Off Royal Deeside’s Beaten Track

The latest in our A Day’s Drive series takes us to Aberdeenshire – stepping off the beaten track to discover some real treasures on Royal Deeside. The area is a magnificent year round destination.   Our trip heads north through Angus.

A trip o’er the Cairn o’Mount is a car journey everybody should take. Driving north from from Fettercairn, this scenic drive takes you up and over the Cairn o’Mount with fabulous 360 degree views back across the East Coast, north to the Grampian Hills and across to the unmistakable summit of Clach naben.

Droping down the hill (a steep descent that’s a lot of fun for an electric car, regenerating all the miles lost on the steep climb up!),  I always have the feeling I’m entering a different world.  I can’t quite pinpoint what it is but perhaps its because the light seems different: there’s a softness of scenery – the hills are smaller & rounder, the rivers long ambling through … whatever it is, it has something magical about it.

As you reach the bottom of the hill, you have a choice: head east towards Banchory or go west towards Aboyne. For the sake & ease of this blog, we take you east to west along the River Dee.

This area makes a perfect holiday destination for the whole family. For lovers of the great outdoors, there’s walking, cycling, horse-riding, fishing and golf. For those who like life’s little luxuries, you’ll discover award-winning attractions, museums, fabulous shopping, cafes, restaurants and farm shops selling superb local produce.

Driving through the bustling town of Banchory towards Aberdeen, you come to Crathes Castle and Milton of Crathes.   Crathes Castle is run by the National Trust of Scotland and also has a GoApe franchise in the grounds too.  The beautiful grounds & gardens are extensive & the Castle is well worth a visit. Follow this link for more information and opening times.

Milton of Crathes has been developed by the Leys Estate from old farm steadings and is home to the delightful Milton Art Gallery, Atholl Countrywear, the Wee Boorachie and the Life Casting Studio. It has some great browsing and shopping opportunities – and the Milton Brasserie is well worth a stop. Delicious home baking, coffees – and a great restaurant menu for lunches & dinners.  Sitting on the Royal Deeside Way, this is the perfect stop for walkers & cyclists – and there’s plenty of parking too.

The development is also home to the Royal Deeside Railway. The standard gauge steam and diesel hauled heritage railway runs for about one mile alongside the River Dee. The return journey lasts 15 to 20 minutes and at the station they have a railway carriage tearoom and shop.

Returning to the A93 and west towards Banchory – next stop? Woodend Barn.  The Barn is a successful Arts venue with regular cinema screenings, theatre and other events and activities.   The volunteers have also created a great Wild Garden which sits tucked away between the allotments.  You will even find Bella here – the boat used in the recent Whisky Galore film.  Buchanans Bistro is another great coffee or lunch stop – using local ingredients, home made bread and selling local produce too.   Papers to sit & read with a corner for books – very much a destination in its own right.

I was just on a day’s drive to explore and revisit childhood haunts, but if you are looking for a hotel in the area, Raemoir House Hotel sits just a couple of miles from Banchory.  And if you drive an EV, it has a Tesla charging point.  Beautiful gardens & luxury accommodation, it makes lovely base from which to explore the entire area.

Banchory is a busy little town with plenty of shops & cafes.  Driving West towards Aboyne, you pass the Inchmarlo Resort & Golf Course – luxury lodges and a spa – a good base for families.

Continue west following the River Dee & the Royal Deeside Way (cycle route 145), you will come to the small, historic village of Kincardine O’Neil.    Kincardine Castle stands above the village and although it is not open to the public to tour, it has monthly Friday lunches served in the dining room which we have written about before.   The Castle is available to rent on an exclusive basis for weddings or family celebrations – or you can rent one of their self-catering cottages.

In Kincardine O’Neil, you will also come across the Seed Box shop – this is the retail arm of the Seed Box initiative that is based at Ballogie Estate.  It is a social enterprise which aims to improve the social, emotional and physical health of its service users through horticultural and outdoor activities.  Selling fresh vegetables, flowers & gift ideas, it is well worth a stop (check opening hours).   There’s a village shop too selling all sorts and across the road a small workshop for ARRA – beautifully hand woven scarves, cushion covers, wraps etc.

