An Introduction to

Royal Braemar

 

Mountain-circled resort in lovely

Royal Deeside, Scotland

 

The parish of Braemar and Crathie has been a playground of kings, nobles and the great ones of the land since the dawn of Scottish history. In the heart of the village lie the ruins of the great castle of Kindrochaide ('the head of the bridge'). Nearly a thousand years ago it commanded all the glens leading in and out of the area - Glenshee to the South, Aberdeen to the East, Lairig Ghru and Lairig an Laoigh to the North and Glen Tilt and Glen Feshie to the West. It was around this strategic bridgehead that the little village grew,.

 

 Over a hundred years ago Queen Victoria chose Deeside as her holiday centre, and successive generations of the Royal Family have followed her example. So too have generations of holiday makers, discovering for themselves the health-giving air, the majestic scenery of mountain and river, and the many and varied sporting activities for today's' visitors.

 

Braemar is most frequently reached from Aberdeen and Deeside in the East, or from Perth in the South. It stands at 1100 feet (330 m) above sea level at a point where the excellent Aberdeen to Perth (A93) road turns South to wend its way through the Cairnwell Pass to Glenshee and Blairgowrie. A regular bus service from Aberdeen does the journey to Braemar in just over two hours, and the increasingly Highland character of the scenery as one travels westwards gives vistas of breath-taking beauty. There is a summer service to Blairgowrie and Pitlochry. The nearest railway termini are at Aberdeen and Perth and the nearest port and airport are at Aberdeen.

 Through Royal Deeside to Braemar

 Village of Braemar

 Braemar to Glenshee

 

Journey through Deeside

Royal Deeside is a delightful part of Aberdeenshire which in autumn is possibly the most beautiful place in Britain. The River Dee flows majestically through the area adding extra appeal to the scenery. Running alongside the river are the North and South Deeside roads. The North Road, the A93, is the main route to Royal Deeside running westward from Aberdeen through Banchory, Aboyne, Ballater and Braemar before turning south to Glenshee and on to Perth. The South Road is quieter and offers a pretty alternative between Aberdeen and Crathie. The Victorian Heritage Trail constantly switches between the two roads, crossing the river as it does so. Around the river and these two roads there is much to see and do.

 

Heading west towards Braemar the A93 enters the Highlands at Dinnet, passes through the Muir of Dinnet and the delightful Cambus o' May before reaching the pretty town of Ballater with its many 'Royal Appointment' signs. But the Braemar road takes a short-cut through the Pass of Ballater, climbing the shoulder of the conspicuous hill - Craigendarroch, the hill of oaks - that rises steeply on the left. The pass road rejoins the A93 which then enters a narrow strath in which the sparkling Dee ripples its way between rising hills clad in pine and birch. At all seasons this is a lovely stretch of river and hill scenery. But it is most colourful, of course, in autumn with the gold of the bracken and the birch, the purple of the nearer hills aglow with their carpet of heather, the soft green and grey of the moss-clad boulders that edge the silver river. And as a backdrop there are continually fresh glimpses of the deep-blue background provided by the heights of Lochnagar and the Cairngorms, now dominating the landscape to the south and west. In early summer the roadsides are golden with the glow of broom.

Mid-way between Ballater and Braemar lies the village of Crathie. On the right the picturesque pale-grey granite and warm red roof of Crathie Church strike a note of variety in the scene. Here members of the Royal Family worship every Sunday morning during their annual autumn holiday at Balmoral Castle. Here too the Princess Royal married Timothy Lawrance in 1994. On the left a bridge across the Dee leads to the gates of the Balmoral estate. The castle itself is hidden behind a mature stand of pine trees. From Crathie to Braemar the Deeside road runs through countryside which is a constant delight, each bend in the road competing to provide the finest views of the hills and river. To the south is the Royal estate of Balmoral with Lochnagar dominating the skyline while to the north is the Invercauld estate, base of the clan Farquharson. Continuing westward past the old coaching inn at Inver the road rejoins the river as it flows alongside the ancient Ballochbuie Forest, now part of the Balmoral estate, and provides a succession of beautiful views.

