Excuse me, miss, can I help you?
I knew I was in trouble by the tone of his voice, but I was buying time.
Um, no, actually, I don’t think so.
I answered meekly.
He came back with,
What are you doing, exactly?
Me: Well, we’re just walking down this road. (stating the obvious)
And, um we well, we were going to have a look at the castle.
Him: Excuse me, what did that sign say?
He said this while pointing back down the road towards a gate we had shimmied over. You could not actually see the gate from where we were standing though, because it was a mile and a half down the road. That’s how far we had been walking down a lane to have a gander at a castle.
Let me back up.
Before we met the self-appointed protector of the castle, who incidentally reminded me of Ricky Gervais in Night of the Museum, we had been walking.
Carol and Rhonda, my #SpeysideSistas, and I had set out from the small village of Tomintoul early that morning.
And even though we knew that Ballindalloch Castle was going to take us off course a bit, we were looking forward to making the detour for a couple of reasons.
Carol and Rhonda had yet to visit a proper Scottish castle on a grand old estate. We’d been to the castle ruin of Dunnottar the previous weekend, and it is gorgeous. But Ballindalloch is a castle that is still in tact, with furnishings and paintings and all the fixings. At least I think it is. I cannot say for certain since I have still never been inside of it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Secondly, we were looking forward to making it to Ballindalloch Castle because I had inquired ahead of time about their cafe hours and offerings. The castles around Scotland usually have tearooms that serve cakes and baked goods, also known as “fine pieces” in these parts. Ballindalloch even has one or two gluten free offerings in their cafe every day, a significant detail for one of our party.
So we had our sights set on reaching Ballindalloch Castle before closing time.
As we marched over hill and dale and came through several rainstorms, we were dreaming of a cuppa and a gluten free fine piece.
When we finally reached a sign for the castle that indicated that it was a mile further down the road (in the opposite direction from our night’s lodging), closing time was looming.
I remembered how many times I have taken someone to a castle just before closing time and been turned away because of forgetting an annoying little footnote at the bottom of many signs that reads:
“Last entry is one hour before closing.”
I warned the gals that we might not be able to tour the castle even if we arrived before the closing time. But we could still take pictures from the outside and have a piece of cake in the cafe.
So, on we walked.
Eventually, we came to the turn off of the main road for the castle.
Oops. Also, I forgot that often a castle’s driveway is about five miles long. So even though the sign read that the castle was just a mile away, well, that sign is for cars. And when you’re in a car, you don’t notice how long a driveway is like you do when you are on foot.
So we turned left onto the lane and pretty soon we came to a gate.
According to my watch, the castle was not yet actually closed. But apparently this place was a little hardcore on their “last entry” policy and had already closed the gate.
However, we were invested.
There was too much castle anticipation to turn around.
At this point, we just needed to see it.
So, we got ourselves around this little gate and headed on down the road.
The long road.
And like I said, we were about a mile and a half down this road before we were stopped by this guy:
Him: Excuse me, WHAT DID THAT SIGN SAY?
Me: What sign?
Him: THE SIGN ON THE GATE???
Me: Oh, that sign. Oh right. Um, I think it said that the castle was closed. (I’m really clever on the spot.)
Him: And what did it say underneath that?
Him: It said NO ACCESS. That gate is there for a reason. We have to be really careful about security.
I should mention at this point that this man had stopped all three of us, but Carol and Rhonda had been slowly backing away from the conversation and were now standing a good ten feet away from me, not saying a word. In retrospect I am wondering if somehow they thought they could disassociate themselves from me if I were to be collected for castle trespassing.
Me: I’m sorry sir, we have been walking all day and we knew we were too late to actually tour the castle, but we were just hoping to…
Him: (interrupting) We have to be really careful about security! People cannot just walk down this road.
Me: (confused, picking up where I left off) …so we’re walking the Speyside Way this week and we are staying in the little town down the road tonight…
Him: (interrupting again) Where are you staying?
Me: (starting to dig in my backpack for my booking reference): Um, just a minute.
Him: Auch, it doesn’t matter. We just have to be really careful of security. (I swear he kept saying this over and over again.)
Me: Right, well, we are about to walk to the place where we are staying tonight and honestly, we were just hoping to have a quick look at the castle beforehand.
Him: (eyes rolling) Well, if you just continue a little of the way down this road, I suppose you may have a quick look at the castle. But we have to be really careful about security, so if anyone stops you, you may tell them that I approved of it. Then you really need to be on your way.
Me: Oh, thank you so much. We’ll go very quickly, I promise.
Then he got in his car and drove away. We managed to contain our fits of giggles until he was out of sight.
Then we continued down to the castle.
We were so nervous by this point that we were practically whispering as we walked around the castle.
We found a bench to sit down on and I pulled out a thermos of tea and some biscuits, making good on my promise that we would have tea at the castle.
Well, girls, Welcome to Scotland.
After a while, in spite of blue skies, it started to rain, so we pulled ourselves up and headed back up the lane.
We walked for several more miles and through a terrible hailstorm before we came to the end of our day.