Deeside Tourist Route
This 108 mile route takes you from Perth to Aberdeen via the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park and allows you to avoid the monotonous A90 dual carriageway. It's a great alternative Scottish road trip that you can easily turn into a few days and the Deeside Tourist Route includes some key places in Scottish and UK monarchy history as well as numerous activities and stunning scenery.
Perth was Scotland's ancient capital for five centuries and has had a settlement where it currently sits since prehistoric times. It has also previously been known as Saint Johnstoun in reference to its principal church which was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Today only it's football team, St Johnstone F.C keeps the name preserved. Thanks to its nickname as the "Gateway to the Highlands" it's a perfect place to start the Deeside Tourist Route and lies on the banks of the River Tay, Scotland's longest river.
Before you head out from the city take some time to explore some of the sights and heritage points including St John's Kirk, which is architecturally and historically one of the most significant buildings in Perth. The Black Watch Castle and Museum is another great visit and is situated in Balhousie Castle which is the Ancestral Home of The Black Watch and will guide you through fascinating history of Scotland's oldest regiment with artefacts, photographs, stories, and interactive displays.
Scone Palace lies just outside of the city and is one of the buildings in Scotland with the most history. It's the family home of the Earls of Mansfield and the ancient crowning place of Scottish Kings on the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny). Inside you can view the needlework completed by Mary Queen of Scots whilst she was imprisoned at Loch Leven, the desk where Marie Antoinette wrote some of her final letters, and the State Rooms where Queen Victoria entertained on her way to the Highlands.
Perth to Bridge of Cally
Taking the A93 road north from Perth will set you onto the route properly. Four miles south of Blairgowrie will find you at the Meikleour Beech Hedge which is officially recognised as the tallest and longest hedge in the world. It measures at a phenomenal 540m long and averages at 30m high, although reaches as high as 36m at some points, and was planted in 1745 by Robert Murray Nairne and his wife Jean Mercer of Meikleour who was heiress to the estates of Aldie and Meikleour.
You'll then come a short distance to the next town of Blairgowrie, one of the largest towns in Perthshire, and the centre of the area's soft fruit production. Between them, Perthshire, and Angus, they produce around a quarter of all British raspberries and strawberries. If you're travelling through when they are in season you have to stop and try the local produce!
As well as this it's the starting point for the 60-mile Cateran Trail which walkers can follow around the drove roads that were one used by cattle rustlers. There's also numerous golf courses in and around the town to satisfy any fans and plenty of walks and naturals pots to visit that aren't quite such a mammoth task to undertake.
Leaving Blairgowrie behind you'll follow signs for Glenshee and drive alongside the River Ericht before crossing at Bridge of Cally where it meets the River Ardle.
Bridge of Cally to Braemar
From Bridge of Cally you'll continue north into the heather moorland before climbing into Glenshee which offers some of the highest peaks in Scotland. In this area you'll be bale to take in stunning countryside and possibly even see a variety of wildlife including deer, golden eagles, and snow hares. The roads through the Cairngorms National Park are also incredibly high and you'll climb 665 meters as you travel through the area, making it the highest main road in Britain, and it's home to the majority of the Grampian and Cairngorm mountain ranges. (The former highest point, the Devil's Elbow, has now been bypassed.)
You'll then reach Glenshee itself which is most famous as having Scotland's largest skiing and snowboarding facilities, courtesy of Glenshee ski centre. It offers 22 lifts and 36 runs which makes it easy to see why its such a popular destination. If you're not a snow sports fan there are also 55 Munros in this jaw dropping National Park that you can bag in the area too. All of Scotland's major cities can be reached within two hours by road and it offers a wide range of activities for everyone.
Within the Cairngorms area also lies the Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve which covers around seven percent. It's Britain's largest nature reserve, is home to 15 Munros, and covers 29,000 hectares. There's also a selection excellent walking and of low level walks available too so if you're not quite up for the challenge of a Munro you can take a much more leisurely approach to appreciating the area.
Continuing north will take you towards Braemar and Royal Deeside.
Braemar to Ballater
Braemar is a village that is the largest settlement closest to the upper course of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire and the first point in Royal Deeside that you'll reach along the Deeside Tourist Route.
Braemar Castle dates back to 1628 when it was constructed by John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, as a hunting lodge and has been an important garrison throughout Scottish history. It has been leased to the local community since 2006 and is run by a local charity and volunteers and is currently undergoing an ambitious renovation programme.
The first Saturday in September is when the Braemar Gathering (known locally as The Games) is held and is traditionally attended by members of the Royal Family. If you're able to attend it's an excellent way to see a huge range of traditional events such as Solo Piping, Pipe Bands, Track Events, Highland Dancing, and Tossing the Caber and the atmosphere is like no other.
From Braemar the Deeside tourist route takes you towards Balmoral, arguably one of the most famous places on the route thanks to its association with the Royal Family. The original castle was purchased in 1852 by Prince Albert from the Farquharson family but was soon deemed to small and the current Balmoral Castle was commissioned.
