Gayle thought she knew all about Haddo Country Park, until she embarked on a guided tour round it on a Segway.
Haddo House is a place I’ve known and loved since I was a wee girl, growing up half-an-hour from the impressive stately home.
Its country park, with its stunning landscape of water, trees, fields, gardens and wildflower meadows, is fantastic for walking and I’ve enjoyed a few rides around it on horseback, too.
Until last week, I thought I knew Haddo inside out. How wrong I was.
I was invited by tour company Wheelie Fun to explore the extensive park on one of their Segways, with owners Claire and Merv Christie promising I would discover all sorts of “secrets” and little-known historic facts about Haddo.
The first surprise was the actual Segway.
Having been on a couple of these self-balancing scooters in the past – at Crieff Hydro and along the road at Lochter Activity Centre near Oldmeldrum – I was expecting handlebars.
Claire and Merv reckon that the versions without handlebars, known as “powered transporters”, are much more exciting.
The steering bar is controlled by your knees and your hands are free, allowing you to take photos and videos. Nobody is allowed to zip off until they’ve had a safety induction and brief “training” session.
The first step is, quite simply, to step on.
“Be committed and confident – go for it,” encourages Claire.
After a few wobbles and a near fall (Segways automatically try to balance themselves so it’s not a great idea to step on with one foot and hang around), I master the act of getting on without disaster.
I then practise turning with my knees, going forwards and reversing. It’s all about weight distribution – to go forwards, you push with your toes; to reverse, you put weight on to your heels.
Whatever you do, don’t hunch.
“Stand like a soldier!” is Merv’s advice.
And, as Claire reassures me: “You’re in full control of the Segway; it’s not in control of you.”
Once I’m deemed fit and ready, we head off into the park.
There are wee “challenges” along the way (speed bumps, tree roots and bumpy ground) but generally, we’re on smooth, even surfaces.
As we ride, Merv plays an audio-guide about the landmarks we pass including, of course, Haddo House itself, which was built in 1732 and designed by celebrated architect William Adam.
In the late 19th Century, farmland surrounding Haddo was landscaped by the 4th Earl of Aberdeen. This involved planting thousands of trees, creating artificial lakes and building monuments.
Stopping for pictures, the audio-guide notes a series of graves running between an avenue of lime trees.
I’d never noticed these before but apparently they house family pets – dogs, cats and even horses.
A little further on, beside a fallen tree, we come to Kemble’s Seat, the favourite spot of 19th-Century actor John Kemble, a friend of the 4th Earl. He spent hours on the stone bench in 1817, learning lines for theatre productions and meditating.
“It’s a great photo opportunity,” beams Claire, encouraging me to adopt a classic meditation pose. I throw in a few “Oms” for good measure.
Just round the corner is the lake, where Claire reveals some rather juicy tales about the resident mute swans.
Another stop is at a squirrel hide in the woods. I’d seen this structure many times, but never worked out what it was.
Here, Claire shows me a selection of pine cones, chewed by squirrels.
The cones are a bit like corn-on-the-cob for the creatures!
I also find out about The Scot’s Mile, running from Haddo House up to a viewpoint at the top of Deer Park Hill marked by a monumental urn.
The couple invite me to sit down on a bench, and simply to gaze out at the stunning wildflower meadow and enjoy the peace.
Heading back, we pause at The Pheasantry, which dates from 1884, and the Wellington Monument, dedicated to Lt Col Sir Alexander Gordon, who was mortally wounded during the Battle of Waterloo.
Another landmark, and one I’ve adored since I was a kid, is the oldest living beech tree in Aberdeenshire, at around 360 years old. It’s fenced off and its days could be numbered as it’s being attacked by a nasty fungus. Poor thing.
Back to base, I realise I’m totally relaxed about being on a Segway.
Gone are my fears about toppling over, and I’m able to control the machine fairly niftily.
Segways are a unique way to explore Haddo Country Park.
You cover ground more quickly than walking, and the facts you’ll learn on a Wheelie Fun tour are fascinating.
The company also does tours round Aden Country Park in Mintlaw, which are sure to be equally brilliant.
- Wheelie Fun launched in 2018 and operates Segway guided tours at Haddo and Aden country parks.
- It also offer E-scooters for those who “want something to hold on to”, as well as running go-kart sessions.
- For young kids, it offers electric ride-on vehicles that can be remote-controlled.
- As a mobile company, Wheelie Fun can take equipment to private events, whether birthday parties or weddings.
- For more information, visit www.wheeliefunaberdeenshire.co.uk