Amazingly we left Cromarty just after 9am because we wanted to get to the Scottish Dolphin Centre on the coast at Spey Bay by 11am. Each hour on the hour one of the staff count dolphins and you can talk with them about their work. We arrived just in time and ventured out into the cold wind. We did see dolphins but only with binoculars. How lucky we were to stay near Chanory Point the week before, to see the dolphins up close. Evidently the point is the best location for dolphin watching in the UK. After about an hour, including the time for a coffee and a scone, we went on our way toward Aberdeen and then on to Stonehaven. Our next cottage was in the country about 15 miles west of Stonehaven, a few miles away from the village of Auchenblae.

Here are photos from the drive to our rural cottage:

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… and the forest setting where the cottage was:

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Sunday we took our time getting up and had a late breakfast then drove out to Johnshaven, a coastal village. The kids loved walking around the rocks, stones, mud, sand of the harbour floor when the tide was out … I was worried that the tide might come in fast …

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Then we drove along the coast north to Crawton in an attempt to see some bird life of the cliffs. Well we certainly saw cliff tops but sadly not much in the way of birds due to the mist all around the cliff and also our unwillingness to go too close to the edges.

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Despite it raining off and on during Tuesday morning we had an important date with the Post Shop after lunch. I had spent several hours the night before weighting out things to post home to New Zealand because I doubted we would be able to fit everything back into our packs and carry-on cases if I didn’t shed the load. Amazingly we were able to ship off two boxes and one plastic parcel bag each with just under 2 kg in them. Unfortunately the contents mainly consisted of toys the kids had acquired in our travels so now they feel justified to nag us to go into every toy shop they see! Never mind that though, the total of 6 kg less stuff will help us with our flights to Paris in a few weeks’ time. After posting the kids treasures away we went into Stonehaven central town to find a charity shop to give another bag of clothes to. Just as we had walked about two blocks from the car the rain began pouring down on us. Even with our umbrellas up were getting very wet. All this just to give away a bag of clothes – we must be crazy! We tried to take shelter in a coffee shop but we were turned away, not because we were wet but because there were no tables left unoccupied and we didn’t want to sit outside in the rain! On the bright side the rain did show us that both Karen and Daniel’s shoes were leaking and had slip soles and Amy’s were falling apart on the sides.

The next day while Karen home-schooled the kids I drove around the neighbourhood searching for better internet coverage. I came home frustrated after about half an hour and not long later I convinced Karen that we should head into Aberdeen before it started raining again. The plan was to go shopping for new shoes for Karen and the kids, a new journal and a watch battery for Daniel, and new socks for us all. After that we were going to go ice skating but in the end it took us so long to shop that we were too tired to go ice skating much to Amy’s disappointment but we did go in to check it out and also next door to the swimming pool centre. These activities were rescheduled to Friday. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing the Aberdeen central city and hoped we would return later in the week.

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The day finally arrived when Karen could fulfil her lifelong dream of going to the Highland Games event! Okay, maybe it was that big a deal to her but she did insist that we go and believe it or not the one and a half hour trip each way was worth it. Each year, on the second Thursday of August, the Ballater Highland Games are held. Evidently the Queen often attends as usually at this time of the year she is staying at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Alas, the Queen did not grace us with her presence – maybe she is busy with the Olympics Games.

We arrived around lunch time and after watching post throwing we found seats in front of the 100 yard track near the Piping competitions, the long jump pit, and to the side of the dancing stage.

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The track events took place in front of us so we had a great view of them. Amy decided she would run in a girls’ race for 8 – 11 year olds so Karen waited with her in the hot sun at the starting point.

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Yes surprisingly it was a hot sunny afternoon, perhaps the best yet for us in Scotland. I hadn’t managed to go for my usual weekly run so convinced myself to enter a couple of races as well. The first was a 220 yards race in which I didn’t do too bad for the first 100 yards and then I finished utterly stuffed about mid-way in the group. The other run was a 440 yards which I knew from the start that I would finish in last place as I decided not to run flat out but just to make sure I finished the race. As the rest of the competitors finished about an hour before me I was encouraged along by the spectators and the odd person telling me to get off the track so the next race could begin (joking here – honestly).

Here you can just see me – not at the back …

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Here I am the last runner!

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While I recovered Karen took the kids to the “Fun Fair” area and I had a lovely talk with an Australian lady who was travelling around Scotland and France for a few weeks. I found out that Australians actually export hay to Japan!

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Friday was another lovely sunny day so mid-day we drove back to Aberdeen. I would love to have spent it along the beach front drinking coffee however the kids had other activities in mind. First we went ice skating – not sport for old people like myself. I have to admit being pleased with myself only falling flat over once but then again I kept my friendly plastic cone with me at all times to give me extra balance when I needed it.

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Amy and Daniel started the session using a cone but by the end of it they were skating around without it. I was proud of Amy who must have fallen over a dozen times, several of those were painful experiences, yet she got up again and kept going without a tear. She has several mighty bruises and one cut from falling on her hip. Karen, well I better not talk about her but she made progress in the end.

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After ice skating we went next door to the indoor swimming pool to recover. Amy and Karen enjoyed racing down the water slides whereas Daniel and I were more sensible in the wave pool. The only bad aspect to my day was that by the time we got out around 5:30pm the café had closed and I couldn’t buy a coffee.

Aberdeen actually has a nice beach front:

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We enjoyed staying in the Auchenblae countryside and I definitely would like to come back and spend more time in Aberdeen. Funny all those years ago on our OE we didn’t think highly of Aberdeen but now after a quick look around I think it has much to offer.

(Week 25: Saturday 4 August – Saturday 11 August 2012)