The Deeside Activity Park is great too for all the family with activities including archery, karting and fishing.   There is accommodation on site as well as a cafe & small farm shop.  And attached is Norvite, the Farm & Country Store providing quality products for horses, pets, livestock … and people!

At Belwade Farm (just off the A93 close to Kincardine O’Neil – SATNAV AB34 5BJ) you’ll find the World Horse Welfare Centre.  Open Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 4pm, it is another lovely visit … especially if you love horses, although there’s so much more there too including a Bistro with fabulous views across the countryside and walking the fields, tracks and a Fairy Trail. Belwade also offer the Belwade Experience – a fun packed, insightful & interactive day with a variety of mini workshops.

Aboyne is another lovely Highland town with cafes & shops and also home to the outdoor clothing shop HillTrek – one of the very first stockists of Paramo, they continue to have a wide range but also make their very own brand of outdoor clothing on site.  The jackets, smocks, trousers, breeches and more combine traditional materials such as Ventile® with thoughtful, experience-based design and are extremely hard-wearing. For an outdoor enthusiast, this shop is a little bit of retail heaven!   And for those of you who are driving an Electric Car, there is a charging point in the old Station Car Park.

Before heading south of the River Dee, don’t miss a visit to Tarland.   The community of Tarland supported by the MacRobert Trust has created a great network of footpaths as well as mountain biking trails – perfect for all abilities.  Douneside House & self-catering properties is also a fabulous base from which to explore the area with its Health Club including swimming, gym & tennis courts.

Cross the River Dee at Aboyne to the South side!  Glen Tanar is close by here – self-catering accommodation, beautiful forest trails, the Glen Tanar Trekking Centre and a very informative Visitor Centre, it is open to both residents & non-residents.  It is also the ideal start for climbing the munro Mount Keen.

Following the river back towards the east, you’ll come to the tiny village of Ballogie.  Here you will find the Butterworth Gallery and there is also self-catering properties to rent from the Ballogie Estate.  The Butterworth Gallery sells original fine art and high quality prints by renowned Scottish landscape artist Howard Butterworth and his daughter Mary Louise, famed for her atmospheric night scenes of Aberdeen. Featuring in many private collections including the “Royal Collection” their work is treasured by many and highly sought after. The friendly and welcoming Butterworth Gallery on picturesque Royal Deeside, run by Howard’s eldest daughter Sarah, is an established 3 star Visit Scotland attraction.

A short drive takes you to Potarch Cafe & Restaurant on the Royal Deeside Way – a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere.  For younger customers there’s a large children’s play area which includes a sand pit, wendy house and a mini cart race track.

My final stop of the day’s drive brought me back to Finzean. Not a return on today’s drive – but a return to my childhood home. It is another small Deeside village with lots of heart.  Home to Joseph Farquharson, the famous landscape painter, Finzean provided much of his inspiration.  And it is easy to see why: stunning views across to Clack na’Ben and an ever changing light, it is another fabulous base for a holiday.  Finzean has several self-catering properties to rent and you can enjoy walks along the river Freuchie.  Finzean Farm Shop has lots of local produce for sale from around the County – including jams from Kincardine Castle.  The tea room serves freshly produced food every day … and there are also a wide range of gifts for sale.

The return drive back over the Cairn o Mount and down into the Angus Glens completed my day.

Thanks for reading!

Planning a Visit?

Royal Deeside PassporTour is a 128 page pocket sized Visitor Guide, with a Map & vouchers offering discounts, £200 + of potential savings & offers from local businesses in Braemar, Crathie, Balmoral, Ballater, Dinnet, Glen Tanar, Tarland, Torphins, Lumphanan, Ballogie, Finzean, Banchory, Crathes, Drumoak in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire Scotland. The gateway to the Cairngorms National Park.  Buy it here.

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Follow the links in the blog above to find out more & availability.