Saturday morning, didn't want to get up, weather was howling outside, and snowing. Opted to go to Mintlaw and do some Plus1 arrangements instead of Cubbies Counties, followed by a spot of work. Sunday morning, didn't want to get up, but this time I could hear birdies tweeting outside my window. Just to really confuse me, we had to put the clocks forward an hour on Saturday night / Sunday morning, and I wish I'd done them all before going to bed, as waking up and looking at three different time zones is a tad perplexing. Still, turned out to be a braw morning so I leaped up and out, gave Cubbie some breakfast, hunted high and low for my thermal top, still can't find it, I expect its the same little elf who hides Cubbie's key from time to time... My original plans for a trip to MacDuff to go a fishin' were scuppered as all the small boats were laid up due to the rough weather that had been forecast, then Slim suggested meeting the Harbour Master for a chat but he wasn't available on a Sunday, so instead, I had it in my head to go to Tomintoul. That's more or less on the southern tip of Banffshire, and is in the Cairngorm mountain range, and here's a GBC fact for you, it is the highest village in the Highlands. No idea what time I got away, but I think it must have been shortly before 11am. Cubbie was purring and I promised myself I wouldn't hurry, wouldn't just stick to roads that I know and I would not turn back if I made a wrong turn, just follow the road and see where it goes.
All was going well, although I was roasting in my two thick tee shirts, a long sleeved zippy top, a fleecy jumper and of course my big thick winter jacket, oh, and my padded and lined waterproof troos, but keeping on the move the cool breeze meant that the temperature just right. Out to Rothienorman, back roads to Insch, then a different route to the way I'd normally go to Alford - but only because I missed the turning...still...what did I say about not turning back? I'm glad I didn't, as I stopped to take a photo of the Dunnydeer monument and spied some reindeer grazing on the hillside. Carried on to Mossat, didn't stop at the tea room though I was tempted, but I thought I'd made enough stops for photos and I wasn't even in Banffshire yet. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure where the boundary between Aberdeenshire and Banffshire is, but who cares, I've done both now so it doesn't really matter if the lines are a bit blurry! The countryside around Strathdon is simply glorious, bright spring sunshine, blue skies, little baby lambies hopping and bouncing in grassy parks with daffodils on the verges, and to cap it all, Cubbie was popping along quite happily. Stopped for a few pictures of the small church in the village, then couldn't resist stopping just yards up the road to pose next to the Lost signpost - you wouldn't believe me if said I wasn't really lost...see, I'd remembered to take a map with me this time. The road climbs out of Strathdon and crosses the River Don some three times in fewer miles than that, on it's way from Druim na Feithe through many, many miles of vastly changing landscape to it's end in Aberdeen. It's hard to imagine that you're riding along quite happily in the sun, then just around a bend you're confronted with SNOW.
Yup, everywhere. In every direction. I'd branched off of the A944 and onto the Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road, a route that is notorious for being blocked more often than not in the winter. But this isn't winter! This is the end of March. And there had been no warning of snow on the travel / weather forecast for today. Heck. Still, it made for good pictures, and I had seen the snowy tips of the mountains in the distance when I'd left home a couple of hours previously. The road rises suddenly and almost vertically out of Cock Bridge, and up through the snow gates (which luckily were open!) around a series of sharp bends. There was about a foot of the white stuff on the verge, and a snow plough was turning at the top of the hill. I carried on. The weather had suddenly changed to dark and dramatic, wild and windy, and I was glad to be wearing so many layers. Ignoring the fact that the plough had tried to run me over, I carried on, cautiously; there hadn't been much traffic around all day, but now there seemed even less. All of a sudden over the crest of a hill, Cubbie was confronted with a line of stationary traffic. I waited a while to see what the situation was, and in the distance I could make out flashing blue lights and more cars queueing on the opposite hillside. It was plain to see that we were going nowhere for a while, as the snow plough came roaring up behind us and went past to clear the section of road that was blocked by the drifting snow. Two policeman were controlling the traffic, letting a couple of cars through at a time, talking to the drivers and making sure they knew how to handle the situation. I decided against filtering to the front and instead took the opportunity to get some more photos. After about 15mins it was my turn, and the copper came up and had a chat. Was I sure I could manage? Did I really want to risk it? It was quite deep and there was another patch of snow on the other side... I simply said, this is Cubbie, and we're going through! Ok, well, maybe I didn't really but that's what I wanted to say. He signalled to go, so I kicked. Gracious, my bike won't start, Officer. Another tickle and another kick and still nothing. Great. He let a car go first, and by the time it was away Cubbie was fired up and ready to go. Second gear all the way and it was easy. Over the top of the opposite hill and to my relief, the Lecht Ski Centre appeared in the middle of the road. By the time I found a space in the packed car park I was shaking, my arms were weak and it was as much as I could do to walk to the cafe. It's one thing riding Cubbie down our lane in the snow, but with two policemen watching - one of whom was a biker, and a row of car drivers to hold up if I did anything stupid, the adrenaline was pumping. Time for a cold hot dog and a photo of the Banffshire sign. Phew.
You really can't imagine the scenery on the other side unless you've been up there. The blue sky was back, the water was shining with melted snow, and the fields all around were still covered in perfect powdery crispness. Amazing. I don't often get gushy about this sort of stuff but this was a one in a million moment that I doubt I'll ever be able to do again. I was so impressed that I'd put the video function of my camera on before I set off, but by the time the dratted bike started it had switched itself off and I have no moving footage of the journey down the hill. Humbug. At the bottom, it was a quick spin around Tomintoul; my goal, my aim for the day had been achieved. Wasn't too sure about fuel, but it was only 18 miles to Dufftown. The roads were great again, no snow to be seen anywhere, no cars either, saw two or three bikes though, braving what was now a bit of a chilly afternoon. Dufftown was founded in 1817, although the Picts were there long before that. Whisky is a big part of the area, with heaps of distilleries nestling around every bend (Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Glendullan being some of the names you might recognise) and a whisky shop in the town that stocks hundreds of single malts. Nice clock tower too. After that, it was on to Keith on the small side roads, a quick stop at a small non-existent railway station, waved at a couple of pocket rocket riders in town, before heading out to Rothiemay, Bridge of Marnoch, Foggie and then home. Some six hours and about 150 miles later, that was another county ticked off, and Cubbie only needed one oil top up about half way round - that stuff Kawa used to seal the wotsit certainly worked.
That's yer lot, I'm no' doing the pictures tonight, it's past my bedtime. Hope you enjoy the read, and don't forget, anyone can post a comment, just click on "COMMENT" and fill the boxes in - I'll be checking in the morning.
PS, told you there's snow on them there 'ills.