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Villages of Aberdeenshire, Scotland


I thought it would be worth featuring some of the smaller towns and villages I didn’t include in my Scottish road trip blogs last year. One such village is Braemar in Aberdeenshire, shown in the title picture.


Braemar is situated at the eastern gateway to the spectacular Cairngorms National Park in the highest and most mountainous parish in the United Kingdom. Surrounded by the Grampian Mountains and woodland scenery, Braemar is a delightful village and a popular destination for hikers and climbers. There are no less than 24 Munros (mountains over 3000 ft high) as well as over 65 miles of high-level walks and cycle routes of varying length and difficulty.


Almost all of Braemar is now a conservation area. The village is compact with a mix of grand Victorian houses, modest cottages, narrow roads and lanes and it retains a unique character.


A quarter of a mile east of the town stands Braemar Castle, a 17th century castle with a colourful past. The castle’s original owners, the Earls of Mar were among the earliest rulers of Scotland and their power continued for centuries. In 1628 the second Earl built Braemar Castle as a base for his hunting excursions, but also to remind the local population of his status.


In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Braemar Castle was caught up in the three infamous Jacobite uprisings. The first happened in 1689, when Braemar Castle was attacked and torched by John Farquharson – the “black colonel” – in retaliation for the Earls of Mar supporting William and Mary, joint monarchs of Scotland, at the deposition of James VII. The damage was inflicted to keep the fortress from housing garrisons.


The second Jacobite rising happened in 1715, when the sixth Earl of Mar himself led the rebellion. As a consequence, he was forced to relinquish Braemar to the Crown. It was then purchased by John Farquharson, who left it in ruins until the mid-1740s.


The final Jacobite uprising led to another change of fortune for the castle. Following the final Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, government troops were stationed in the castle to make sure there would be no more rebellion. When the troops finally left in 1830, the Farquharsons set about converting the castle into the substantial family home you see today.


For the last 10 years Braemar Castle has been operated by the local community who are fundraising to restore the castle and bring it up to 21st-century standard. Normally open to the public, it was closed for restoration work when we were there but was scheduled to reopen last month.

The village is also home to the world-famous annual Braemar Gathering and Highland Games. Held on the first Saturday in September, the event is regularly attended by the Royal Family and features the best pipe bands, pipers, Highland dancers and athletes.


Situated in a valley, Braemar is one of the coldest and snowiest places in Scotland in winter. In December 1995 Braemar recorded a record low temperature of -27.2C and more recent temperatures have often been below -20C as well.

Just eight miles away to the south is Glenshee, home to the largest ski centre in Scotland, and roughly the same distance to the east is Balmoral Castle, the summer residence of the Royal Family. The River Dee flowing past the castle offers the finest salmon fishing, for which a permit is required.


The grounds of Balmoral Castle are open to the public from April to July each year. Group visits can sometimes be arranged outside of that period if the Royal family is not in residence. The inside of the castle is off-limits to the public, apart from the Ballroom which has been converted into an exhibition displaying pictures of the other rooms in the castle, and where photography is not permitted.


The grounds are extensive and beautifully maintained, and the stables have a collection of Royal carriages and cars. There is of course a tearoom and gift shop.

Balmoral Castle is actually situated midway between Braemar and another attractive village, Ballater, and carries a Ballater address.


The Victorian village of Ballater sits in the heart of Royal Deeside and is also at the eastern gateway to the Cairngorms National Park, making it one of Scotland’s most scenic visitor spots.


This planned agricultural town dates back to the 1800s. A stroll around the town reveals a fascinating range of many speciality shops and friendly hotels and guest houses.


Here you can find a wide range of accommodation, cosy cafes, quality restaurants, excellent shopping and the gateway to outdoor adventure, including hiking, climbing and skiing.  Golf can be played at the 18-hole Ballater golf club.

Close by is Royal Lochnagar Distillery which produces one of Scotland’s most exclusive whiskies. A visit to the distillery is an unforgettable experience for those who like a wee dram.


While exploring this area we stayed at the Lodge on the Loch at Aboyne, a few miles to the east of Braemar and Ballater. This was a very well-situated accommodation house that served substantial breakfasts.


Aboyne is a very outdoors sort of destination where you can be active all year long, no matter the season. There’s quad biking, go karting, archery and clay pigeon shooting at Deeside Activity Park.  Close by, the Glen Tanar Estate is popular for outdoor adventurers with horse riding, cycling, walking and fishing. Kayaking, canoeing and gliding are also available close to the village.


For extreme walking and cycling enthusiasts there is the Deeside Way – a 41-mile walk from Aberdeen to Ballater via Banchory and Aboyne, following the path of the Old Royal Deeside Way. And yet another golf course can be found at Aboyne – the oldest 18-hole golf course on Royal Deeside.


Annually in August, the Aboyne Highland Games returns to celebrate ancient traditions including highland dancing, pipe bands, the caber toss and tug-o-war.

If you are ever in this area it would be worth taking in some of these attractions and activities.

Photos © Judy Barford except where otherwise credited


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