We were very pleased to return our campervan today and return home to hot water and flushing toilets. I’ve realised that those old VW campervans are just for young, cool people who can defy their natural biology by not producing any poo. Ben and I both have war wounds. Ben for hitting his head on the roof a few too many times:
My war wound is from hitting my shin on the tow bar. Why that thing even has a tow bar is beyond me. It can barely get itself up hills let alone something else towed behind.
Last night we slept in this field in Braemar.
We decided not to return to the carpark at Glenshee because it was so cold and it was definitely warmer in Braemar last night. Fortunately there were lots of portaloos left from The Gathering so we drove Fergus to the nearest one in the field and it wasn’t so far to go to the toilet in the night.
Our main purpose in going to Braemar was for the annual gathering which was fantastic. Once a year more than 15,000 people, including the Queen, descend on Braemar for their annual highland games This has been happening since 1832. The Queen attends every year just for one hour from 3pm-4pm and members of the Royal family have attended regularly since 1848. You have to book accommodation for this event a long way in advance because the village is normally home to just a thousand people and so there is a very limited number of beds. Everything was fully booked a long time ago, including tent pitches at the local campsite.
The games themselves are a mix of events including traditional things like caber tossing and hammer throwing. There were also running races, traditional highland dancing, tug of war, and sack races which both children got to compete in. There were more men in skirts than at a Mardis Gras and bagpipes playing in every corner.
I had never seen caber tossing before and it’s an amazing spectacle. I’m sure they are not really humans throwing them. The caber is basically a tree trunk which the contestant has to run with and then throw so that it flips over. The tall pole in this next photo is the caber.
I took a short video of someone tossing the caber. Do not try this at home.
For those less interested in the events there was a gin and whisky tent which was packed by the end of the day. I got this next photo early in the day:
The kids had their own tug of war:
We ate lunch under some trees.
The Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, and Princess Ann arrived at 3pm.
The highlight of the day was that the children got to compete in a sack race in front of the Queen! Ben and I also went onto the field to help them and cheer them on.
It was a handicap race which meant that as one of the oldest children Daniel had to start from way, way back. He bounced along so fast and overtook a heap of kids but didn’t place unfortunately. Elizabeth started near the front and went so fast that she fell over!
Just before the race I turned around and took this photo of the Queen from the field. I felt like the paparazzi. You can’t really see her in the photo. I should have zoomed in but she’s seated right in the centre in that little cottage in the middle of the photo.
Then at 4pm the Royal family departed.
Later that evening when everyone had left we went and walked around the park and I took a close-up photo of the little cottage the Royal family sits in. It’s a very cute and modest timber cottage. There’s nothing lavish about it but it was decorated superbly, with the loveliest heather around the doorway and the most spectacular living green roof I have ever seen.
If the Queen didn’t attend the Braemar games I think the turnout would be much smaller. I realise the Royal family is very costly to maintain and they arrived in a very expensive motorcade but the tourism dollars they bring to this region must be enormous. I wonder whether Queen Elizabeth’s successor will continue to support the event? I hope so.
Elizabeth has been learning highland dancing at school and put on a show for us in the evening.
There are a couple of notable things that stand out to me after this event. I heard there were around 21,000 people there and when we walked around the grounds later in the evening there wasn’t all that much litter. Often after events like these there’s litter scattered everywhere and while there was a bit, it wasn’t all that much.
Ben also noted that there was no security at all. At least, none that we could see or that affected our enjoyment of the event. Often big events like this have security patrolling around and x-ray machines and bag checking. There was nothing like that at all and indeed we went out onto the field right in front of the Queen’s cottage and Ben had his backpack on his back. He could have concealed a weapon easily inside. No-one checked our bags or anything. That makes me so happy. Our friends told us there would have likely been snipers stationed around the place ready to spring into action at the first sign of trouble but we never saw anyone like that and there was no trouble at all.
There was lots of merry singing into the night and bagpipes. I got a bit sick of the bagpipes by the end of the day.
Despite our troubles with the campervan we had an amazing weekend in Braemar. I love that little village. I eventually became a bit more confident driving Fergus and, although his top speed was 45 miles/hour, at least we had wonderful views out the window.
We weren’t sure what to put in the visitor book for Fergus because we really did not enjoy the VW campervan. However Ben, the genius, wrote something entirely truthful and not unkind.