I have just returned from a road trip round Scotland with my mum exploring a part of this country that neither her nor me have ever seen before. This means discovering a completely different side than what you might recognise from the Highlands and the isles. Our road trip was leading us to Aberdeenshire, the northeastern part of Scotland that is particularly famous for its castles, the whiskies of the Speyside, the abundance of farming and fresh produce, and the most gorgeous beaches. Our first destination was Royal Deeside, the valley along the River Dee in the eastern part of Cairngorms National Park.
The romantic-looking towns along the River Dee have been a favourite for the British aristocracy ever since Queen Victoria fell in love with the area and built Balmoral Castle for her summer holidays. I will tell you more about our visit to the castle in a while, but first I want to show you another area – one that made me fall in love with the Royal Deeside: Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.
Travel Essentials: Muir of Dinnet
The Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve is located around 6 miles east of Ballater, right outside a small village called Dinnet. Driving here from Ballater (where you find many options for accommodation) takes about 10 minutes, or – if you stay in Dinnet – you can even reach it by foot.
We drove here on our way back from Balmoral Castle to our hotel in Dinnet – hands down one of the most picturesque roads of our trip so far! I’ll throw in an honorary mention of the beautiful house in the picture above.
After 1.5 miles on this road you reach a car park with a little information centre. From there four different trails lead into the nature reserve. The first three are quick and easy walks, but I can highly recommend taking 2-3 hours to follow the fourth, longer trail: Loch Kinord Trail.
Loch Kinord Trail is around 4 miles long and very easy to walk. It circuits the lake, leads through light birch forests, up and down the gentle hills of the lake shore, and across gorgeous meadows covered in flower carpets. It is not the kind of trail to follow to reach a majestic viewpoint, but rather a walk to soak up some of Scotland’s finest nature.
Wildlife Watching: On Scottish Safari
At this time of the year (early summer) the yellow broom (or genista) shrubs stand in full bloom, some of them editing such a sweet smell that if you close your eyes, you might as well walk through a bakery.
The meadows hustle and bustle with life. We walked past a huge flock of geese, taking their fluffy babies for an outing, and rabbit families crisscrossed our paths, hobbling across the flowery meadows. Here and there we saw more beautiful birds, little caterpillars and snails, and even a big toad showed its face towards the end of our walk. It all felt a bit like being on a Scottish forest safari!
The fact that most people visit the Royal Deeside for its castles and villages makes this place the perfect secret of our trip. Well, until now. Although the car park was busy as we arrived (around 6pm), we hardly met any one else on the trail. Many hikers seemed to have arrived much earlier than us (most cars were gone when we returned to the car park) or only went to find a picnic spot close by.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy towns and attractions, I can only recommend a timeout at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve! Here are a few more photos to quite literally fuel your ‘wander’ lust.
For more information about the reserve and how you can even volunteer to keep it as beautiful as it is, have a look at the National Nature Reserves of Scotland website.
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.