 

Nearing Braemar the road crosses the river for the only time at Invercauld Bridge. To the right is the driveway to Invercauld House; to the left stands the old Brig o' Dee which, originally built for military access, now provides the inspiration for many paintings and photographs. At this point the valley broadens out and is overlooked by Invercauld House, the seat of the Farquharson clan. The Invercauld estate is one of the largest in Britain and for several centuries the history of the family and Upper Deeside have been intertwined. Approaching Braemar itself the road passes the sturdy 17th century Braemar Castle with its links to the Risings of 1715 and 1745. Just beyond is the graveyard which houses the Farquarson mausoleum built on the site of the first church in Scotland dedicated to St Andrews - legend relates that his relics were removed from here to the town now named St Andrews.

 

The Village of Braemar

 

Coming up a gentle slope the road enters the village itself. Dominating the entrance to the village is the Invercauld Arms Hotel which stands on the site where the Earl of Mar raised the standard for 'the Old Pretender' at the start of the 1715 rising. Opposite the hotel stands a stone monument to the event and behind that stands the Old Parish Church, now converted to flats but still retaining its striking murals depicting scenes from the history of Braemar. Already, it is clear that you have entered a delightful village whose roads turn and climb to match the undulations of the ground and whose buildings are made with grey granite stone to traditional Highland design. Here time has not stood still but it is easy to believe it has.

 

A few yards further on the road into the village leaves the A93 to the right. On the corner is the Bank of Scotland and opposite is the white Meteorological Observatory set up by Prince Albert, the Prince Consort in 1855. Maybe Albert anticipated that Braemar would eventually hold the record for the lowest temperatures, -27.2, in Britain. Heading down into the village past a succession of pretty shops one comes to the bridge over the Clunie Water. This beautiful stream divides the village both geographically and historically for Braemar is the relatively modern name for what was originally two villages. On the right side of the river is Castleton (of Braemar) and crossing the bridge we arrive in Auchendryne. Though they are now one village the two halves still retain their own characteristics.

 

 

The River Clunie. The old village of Castleton of Braemar lies to the right while Auchendryne lies to the left.

 

The village of Auchendryne, though of more modern growth than Castleton, now forms the larger portion of Braemar. On entering this part of the village you pass the 'wishing well' on the banks of the river the river. Above it is the Braemar War Memorial with its Celtic Cross formed of granite from the Inver quarry, whence also came the stone for the monument to the 51st Highland Division at Saint Valery. The memorial commemorates 31 sons of the village, many representing families who had lived there for centuries. To the right of the road stands the other of the large hotels in Braemar, the Fife Arms Hotel. Like its neighbour the Invercauld Arms it is a fine Victorian stone building. (Hotels in the Highlands with 'Arms' in their title are usually grand hotels linked to the estate, or the estate's owner, on whose land they were built. Thus the Invercauld Arms bears the estate name while the Fife Arms bears the name of the Duke of Fife, then owner of the Mar Estate.) Opposite the Fife Arms the former hotel mews has been converted into shops, a Highland Heritage Centre and a Tourist Information Centre. Behind the Mews rises the spire of The Braemar Parish Church of Scotland one of three churches in regular use within the village. There too is Kindrochit Court, a sheltered housing scheme.

 

Following the road past shops and restaurants, we find, on our left, the Victoria Hall (Auchendryne) one of our two village halls - both named after Queen Victoria! Throughout the year various functions are held within the hall including, in summer, Highland Dancing every Tuesday and, at Christmas, a traditional pantomime. Before reaching Auchendryne Square, we pass the Police Station, the Doctor's surgery and the Roman Catholic Church of St Andrew, a handsome building with several fine stained-glass windows

. Opposite, below the rising slopes of Morrone lies the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park - otherwise known as the Games Park - where on the first Saturday of September the world famous Braemar Royal Highland Society Gathering and Games is held. The park and its backdrop make a perfect setting for the Games which are attended by members of the Royal family. The sights and sounds prove a magnet for people worldwide.

