Whether it’s Disney Pixar’s flame-haired princess in Brave or the mystical adventures in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy romp Stardust, the Scottish Highlands’ majestic landscapes and royal roots have inspired many a silver screen swash-buckler. Off screen, the reality is no less colourful for the visitor in search of some regal flavour.
Once the historic stomping ground of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, and today the Queen’s summer retreat, Aberdeenshire is awash with the royal seal of approval, from its castles, courses, coastal walks and drams, to the royal family’s well-documented love of the surrounding terrain.
The North East’s alternate moniker as “˜Castle Country’ says it all, but for the real McCoy head straight for Royal Deeside, which hosts Scotland’s most famous abode: Balmoral Castle. While a royal spotting on the estate is pretty unlikely with the grounds, gardens and exhibitions closed to the public from August to October when the royals are in residence, there’s plenty to entertain for the rest of the year. Walks on and around the Balmoral Estate and Gardens are open to the public – and if you want to make it more than a day trip from Aberdeen’s city centre, there are a handful of cottages and lodges available to rent around the grounds, as well as decent accommodation in the neighbouring villages of Ballater and Braemar. The estate itself is vast – stretching from the banks of the River Dee up into the Cairngorms – so make time for a wander beyond the castle and immediate gardens. A walk around Loch Muick can be an overlooked highlight, with its beautiful waterfalls and the chance to check out Glas-allt Shiel house, built by Queen Victoria as a quiet spot away from the castle.
A short trip from the castle sits the small village of Crathie. The Royal Lochnagar Distillery sits in the shadow of the mountain of the same name – one of the many Munros to be bagged in the area. And while we can’t attest to ever seeing a royal sup a dram here, the distillery’s “˜Royal’ tour package offers local flavour of a different kind. The area also famously inspired Prince Charles’ children’s book The Old Man of Lochnagar. On the other side of the River Dee look out for Crathie Kirk where the Queen and her family attend Sunday service when they stay at Balmoral.
Royal roots can also be found at Deeside Railway in Banchory, where the more recent additions of an art gallery, craft shop and railway carriage tearoom help make it worth the trip.
Finally, for some true Scottish flavour – not to mention kilts by the dozen – the annual Braemar Gathering and Highland Games (of which the Queen is a patron) regularly attracts visitors from the around the world, as well as HRH herself.
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Header photo © The Balmoral Estates