Fiona Russell completes her four-part journey on the new North East 250 driving route
The 250-mile North East 250 driving route is a loop through the Cairngorms, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside.
It takes travellers though a range of landscapes, from mountains and moorlands, through forests and to the coast.
The 250 miles could be driven in one day although that would be missing the point of such a journey.
Instead, three days to a week (or more) allows you to stop off at tourist attractions, including castles, whisky distilleries, ski resorts, golf courses, nature reserves and beaches along the way.
The NE250 is ideal for motorhomes, campervans and caravans, both owned and hired, staying multiple overnights in caravan parks.
This is the fourth – and final – section of a four-part series published in this magazine.
Our writer, Fiona, hired a Fiat Tribute 670 campervan from Open Road Scotland, near Glasgow Airport, to drive the NE250. (See openroadscotland.com)
Maryculter to Spittal of Glenshee
Distance: 66 miles
The drive on the fourth section of the North East 250 journey is as much about the history and heritage of the area, as the scenery.
But, wow, the landscape is stunning as you travel east to west through Royal Deeside and into the Cairngorms. Whether you simply like to see, or you enjoy walking or cycling, the fabulous high-rise mountains, dramatic moors, fast-flowing rivers and atmospheric forests will impress.
Dotted throughout the countryside are many picturesque villages and towns, including Banchory, Aboyne, Balmoral ad Ballater, as well as castles, tower houses, churches, a famous distillery and activity centres.
You will be reminded on many occasions of Queen Victoria’s connection with Deeside. In 1848, the Royal enjoyed a holiday at the Balmoral Estate and she and her husband, Prince Albert, then bought the estate and replaced the old castle with a far grander building. Today, it is known as Balmoral Castle and is the summer home of the Royal Family.
Leaving Maryculter after a restful overnight, I soon spot a tourist sign, this one for the Royal Deeside Railway. The standard gauge steam and diesel hauled heritage railway runs for around a mile alongside the beautiful River Dee.
It’s possible to take a return journey on the old-fashioned train of about 20 minutes from Milton of Crathes and its award-winning Victorian station.
Further on, Crathes Castle offers another superb detour. The 16th century tower house has a wealth of fascinating features both inside and outdoors. You could wander through the walled garden, where you’ll discover huge yew hedges, planted as far back as the early 1700s.
There are waymarked trails to walk, too, and the chance to spot a variety of wildlife, including roe deer and red squirrels, as well as herons, woodpeckers and maybe even buzzards.
The grounds are also home to Crathes Castle Go Ape, a high ropes adventure course for families.
The interior of the castle is as alluring, with turrets, towers, oak panels and painted ceilings to see.
Heading further west and deeper into the mountains is Dinnet, a village that is said to be the eastern gateway to the Cairngorms National Park. It is famous, too, for a nearby geological feature known as Burn O’Vat.
Visit the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve to see how long gone glaciers gouged today’s landscape, including the Vat Gorge, where the Burn O’Vat still flows. The Vat itself is a cauldron-shaped pothole and was created by rocks tumbling along in a stream beneath a glacier.
Today, you can go into the Vat through a narrow crack in the rock and stand quietly in the cavern to hear the strange echoes of water.
The reserve is also a mosaic of wetlands, woods and moors and a great place to spot breeding and wintering birds.
Between the settlements of Ballater and Braemar, both popular with tourists, is Balmoral Castle, situated in gorgeous grounds and in the shadow of mighty Lochnagar mountain.
A must-see for many visitors to the area, the castle ballroom and grounds are open to the public three months of the year. Check opening times before you go at www.balmoralcastle.com.
Within the Balmoral Estate, you’ll find 11 stone cairns, which were installed to commemorate members of the Royal Family. The majority were built by Queen Victoria.
The castle grounds also house a granite stoned church, Crathie Kirk, which is best known for being a place of worship for the Royal Family when in residence at Balmoral. Interestingly, the kirk was built in 1895 with the proceeds of a bazaar held at Balmoral.
Located close to the castle, too, on the south side of the Dee, is a distillery that produces what is claimed to be one of Scotland’s most exclusive whiskies. Originally called New Lochnagar, it was renamed Royal Lochnagar after Queen Victoria’s visit in 1848.
The village of Braemar is popular with outdoors fans, especially those that come to walk in the Cairngorms. There are dozens of hill and mountain summits to hike, including four of the five highest mountains in the UK. Mountain bikers with a sense of adventure – and a map and compass – can explore many miles of remote singletrack routes.
Another popular pursuit is salmon fishing, which is possible on the Dee. The river flows past 17th century Braemar Castle, another iconic historic building that I easily spot from the driver’s seat of my campervan.
The fortification turns out to be my last visitor attraction on the wonderful NE250 route, before I head south again and back home to the central belt.
I join the A93, the Old Military Road, again heading for Spittal of Glenshee and where I started the drive days before.
Already the late spring snow is showing obvious signs of melting with more heather than snow now on the mountain tops. I pass Scotland’s largest ski centre, Glenshee, and I wish that I could afford more time away from home to drive the circular route once again.
Other things to do:
- Aboyne Golf Club
- Annual Braemar Gathering and Highland Games
- Ballater Golf Course
- Cambus O’May Cheese Company
- Detour to Stonehaven for the open-air pool.
- Invercauld Castle is north of Braemar village
- Drum Castle is a castle near Drumoak
For further details of the North East 250 route at www.northeast250.com