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Stride out on the Deeside Way


By John Davidson

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The bridge over the Dee at Banchory.
The bridge over the Dee at Banchory.

The Wells of Dee high up on the Braeriach plateau in the Cairngorms are the source of the mighty River Dee, which heads east through Ballater and Banchory to reach the North Sea at Aberdeen.

From its humble beginnings, the Dee twists and turns for 87 miles (140km) to its mouth in the Granite City, witnessing a changing and varied landscape which it has helped shape.

Following the route of the river, the Deeside Way stretches for just under half that distance, making it the ideal starting point for walkers looking to step out into long-distance excursions.

Retired journalist and former outdoors magazine editor Peter Evans has just written a guide to the trail, which also makes up part of the national cycle network.

He said: “The route runs from Aberdeen to Ballater, so it’s 66km/41 miles in total and I’ve split it up into five sections in the book.

“There’s lots of different scenery on the way, so from Aberdeen you start at Duthie Park, which is interesting in itself because there’s a winter garden there called the David Welsh Winter Garden that’s worth visiting.

The magnificent Crathes Castle and gardens, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, near Milton of Crathes.
The magnificent Crathes Castle and gardens, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, near Milton of Crathes.

“Then it goes through the suburbs of Aberdeen, but it’s still quite leafy – it’s not urban in the sense that you feel you’ve got houses all around you. Because it runs along the line of the old railway that used to go from Aberdeen to Ballater, it’s still got quite a rural feel to it.

“By the time you get to Peterculter, at the end of the first stage, it begins to open out and it becomes more countrified after that. The scenery changes and the closer you get to Ballater and into the Cairngorms National Park then you’ve got the mountains and much bigger scenery coming up in front of you.”

The fact it follows the railway means the gradients are not particularly steep, except for one section from Banchory to Aboyne, which is a bit more hilly and on forest tracks and paths.

Peter suggests: “As long-distance paths go, it’s probably one of the easier ones, so it’s really accessible to people with a fair level of fitness who do some walking.”

But the Deeside Way guide delves deeper into Royal Deeside than a straightforward end-to-end walk.

“Although the route is linear, the book also contains lots of walks that can be done away from the actual Way itself,” Peter adds. “So you’ve got Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve and there are some really nice walks around there, then there’s Glen Tanar which is off the Way but again is really worth visiting.

Author and retired journalist Peter Evans.
Author and retired journalist Peter Evans.

“And there’s lots of historic interest along the way, particularly castles, such as Crathie Castle which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. They all add to the flavour of the whole thing.”

The 69-year-old, who lives in Inverness, spent some time exploring the area, so did he discover a new favourite spot?

“There are lots of different highlights, it would be really hard to pick one out,” he said. “I think Banchory is a very nice place and there are lots of walks you can do from there including sections of the Way, either towards Aboyne or the other way to Peterculter.

“So, Banchory is a really good place to stage yourself, and there are good facilities there including a couple of bike shops and a good outdoors shop.

“But obviously from a mountaineering point of view the most interesting sections would be towards Ballater,” Peter added.

He said there were also tentative plans to look at extending the Deeside Way west to Braemar.

“When the railway line was constructed, Queen Victoria wasn’t too keen to have the railway extended to Braemar as that would invade their privacy at Balmoral,” he said. “But now we’ve got a walking and cycling route, it might take a while but that could be an interesting extension in the future.”

He hopes his guide to the Deeside Way and the wider area will encourage more people to get out and enjoy the outdoors responsibly, as well as learning a little about the place and its history.

And writing the book has given Peter a new fondness for the region.

“It’s been a bit of an exploration really,” he said. “I’ve found out an awful lot about it since I’ve been going over there and recently went over for a week to Banchory to celebrate my wife’s 70th birthday, so yes I do like the area.

“Fortunately, Aberdeenshire, in the main anyway, has a slightly drier climate, so for anyone walking the Deeside Way the chances are they’ll get some decent weather too.”

  • The Deeside Way by Peter Evans (published by Birlinn) is out soon.
The Deeside Way by Peter Evans is published by Birlinn.
The Deeside Way by Peter Evans is published by Birlinn.

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