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Royal Deeside is ideal as a holiday location as it appeals to both people who seek active outdoor pursuits and those who prefer leisurely sight seeing and relaxing. The area which now forms the southern part of the Cairngorm National Park stretches from the wild hills and spectacular mountains to the west of Braemar along the River Dee through Ballater and Dinnet towards the gentle agricultural land to the east of Aboyne.
The Royal connection dates from the reign of Queen Victoria, who with her husband Prince Albert, built Balmoral Castle on the banks of the River Dee.
The new castle completed in 1856 replaced an existing fifteenth century Castle which was considered too small. Queen Victoria who loved Balmoral and the spectacular highland scenery wrote extensively about the area in her Highland Journals. This and the extension of the railway to Ballater helped make Royal Deeside into a popular holiday destination. Unfortunately the railway no longer exists but the link with Royalty still remains with the current Royal Family spending their summer holidays at Balmoral. Balmoral grounds and ballroom are open to the public from Easter until the end of July. The estate also offers a number of other attractions including pony trekking and ranger guided 4X4 safaris exploring the more remote parts of this beautiful estate.
Ballater as the most centrally located village on Royal Deeside makes an ideal holiday location for exploring the region.
The village shops provide all the requirements for the self catering holidaymaker. The grocer, fruitier and butcher all have the Royal Warrant. The original Ballater station has been restored and as well as accommodating the Tourist Office there is also an exhibition, part of which includes Queens Victoria's waiting room and original convenience! The exhibit will shortly be enhanced by the addition of a carriage from Queen Victoria's Royal train.
The Ballater area provides a wealth of opportunity for numerous outdoor activities.
Walking: The circular walk around Loch Muick with it's remote and spectacular scenery (approx. 8 miles) and the more strenuous hill walk to the summit of Lochnagar which can include several of the other surrounding Munros are very popular with hillwalkers. Less demanding but equally enjoyable are a number of walks around the river in Ballater, along the disused railway line to Dinnet and up Craigendarroch Hill from where you can get a panoramic view of Ballater and the surrounding area. There are also several interesting walks in the Forestry Commission property at Cambus O'May.
Golf: Royal Deeside is a wonderful location for a golf holiday. There are five challenging 18 hole and four 9 hole courses all within a 30 minute drive of Ballater. The courses differ from parkland at Banchory and Aboyne, moorland at Ballater and Braemar to heathland at Tarland and Torphins. One thing they all have in common is spectacular scenery.
Fishing: Fly fishing for salmon and sea trout on the rivers Dee and Don can be arranged though the local estates. There are two stocked trout lochs for anglers of all ages, one at Tullich just outside Ballater and the other on the Glentanar Estate near Aboyne.
Cycling: On Royal Deeside there are tracks for all ability of cyclist from the keen mountain bike enthusiast to families with young children. Mountain bike hire is available locally. Some of the routes are over local estates while others are beside the River Dee.
All the villages on Deeside are within a short drive of many places of interest for a visitor to the area. The National Trust for Scotland have castles and gardens that are open from Easter to October. Craigievar near Alford and Crathes near Banchory with it's superb walled garden is at it's best in the summer months. Further a field in Aberdeenshire the Trust have other properties at Castle Fraser, Drum Castle, Leith Hall, and Fyvie Castle where the children's television programme Spooks was set.
These collectively comprise the Castle Trail. During the season there are often activities for all the family from vintage car rallies to historic re-enactments by the Sealed Knot Society. In addition the privately owned, cosy and intimate Braemar Castle on the Invercauld Estate and Balmoral Castle grounds and ballroom are also well worth a visit.
Lochnagar Distillery situated just next to Balmoral at Easter Balmoral is one of the venues on the famous Whisky Trail. Most of the other distilleries on the trail are on Speyside an easy drive north of Royal Deeside through the beautiful scenery of the Cairngorm National Park. Tours of the distilleries show the visitor the process of making some of the finest whiskies in the world and also an opportunity to taste them.
Visitors with an interest in art will find a number small galleries along Deeside exhibiting a wide selection of high quality contemporary Scottish art. The Lost Gallery at Lost near Strathdon on Donside is as the name suggests hard to find but well worth the effort. For those who prefer more traditional Scottish art there is the McEwan Gallery just outside Ballater.
A visit to one of the local Highland Games is a must for summer visitors. They take place at Aboyne, Ballater, Braemar, and Strathdon (The Lonach Gathering). The games are a very Scottish occasion with pipe bands and kilted athletes competing in track and field events including the famous caber tossing. Piping and Highland dancing competitions add to the flavour of the occasion. Perhaps the most famous of the games is the Braemar Gathering held on the first Saturday in September. The Queen as patron of the event always attends The Gathering and is often accompanied by other members of the Royal Family.
Braemar sixteen miles to the west of Ballater is an attractive, traditional, highland village that is another popular holiday destination on Royal Deeside. Many hill walkers make their base in the village as there are numerous walks in the vicinity including the well known Lairiag Ghru walk through the Cairngorms. Local places of interest include Mar Lodge an Edwardian shooting lodge built for Princess Louise the daughter of King Edward VII when she married the Duke of Fife. It is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Nearby are falls at Linn of Dee and the punch bowl rock formation at the Linn of Quoich. The scenery in this area is wild and spectacular.
Finally, a holiday would not be complete without good food and there are plenty of excellent places to eat in Braemar, Ballater and Aboyne that cater for all tastes and budgets.