When we were researching the area for walks, we found a photo of a large pyramid cairn that looked very interesting. As soon as I saw the photo, I knew this was a walk I must explore.
We found a walk report on the Walk Highlands website that helped us too. It also mentioned that it’s not advised to walk here when the Royal family is in residence. My heart sank a little when I read this. The thought of arriving there and possibly not being allowed to explore would be so disappointing. I e-mailed Balmoral Castle to check. I was happy with a lovely reply, yes, we could enjoy the walk.
I ‘d also thought of hiking Lochnagar, until I checked how long it would take and how much of a challenge it would be. I’ll save Lochnagar for another time I thought, when we both feel a bit fitter.
Watch my video
You can watch my video if you don’t have time to read on.
Rather than parking at Crathie beside the entrance to Balmoral Castle, we drove across the bridge and followed the signs for Royal Lochnagar Distillery. We arrived at a set of houses on the right at Easter Balmoral. To the left, at the other side of the road, there was space for a couple of cars.
This saved our legs walking all the way from the main road. You might also be able to park at the Royal Lochnagar Distillery or enjoy a wee dram later, if you’re not driving of course. We walked across the road towards the houses and turned first left, passing a red post box.
I was in my element as you can imagine. A new place to explore, not knowing what’s around the corner. I was excited, especially to see the pyramid. We did get a little lost at first and couldn’t find the start of the trail. This was when we realised it wasn’t signposted. Turning back we found the trail across from what looked like a guard house. I don’t know how we missed it.
I’d taken a photo of the walk report map from the Walk Highlands website as a guide and Alan carried his Garmin with access to Ordnance Survey maps. Silly me didn’t check the written walk report, so we ended up walking the trail clockwise instead of anti-clockwise as suggested. It was up, up and up.
Victoria and Albert
Most of the cairns in the estate are to commemorate the marriages of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s children. Queen Victoria ascended to the throne at 18 years old, had nine children with her beloved Albert and died on 22 January 1901, aged 82.
The first cairn caught my eye fairly quickly. It felt like I was going on a treasure hunt or geocaching. I know that the cairns are just a tower of stones, but they also have meaning and purpose.
- Born on 14 April 1857
- Married Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885
- Died on 26 October 1944, aged 87
Princess Beatrice’s cairn was the first one we found. She was the youngest child of Victoria and Albert
There it was, sitting just off the path to the left amongst the shelter of the swaying trees. I stood for a while taking photos, watching the sunlight appear and disappear.
I was thinking of the people who built them and how difficult it must have been carrying heavy stones up the hills, by whatever means. Then having to stack them without toppling over. They certainly knew how to move rocks. Mind you, this cairn was nothing compared the castles and buildings that we still see today.
That magical light I was wishing for was happening right before my eyes. You can see this in my video too. I knew straight away I was going fall in love with this trail. I said a heartfelt cheerio to Beatrice and continued uphill, deeper into the woods.
When we both reached the top of the hill, there was an open view of the sky and trees. This was me trying a panorama with my phone.
The path ahead of us was glowing with the sunlight, also warming the moss covered stones. As I was taking photos, Alan, as always, was taking photos of me.
As I was walking through the trail, I wondered how many other members of the Royal family past and present walked the same path. Is it a ‘must walk’ for them when they stay at Balmoral Castle? It must be such a thoughtful walk, following in the footsteps of their ancestors.
Maybe our Royal family of today has walked the same trail. It’s part of their family history. Did they love it I wondered? Did they struggle climbing this hill and feel the same way I was feeling? If they did, I was smiling. I was following in their footsteps, hiking the same hill, stopping for a moment now and then to catch my breath. We have all experienced this same moment.
As I looked around at the best natural beauty I’ve seen in woodlands, I wondered how old they were. I should mention I feel the same when I walk in the lesser known ancient Dundonald woodlands in Ayrshire. I could see boulders and rocks scattered about everywhere between the trees.
The path became very steep again, it was a fair hike. Tall, thin trees with bare jaggy bottoms and green tops surrounded me. Are the trunks bare because sunlight doesn’t reach here, I thought?
We weren’t alone in the woods as a family appeared behind us, catching up. We stopped to take photos and the lady asked if I had water she could have for her little girl. I had some in my backpack but it had been used. She didn’t seem to mind, so the little girl took a sip.
I knew we were close to the next cairn, I could see it through the trees. Alan was already ahead of me. This was the big one. It might not seem huge to some, compared to the pyramids in Egypt, but this was the first pyramid I’d ever seen.