 

At Auchendryne Square the road splits. To the right the road leads out of the village to Inverey, Mar Lodge and the Linn of Dee. To the left, around the Park, many attractive houses have been built. They line both sides of Chapel Brae as it heads up the slopes of Morrone towards Pol-na-Ceire - more commonly known to visitors as the Duck Pond - the name meaning pools of wax refers to the way heather oils colour the water's surface. The track goes on past to the farm of Tomintoul, which at a height of 1438 feet (430 m) is thought to be the highest cultivated land in Scotland. At about this level, on an open mound, stands the hill indicator placed there by the Deeside Field Club in 1960. This commands a fine view of the surrounding hills, although some of those shown are only visible by going a little further up Morrone at which point also the village can be clearly seen nestling below. Here on these slopes is the Morrone Birkwood, a fine nature reserve maintained by Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

Continuing from the viewpoint we may take one of two paths that take us down to the Clunie River near the Golf Course. We are lucky to have a splendid 18-hole course, reputed to be the highest in Britain, occupying both sides of the Clunie running alongside the A93. It has a fine club house and the course is regarded as one of the most sporting in the country. Many visitors take advantage of a quiet game of golf amid a scene of exquisite beauty. Returning back along Clunieside Road past various interesting old buildings, including the Auchendryne mill house, we arrive back at Clunie Bridge and thence to the A93. Turning south along Glenshee Road we pass St Margaret's Episcopal Church, a handsome building on the left. This church, built to meet the needs of English visitors at the turn of the 20th century, is a fine example of the work of architect Sir Ninian Comper. A little further on stands the cottage where Robert Louis Stevenson spent the summer of 1881 and began to write the classic adventure story 'Treasure Island'. It is believed that some of the characters were based on local people.(A John Silver lived in Chapel Brae but it is not known if he had a peg leg or a parrot!)

Opposite the cottage is the grand village hall - Victoria Hall, Castleton - recently refurbished with aid of a National Lottery grant. Here in summer is held an exhibition featuring.... . The road then leads past the bowling club, where visitors may join locals for a game, and a few fine small hotels and guesthouses, some converted from former hunting lodges. Near the edge of the village on the left is the Braemar Youth Hostel occupying a large granite built mansion. In the grounds is the new Braemar Mountain Rescue Centre. A very modern building opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1996 it provides the base for one of the most important and valuable rescue teams in Britain.

 

The Deeside road then reaches the excellent caravan and camping park before passing through the snow gates and out of the village on its way up to the ski centre at Glenshee.

 

Journey to Glenshee

The climb up Glen Clunie firstly past the Golf Course then the entrance to Glen Callater, all the way following the course of the river, is increasingly lonely and dramatic. This is well illustrated by the view of Loch Callater shown here. Depending on the time of year much wild life is visible, especially in winter when herds of Red Deer roam the area. Eventually the fine road reaches the pass at Cairnwell and the Glenshee ski centre, the most extensive in Scotland. At 2200 feet (660 m) it is the highest point on a main road in Britain. At this point the road finally leaves Royal Deeside and Aberdeenshire and heads down Glenshee and thence to Perth.

 

 

More Information On....

 Braemar and area

 Braemar surrounds and environment

 Braemar Attractions

 Braemar History

 Events and Entertainment

 Activities and Sports

 Services and clubs

 Braemar Gathering and Highland Games

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Pages on Braemar : Surrounding Area and Environment

Area around Braemar

Weddings in Braemar

Outings to Braemar

Pictures of Braemar

Braemar Weather

Weather Summary

Braemar Weather 2000

 

 

Pages constructed by Mike Franklin, Braemar 26th January 2002

web : Callater Lodge Hotel

e-mail mike@hotel-braemar.co.uk

Photographs by Sandra Geddes, Mike Franklin, Steve Heyes and others.