THE Deeside Way is one of Scotland’s newest long-distance routes, running for 66 kilometres from Aberdeen to Ballater.
It mostly follows the old railway line, used by Queen Victoria to access Balmoral Castle. Key to the development of Royal Deeside as we know it today, it was in use for around a century until its closure in 1966 when the Beeching axe fell.
Apart from the section between Banchory and Aboyne, the path is fairly level and makes for easy walking or cycling – the section between Aberdeen and Peterculter being on a tarmac surface. The first two stages of the walk, as far as Banchory, can be combined to make a reasonably long day with lots of historical interest and some fine scenery.
The starting point is the north-east corner of Duthie Park in Aberdeen, behind the David Welch Winter Gardens – a series of glasshouses containing different plant environments, including a display of carnivorous plants such as sundews.
The route initially passes through the suburbs of Aberdeen, with information boards marking the sites of former stations on the Deeside line.
Former platforms are still in place, along with old station buildings, now converted into houses or commercial units. Leaving the suburbs behind and continuing west, the path becomes more rural in nature, with the river unseen to the south across fields.
Ten kilometres of walking brings you to the attractive village of Peterculter, where a heritage centre houses exhibits and photographs telling the story of the local area, including the Deeside railway.
On rocks above a bridge over the Culter Burn at the western end of the village is a statue of Scots outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor (right), who supposedly leapt the burn as he was being pursued by Hanoverian troops.
Peterculter was also the birthplace of the celebrated Scots writer and poet Nan Shepherd, whose love of nature and the Cairngorms shines through in her writings.
The tarmac section of the Deeside Way ends at Peterculter and becomes a country path then a track between fields. The next section is along a quiet country road, passing through the hamlet of Coalford – once the location of a Roman camp. It was used by the Roman army as a temporary marching camp for troops involved in the invasion of Scotland in the second and third centuries AD.
Head for Dalmaik, where a Deeside Way marker points off the road onto a path leading to Drumoak, which now serves as a commuter village for Aberdeen. Near Drumoak is the National Trust for Scotland’s Drum Castle, which has a medieval square tower and an adjoining oak forest – home to red kites, roe deer, squirrels and badgers.
The route follows the pavement through Drumoak for a short while before heading along a path beside the A93 in the direction of Crathes and another grand NTS castle, which has a series of walks in the grounds and a magnificent garden.
Beyond Crathes is Milton of Crathes, where a short section of the Deeside line has been restored and passengers can get a flavour of what it was like to ride a royal route. Former steadings here have been converted into a restaurant and retail units.
The River Dee is a companion for the next stretch of the walk, with the path sandwiched between it and the railway. The railway ends but the path continues to Banchory where this stage of the Deeside Way ends.
Close to the path is Banchory St Ternan cemetery with a distinctive circular watchtower, used to keep a lookout for grave robbers in the 18th century when bodies were stolen for medical reasearch.
Stay on the path as far as King George V park and head up into the town to get a bus back to Aberdeen.
Distance 17 miles / 27km
Terrain Tarmac path, country paths and minor roads
Start/finish Duthie Park, Aberdeen/Banchory. Good bus service along the route for transport back to the start
Map OS Landranger 38, Aberdeen
Varied scenery and interesting history on the first two sections of this long distance path