Monday, July 8, 2013

Exploring Balmoral Estate

This past weekend, we were blessed with some of the best weather we’ve experienced since moving to Aberdeen. On Friday, Jonathan had plans to go golfing on the Queen’s Highland estate at Balmoral, and I was a tad jealous. I’d heard there were various walking trails on the estate, and I figured I’d take the day sans husband to do a bit of exploring myself. 

The estate is closed to the public from the end of July through early September since the royal family summers here. Though I’d passed by the castle many times, it was always during one of these ‘occupied’ months and so I’d never actually been inside. Wanting to capitalize on the good weather, I grabbed Samson and picked up my friend Robyn and her dog along the way to do some royal hiking. On the way, Robyn informed me that it was 10 pounds (15 dollars) to enter the castle grounds. 

The castle? I asked. 

No, the estate itself. 

This was news to me and made me question driving 1.5 hours to pay to walk my dog when there was so much beautiful free countryside inbetween. But we decided to fork over the money to gain access to the castle grounds and therefore have access to acres worth of hilly and riverside walking trails.
I have to say, the grounds were beautiful, but for the cost, the trails were really poorly kept. The grass was really overgrown which lead to lots of critters covering both Samson and I. I was totally freaked out to find 2 ticks on him and 3 (!) on myself. I am still wigging out over this, 3 days later. 

Despite the steep cost and less-than-ideally maintained trails, I tried to enjoy the atmosphere. Throughout the paths, we had several vantage points of the castle, nearby Lochnagar mountain, and a few royal cairns. 

Cairns are a Scottish tradition of building stone mounds in memory or recognition of a loved one or important event. They are sprinkled throughout the estate, but this was one right on the marked path. 
Just behind it was a view of the castle so it was an especially picturesque spot for a water break.  Since it was such a warm day (74 degrees!) and the walking trails were quite hilly, we took the dogs down to the castle promenade and sat in the shade for a bit before heading down to the river to let the dogs cool off and walk a bit more. 

I decided not to tour the castle since the public is only allowed to view one room and dogs aren’t allowed inside. Again, pretty minimal access for the cost of admission. 
Overall, the estate is beautiful, photogenically situated in the middle of the Cairngorm mountains.  However, as far as dog walking goes, I much prefer the Crathes Castle Estate in Banchory. All you have to do is pay 2 pounds for parking (unless you’re a Scottish Trust member, like us, and then it’s ‘free’) and you have access to miles and miles of well kept walking trails. 
Dog walking on Crathes Estate
It’ll cost you a bit more to tour the castle, which we’ve done twice, but the grounds are the main selling point. It’s one of our favorite spots to take the pups and visitors and usually takes no more than 45 minutes to drive to. 
April at Crathes
But even though I didn’t think dog walking on the Balmoral grounds was worth the drive and price, Jonathan had an amazing time golfing. The weather was perfect and he even showed signs of a sunburn. He took a few pictures along the course, and you can see just how beautiful the weather and surrounding scenery was. 

But he even said that he was slightly disappointed that it was only a 9 hole course, so to golf the entire 18, they just repeated it twice. I guess we both expected more from an official royal residence. 

Still, it’s pretty cool that the royal family deems northern Scotland fabulous enough to spend a chunk of their summer there. Yep, that's our little neck of the globe, folks. Pretty awesome. 
Also, I had been wanting to take Sam to Balmoral since I know it was a favorite property of Queen Victoria, a lover of Scotland and of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. In fact, she had a dog that looked just like Samson, named Dash, so in her honor, I took a photo of my royal pup in front of her favorite palace. 
Dash had a starring role in the film 'The Young Victoria'
my little prince
Hands down, the main draw of hiking on the estate grounds is the lovely scenery. However, this same landscape can be accessed via some of my personal favorite hikes. So if you're just wanting to sample some of the highlands for yourself, I'd recommend a walk around Loch Muick or perhaps the Seven Bridges Hike from Ballater.

Both of these hikes even offer some castle views of their own.
One of Queen Victoria's old houses on Loch Muick

Castle ruins along Seven Bridges Hike


  1. I hate y'all didn't enjoy it as much as I did. Did you go up the main path to see the ponies and coos? I totally forgot about the costs since we didn't have to pay because Mere and Ryan were doing the safari tour. I do agree Crathes and Seven Bridges are better. So sorry it wasn't what you were expecting!

  2. Just gorgeous. I miss Scotland:(