The valley of the River Dee attained its royal credentials when Prince Albert chose to build a new Balmoral Castle there.
The pinewoods and wooded slopes reminded the Queen’s husband of his native Germany and, besides, he checked the rainfall figures and found it agreeably dry. He bought the estate and the royals occupied the new castle in 1855. The tranquillity appealed to the young Queen, and she described the area in her diary: 'All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and all its sad turmoils.’
The grounds of the holiday home of the royal family are open to visitors in spring and summer, as well as the Balmoral Castle Ballroom. There is usually an exhibition here, with further items of interest in the Carriage Hall Courtyard. Other castle rooms are private. There is also a program of Land Rover safaris and guided walks. There are also lots of waymarked walks through the Balmoral estate.
Easily accessed from Ballater, Glen Muick gives visitors a strong sense of the ambience of the eastern Grampians. It is the starting point of a number of ancient rights-of-way over the plateau of the Mounth, and the carpark where the public road ends is also a starting point for days out on Lochnagar. Another popular excursion is round Loch Muick. For all of these, good footwear is advised. Look out for red deer close to the car park. There is also a small visitor centre at the road-end.
This estate is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and comprises around 8% of the Cairngorms National Park. It takes in some of the most rugged wild land in Scotland and four of the five highest mountains in the UK, including 15 Munros. Visitors can get easy access to the immediate area via carparks at the Linn of Dee and the Linn of Quoich. These Linns (river narrows) are especially impressive during periods of high water. A circular scoured out hollow in the rocks by the Quoich is sometimes called the Earl of Mar’s Punchbowl, where it is said he brewed punch at the start of the 1715 uprising
Ballater’s rail link is gone but the Old Royal Station tells the story of the royal connections here, especially of the days when politicians and the crowned heads of Europe passed through en route to Balmoral Castle, eight miles to the west. The Royal Lochnagar Distillery west of the town is also popular, while the Burn o’ Vat, part of the Muir of Dinnet National Nature reserve to the east, is also well worth visiting.
Ballater golf course welcomes visitors and there is a further choice of courses on Royal Deeside. There is an active angling club based in Ballater and, in addition to the River Dee, a stocked fishery and loch fishing is within easy reach. Pony trekking is available on the Balmoral estate. There are also many local walks, with Glen Muick in particular popular with walkers.
The attractions in and around Braemar are mostly of the scenic variety, though the village does have its Braemar Highland Heritage Centre, with more on the story of the village. Braemar Castle is an unmistakable landmark east of the village. The Royal Lochnagar Distillery is nine miles away, down the Dee and offers tours and tastings. Above Braemar, Morrone Birkwood is a national nature reserve with walks and trails. (Birk is Scots for birch.) Scenic features nearby also include the Colonel’s Bed, the Linn of Dee and the Linn of Quoich.
Braemar has the highest 18 hole golf course in the UK. It welcomes visitors. Anglers have a variety of hill lochs a well as rivers beyond the Dee such as the Clunie and Gairn. Pony trekking is available near Balmoral. There is a good choice of waymarked paths and tracks for mountain bikers and walkers.