Balmoral Cairns, Crathie, Aberdeenshire
The woodlands above Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside are the perfect setting for a post-Christmas family stroll with a dash of history.
A mazy network of tracks and paths twist and turn through the trees to reveal a series of large stone cairns erected during Queen Victoria’s reign in honour of her family and memorable royal events.
It’s a form of treasure hunt that will delight youngsters and there are any number of combinations depending on time and inclination, but the full circuit is best done in an anti-clockwise direction, saving the most spectacular until later in the walk. Most of the cairns require a short detour from the main paths and some can be easily missed.
The large car park at Crathie east of Braemar is the starting point. Exit to the east side, walking down a minor road which leads to a suspension bridge over the Dee and then heading uphill at signs for the distillery passing a row of cottages.
Just beyond, there is a signed path on the left for Prince Albert’s Cairn. Ignore this – it is the exit point on the return trek – and follow the track for about 15 minutes to a junction. Turn right and go through a high metal gate into the trees, heading uphill. Keep an eye out for a rough path on the left which leads to the first impressive stone stack, Princess Helena’s cairn.
Return to the main path and turn left, passing Princess Louise’s cairn on the left. Further on a short detour right brings you to the Purchase Cairn, erected in 1852 to commemorate the acquisition of the Balmoral estate by Victoria and Albert.
The route goes downhill for a bit to reach Prince Leopold’s cairn which directly overlooks the castle and its grounds, and this marks the turning point in the circuit. Heading south now, watch for a faint path which detours out to Prince Arthur’s cairn, before dropping steadily downhill to pass Princess Alice’s cairn and link with a grassy track running east which then merges with the main artery again.
When you reach the junction beyond a wooden gate where you turned off earlier, turn right and, after the track dips and then starts rising again, take a path on the left which heads into the woods.
This climbs steeply with one switchback, eventually heading for a break in the tree cover where the massive stone pyramid of Prince Albert’s cairn dominates the view.
There’s a plaque on one wall which is inscribed: ‘To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862’.
To descend, take the path heading south-east from the pyramid which passes one last monument in the trees, Princess Beatrice’s cairn, and then go through a metal gate to regain the track above the cottages and head back down to Easter Balmoral.
When you reach the B976, turn left this time and head along to the Balmoral Bridge, which was commissioned by Prince Albert and designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and cross back into the car park.
1. Take minor road heading downhill past information centre, go left at fork then right at t-junction to reach river and cross suspension bridge.
2. Turn right on road and left at next junction (signed Lochnagar Distillery) then right over small bridge and left following road uphill past cottages.
3. After passing last house, follow track through woods for about 15mins and at junction turn right on branch going uphill. Watch for rough path on left leading to Princess Helena’s cairn.
4. Return to path and turn left to reach Princess Louise’s cairn on left. Further on, a short detour to right leads to another cairn.
5. Back on main path, continue downhill keeping right at two junctions to Prince Leopold’s cairn. Return to main path, turn right to junction and keep right, ignoring path coming in from left
6. Watch for faint path on right for Prince Arthur’s cairn. Return again to main path, turn right then right again at junction. Turn left at next junction into trees which passes Princess Alice’s cairn.
7. Continue on track heading downhill to meet another grassy track. Turn left and follow until it emerges on to main track, then left again to reach gate across track.
8. Go through gate and turn right, and before end of trees look out for path on left which heads steeply uphill to huge stone pyramid erected for Prince Albert.
9. Follow path south-east from cairn downhill passing Princess Beatrice’s cairn to reach metal gate and road.
10. Turn right and walk down to Easter Balmoral, then left on to B976, heading north then east to cross the Balmoral Bridge back to car park.
Time: 3-4 hours
Grading: Woodland paths and estate tracks. Suitable for all ages and abilities. Muddy in places, good footwear advised. Dogs under close control – farm livestock. NOTE: This walk may be restricted when the Royal Family are in residence.
Start/finish: Car park (charge) at Crathie (Grid ref: NO 262949) with toilet facilities.
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Map 44 (Ballater & Glen Clova); Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 53.
Tourist Information: VisitScotland, Ballater iCentre, Station Square, Ballater, AB35 5QB (Tel 01339 755306).
Public transport: Buses to Crathie from Braemar and Ballater.