long six hours drive all the way up to Edinburgh. Since it was a holiday season, we ended up booking a B&B on the outskirts of Edinburgh – in Linlithgow. We reached our B&B around 9 in the evening after a day of roaming around in Edinburgh. Our hosts were waiting for us and they were even courteous to drive to the main road to take us to their house since the place was a bit difficult to find. (Our struggle and the funny incident that happened while we were searching for the B&B calls for a different post :)

PAYANIGA - Flying trains of LinlithgowB&B that we stayed with the bridge in the background

PAYANIGA - Flying trains of LinlithgowBridge which ferries the flying trains :)

Within few minutes I found myself lying on the bed staring out of the window. We were given rooms in the first floor of the house and outside the window was a clear blue sky with a silhouette of a bridge. With no sign of sleep, I took to the old game of counting sheep but decided to count vehicles plying on the bridge instead. I waited and waited for minutes with no sign of vehicles. And then all of a sudden there was a long stream of light passing on the bridge, as if like a meteor. It took me few seconds to realize that the bridge was a train bridge, not road bridge. It was a beautiful sight as if the train was flying with bright colours with a back drop of blue sky. For the rest of the night, I was back to my childhood days eagerly waiting for thee train to pass. And I was not disappointed.

A taste of Snow storm

July 27, 2012 by Prashanth | 4 Comments

PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm

“I’m disappointed that we were not air-lifted today”, someone in the group quipped while we were boarding the train back to Aberdeen at Inverness. Everyone laughed heartily on that comment and there was no sign of any disappointment, even though the two-day trip was cut short. Instead of disappointment, there was a sense of accomplishment of experiencing something of a lifetime. Our plan was to start on day one from Aberdeen and reach Aviemore by noon. Spend the rest of the day exploring Aviemore town roaming. And on the second day, take the bus up to Cairngorms mountain base station, then take the unique funicular rail to the peak. Then depending on one’s skill level go skiing, snow walking or just loiter around playing in the snow. After that come down to Aviemore and catch the 4.30 train back to Aberdeen. But plan remained as plan and except for reaching Aviemore on time on day one, nothing went as per the plan.

PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm
PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm

One of the challenges when travelling in a group is to make everyone arrive on time. And if that’s a cold January morning, it is much bigger challenge. Surprisingly all of us were 15 minute before the train departure time at Aberdeen rail station. (Probably our first clue about what to expect on the next two days!). Just as we settled down, the train started rolling towards Inverness – our first stop. We changed train to Aviemore at Inverness, and the scenery outside the window gradually started turning white (just the frost around Inverness) as the train rolled on westwards. We got down at Aviemore and there, snow welcomed us. Without wasting time we head out to catch up some lunch and decide on the plan next. While we were stuffing ourselves, the nature had its own plan. It started snowing heavily (our second clue) and only thing we could manage was to head towards Youth Hostel like a herd of sheep – with heads down. For rest of the afternoon and evening, we were confined to four walls of the youth hostel – watching the snow out of the window and we temporarily converted the youth hostel’s dining room as place for some games.

PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm

Next day morning looked promising with a bit of clear skies and no snow showers. We got ready quickly and there we were waiting for the bus to take us to the base station of Cairngorms mountains. We waited in the cold huddled in the lone bus shelter, as the scheduled time of bus passed by. 20 minutes later we go to know from couple of guys who were also waiting for the bus that if it gets this much delayed, that means there will be no bus. We quickly hailed two taxis to takes to our destination to the mountains. Half an hour later, we were excited at the prospect of honing our skiing skills at the peak but only to be welcomed by howling wind and plenty of snow. We were in for more disappointment as we learnt that the funicular train was cancelled due to heavy gale  up to speeds of 80 mile per hour at the peak. Not to be completely disappointed, we had our share of fun playing snowball, getting hit & wet. Tired and completely numb, as we huddled around the fire to get warmed inside Cas Bar,  we were in for another twist. Folks at the base station announced that they will be closing down and evacuating the station due to heavy gale picking up. With no means of transport to go back – no bus and taxis not coming back due to bad weather – we were completely stranded! As we took shelter from heavy snow and wind, moods varied in the group.

PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm

With 3 kids along with 14 adults, situation was quite tense. But thanks to the wonderful people of Cas Bar, they asked us to wait so that they can arrange to carry in their and other visitors cars. Kids and ladies went first and fifteen minutes later last five of us got in to the last vehicle going down to Aviemore. The snow storm was severe (though it may quite common for those people, it looked severe for us from the tropical countries). Visibility was very low due to wind and snow. It was white everywhere, and totally difficult to make out where is road. It took us close to an hour to cover a distance of 19 KMs to reach Aviemore. As we got down from the vehicle and looked back at the Cairngorm mountain, it looked as if it was a different mountain than the one we saw in the morning. The storm had completely changed the appearance of the mountain. When the group met again at the Aviemore train station, tension had long gone from everyone’s faces and there was a sense of accomplishment. With plans cut-short, we decided to take an earlier train instead. But there was more to the twists – all trains going towards Inverness were cancelled for the day due to gale and snow storm. But fortunately roads were open and we hailed the same two taxis that took us to the base station in the morning to drop us to Inverness.

PAYANIGA - A taste of Snow storm

We returned home half day early with nothing much going as per the plan. But with wonderful experience and plenty of stories to narrate for many days. Hope, I get to go back to Aviemore & Cairngorm mountain again and get to ride the funicular train.

So long, Aberdeen

May 12, 2012 by Prashanth | 6 Comments

PAYANIGA - So long, Aberdeen

The very first time I heard about Aberdeen was around July 2009. That was the time I was trying to settling into the fast and busy life of London. For someone like me who prefers a slow and peaceful small place, London was not a preferable choice. That meant browsing through google maps looking into different small places around UK. That’s when I first got to know about Aberdeen. Little did I know that, one and half year later I would be standing outside the Aberdeen airport on a cold winter evening waiting for a taxi. During the interview a month before, I was caught without any answer when my manager asked me, ‘Why of all the places are you coming here?’ referring to the cold weather which had gone down all the way to -16 degree C.

I was all eyes when the flight was landing in the Aberdeen airport, looking out for snow. Having missed snow previous winter, I was disappointed again. Within a month which had seen -16 degrees, all the snow was gone. Nevertheless, I managed to almost get stranded in a snow storm in Aviemore an year later. During these almost 500 days of my stay here, I visited quite a few interesting places, witnessed my first ever airshow, went on a short hike, visited plenty of castles.

After 16 months of my stay here, I flying back home. I am going to miss this place (not the weather though), friends, long walks along the river Don, getting fooled by daylight during summer thinking that its still 6PM eventhough time is past 10PM, the zombie walk back home from work in the dark during the winter days, get togethers with friends, traffic less roads and many more. With office located road across the runway, watching out of the window to see the flights taking off and landing will be missed the most. (Posts to follow on all these trips)

So long and thanks for all the fish.