It's a working estate with grouse moors, forestry and farmland, and managed herds of deer and Highland cattle and opens between April 1st and July 31st to the public, but the ballroom is the only room in the castle itself which is able to be viewed by the public. However there are lots of walks that allow you take in the beauty of the estate and surrounding area.
The village of Crathie lies nearby to Balmoral and is home to both Crathie Kirk, which is frequented by the Royal Family when they stay in the area and has a long relationship with the family, and the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, the only producer of a Deeside Single Malt Whisky.
The Royal Lochnagar Distillery was awarded its Royal Warrant in 1848 after Prince Albert was invited to visit, who then returned with Queen Victoria and their eldest children and was renamed to reflect its royal standing three years later. Now it combines traditional pagoda kiln heads and an open mash tun with art galleries and a modern visitor centre to share its story.
Ballater is the heart of Royal Deeside and as the nearest town to Balmoral Castle it's unsurprising that you'll find a lot of local shops and businesses that display "By Royal Appointment" signs. The centre of the town is a conservation area thanks to many of the buildings dating back to the Victorian era.
The old railway station used to be the terminus of the former Deeside Railway but was closed in 1966 and is now utilised as a visitor centre with an exhibition of the town's royal connections. It hosts the replica royal carriage which Queen Victoria would have used to travel part of her journey to Balmoral. You can see it in place on the tracks outside. The building also houses the local library branch, the Visitor iCentre, and The Rothesay Rooms restaurant.
For those keen to see more of the area Ballater makes a great place to set up for a few days whilst you undertake some of the nearby opportunities to explore: the Craigendarroch mountains, Loch Muick, and the larger Lochnagar if you're looking for more of a challenge.
Each May the Ballater Walking Festival takes place which has been running for 25 years and offers a great mix of entertainment and guided walks. There's also a direct cycling route from Ballater to Aberdeen, the Deeside Way, if you fancy a change of pace.
Ballater to Banchory
Leaving Ballater will take you on the road to Aboyne and towards Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. It offers a wide range of habitats and land including dry heath, raised bog, woodland, and two Lochs.
The most famous of the features in the nature reserve is Burn O'Vat. A glacial sheet once covered the area during the ice age and once it meted away, some 14,000 years ago, it pulled debris and rocks with it to create "The Vat" an enclosed area of around 18 metres by 13 metres. You can walk right into it and admire thousands of years of geological history.
You'll then pass by Glen Tanar Nature Reserve which contains the third largest area of Caledonian Forest in Scotland and is of national and European importance as a habitat. You may be able to see elusive red squirrel, Scottish crossbill, or salmon in the water and it has a network of waymarked paths across the area and also a visitor centre with a ranger service.
Aboyne is the next major town you'll reach along the route and was became a popular Victorian inland resort in the 1820s when a railway station was introduced and the top quality Aboyne Golf Club was established. Now the town has a good selection of shops and restaurants and also hosts the Aboyne and Deeside Festival and Aboyne Highland Games each year.
Just outside of Aboyne lies a small airfield which is used as the base for the Deeside Gliding Club which provides some of the best gliding experiences in Europe thanks to its proximity to the Cairngorms National Park and other landmarks such as Glenshee and the Balmoral Estate. They offer vouchers for purchase which allow you to book a trial flight through the club, a truly unique experience!
If you'd rather stay firmly on the ground then you can visit Deeside Activity Park which offers go-karting, archery, fly fishing, axe throwing, and clay pigeon shooting amongst other things. They also have an on site restaurant and a farm shop which allows you to buy an assortment of delicious local produce, food, and gifts.
Banchory to Aberdeen
Banchory is the next town along the route and has some wonderful local shops and places to eat as well as the locally renowned Raemoir Garden Centre which has everything that you would expect and also a great restaurant, gifts and homeware, and a well stocked food hall for you to browse.
You'll find Crathes Castle nearby too which is a beautiful National Trust property set in a sprawling estate that you can explore at your leisure, including the Wild Wood Adventure Play area for children. Inside you can have a tour and hear stories of resident ghosts and historical artefacts such as the Horn of Leys which was gifted to the Burnett family in 1323 by King Robert the Bruce.
Drum Castle is a little further along and is another National Trust property. It is one of Scotland's oldest tower houses and its history stems over 700 years. Whilst Crathes Castle offers a fantastic walled garden and several marked trails, Drum Castle has a historic rose garden and an ancient oak forest where you might even spot red kites and deer.
From here the road then continues along, through the last town of Peterculter, until you reach Aberdeen. The city itself has a huge amount of activities including an amusement park and arcade on the beach front, an art gallery and a large selection of shops in the city centre, and a great mix of excellent restaurants across the city.
The Deeside Tourist Route is full of amazing history, lush landscapes, and fun activities so there really is something for everyone as you drive along. Whilst the journey from end to end only takes around three hours it's easy to see that you could turn it into a trip lasting for a few days as you make your way across the countryside.
Our team at Clarkie's Campers are always available to talk to you about your options for campervan hire to help you find the best fit for your next adventure!