Places to Visit in Scotland
- Royal Deeside

"It was so calm and so solitary and the pure mountain air was so refreshing. All seemed to breathe freedom and peace and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils. We are certainly in the finest part of the Highlands."
Queen Victoria

The Area
Aberdeenshire is the perfect Scottish destination to spend a few days to explore its colourful history as well as appreciating the fresh Highland air and spectacular scenery. This stunningly scenic region is an ideal self-contained visitor attraction in itself, with an easy to plan journey around a series of clearly sign-posted tourist trails. For those interested to learn more about the British Royal family, follow Queen Victoria's footsteps on the Victorian Heritage Trail. And step back in time to experience the preserved architecture on Scotland's only Castle Trail featuring no less than thirteen of the world's most unique castles. Clamber up the turnpike stair in the ancient tower house of Craigievar, and marvel at the fine collection of paintings and furnishings amidst the stately splendour of Fyvie Castle or take a stroll around the magnificent gardens at Crathes Castle.

The picture postcard valley of the Dee is known as Royal Deeside due to the fact that the Royal Family over several generations has spent summer holidays at Balmoral, their Scottish residence for 150 years. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the tranquil countryside here when they first visited in 1848. They began looking for a sporting estate for a Scottish holiday home and purchased Balmoral in 1852, described by Queen Victoria as "my dear paradise in the Highlands". This is still a beloved retreat for the present Queen and her family. Prince Charles has inherited the Queen Mother's Highland residence, Birkhall, near Ballater and spends a good deal of time here with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. With the international success of the 2007 Oscar winning movie, "The Queen" this year, partly set here, the Dee valley is sure to be busy with set jetters coming to visit the castle.

Perhaps because of the royal connection in this part of Scotland, the landscape is quite majestic -gentle rolling hills, grand glens, wide rivers and verdant pine forests. The River Dee rises in the Cairngorm mountains and flows down through the valley, eastwards to the sea at Aberdeen. Apart from absorbing the history of the area, this is a natural playground for outdoor sports including fishing, golf, walking, gliding and horse riding.

The Castle Trail - Craigievar
First stop, near Alford on the A980 the pink seven-storey Craigievar Castle topped with little turrets - straight out of a child's book of fairytales. This L plan grand tower exemplifies some of the best Scottish Baronial architecture and the epitome of the Jacobean Renaissance in Scotland. It stands just as it was when completed by Master William Forbes - 'Danzig Willie' - in 1626. After 350 years as the home of the Forbes Sempill family, in 1963 Craigievar was gifted, after a fundraising appeal, to the National Trust of Scotland. The castle remains virtually unchanged and fully furnished to preserve the atmosphere of the castle as it was when the family lived here. There is much to admire - a fine collection of family portraits and 17th-and 18th century furniture, the great hall, ornamental ceiling, musician's gallery, secret staircase, butler's pantry, drawing room, Lady Sempill's bedroom, servants' quarters. There is only one entrance and it is said that although the Forbes might enter through the main door, they all had to ultimately leave by the window as it was impossible to carry a coffin down the narrow stairs. Surrounding the castle are beautiful parkland gardens and a bluebell woodland walk.

Craigievar opens March to August. Guided tours inside only. No coaches or groups. Gardens open daily year round.

The Castle Trail - Crathes
A great day out can be enjoyed at Crathes Castle near Banchory, set amidst glorious landscaped gardens. Completed in 1596, with the east wing added in the 18th century. With its portraits, oak ceilings, heraldic shields, Elizabethan fireplace and more, Crathes is uniquely preserved. The castle is particularly famous for its Jacobean painted ceilings, only uncovered in 1877. These can be seen in the Chamber of the Muses, the Chamber of Nine Worthies and the Green Lady's Room - which is said to be haunted. One of the most historic objects is the Horn of Leys, a jewelled ivory horn on display in the hall. It is thought to have been given by Robert the Bruce to the Burnetts in 1323 when he granted them the Crathes estate. The castle was completed in 1596, with the east wing added in the 18th century. The formal gardens are particularly beautiful. There are eight themed areas divided by yew hedges planted in 1702. Wander around the herbaceous borders, an avenue of lime trees and woodland.

Crathes Castle opens all year with seasonal changes in days/times. Gardens open daily year round. Shop and Restaurant.

The Castle Trail - Drum
A short drive from Crathes is Drum Castle which has a particularly long and colourful history, owned by the Irvine family over 650 years, across twenty four generations of nearly unbroken succession. The original tower keep, 70 feet from base to battlement with walls twelve feet thick is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander III in the mid-thirteenth century. It was a secure stronghold against attack and used as hunting lodge. The original house was enlarged with the creation of a very fine Jacobean mansion house in 1619 and a later addition during the reign of Queen Victoria. You can climb up to the battlements for fabulous views. The grounds feature the Old Wood of Drum, the habitat of red squirrels and woodpeckers, and also the perfumed Garden of Historic Roses, including colourful roses from China.

Drum Castle and Garden of Roses opens end of March to October. Grounds open daily, year round.

