As keen walkers who have explored much of Scotland’s west coast, we decided that it was time to head east. On a foggy September morning we set off to Royal Deeside which lies west of Aberdeen, and follows the River Dee into the eastern Cairngorms National Park.
The mist dispersed as we got to Burn O’Vat Visitor Centre in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. Mhairi Macintosh, a Scottish Natural Heritage reserve assistant, guided us to the vat, a huge pothole formed by glacial erosion during the Ice Age.
On the way she pointed out the various forest habitats and in the wetlands, which were unusually dry, she identified some sphagnum mosses. She showed us that they had adapted to hold lots of moisture by squeezing the plant which produced a surprising amount of water. We also spotted some fungi on the woodland floor and Mhairi explained how it was possible to identify wild chanterelles mushrooms, which can be eaten.
After clambering over rocks we reached the clandestine entrance of the vat, and inside it felt like we’d uncovered a forgotten secret. Approximately 25 metres in diameter and several metres high, this natural enclosure has two opposing rock faces and huge boulders at one end. It’s steeped in folklore too and may have been the hideout of notorious Deeside cattle rustler Gilderoy MacGregor in the 17th century.
We then headed through golden bracken-covered forests to a viewpoint where Loch Kinord was visible over the treetops. The loch has two islets, one was once a castle while the other is an Iron Age crannog built using stones, wood and debris.
Next up, we headed out on a Glen Tanar Estate trail accompanied by assistant ranger Mike Martin who’s often on hand at Braeloine Visitor Centre, East of Muir of Dinnet. The estate encompasses 25,000 acres of woodland and heather clad moors, much of which is a National Nature Reserve.
Mike pointed out wildlife, including frogs and large predator dragonflies, as we walked up hill admiring views of the ancient Caledonian Forest. We also kept a look out for red squirrels, roe deer, grouse and birds of prey, which proved more difficult to find. Before setting off on a walk, it’s good to check a seasonal wildlife calendar to know what to look out for.
The estate is also home to badgers and we were lucky to get a sneak peak at a set. We could see that they had been busy adding fresh bedding and learned about their fascinating ‘latrine’ behaviour! If you’re keen see them, you can book a badger watching experience with Glen Tanar, who also offer other guided activities including landrover safaris to see the autumn deer rut. As we wandered back through the estate we followed an old drover’s road – once used for getting cattle to markets.
We enjoyed the walks, and it’s fair to say that Royal Deeside has not seen the last of us!