This Easter Sunday I faced the choice of cycling to Balmoral Castle or to Corgarff Castle. Everyone knows that Balmoral Castle is one of the homes of the British Royal Family and many people would love the chance to visit. Most people will not of heard of Corgarff Castle. Which would you choose?
If you were hoping to read all about Balmoral then I am sorry to disappoint you. I decided to go to the place that nobody has heard of. What persuaded me was this photograph:
Ever since I saw that photo I knew that I had to go to this place. The combination of a brilliant white castle and green and brown wild mountains captured my imagination. The castle is the only sign of human life for miles around and the remoteness appealed to my sense of adventure. The castle had been used as a barracks in the eighteenth century for Government troops and this is when the unique star shaped perimeter wall was added. The wall had slits for muskets to be fired out of.
I could not help but imagine a big screen film with red coat soldiers outnumbered by highlanders. The soldiers are trapped inside the castle with limited supplies and ammunition and desperately defending the perimeter wall with their muskets.
Back to real life. The castle was never actually attacked and was primarily used as a base for patrols that searched for local people wearing kilts (which had been made illegal) or apprehending smugglers.
I was staying in Ballater, Deeside. From here I cycled the 15 miles along the A939 to the castle. Despite being an A-road it was fairly light on traffic, but it has its fair share of hills. At the road's highest point there is barren moorland with hills like an unmixed cake mixture of swirling greys, greens, browns, pale yellow and aubergine.
The landscape is spectacular. It was quite tough cycling, but this made it even more worthwhile and special to arrive at Corgarff Castle.
You cannot drive or cycle right up to the castle entrance. There is a car park to leave your transportation so that you can walk up a steep path where you must watch out for the sheep droppings.
Inside the castle there is not that much to see and a 30 minute visit is easily enough time, but that is not the point. The magic of Corgarff is the location and imagining what it must have been like to be a soldier stationed here. Right at the top of the building the windows rattled in the wind and I imagined what it must have been like to be here in the depths of winter, miles and miles from the nearest town.
Corgarff Castle certainly lived up to the imaginings that the photo had conjured up. I was glad that I had chosen it over Balmoral. Do you think I made the right choice?
Morningside and The Grange are two of the wealthiest areas in Edinburgh and in Scotland. For those who have heard of Morningside but never been there they have a vague notion of poshness and big houses.
Nothing can prepare you for the extent of the grandness and elegance of the residential streets. There is street upon street upon street of large Victorian villas and neat rows of tenement houses with bay windows and perfect gardens. Every inch of the place would be enough to fill decades worth of Home and Garden magazines.
It is also a great area to go for a bike ride. The streets are quiet and remarkably traffic-free for a capital city. I am not that keen on city cycling because of the volumes of traffic, but this part of Edinburgh is some of the best urban cycling I have experienced. I could quite happily potter around on these streets for hours having a good look at the impressive buildings.
Starting point: Morningside Station
Although this is called Morningside Station and you will see it on bus timetables you cannot get a train here. There is no sign of an actual train station, but you will see train tracks. The station closed in 1962, but the line is still used by freight trains.
If you are travelling to Edinburgh by train one of the best ways to get to Morningside that avoids heavy traffic is from Haymarket Station. I have described this route in my guide: I've cycled and gone to cake heaven.
Adjacent to the station there is a rectangular grassy area that blooms every spring with blue and white crocuses. It is a stunning display and I love seeing it for the few short weeks that it appears.
From here you can access Nile Grove and this takes you away from the bustle of Morningside Road onto the network of quiet residential streets.
It is really up to you where you go from here. I just cycled around randomly, turning down streets that looked interesting. You will find mostly flat and wide streets that make for very easy cycling.
You will pass some magnificent properties as you explore the area. The buildings are all different with interesting architectural features. It is a refreshing change to modern housing estates where everything looks the same.
You will also have some views of Blackford Hill (164 metres) which is a great place to go walking. The views of the city from the top are something to remember.
Some streets have the characteristic rows of handsome tenements with immaculately groomed hedges and neat gardens.
At some point you are bound to come across Astley Ainslie Hospital. The peaceful wooded grounds are great for a spin with four mansion houses to look out for. The hospital specialises in rehabilitation for patients with conditions such as stroke and brain injury and these quiet surroundings seem the ideal place for recovery.
If you are looking for coffee or lunch after your cycle then you are spoiled for choice as Morningside Road is crammed with cafes. My personal favourite is Falko Konditormeister, located in Bruntsfield, a German bakery with the best cakes in Edinburgh. Try the Sachertorte- it is chocolate bliss.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.