We drove up to the Highlands to the Hilton Craigendarroch in Ballater. We were a little bit unsure of booking rooms in a Hilton and were pleasantly surprised to find that while it might be owned by an American company, it still felt decidedly Scottish. The old part of the hotel was once the summer home of the Keiller family- the inventors of marmalade and maintains its 19th century charm. The new addition has been completely refurbished and you can sense the pride the staff has in the renovations. Since we were going in the off season, the rooms were an incredible deal.
If you are going up to the Highlands with kids old enough to complain about being bored by nothing but bucolic walks in the hills, this is the hotel for you. Gorgeous indoor pools, a snooker table, table tennis and squash court as well as several playgrounds and a dry ski slope will keep mutiny at bay. The included breakfast was one of the best we encountered- fresh mushrooms and tomatos, haggis, black pudding, fresh sausages, real eggs, potato scones, an assortment of breads and pastries, cereals, porridge (they even set out a flask of Drambuie for your porridge!), yogurts, juices, etc.
Every night, Mark's mom Jess would stay with Kitty after she went to sleep and Mark and I would slip down to the bar for an hour or so of adult time. If you pop into the bar and see a lovely Scottish woman with dark hair, bright eyes and a winning smile tending the bar be sure to tell Lillian we said hello. She made our stay at the hotel all the better with her sense of humor. She had just returned to Scotland after working the resorts of Spain for a few years and was lamenting the lack of sun. If you sail to the British Virgin Islands in a few years, keep an eye out for her. I have a feeling she will be there as quick as she can. Oh and she is 100% ready to crew- what could be better than a crew member who is not put off by the work involved in cruising? A crew member who can mix a darned fine cocktail, that's what.
We had intended to leave Kitty at the hotel with her Granny and head to Aviemore for a morning of skiing. Of course, the ways things happen for us we were treated to record high temperatures and no snow. We checked the ski site and saw that the funicular railway at Aviemore was open so we packed up the car with Kitty and Jess and drove for 2 hours to Aviemore. Once there we were of course greeted by rain and wind gusts of over 100 m.p.h. and a closed funicular railway. The only thing we saw in Aviemore was the public toilets at the train station and the shop at the base of the slope where we could purchase ski gear if we were so inclined. We live in the subtropics so were not so inclined, so after a cup of coffee and a bit of chasing the toddler around we headed back to the car. This is how Kitty entertained us in the car and I hope she never learns to say 'twinkle' properly.
Mark was kind enough to give into my sheep obsession and only once said "I've brought you to one of the most spectacular places on earth and you want to go play with sheep!". Yeah, but I really like sheep. Someday I will have a pet sheep and name her Agnes but until then I am forced to play with other peoples sheep. I am also obsessed with Highland cows (Heeland Coo!) and full credit to Mark to detouring an hour out of the way and getting lost on the way home in order for me to see some cows. That's love people.
The Highlands are absolutely beautiful- even in Feb. with no snow, no green and not a whole lot to do. I loved it. I could stay there for quite some time, but only if there are sheep to play with.