The Victorian Heritage Trail

Royal Deeside has been Scotland’s crowning glory ever since Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited and fell in love with the Balmoral Estate in 1848. Since then successive generations of the Royal family have adopted the area as their tranquil retreat.

The Victorian Heritage Trail pinpoints many of the historic places that make the picturesque Dee and Don Valleys, in the north east of Scotland, a truly majestic place.

Share
  • View of Balmoral Castle from the gardens
    Balmoral Castle
  • Pipe bands march at the Braemar Gathering
    The Braemar Gathering
  • Cambus o'May Suspension Bridge
    Cambus o'May Suspension Bridge
  • View of the Old Royal Station from the outside
    The Old Royal Station

Begin the trail just outside of Aberdeen at the spectacular Drum Castle. The combination of a 13th century tower, a Jacobean mansion house and Victorian architecture make Drum Castle one of the most unusual and unique pieces of historical architecture in Scotland.  Take a tour of the castle and marvel at the fascinating combination of Scottish history and Victorian fashion, and then wander the grounds and the magnificent historic rose garden.

Continue just 10 minutes down the A93 and arrive at the Royal Deeside Railway Station. This line was regularly patronised by the Royal Family and their guests to the Balmoral Estate. Visitors can experience a real, royal journey by travelling by steam train along the original track, just as Queen Victoria would have done on her visits. On arrival back at the station, enjoy a light lunch or high tea and marvel at the glorious views over Royal Deeside from the Carriage Tearoom.

Pick up the trail again and head on a five minute drive to the spooky Crathes Castle, a favourite place of Queen Victoria and one where she often stayed. Famed for being allegedly haunted, Queen Victoria herself witnessed the resident ghost of the Green Lady and her infant child. With spectacular grounds and fairytale turrets, there are far more than spectres to attract the eye at Crathes, wile away a few hours exploring the wonderland style grounds and marvel at the ornate gargoyles.

Finish your day with a leisurely stroll around the spectacular Finzean Estate the home of the Farquharson family for over 400 years. The ancestral home of Victorian painter Joseph Farquharson or ‘the Painting Laird’, Finzean Estate has an incredible collection of Victorian Art. Sample local treats at the Farm Shop or enjoy supper in the award-winning Tearoom. Outdoor enthusiasts can take part in a host of traditional estate activities including clay pigeon shooting and salmon fishing.

Stay overnight in one of the delightful estate cottages, for a truly royal experience, or head back to Banchory for a great selection of B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels.

On your second day, enjoy the natural splendour of Royal Deeside with a trip to some of the favourite beauty spots of the Royal Family. Begin your day with a stunning drive along the A93, following the River Dee and passing through the Glen Tanar Forest. Your first stop is the Glen Tanar Estate, situated in the heart of Royal Deeside and within the Cairngorms National Park. Immerse yourself in Victorian splendour as you stroll around the private Loch or enjoy the view from the beautifully restored Victorian Boathouse. Visitors can tour the house, including the ballroom and Tower of Ess or can simply enjoy a turn around the finely landscaped Victorian gardens. For those feeling more energetic there are a variety of country activities to choose from including cycling, horse riding and fishing.

Continue on the A93 heading for Cambus o’May, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and with a beautiful example of Victorian architect. Originally built in 1905, the Cambus o’May Suspension Bridge was famously re-opened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1988 and stands as a monument to Victorian architecture and design. Take a stroll through the magnificent Scots pine and across the bridge, one of the finest examples of Victorian ironwork in Europe.

Continue on the A93 for five minutes and then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the lovely burgh of Ballater. Begin by exploring the Old Royal Train Station and Visitor Centre in the heart of the burgh. Step back in time as you board a replica Victorian train and experience the luxury that Queen Victoria would have travelled in. This visitor centre has information and exhibitions about the many royal visitors and important guests who frequented the station. Wander around the burgh, perusing the shops, many of which proudly display Royal Warrants.

In the evening relax and enjoy a fine meal and drink in one of Ballater’s many restaurants and enjoy a wide selection from gourmet dine dining, cosy cafes and traditional pubs.

Continue your journey down the A93 on the short but beautiful drive to Balmoral Estate.  Purchased by Queen Victoria in 1848, the Balmoral Estate has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family ever since. Often called the ‘heart of Royal Deeside’ the Balmoral Estate covers 50,000 acres of heather-clad hills, ancient woodland and stunning gardens. The castle sits proudly amidst the Scots pines, a firm favourite with visitors and royalty alike.

Queen Victoria described Balmoral as ‘my dear paradise in the Highlands’ and the castle has remained a firm favourite through many generations of the Royal Family. Balmoral Castle has remained a favourite residence for Her Majesty the Queen and her family who are in residence during the summer period of August and September. The grounds, gardens and castle ballroom are open to the public when the Royal Family are not in residence and the stunning scenery and magnificent architecture make for a wonderful way to spend a morning. 

Take a stroll by the peaceful Loch Muick, situated on the border of the Balmoral Estate and the surrounding forest. A wide variety of bird and animal life can be found around the loch, including red squirrel, red deer and oyster catchers. Follow the path down the Lochside to the spectacular royal bothy of Glas-allt-Shiel, which was built for Queen Victoria and became her much loved respite. Now the bothy is a popular retreat for Prince Charles.

Head down the road to pay a visit to another place which was dear to the heart of Queen Victoria, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery. In 1848 the owner of Lochnagar Distillery invited Prince Albert, who was an enthusiast of mechanics to visit and inspect the premises. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their three eldest children attended and were so impressed they bestowed a ‘By Royal Appointment’ warrant on the distillery. Now the Royal Lochnagar Distillery is open to visitors throughout the year, offering guided tours of the traditional distillation process and, of course, a dram of the award-winning Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old Single Highland Malt.

Finish the day with a short drive to the village of Braemar and was a popular relaxation spot for Queen Victoria who visited the village regularly. Have a drink in one of the traditional pubs of Braemar or enjoy delectable local cuisine at a wide variety of traditional Scottish restaurants.

Take the day to explore the bustling centre of Braemar, a popular tourist spot and a traditional Scottish village. There is a variety of local shops and a Highland Heritage Centre with exhibitions featuring Braemar’s many royal connections. There are two castles built in the village which stand as tribute to Braemar’s long history and connections with royalty dating back almost 1,000 years. 

Braemar is probably best known for its Highland games, the annual Braemar Gathering which takes place on the first Saturday in September. The games date back over 900 years, to the time when an annual contest between local clans was watched by King Malcolm III. The tradition of royal involvement was resumed by Queen Victoria after her purchase of the nearby Balmoral Estate, and successive generations of royals have maintained that tradition ever since. A trip to the gathering is a fantastic way to spend the day, with displays and competitions in highland dancing, bag piping, caber tossing and many other traditional Scottish activities. It is also a wonderful opportunity to see the Royal Family enjoying a day of leisure. 

Braemar is also popular with outdoor enthusiasts and is situated in some excellent climbing country. Why not try the easy ascent of Braemar's own mountain, Morrone and take in spectacular views of Royal Deeside. Further afield is the more challenging Lochnagar, whose north peak, the White Mount, is said to have been the inspiration for The Old Man of Lochnagar, a children's story written by Prince Charles.

Finish the Victorian Heritage Trail with a guided tour of Braemar Castle where Queen Victoria visited in 1849 to attend and patron the Braemar Gatherings, held in the grounds. It was here she is said to have developed her love for the area and for the gathering, which she continued to patron throughout her life.