The Castle Trail - Fyvie
Undoubtedly one of the finest castles in Scotland, Fyvie near Turriff, Aberdeenshire, can trace its royal connections back to 1211 when visited by William the Lion. Robert the Bruce held court at Fyvie and Charles I spent some years here as a child. The five towers of this baronial fortress are each associated with the castle's five successive families - Preston, Meldrum, Seaton, Gordon and Forbes-Leith. Art lovers will appreciate Fyvie's exemplary portrait collection, including works by Batoni, Romney, Gainsborough, Opie, Lawrence and Raeburn. Throughout this richly furnished castle, there are fine antiques, a 19th century American walnut 4 poster bed, lavish fabrics, tapestries, arms, armour and the famous grand stone wheel staircase. Fyvie's grounds and lochside were landscaped in the early 19th century. The walled garden has recently been restored featuring fruit trees, berries and vegetables and the American Garden was created in tribute to the Scottish/American links through Alexander Forbes-Leith, Lord Leith of Fyvie, who made his fortune in Illinois.

The beauty of Fyvie is that you can actually stay here. The Preston Tower Apartment is a unique and fabulous place to stay for a special family gathering or special event. Catering can be arranged for a grand dinner. With seven bedrooms (sleeping up to 13 - the Tower is not suitable for children under 12), lavish reception rooms, kitchen, and beautiful furnishings, this is a 5 star property for short term rental through National Trust of Scotland Holidays.

Fyvie Castle opens end of March to October. Gardens open daily year round. Tearoom.

Photograph of Fyvie Castle from the air courtesy of the Scotavia © Web site.

The Castle Trail - Castle Fraser
Due south of Fyvie near Inverurie, is the imposing 17th century Castle Fraser, originally known as Muchall-in-Mar. Its granite walls, distinctive turrets, balustrades and gables, offer an imposing sight when the castle is approached from the Broad Walk. This magnificent five-storey castle, started in 1575 by the 6th laird, Michael Fraser, is the most elaborate of the Scottish castles built on the Z-plan design. The castle boasts a wealth of historic furnishings, paintings and fine embroidery. Children will love to find the stuffed animals, hidden trap doors and secret stairs. The 350 acre estate features an artificial lake, 18th-century walled garden, unusual herbaceous plants, medicinal and culinary borders, and an organic fruit and vegetable garden. Castle Fraser is a popular picnic spot beside Woodland Secrets, a children's play park with a tree house. Victorian kitchen tearoom for home-cooking. Castle Fraser open end of March to October. Garden open daily year round.

The Castle Trail - Balmoral

"My dear paradise in the Highlands… every year I seem to become fonder of this dear place."
Queen Victoria.

Balmoral Castle and the 50,000 acre Estate has been the Highland retreat for the Royal Family for over 150 years. In the latter period of her long reign after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria spent more and more time at Balmoral Castle. She would visit in May and then return for two to three months in the autumn. Today, the Queen and Prince Philip, their children, grandchildren and guests spend summer holidays here from August to October. From April to the end of July and selected dates through the winter, visitors are welcome to visit the extensive grounds, gardens and exhibitions. The ballroom and stables have a series of changing exhibits about the Royal family, documentary films and displays of vintage carriage, costumes and photographs. An audio tour (in different languages) guides you around the magnificent gardens with its memorial statues, pet cemetery, greenhouses, kitchen garden and charming summer cottages.

On arrival at the gates of Balmoral, you can walk up or take a ride on board the tractor drawn cart, up the winding the drive to the stables and entrance hall. It is not until you start exploring along the twisting paths and then turn a corner that you will see the magnificent baronial turrets and frontage of the Castle itself, set back across the manicured lawns and flower borders. It is a stunning sight for the first time and makes you appreciate how Queen Victoria felt when she found this idyllic location for her Scottish home.

There is also a choice of guided tours and ranger guided estate walks to see the woodlands, wildlife, flora and fauna. Even more exciting are the luxury private safaris around the estate by Landrover (4 people) into the Caledonian Pine Forest and onto the open moorland at the foot of the famous Lochnagar Mountain. You will spot birds of prey, red squirrel and red deer with the possibility of seeing a golden eagle, black grouse or osprey.

Royal Deeside is an inspiring and picturesque destination all year round as the seasons shift in colour and ambience, transforming the trees and hills from verdant green to pink and purple heather. Based at Darroch Learg hotel, Ballater could spend a week or more visiting the National Trust for Scotland castles, Balmoral, Crathie Church and the pretty town of Braemar famous for the Braemar Gathering, the annual Highland Games held annual in early September and attended by the Royal Family.

As part of the Cairngorm National Park the countryside here is a wonderful get-away-from-it-all holiday spot with all kinds of outdoor sports on offer from fishing and hiking to golf and gliding. If you enjoy hill climbing, the best walk is to the summit of Lochnagar made famous by Prince Charles in the book he wrote for his younger brothers - The Old Man of Lochnagar. This majestic mountain dominates the Royal Forest of Balmoral and takes its name from a small corrie loch at the foot.

Prince Charles was inspired not only by the place, but by a poem entitled "Royal Lochnagar" by Lord Byron, who attended school in Aberdeen and spent holidays at Balletarach, near Ballater. Byron also fell in love with this dramatic yet peaceful North West corner of the Scottish Highlands.

Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains
Round their white summits though elements war
Though cataracts foam 'stead of smooth-flowing fountains
I sigh for the valley of Dark Loch na Garr

More Information

See also the Location Map (you can enlarge the scale of this map, if required).

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