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Royal Deeside : Walks near Ballater

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In common with all the towns and villages of Royal Deeside, Ballater is surrounded by lovely countryside which is ideal for those interested in walking. But because the town sits in a valley with a relatively flat base and quite steep sides the range of walks from easy to difficult is quite remarkable.

The Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust (COAT) has produced an attractive leaflet detailing some of these walks. Also, each May a walking week is held in which participants can choose between various walks which are headed by experienced and knowledgeable guides. In these you can learn about topics as varied as ancient history, local wildlife and how to navigate on the hills. (Details of Walking Week)

Below we give a flavour of 10 walks - 5 short, 2 hills and 3 longer walks. More details may be found in the COAT leaflet available from the local Tourist Information Centre.

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Other descriptions, amply illustrated by photographs, of local walks around Ballater can be found on a website prepared by a regular visitor to the area
Walks up Craigendarroch Hill by Ballater are popular and undemanding

Four short walks

1. The Golf Course (Level, 2 miles)

Ballater Golf Course lies next to the River Dee opposite Birkhall estate. A flat walk starting from the village centre leads to the edge of the edge of the golf course and a path follows the river around the edge of the course. There are some very attractive views at any time of the year with the river constantly in the foreground.

2. The Old Railway Line : Eastward (3 or 7 miles)

This walk is along the disused Deeside Railway track and is therefore very level The walk can be started from the old station platform. As you leave Ballater there are attractive hills on either side while behind the mountain Lochnagar becomes an increasingly imposing backdrop to Ballater. About 1.5 miles from Ballater is the ancient churchyard of Tullich. This is a suitable turning point but there are two others – 2.5 miles out of Ballater are the forest walks (Walk 4) and 3.5 miles out is the charming footbridge at Cambus o’ May.

3. The Old Railway line : Westward (2.5 miles)

The railway company wanted to build the line through to Braemar but Queen Victoria said no. So the line terminated at Ballater but this stretch of line is a reminder of the original intention. Keeping close to the river the path leads through attractive oak woods to the Bridge of Gairn where it meets the A93. At this point you can choose to return to Ballater via the main road or along the track. The main road involves a bit of a climb as it passes over the edge of Craigendarroch Hill.

Lochnagar and Ballater from Cambus o' May Lochnagar and Ballater from Cambus o' May

4. The Forest Walks at Cambus o’ May (Several distances. Parking available)

The Cambus o’ May woods start about 2.5 miles east of Ballater. There are several attractive forest walks, some suitable for wheelchairs. The woods have a couple of large ponds and there are some superb views of Lochnagar. There are red squirrels in the woods and buzzards are a frequent sight in the skies above. For the more ambitious, a longer walk leads through the woods to Burn o’ Vat (Walk 5) in the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve.

5. Burn o’ Vat (1 to 3 miles. Parking available)

The Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve lies about 4 miles east of Ballater. There are numerous walks through the reserve. Several of these follow the steep sided glen through which the Vat burn runs. At Burn o’ Vat the burn passes between huge rocks which have been worn to form a cave-like feature. You can pass between the rocks (but you might get wet feet.) or you might prefer the gentler walk up to the viewpoint where you may look across Loch Kinord and its islands.

Two Small Hills

6. Craigendarroch Hill (Ascent 700 ft)

Craigendarroch is a round hill just a half-mile north of the village centre. Covered in both ancient oak-woods and mixed conifer woods it offers various attractive walks. These range from strolls through the woods at the base of the hill to more demanding climbs to the top. The climb is worth the effort for there are superb views across Ballater and the Dee valley towards both Lochnagar and the high Cairngorm mountains.

7. Craig Choillich Hill (ascent 500 ft)

This hill is about a half mile south of Ballater on the opposite bank of the Dee. Not quite as high as Craigendarroch but still a nice challenge. The walk passes through a Forestry Commission mixed conifer forest. Here during World War II, lumberjacks from Canada and Newfoundland had a logging camp. The views from the top are superb with a panoramic view across Ballater towards Balmoral. A brief diversion leads to the old curling ponds.

Three longer walks

8, The Seven Bridges Walk (6 miles)

This is a truly superb walk through woods and open country with great views. It leaves Ballater via the old line going westward (Walk 3) but then follows the A93 for another mile before taking a path down to the pretty footbridge crossing the Dee at Polhollick. The path then leads through woods of the Birkhall estate to meet the South Deeside Road. It returns to Ballater passing the historic Glen Muick churchyard.

9. Cock’s Neck and Knock Castle (6.5 miles)

This walk follows quiet minor roads for most of the way. From Ballater you take the South Deeside Road and then the road to Loch Muick. Follow this narrow road for about 1.5 miles passing the Birkhall Estate. A turning to the right at the Cock’s Neck takes you down a charming road crossing over the River Muick. From there the road leads past Birkhall returning to the South Deeside Road directly opposite the ruin of Knock Castle. Here you can discover the gruesome end to the Gordon family that lived there. Return to Ballater via the South Deeside Road.

10. Loch Muick (2 or 8 miles, Parking available at a small fee.)

Loch Muick is a fine loch nestling below Lochnagar about 8 miles south west of Ballater. There is a nature reserve with car park near the head of the loch. From the car park you may walk to the head of the loch. Red deer and red squirrels are a frequent site. For the more ambitious there is a rewarding walk around the loch. At the far end of the loch the path passes the hide-away cottage built for Queen Victoria. For the very ambitious another path leads to the top of Lochnagar. For the climb you need to wear proper clothing and allow about 7 hours for the round trip.

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