Coordinates: 57° 08 56'N and 2° 05 24’W
Weather: hot at first, but clouded over and cool later
The last day of the voyage started with bright sunshine and the promise of even more (which was fulfilled). The ship was tied up as close to the coach pick-up point as was possible without actually getting out of the water, which made for a pleasant start.
There were two options today: a half-day tour to Haddo House or a full day trip to Crathes Castle and Pitmeddon Gardens. Most people opted for the latter although the Haddo House group thoroughly enjoyed themselves (except for one comment that the house seemed to have rather a lot of pictures of dead people).
It took us about 45 minutes to get to Crathes in the company of our local guides, one of whom was so inaccurate on historical matters, it was almost an art form. I think we were all delighted by the castle, not least by the welcome: they had opened it early especially so that we could take more time and allowed us to take photographs inside, which is normally banned.
The tower house, as the castle is called, was full of quirks such as the spiral staircases with trip steps to confound any enemy and the painted ceilings and beams. Given that the artwork had been done well after the Reformation, it took a somewhat moral tone with admonitions about living a good life – not unusual for the period. There were also the Nine Nobles in all their painted glory, the great heroes of the past also being a popular theme in the late sixteenth century.
After time in the house, garden enthusiasts went off to inspect the topiary, which was on a grand scale, whilst I went to check on the standard of tea (always so important to validate these things).
Between visits, we had an excellent lunch at the Argyll Hotel in their banqueting rooms. There was quite a spread at the buffet, which I thought no one would want as we are not exactly being starved on board! On the contrary … the group tucked in with relish (literally).
It took about an hour to get to Pitmeddon Garden, which is not to my taste and indeed, not to many of the guests either, although we all agreed we wouldn’t have missed it. It’s a parterre, comprising six gigantic squares in which very low hedges have been extensively trimmed and clipped to reproduce (for instance) the family coat of arms. It gave an overwhelming impression of obsession and over-controlling of nature, but was also fascinating. It was not something any of us thought we’d go home and try for ourselves, but it certainly generated debate, albeit mainly about just how fixated do you have to be to want such a thing. The tea was good and the staff had gone to some trouble to make sure that we could get served quickly. They also sell fantastic chocolate there.
In the evening we all enjoyed the final photo presentation put together by Richard Sidey – some fabulous pictures of wildlife and flowers amongst pictures of us that perhaps we’d rather not see. (Why do I always look like a shot crow on a fence when it rains? Rhetorical question!) Our last evening together passed quickly but happily – as has done the entire voyage.