I’m not the first, as various members of the Royal Family I’m sure will agree, nor will I be the last, to succumb to the delights of this part of the world.
Heading out from Aberdeen on the A93, you officially leave the ‘Deen behind at Peterculter (Culter) where a large wooden statue representing Rob Roy MacGregor stands proudly on the steep rock above the Culter Burn. Not far from here walkers can join the Deeside Way at the site of the old railway station.
Cults and Culter are home to some nice independent shops including Cocoa Ooze and Lilly Pink, as well as some truly special eateries. High on my list are Terroir, a French-style café with superb lunches and baking in deli surroundings, and Café Bombay, a tapas style Indian restaurant and takeaway, which is creating a storm on Tripadvisor right now.
Between Culter and Banchory are two National Trust of Scotland castles which are a must-visit at this time of year. Drum has just opened a state of the art playground for kids, and also has a beautiful traditional rose garden and nature trails.
Crathes’ gardens are famous for their flower borders and offer acres of woodland to roam around, not to mention centuries of history with which to improve your minds. Across the road from Crathes Castle you will find a railway station, lovingly restored by Royal Deeside Railway, from which steam trains run in the summer.
If you choose the alternate route out of town on the South Deeside road, Maryculter House Hotel is worth a visit, both for its stunning setting beside the River Dee and its connections to the Knights Templar. The hotel also boasts its very own Scandinavian ghillie, Mads Pederson, so if you’ve ever fancied learning to fish on the fly…
Banchory is the next town on the way up Deeside, in the centre of which are two lovely parks, often filled with people escaping the city. Head to the Falls of Feugh where you can see salmon leaping the steep rocks and fast-flowing currents; nearby is the delightful restaurant and café overlooking the falls.
The High Street is still home to many independent shops and lovely cafes, I recommend a visit to Amy and Cameron in the Birdhouse Café – you won’t regret it, but your waistline might! Continental Cream is a traditional ice cream and sweetie shop on Dee Street, perfect for a 99 to accompany your stroll around Banchory.
Just before entering Banchory you will find Woodend Barn Arts Centre which has a full programme of arts events including current cinema releases, workshops for all, and live streaming of opera, ballet and theatre from the likes of Covent Garden, perfect for a summer evening. Adjacent to the Barn is Buchanan’s Bistro where AA recommended.
If you’re partial to a garden centre, Deeside has two splendid examples at Mains of Drum in Drumoak and the Raemoir Garden Centre, to the north of Banchory. There are also country house hotels aplenty with Banchory Lodge, Raemoir House Hotel and Tor-na-Coille in Banchory alone.
From Banchory you can head west to Kincardine O’Neil, the oldest village on Deeside, where the delectable Dee’s Teas nestles in the quaint main street, accompanied by several other delightful local shops, including the Wool Shop, Angels Shop and Treasures – a tiny shop jam-packed with gems and very knowledgeable owners.
Alternatively, you can head slightly north to the larger village of Torphins where a weekly market is held every Wednesday by Platform 22, a café and art gallery owned by the Pattullos. You are guaranteed a warm welcome and a fine piece here any day of the week! Or go south to the tiny hamlet of Finzean where the hidden delights of the Finzean Farm Shop are locally renowned.
Carrying on along the A93, you can turn off to several excellent family entertainment venues including the Deeside Activity Park, where the fun ranges from quad biking and kart racing to archery and off road driving, with an excellent café and farm shop for the less adventurous. Belwade Farm (World Horse Welfare) is also worth a visit.
Aboyne has several excellent eateries, including the Sign of the Black Faced Sheep, Royal Kashmir and the newly refurbished Boat Inn. Strachan’s of Deeside is definitely worth a visit, a proper country emporium selling everything from waders and fireguards to buckets and spades! During the summer Aboyne hosts a Highland Games and an Arts Festival, both of which are very popular.
Next stop, and perfect for a cup of tea from that flask you packed, is the car park at Dinnet Gliding Club, where you can relax and watch the gliders soar above you on a beautiful day. The countryside really spreads out from here as you travel west, and you begin to feel as if you are miles from anywhere.
Dinnet has an antiques shop and Loch Kinord Hotel, owned by Andrew and Jenny Cox, who are extremely welcoming hosts and will gladly tell you the story of the wooden soldier who stands at the front of the hotel. Turn off here for the Burn O’Vat Visitor Centre, a splendid rock formation and some beautiful walks.
Ballater is a pretty village set amongst forested hills, and home to lots of shops and cafes. Rocksalt and Snails have a branch here, which also opens as a wine bar in the evening. Byzantium, Atholl Countrywear and Deeside Books are all worth a look, as are the Dee Valley Confectioners a business established in 1965 and still selling aniseed clips and granny sookers as if it were yesterday! I have only touched on the delights and distractions of Deeside, but hopefully enough to whet your appetite for a wee run oot!