The first inkling that something was up was when a brand new Landrover Discovery pulled into the grass area beside the lodge, and three burly gentlemen stepped out of the vehicle in a very professional manner. They took a quick look round before unlocking the side entrance, and started taking some monogrammed boxes into the interior. Even then, my sister and I didn’t think much of it, though I did take the opportunity to fetch some water from the river, so I could get a nosy. By this time the shutters had been opened, and I was able to make out three silver candle sticks on a long antique looking dinner table, as well as all the accoutrements you would expect to find in an upmarket country hotel. It was only when one of the smartly dressed figures made their way over and knocked on the door, that we really starting thinking that this wasn’t going to be the average bothy evening. He very affably struck up conversation about what exactly a bothy was as he said he had never been in one, and stepped inside to satisfy his curiosity. He proceeded to enquire whether we were staying the night, and then causally mentioned that a small party of diners was going to roll up in the next hour or so. He asked us if we would be discrete, and if possible remain in the bothy until the event was over, and I remained just cool enough not to ask who exactly was going to turn up.
Within forty five minutes some staff arrived, and proceeded to fire up a half cut BBQ barrel, and as we spied through the small bothy door windows, a figure that looked surprisingly like Prince Philip started fiddling about with the coals. And then we had the dawning realisation that it actually was Prince Philip, looking very sprightly for his ninety-odds years, and we observed that even the royals get midged along with the rest of us. A convoy of Range Rovers soon rumbled up the track, parked up by the side entrance, and out popped Queenie herself along with a small entourage of what must have been great grand children. Zara Phillips and a still very thickset Mike Tindall were also in attendance, though I didn’t recognise anybody else.
We were very comfortable by the newly resident stove, and did try not to get too preoccupied by our nearby guests, but we couldn’t resist getting up every once in a while and peeking over to see what was happening on what I began referring to as ‘Royal TV’. My bladder was also not quite as disciplined as it might usually have been, and I crept round to the back of the bothy a number of times, to relieve myself in the dunnie. It was past ten thirty when the royal party finally left for Balmoral, and we did get a final view of Her Majesty as she bustled back into the royal carriage. And although my rather optimistic wish that she would come over and check out the new renovations to the bothy didn’t come to pass, I now at least have the claim to fame of being one of the few lesser mortals who have seen her do a five point turn.
After a sound sleep we headed back down the hill and couldn’t resist having a coffee in The Bothy at Ballater, along with a wonderful cheese scone, which I had been dreaming of all morning after burning the porridge. I had a plan to scoot round to Loch Muick before returning back to Edinburgh, checking out the bothy at the back of Glas Allt Shiel Lodge, and for absolute completeness, the start of the track up to Shielin of Mark. A father and son were also having drinks in the cafe, and I couldn’t help overhearing them having a protracted conservation with the two women serving behind the counter. They had walked from Aberdeen along the Dee, and were wondering how to proceed west for the next few days of their trip. I didn’t exactly go over with my bothy man cape, but I couldn’t help myself sidling over to join in the discussion, and in the end we actually give the enthusiastic team a lift to the Loch Muick car park, and pointed them in the direction of Glas Allt Shiel. A good deed for the day, and although they scampered ahead, we had lunch together in the rather strange set up that is the bothy, which is an outbuilding at the back of the lodge, stuck down a wee covered corridor.
As we were walking along the track round the loch, a familiar Landrover Discovery came up behind us, and I realised immediately that it was the same security guys from the night before. I gave them a nod, and they actually stopped, wound down the window, and my affable friend thanked us for being so discrete the night before. I did admit that I had popped out a couple of times for necessities sake, and he did reply rather menacingly in its calmness, ‘yes I know, we saw you’.
It emerged over sandwiches that the son was mad keen on Bear Gryllis, and that they didn’t have a tent or even sleeping bags! Hardcore indeed, and I was relieved that I had recommended going on over the hill to Gelder Shiel, where we had left some coal and firewood. Emails swapped, I promised to send them a couple of photos as their camera had already bit the dust, though I can confirm that I did hold back from taking a pap shot of the royals. It was enough to see them relaxed and informal without getting sucked into their celebrity. And in hindsight I don’t think the heavies would have been much amused.