I lingered, looked in awe, then thought, woah! Then of course my camera came out and I was taking photos and video. Alan was doing the same.
- Born on 26 August 1819
- Married Alexandrina Victoria (Queen Victoria) in 1840
- Died on 14 December 1861, aged 42
This impressive grey stone pyramid was erected by the instruction of Queen Victoria, in memory of her beloved husband Prince Albert. He died young at 42, diagnosed with typhoid fever.
The views across the Deeside landscape were simply beautiful. I felt so lucky that the sun was shining and I could see this. When we were driving back from my Dramathon run the day before we saw the cairn from the road below. It looked so high up on the hill. It certainly was. We were standing at a height of 430m (1,410 feet).
Inscription on the cairn
‘To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862’.
I can honestly say I felt teary. She obviously loved him very much to have this built for him. After he died, Queen Victoria wore black for the rest of her life, overwhelmed with grief.
I watched the TV Series Victoria after this walk to get a feel for the history between them. If it’s a true fact that Albert loved being amongst the trees and woodlands, then this was the most perfect place to honour his memory. I totally get why he felt that connection.
We spent a lot of time here, recording time lapses, taking photos and video. Another family appeared and we chatted for a little while. I could see a slight rainbow far away in the distance. Imagine it was a full rainbow, that would have been a fantastic photo.
I set up my camera on timer and we ran to the cairn, attempting to capture a photo of us together. One photo looked like we were dancing to the song walk like an egyptian. Ha ha, totally unintentional.
Yay, we made it this time and the sun came back.
I loved watching the shadows of the trees dance on the pyramid flickering on and off.
As we spent a long time with Albert, daylight was slipping away with still a long way to walk. We’d already walked around 2.5km (1.5 miles) to Albert’s cairn, with another 8km (5 miles) to go. We could have turned back the way we came but I didn’t want to miss out on the rest of the walk.
We had to pick up our pace and not stop as often. Easier said than done …
This part of the woodlands looked different. The trees were surrounded by long grass instead of mossy rocks and heather that we’d seen previously.
It was just as well we had our Garmin with us, as I was lost already. Paths and narrower trails were popping up everywhere. Alan is good with navigation and maps, I’m not.
Do you ever experience a strange feeling deep inside you when you’re in a beautiful place? It’s difficult to describe in words.
I think it’s feeling at one with what’s around you, knowing that this is what life should be about. We shouldn’t worry or feel stressed about our lives, but experience feelings of true happiness, appreciating our beautiful planet, caring for it and each other. It’s said all the time in different words, a cliché, but so true. We are only here once, make the most of it.
Before I reached the next cairn, I had a panic. My phone ran out of space so I couldn’t record. Help… I needed to record the rest of this walk I said to myself. My head was down deleting old photos and videos from my phone but also trying to pick up my pace as Alan was way ahead of me.
Suddenly I stopped and looked up, and there was Princess Alice, high on my right. Hello pretty Alice.
- Born on 25 April 1843
- Married Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine in 1862
- Died on 14 December 1878, aged 35
When I realised she died so young it made me feel sad. She died of Diphtheria, thought to be caught from her ill son Ernest. She gave him a kiss to console him after she told him the sad news of his sister Marie dying. Alice has such a sad story.
Her cairn looked so pretty in the sunlight with the moss covered rocks all around. When I reached the top, I loved it there. Maybe it was the light twinkling, but it felt so beautiful. I jokingly said to Alan, this is where the unicorns live. This is how it made me feel.
We didn’t linger long sadly. I wish I could have stayed longer.
We passed an open area with lots of mossy boulders and beautiful views to the mountains and Lochnagar.
I wondered if the rubble of boulders used to be a cairn. I’d read that there was once a cairn for John Brown, Queen Victoria’s favourite personal servant from Scotland. The cairn was removed by her son Albert Edward, who became King Edward VII.
We rushed along the trail looking for the next cairn passing what looked like a side path to somewhere, but our Garmin didn’t show a cairn on the map. We walked on but I was wondering what was along there.
You will see from my photos we were almost reaching twilight. A little edit in Adobe Lightroom has helped me lighten some of these. The photos might look a little washed out.
- Born on 1 May 1850
- Married Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia in 1879
- Died on 16 January 1942, aged 91
It was a quick stop and photo at Prince Arthur with autumn glowing around his cairn and more beautiful views of the hills.
The path ahead was scattered with golden leaves.
