The vast wilderness of Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms is a natural paradise. With its spectacular mountains, lochs and glens, Royal Deeside is home to more than 100 species of rare and endangered animals and plants.
Golden eagles soar above Loch Muick, ospreys swoop for prey along the River Dee, while magnificent capercaillie forage in pinewoods. The roar of rutting stags can be heard as they clash antlers on higher ground close to the Glenshee Ski Centre and if you’re very lucky you might catch a tune or two from the Scottish crossbill – a bird that is unique to the Cairngorms. Otters, pine martens and even wildcats prowl this diverse landscape, which is also home to the endangered red squirrel.
Much of this wildlife can be seen in its natural habitat on the numerous estates which are dotted across the landscape. Mar Lodge Estate is internationally recognised as the most important nature conservation landscape in the British Isles. The estate contains four of the five highest mountains in the UK. It includes the upper watershed of the River Dee and remnant of the ancient Caledonian pine forest which is of national importance. Glen Tanar Estate has a magnificent native Caledonian pinewood forest with a wide array of plants and wildlife.
Golden eagles are resident in the area and can often be seen in the skies in areas such as Glen Muick, Glenshee and Upper Donside. Ospreys are becoming more widespread and can be spotted fishing at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, along the River Dee and at many of the small fishing lochs in the area. .
The magnificent and endangered capercaillie is found in the pinewoods, along with the Scottish crossbill – a bird that is unique to the Cairngorms. The higher mountains are home to species such as dotterell, ptarmigan and snow bunting and you should also be able to spot mountain hares, which are fairly common in areas such as Glen Muick, Morrone Hill near Braemar, and Gairnshiel on Donside.
The lower moorland terrain supports large numbers of red grouse and breeding populations of hen harrier, golden plover, dunlin and short-eared owl. You may also see crag-nesting species such as peregrines and ravens on the rocky hillsides and steep corries.
Magnificent red deer frequent the higher ground throughout the area. In October, the hills reverberate with the roars of rutting stags as they clash antlers and vie to maintain their herds of females. Particular vantage points include Glen Muick and the main A93 road between Braemar and Glenshee Ski Centre. Watch out – deer sometimes come down onto the road creating a somewhat unusual traffic hazard. If you come face to face with a huge stag in the middle of the road, stay in the car and let him decide when you can drive on!
If you are lucky you may glimpse otters, pine martens and even wildcats in the pinewoods, which are also home to red squirrels. Once widespread throughout the UK, their numbers have been steadily declining so that Royal Deeside is one of the last places where they can be seen frequently.
The Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms is famed for its spectacular scenery with breathtaking mountain views and picturesque glens and lochs. The following areas are must see sites in the area:
Cairn O’ Mount
This 1,500 feet hill lies some eight miles or so south of Banchory and is topped by a prehistoric round cairn. It lies on the B974 road from Banchory to Fettercairn, which is famed for often being one of the first roads in Scotland to be closed by snow when winter weather strikes. There is a car park and viewpoint at the Cairn O’ Mount and views that, on a clear day, seem to stretch for ever. You can see all the way across the hills and farmlands of the Mearns to the North Sea.
Falls of Feugh
The Water of Feugh is the largest tributary of the River Dee, which it joins at Banchory. Just before it joins the river, it cascades down a series of falls and pools where you can sometimes spot leaping salmon. The Bridge of Feugh crosses the river at the falls giving great viewpoints and the Falls of Feugh Tearooms are a local landmark much favoured by the many visitors who enjoy the easy stroll out from Banchory town centre.
This is a quiet and peaceful Highland glen running to the north west of Strathdon. It is guarded by the ruins of 16th century Glenbuchat Castle. A narrow, single track road runs through the glen with side loops off to farms and small hamlets like Kirkton of Glenbuchat, where the church originally dates back to 1473. Glenbuchat Lodge lies at the head of the glen where the road swings back southwards through Glen Nochty to Bellabeg.
Linn of Dee
A series of beautiful and rugged cascades on the upper reaches of the River Dee 7 miles or so west of Braemar, the Linn of Dee is a rocky narrow neck in the river some 300 yards in length. There is a bridge over the river that was opened by Queen Victoria in 1857 and access is fairly straightforward by taking the Inverey road out of Braemar village centre.
This is a renowned spot on the B9119 road between Tarland and Lumphanan. There are panoramic views across rhe smooth rolling hills and the farmlands all the way to Lochnagar, many miles to the south.
Scolty Hill lies about a mile south of Banchory and is topped by Scolty Tower, which was built as a monument to General Burnett, who fought with the Duke of Wellington in the early 19th century. A spiral staircase leads to the top of the tower from where there are panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. There is a car park signed off the B976 road and a walk of about two miles through woodland and open hillside to the tower.
Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms – Woodland & Forestry Walks
Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms is a heavily forested area where the autumn colours are spectacular.The Forestry Commission own many forests and of these several have excellent way-marked walks and interpretive signs. Some forests are managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and some of these are National Nature Reserves. Some are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and many are within National Scenic Areas. The Upper Deeside Access Trust (UDAT) has improved many paths and provided interpretation boards. Glen Tanar is spectacular and has one of the largest and finest remnants of Scotland’s native pinewoods. Glen Quoich and Glen Derry also offer stunning scenery in wild mountain country but accessed through lower level walks.
Please see our main walking page for more information www.discoverroyaldeeside.com/walking/
Morrone Birchwood (1 mile west of Braemar): – This is a stunning example of natural mountain birchwoods, which is easily accessed on relatively short trails from the car park just outside Braemar. It is a National Nature Reserve managed by SNH offering excellent views of the Cairngorm Mountains
Ballochbuie Forest (3 miles east of Braemar): The magnificent Scots Pine were part of the ancient Caledonia Forest Now part of the Balmoral estate.
Inver Wood (6 miles east of Braemar): Walkers are welcome but there are no way-marked paths in this Forestry Commission mixed conifer wood.
Glen Quoich and Glen Derry (West of Braemar) – Many of the Scots Pine trees here are the remnants of Scotland’s native pinewoods. This is wild and spectacular mountain country lying in the Cairngorm Mountains but accessed through lower level walks.
Craigendarroch (0.5 mile north of Ballater) : an old oak wood covering Craigendarroch hill. This is a SSSI and a great favourite with visitors to Ballater.
Cambus O’ May (3 miles east of Ballater) : Four circular trails, including a route for all abilities, run through Highland pinewoods from the Forestry Commission car park near this hamlet on the A93 between Ballater and Dinnet. It is a Forestry Commission mixed conifer and birch wood with attractive way-marked forest walks and interpretation boards. Some of the walks are accessible by wheelchair. There is a permanent orienteering course here. .
Coilacriech Wood (3 miles west of Ballater) : A mixed stand of pine and birch. This is a SSSI offering stunning views across the Dee valley towards Lochnagar.
Pannanich Wood (1 mile south of Ballater) : a Forestry Commission mixed conifer wood offering fine views across Ballater and the Dee valley. There is an attractive way-marked circular walk..
Muir of Dinnet (5 miles east of Ballater) : a National Nature Reserve managed by SNH where a heather moorland surrounding two small lochs is returning to its natural wooded state with birch and pine. There are some attractive way-marked walks in this wild landscape.
Burn O’Vat – Burn O’Vat is a giant pothole carved by melt water during the last Ice Age. There are well surfaced and waymarked routes through the birch and pinewoods of the neighbouring Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve
Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve – Glen Tanar lies about 3 miles from Aboyne and boasts one of the largest and finest remnants of Scotland’s native pinewoods. The glen supports typical Scots Pine and pinewood plants and animals. Look out for Scottish crossbill, capercaillie and red squirrel, as well as plants like blaeberry and twinflower.
Bell wood (0.5 mile east of Aboyne) : A conifer wood of about 100 hectares on the eastern edge of Aboyne. Very popular with residents of the town, it has recently been bought by the community who plan to improve its facilities.
Balfour wood, Birse (4 miles south-east of Aboyne) : A Forestry Commission mixed conifer wood where recent felling has opened up some magnificent views. Walkers welcome. Managed in cooperation with the local community.
Blackhall Forest (1 to 4 miles west of Banchory) : A Forestry Commission mixed conifer wood offering fine views. There are miles of multi-user tracks and it includes two special areas:
Shooting Greens (4 miles west of Banchory) has some attractive way-marked forest walks and fine views
Scolty Hill Woodland Park (1 mile south-west of Banchory) has attractive forest walks, one of which leads to the monument at the top of Scolty Hill overlooking Banchory. Managed in cooperation with the local community.
Banchory woodlands (1 mile north of Banchory) Some small woodlands on the northern edge of Banchory. Some are owned by the Forestry Commission but managed in cooperation with the local community.Walkers welcome.
Midmar Forest (5 miles north of Banchory) A Forestry Commission mixed conifer forest on the northern flanks of the Hill of Fare and offers views across to Bennachie. Walkers welcome but no way-marked paths. The Hill of Fare itself is a very fine mini mountain range with severasl tops with excellent walking and is the closest major hill to Aberdeen.
Fetteresso Forest (6 miles south-west of Banchory) The largest forest (12 miles long) in the area – though much of it lies outside the catchment area of the river Dee. A mixed Forestry Commision conifer forest with many miles of multi-user trails.