A Royal-inspired Weekend in Aberdeenshire

Aberdeenshire, UK

I admit I had a rather narrow view of what Aberdeenshire had to offer before my first visit. All I knew about the place was it had connections to the oil industry, most of its city centre buildings were made of granite (the Granite City), and I had heard whisperings of something they ate called a buttery (turns out it's a delicious savoury). That all changed on my first visit. I was shocked to discover the size of the county and therefore its diverse offerings. From their vibrant street art scene and quaint fishing village Footdee to being home to the most castles in the UK, I was seriously impressed. You can imagine my excitement when I was invited back for another press trip with VisitAberdeenshire. This trip has once again opened my eyes to what the county has to offer, by introducing me to its royal connections. Colin from VisitAberdeenshire did such a marvellous job of planning a wonderful tour of the county's royal connections, that I thought I'd share the itinerary with you (along with my thoughts) so that, if you wish, you could follow the same route as we did! So, without further ado, here's a Royal-inspired weekend in Aberdeenshire.

A Royal-inspired Weekend in Aberdeenshire




A Visit to the Royal Deeside Railway

Having read over the itinerary before the trip, I admit, that the Royal Deeside Railway was slightly overshadowed by a few of the other places I'll come to mention later. However, having been, I couldn't think of a lovelier way to start the trip. The combination of extremely enthusiastic, friendly volunteers; the charming Victorian train station; and marvellous views of the surrounding countryside, quickly made it one of our trip highlights. If you're planning a visit, I'd recommend booking for cream tea (which you'll enjoy on the vintage train) or planning your visit to coincide with their steam train experience.

Royal connection: This visitor experience once formed part of the Deeside railway line which took members of the Royal Family from Aberdeen to Ballater for their summer holidays at Balmoral Castle.

Side Note: The volunteers mentioned that they're in urgent need of volunteers to keep the place going, so if you live in the area and are interested, click here for more details.

The Queen's View

From the Royal Deeside Railway, we headed toward Braemar, stopping along the way to visit the Queen's Views. It's a great place to stop and stretch your legs while soaking up magnificent views.

Royal connection: As its name suggests, the Queen's View was a much-loved spot of Queen Victoria when visiting Aberdeenshire. I can see why, as the view boasts panoramic views of the rolling, rich, and unspoiled countryside.

Braemar Highland Games Centre

By this point in the day, we were all ready for lunch and we were in for a treat. We dined at several wonderful places during the trip but the Pavilion at the Braemar Highland Games Centre was one of my personal highlights. As you walk through the door you're greeted by a beautiful, elegant room, decorated with the Duke of Rothesay's (Prince Charles) tartan. Their menu had plenty of options ranging from soup and sandwiches to the indulgent Royal Deeside Ploughman's Platter. I opted for their egg mayonnaise sandwich on Balmoral bread with home-made coleslaw, vegetable crisps, and a side salad. It was utterly delicious.

After lunch, we had a wonderful tour of the Highland Games Pavilion led by the lovely Alison, who was extremely knowledgeable and truly brought to life the history of the Highland Games.

Royal connection: Ever since Queen Victoria's first visit to the Braemar Gathering in 1848, the Royal family have been strong supporters of the event. Furthermore, the recent Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion was unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen in September 2018.

Tour of Royal Lochnagar Distillery

Before we headed to our hotel for the night, we stopped by the Royal Lochnagar Distillery for a tour. As part of the tour, we were shown around the distillery, stopping along the way to learn about the different stages of distilling the whisky, then finished off the tour by sampling a few of their whiskies.

Royal connection: For those of you wondering where the distillery got its royal name from, a Royal Warrant was bestowed upon them following a visit by Queen Victoria on the 12 September 1848. At the end of the  first-ever distillery tour, Queen Victoria enjoyed a dram of mature Lochnagar highland single malt scotch whisky.

Explore Ballater & an Overnight Stay at the Darroch Learg Hotel

After our distillery tour, we visited Ballater. Part of Royal Deeside, Ballater is an extremely quaint Victorian village situated along the River Dee and within the Cairngorms National Park. That evening, since the Rothesay Rooms (Princes Charles' restaurant) is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, we dined at the equally delightful Clachan Grill.

We spent the night at the Darroch Learg Hotel, which has just recently reopened and has been renovated to an extremely high standard. Perched upon a slight hill, each luxurious bedroom looks out onto Ballater's magnificent scenery. Breakfast, which we were all extremely impressed by, is served in their large conservatory, a great place to pause and soak up the beautiful surroundings (look out for their visiting red squirrels). The Darroch Learg Hotel has to be one of the loveliest places I've stayed at to date.

