The Dee Valley is one of the most beautiful in Scotland, but there is an attraction even stronger than the landscape; Deeside has, for many years, been where the British royal family spend their holidays. Everyone wants to see Balmoral Castle, their holiday home, but there are several places with royal connections which are less well known. Ballater is in the heart of the valley, a large, thriving village with several shops bearing the flamboyant coats of arms above their door; this means that they enjoy the patronage of the royal family. Among them are Chalmers‘ Bakery (try their Balmoral Bread), Sheridan’s the butcher (meat and lamb from local farms) and Cassie’s the Ironmonger, a traditional shop, a treasure-trove of all kinds of things. Go next door for a coffee in The Bothy before you visit the Queen’s Jubilee Cairn, with sixty large stones taken from local estates.
Keep your eyes open – it’s not unusual for the royal family to shop in Ballater. The last time I was there both Kate and Camilla had been in the village the day before. For an afternoon excursion take the narrow road to Glen Muick, a wild glen which borders the Balmoral Estate, where there is a good walk round the loch. Above the glen towers the mountain Lochnagar – . Prince Charles wrote a children’s story about „The Old Man of Lochnagar“, Lord Byron wrote a poem about it and, it is said, Beethoven composed a tune to fit the poem. Close to the loch sits Glas-allt-Shiel, a royal bothy, so the Land Rover you spot on the hill may be the Queen’s.
Balmoral Castle is upriver from Ballater. It is closed from late July but you can visit Crathie Kirk, where every British monarch has worshipped since 1848, the days of Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert. This is a lovely little church, typical in style of the Church of Scotland. Downriver from Ballater is Cambus o‘ May, where you can visit a cheese-maker to taste (and buy) local cheeses – try the Lochnagar. Go down to the River Dee to stand on the Cambus o‘ May Bridge, with views up and down the River Dee. Nearby you can visit the smallest information centre in the world, in an AA box and sign the visitors’ book, and walk in the woods by Loch Kinord.
No direct royal connections, but a chance to appreciate the beauty of the area. Downriver again is the bustling town of Banchory, on the banks of the River Dee, lots of individual shops, a small museum and Crathes Castle and Gardens. Crathes is typical of the Castle of Mar, a particular style of castle built by the rulers of Scotland in the Middle Ages.
Accommodation: On a visit to Royal Deeside, you should stay in a castle hotel – Raemoir House Hotel, an historic house, which sits in many acres of woodland; warm welcome and comfortable bedrooms, open fires and fine dining.
-Scottish Tourism Expert
Fotocredits: Udo Haafke