We were already out of lockdown for this one – but just.
After the first week of relative freedom damped by rain, then came a glorious sunshine and the start of our summer. It was blissful – life was returning to Scotland.
If you’re local or lived in places as far up north as Aberdeen, you will know that summer here means very long days – sun rises around 4am and it doesn’t get dark until 11pm. My body clock adjusts accordingly – which means relatively early natural wake up calls. Even on a weekend!
That Sunday I decided to make the most of it and set off bright and early for Ballater to do some easy hiking. I climbed the Craigendarroch, and then decided to follow up with the Seven Bridges walk (for any avid walkers, I highly recommend walkhighlands.co.uk for your escapes’ planning!)
That amounted to a solid number of steps at a fast pace, which meant I didn’t have to rush before any closing times to get a mini reward for my efforts.
The usual place to go to in Ballater is The Bothy – which means it’s always mobbed. I thought I would finally try The Carriage in the Old Royal Station, renovated following the fire in 2015. But alas, it was not to be, as the acclaimed Rothsay Rooms have moved into the building from their previous location a couple of minutes’ away, on Netherlay Place.
I had a Plan B, however. On my way to Ballater I passed Aboyne and remembered someone mentioned a curiously-sounding place there: Spider on a Bicycle.
Albeit not on the main Deeside Road, it wasn’t difficult to find – as anything in these Aberdeenshire towns. Also located in an old railway station, it has a huge car park in front of it, so finding a spot was not an issue.
Despite the lockdown for indoor dining now lifted, they opted to remain take-away only, but allowing ordering inside following a one-way system that released you at the other side of the buidling once you were done. It has a nice, shabby chic interior, with high ceiling and a warm living-room feel about it – to be enjoyed at a later point in the year, perhaps.
The bar area in the corner just by the entrance looked enticing with crumbly cakes and artisan sandwiches bursting with filling. I was hungry and tempted by a savoury option, but decided to stick to my plan – so had a vegan apple cake instead.
My brain was so occupied by food that when it came to ordering the coffee, I didn’t even think of asking for a milk alternative – but they had a few for an additional 30p.
Within a couple of minutes my coffee was ready, and there were more customers coming through the entrance – a steady, continuous trade, even on a sleepy Sunday in Aboyne.
The car park was brilliant for automobiles, but not so much pedestrians with few seating options, so the easiest thing for me to do was to trial my coffee in the car.
I wasn’t blown away by what I saw under the lid, but I wasn’t quick to judge – until I took that first sip. Contrary to the popular trend, this brew was under the ideal temperature from the onset – which made it taste of heated milk more than anything else.
Then I got the cocoa notes; the chocolate was on the sweet side, but, again, not quite enough to make the concoction taste like a coffee, rather than a heated chocolate milk.
The temperature and relatively small size of the drink made me get through it rather quickly – and it was at the bottom when the proper sweetness hit me. There was still some undissolved chocolate there – which would have made the whole drink taste much better (were the milk hotter to dissolve it in the first place…?)
All in all – considering the evident artisanship in the produce and use of ingredients such as chocolate flakes over powder – I don’t rate it as a bad experience, and there is tangible passion in the place that makes you leave with a smile on your face. I will certainly be back once normal service resumes.
Because of that apple cake – it was devine!
Fairly enjoyable coffee, which could be amazing with a few small tweaks.
Learn more about Spider on a Bicycle on their website.