Royal connection: Ballater has several connections to the Royal Family. As you walk about the village you'll notice unusual crests adorning some of the shopfronts. These are Royal Warrants, meaning that these shops supply the Royal Family. In fact, Ballater is often referred to as 'the Royal Warrant town' because some shops display up to three Royal Warrants. Furthermore, Ballater was once home to the Royal station of Ballater which was the final stop on the railway line. It has since been transformed by Prince Charles' charity work into a visitor centre, library, and tearoom known as The Carriage (home to an original Royal carriage). Lastly, after Storm Frank struck the village in 2015, The Rothesay Rooms (as mentioned above) was created - with help from Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay - to rejuvenate the community and drive local business. Since then, the restaurant has become a local favourite and gained entry into the Michelin Guide. 

Breakfast at the Darroch Learg Hotel



A Visit to Balmoral Castle

Ballater is only a few miles from the Balmoral Castle (the Queen's summer home), so we didn't need to wake up too early to get there when it opened at 10am. If you're planning to visit, I'd highly recommend arriving just as it opens so you can enjoy the castle while it's still relatively quiet. We were each given an audio tour and a map of the grounds. Since Balmoral Castle is the Royal Family's holiday home, unfortunately, you're only allowed into one room of the castle, the ballroom, however if you're blessed with good weather, you could easily spend hours walking around the grounds. 

Royal connection: For over 100 years, Balmoral Castle has been the holiday home for the British Royal Family however the castle opens to the public from April to July giving access to explore its history, majestic gardens, and the great estate.

Burn O'Vat

A short drive from Balmoral Castle will bring you to the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve which forms part of the Cairngorms National Park. 

Royal connection: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit but I still wanted to include it as part of the guide as none other than Queen Victoria often escaped royal life by retreating to the impressive Burn O'Vat cave.

A Visit to Drum Castle

If only everyday could start and end with a visit to a castle. Drum Castle and Estate was the family home for 24 generations of Irvines of Drum, totalling over 650 years. I'd highly recommend joining a tour if you visit as the castle has an extremely rich history and so many quirky tales. One of the most surprising aspects of the tour awaited us at the end, as we emerged from a traditional and historic castle into a light and airy contemporary art exhibition, titled "A Considered Place". After the tour, you're set loose to explore the grounds, which consists of a historic rose garden and the option to climb Drum tower for panoramic views.

Royal connection: The castle has connections to Robert the Bruce who gifted The Royal Forest and the Tower of Drum to the Irvine family in 1323.



A Visit to Castle Fraser

Another day in Aberdeenshire, and another wonderful castle to explore - I could easily get used to living in castle county! Castle Fraser is one of the grandest of the Scottish baronial tower houses, and that particular morning, with the low lying mist, it was simply magnificent. For more than 400 years, the Fraser family resided in the castle, and as we wandered around the castle we started to get a sense of the various generations and the remnants of their personalities, such as the Henry Raeburn portrait of Charles Mackenzie Fraser and the Laird’s Lug (used by Laird of the day to eavesdrop on a certain room in the castle). Again, I would highly recommend joining a tour as we thoroughly enjoyed hearing stories about the family's fascinating history. Lastly, the castle is also home to a beautiful walled garden.

Royal movie connection: Those who have watched the Oscar-winning The Queen (2006, staring Helen Mirren), might recognise Castle Fraser as it doubled as Balmoral Castle!

New Slains Castle and lunch at the Kilmarnock Arms

The last castle on our trip was New Slains Castle, a dramatic ruined castle sitting on a clifftop overlooking the North Sea. It's not surprising that Bram Stoker took inspiration from Slains Castle when writing Dracula's lair! Perhaps it's due to Slains Castle being a ruin, but it brought out our inner child. We clambered down the coast for a better view of the castle, snuck into over-grown rooms, and found a (barely) intact staircase which we proceeded to climb for views over Cruden Bay. It's well-worth a visit. A short drive brought us to the Kilmarnock Arms where we enjoyed lunch and had the chance to see their guestbook which was signed by none other than Bram Stoker!

Royal TV connection: Fans of the Netflix hit The Crown may recognise Slains Castle as it stood in for Castle Mey!

 Old Aberdeen

The last place we visited before we parted ways was Old Aberdeen. With it's cobbled streets and striking architecture, it's hard not to instantly fall for Old Aberdeen's charm. As you wander around Old Aberdeen, you'll spot the Turkish-style Powis Gate, King's College, and St. Machar’s Cathedral.  Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to visit the Sir Duncan Rice Library, Seaton Park, or Cruickshank Botanic Garden, but from what I've heard they're all well worth a visit too!

Royal connection: You'll find the late 15th century King's College at the heart of Old Aberdeen, named after the King of Scotland James IV, a supporter and patron of the university.

I was invited by VisitAberdeenshire to Aberdeen as part of a paid partnership and press trip. All opinions are my own.

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