RNAW Almondbank

In my last two summers as a schoolboy and countless Saturday mornings I worked in an antique shop. That’s sounds very grand. A secondhand junk shop is probably nearer the mark. More upmarket than Steptoe. Definitely no horse. House clearances were the main business with real antiques being sold in the trade and scrap to dealers. George was a real character, the Arthur Daley of Nottingham. He taught me a lot and I learned to love rummaging through decaying buildings and boxes of forgotten objects.

Heading south we stayed for the night on a small site at Almondbank near Perth. We could see from the map it was next to a complex of six large rectangular buildings. Farming sheds I surmised. In the morning, a rather wet one I ventured down to the River Almond with the dog. It turns out the buildings were part of RNAW Almondbank, the RNAW standing for Royal Naval Aircraft Workshops. Established in 1941 this site was one of seven along the banks of the River Almond. Aircraft from carriers under refit in Rosyth on the Forth were transported here for serving and storage. Helicopters were flown in but aircraft were transported by road. They had such names as Sea Venom, Sea Hawk and Sea Vixen. The site was last used in the 1970s

Several of the old administration and service buildings remain in various states of decay. On this site the hangers have been demolished leaving the large concrete floors. Some replaced by modern warehouses. A lot of ground works remain, steps and paths, slowly being reclaimed by nature. Secluded and surrounded by the wooded banks of the River Almond this must be a prime brownfield site. The other sites have found uses. One is an industrial estate, another used for housing, others farming. One still has some connection with the aviation industry being occupied by Vector Aerospace

So an hour spent reliving my youth before breakfast. Then the journey south continued in incessant rain and high winds.

Creag Choinnich

Blue skies breaking through the overnight valley mists. Creag Choinnich overlooks Braemar. It’s a tiny hill, a mere 538 m high. The name means either the mossy crag or Kenneth’s crag, but which is beyond my understanding of the Gaelic. What Creag Choinnich lacks in height though it gains in history. It is reputed to have the oldest hill race dating back to 1064. That’s two years before William the Bastard landed at Hastings. King Malcolm II wanted the best runner to deliver his despatches, so he organised a race from Braemar Castle up Creag Choinnich and back. A MacGregor was the first man back winning himself a sword and baldric, and a purse of gold.  A baldric is not an ancester of Blackadder’s servant but a sash to carry the sword. A modern race is held annually in June having been “resurrected” ten years or so ago.

Morrone Birkwood

Woke up to falling snow so took a trudge through Morrone Birkwood near Braemar. This National Nature Reserve is renown for its lime rich soil making it unique in the highlands. Downey birch trees dominate along with juniper, birk being the Scots for birch. In the summer lime loving plants with rare butterflies and an even rarer snail. In the winter though the woods were eerily silent except for a roe deer that bolted across the path.

Beinn a’Bhuird

I may well be off the mark here but after an evening pouring over maps I’ve come to the conclusion that the snow covered mountain just right of centre is the Munro Beinn a’Bhuird. The name comes from the Gaelic bòrd and translates as table hill. The 3km long summit has two tops. It looks as though the southern one is the higher but the north top is in fact the true summit at 1196m asl. The snow covering often persists all summer especially in the north facing corries and is known as the laird’s tablecloth. There is a legend that says if it disappears then the Farquharsons would lose their Invercauld estate which the family have owned since the 15th century.

The nearer hill on the right, across the Dee valley is the Corbett Carn na Drochaide or the hill of the bridge.

The photo was taken from near the summit of Morrone which at 859m is also a Corbett and translates as the big nose. The Ordnance Survey gives it an alternative name of Morven but as there are several Morven in Scotland I prefer Morrone.

Linn of Dee

Uisge Dhè, or to use its Anglicised name, the River Dee, flows for 87 miles from high in the Cairngorms down to the North Sea at Aberdeen. Just before Braemar, with 60 miles still to go to Aberdeen it would be wrong to describe it as the infant River Dee, more like a turbulent teenager, it torrents down a spectacular 330 yard rock gorge known as the Linn of Dee. Linn actually means a pool and there are many pools scoured out over the millennia by a vortex of swirling waters.


Glenshee, in February. It should be a biscuit tin snow covered scene. Just a few patches of  firn remain on the higher ground of Glas Maol. At the pass the ski centre looked forlorn, more drab and deserted than on a summer’s day.
Glas Maol is a 1068m high Munro. The glas element of the name is translated as a colour, a sort of greenish grey. Maol is more interesting, the same word is used to describe the baldness of a man. So a greenish grey bald hill is perhaps apt. However The hill earlier went by the name of A’Ghlas-Meall. Here meall is a lump or mound and is a name usually given to a hill overshadowed by higher neighbours.

The Fisherwives of St. Abbs

I don’t normally do public works of art, statues, sculptures and the like, some of which I find absolutely awful. But these statuettes overlooking St. Abbs harbour are tasteful and very moving. The small bronze figures, no more than six inches high, represent the families of three St. Abbs men, Charles Purves and brothers James and William Thorburn, forever looking out to sea for the return of their menfolk. The three men were lost at sea in the great storm of 1881, a storm which claimed the lives of a total of 189 fishermen from the small fishing villages dotted along this east coast of Scotland. The impact on the families and the villages, with the loss of so many breadwinners, is unimaginable.

St Abbs harbour dates from 1833 although fishing was carried out from here at the time of nearby Coldingham Priory which dates from the 11th century when Edgar, King of Scots granted the monks of Durham permission to build a priory. The village was originally known as Coldingham Shore, Coldingham being an anglicised form of Urbs Coludi.