Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Royal Deeside and Balmoral

River Dee

Royal Deeside

I spent some time in Royal Deeside and Ballater recently with some friends. It’s about 5 hours by bus from Glasgow via Aberdeen and is located in Aberdeenshire in the north east of Scotland. Royal Deeside follows the River Dee in to the heart of the Grampian Mountains. It’s a fine-looking area that captivated Queen Victoria with its characteristic Scottish blend of moody mountains, lofty crags, tumbling rivers, moors and forests. The rarefied Royal air still pervades the neat chocolate box towns and villages of Deeside, such as Banchory, Ballater and Braemar, which are unsurprisingly thronged with tourists in season.

Ballater

We were based in Ballater, a Victorian Village, which sits in the heart of Royal Deeside. The founders of Ballater were Francis and William Farquharson from nearby Crathie. When Pannanich Wells were discovered to contain healing powers, they developed it as a natural spring that attracted visitors for hundreds of years and set up the village of Ballater. The spring still flows in to the River Dee. Apparently, The Knights Templar visited the spring in 1245 but this is difficult to verify.

The Ballater Railway Station in the village closed in 1966 but was a tourist centre from 2015 after a devastating fire. It was the nearest station to Balmoral Castle, a personal residence of the British Monarch. The restored station waiting room has a sign saying the Duke of Rothesay as it is the title of Prince Charles when he is in Scotland.

Cambus o’May Bridge

The walk on the first day from Ballater was along a cycle track passing the Cambus o’May Cheese Shop and Café which sells local cheese. Unfortunately it was not open when we passed or we would have stopped in the cafe.  We continued along the path with its lovely wildflowers to the bridge where we had our picnic lunch.

The iconic Cambus o’May suspension bridge was severely damaged by floods during Storm Frank at the end of 2015 but has reopened following major repair works. Forming part of the Cairngorms National Park’s core path network, the Edwardian structure over the River Dee has always been a popular spot for locals and visitors as it crosses the river at such an eye-catching spot. The bridge was built in 1905 and was a gift to the public from Alexander Gordon some ten years after his death, along with the Polhollick Bridge and several other buildings in Ballater. It was a Grade B listed structure, which had to be re-built in 1988 for safety purposes and was then re-opened by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. From the bridge we managed to see eels in the river. After crossing the bridge we walked back to Ballater alongside the river.

Muir of Dinnet

The following day, we took the bus about five miles from Ballater to Muir of Dinnet, a Natural Nature Reserve and walked up to Loch Kinord through birch forest and on to open ground. We had intended to walk along the south shore of the loch but the path was closed as the birds were breeding. Adjacent to our path on the north side of the loch I was amused to see a sign saying ‘Wildlife Only’ on the grass. Another said ‘Don’t Walk Here’!

Loch Kinord is a small, freshwater loch north of the River Dee and is also known as Loch Ceander and Loch Cannor. It is approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length and was formed from a glacial kettle hole. It contains several islets noted in a 19th-century book giving a brief description of the loch. Due to its shallowness, light penetrates to the loch floor. Consequently, many species of aquatic plants exist including water lobelia and shore weed. The water lilies were blooming.

We passed the Kinord Cross, a beautifully carved cross slab which dates to the end of the Pictish era, most likely sometime in the 9th century. One side of the kite-shaped stone slab is carved with a relief of an ornate cross, filled with interlace designs.

We headed up to the Burn o’ Vat to see the waterfall. Although the last glaciers melted more than 10,000 years ago, the marks they gouged in the landscape survive today. One of these is the Vat Gorge where the Burn o’ Vat still flows. The Vat itself is a cauldron-shaped pothole. It was gouged out by rocks tumbling along in a stream beneath a glacier. It had been a dry period so there was little water in the waterfall.

We continued the circular walk taking us through the forests including Scots Caledonian Pine, where there were many trees that had fallen in a storm and blocked the path. We had to climb over nearly thirty trees before we reached the road. It was good exercise and a test of our agility but we made it!

Crathie Kirk

On the last walking day we took the local bus to Balmoral Castle. Crathie Kirk is adjacent to the Castle and is a small Church of Scotland Parish Church and is best known for being the regular place of worship of the British Royal Family when they are in residence at the Castle. It has a separate Royal entrance.  Crathie has been a place of Christian worship since the 9th century when a church was founded on the banks of the River Dee by Saint Manire, the local bishop and a follower of Saint Columba, the pioneer of Christianity in Scotland. It is traditionally held that Manire baptised Pictish converts in a pool of the Dee nearby. A later church was built at the current site in 1805 and Queen Victoria worshipped there. She laid the foundation stone for a new, much larger, church in 1893. Victoria’s decision to worship at Crathie Kirk initially caused a scandal, particularly when it was discovered that she had received communion there. As Supreme Governor of the Anglican Church of England, it was expected that she would worship in a church which recognised the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is a large estate house owned by the present Queen.  In 1852, the estate and its original castle were bought from the Farquharson family but later thought to be too small and the current Balmoral Castle was commissioned. The castle is an example of Scottish Baronial architecture and is an A listed building. The new castle was completed in 1856. Balmoral is a working estate. Deer stalking, grouse shooting, forestry and farming are the main land uses. The backdrop to the Castle is Lochnagar, a Munro I climbed many years ago.

Garden Cottage is where Queen Victoria sometimes used to take breakfast, deal with State correspondence and write her diaries. The original cottage was a wooden building which was completed in 1863 and occupied by a gardener, with two of the rooms set aside for Queen Victoria.

There are fourteen stone cairns on the estate. The cairns commemorate members of the British royal family and events in their lives.[ The majority of the cairns were erected by Queen Victoria. The largest cairn was erected by Victoria in memory of her husband Prince Albert after his death in 1861. We also walked to the cairn to Prince Leopold on his marriage to Princess Helena. All the cairns are located on Craig Gowan. The trees were cleared around Prince Albert’s Cairn to give better views over to the hills.

Thanks to Ian for arranging the trip to Ballater and Royal Deeside.

Helen Rose, August, 2022

Coming attractions; Alesund, Norway and Arran.

 

 

Helen Rose's Ourdoor Diary: English Lakes, Coniston

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

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