We were close to Prince Leopold and we could see a cairn high up to the right of us. This wasn’t his cairn though. Leopold’s cairn was to the left downhill, and we came back up this way.
- Born on 7 April 1853
- Married Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont in 1882
- Died on 28 March 1884, aged 30
Prince Leopold had haemophilia and sadly died very young at 30 after a fall, hurting his knee and head, then a cerebral haemorrhage.
His cairn overlooked the beautiful Balmoral Castle. I waved at the castle just to say hello, as you do. I could hear dogs barking in the distance and Alan jokingly said the Corgis would be after me. I made a sharp exit …
It was back up the hill to the next cairn we saw earlier. This was called the Purchase cairn. I thought it was an unusual name until I found out why.
The Purchase Cairn was built in October 1852 to commemorate the purchase of Balmoral Estate by Queen Victoria.
Wow, look at the beautiful land she bought. What a lovely place to sit for a while.
It was windier out in the open land which made me realise that we were sheltered before with the trees around us.
Princess Louise’s cairn was easy to spot and a very short side track off the main path.
- Born on 18 March 1848
- Married John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne in 1871
- Died on 3 December 1939, aged 91
Beautiful open views to the hills here too.
We were really starting to lose the light now and still had a few kilometres to walk.
- Born on 25 May 1846
- Married a German Prince, Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866
- Died on 9 June 1923, aged 77
Princess Helena’s cairn was a short steep incline into the woods. We couldn’t see the cairn from the main path. Our Garmin helped guide us to the start of the path.
This isn’t a great photo as it was dark with no magical sunlight and it started to feel like a different place. I couldn’t miss seeing it no matter how both of us were feeling at this point. I would have been annoyed with myself, so upwards we both went.
Alan kept checking his Garmin as we came to the option of two paths, up or down. We headed downhill and came to this lovely gorge and bridge. I was wary crossing the bridge for some reason. It didn’t look sturdy to me.
Not long after the bridge we were back on the road to where we parked. We found eight cairns all together, six of them for the children, one for Prince Albert and one for the Purchase of Balmoral Estate.
What about the other three children I thought? We didn’t find cairns for:
- Born on 21 November 1840
- Married a German emperor Frederick (Fritz) William of Prussia in 1858
- Died on 5 August 1901, aged 60
I later found out that Princess Victoria does have a cairn in the estate. It wasn’t part of the circuit we walked or mentioned on the Walk Highland’s website. It looks a little further away on top of a hill.
Prince Albert Edward
- Born on 9 November 1841
- Married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863
- Became King Edward VII when his mother Queen Victoria died in 1901
- Died 6 May 1910, aged 68
- Information about Edward VII
- Born on 6 August 1844
- Married the Grand Duchess of Russia, Princess Marie in 1874
- Died 30 July 1900, aged 56
- Information about Prince Alfred
Hiking through these woodlands on the grounds of Balmoral Castle was a Royal experience indeed. These are the most beautiful woodlands I’ve ever seen. No wonder the Royal family past and present stayed here often.
We walked 10.22km (6.3 miles). Our moving time was 2:51 and total time 4:41. This shows you how often we stopped. In hindsight, walking the trail clockwise turned out better for us. If we’d gone the other way, we wouldn’t have had the same experience at Prince Albert’s pyramid cairn.
You can see from the map below how far away Princess Victoria’s cairn was. Even if we’d known about it, we’d have never reached there in time. We really would have been in the woods in the dark of night.
We decided to try to car camping instead of the long drive home in the dark. We knew of a secluded spot where we thought it would be okay to park.
On the way there we stopped off at Braemar again to see if the chip shop was open on a Sunday. It was, yay! We arrived about 15 minutes before closing time at 7pm. I enjoyed my huge piece of fish with chips. Alan enjoyed sausage and chips. This set us up for the night and we didn’t need to worry about cooking in the dark.
It was pitch black when we arrived at our camping spot. Parking charges applied 24 hours so we paid but couldn’t display. The machine didn’t give us a ticket. Oh well, nobody was going to be checking for tickets at this time of night.
You should have seen us trying to move all our stuff out of the car and into the roof box to make room. It was getting so cold too. We eventually set up the car and wrapped up warm in our sleeping bags. I didn’t sleep well though.
In the early hours we popped out of the car to admire the starry sky. This was a perfect place for stargazing, no light pollution at all. We’re not that good at astrophotography. This was the best we captured of the dot-to-dot sky.
When you look out to the night sky there’s a realisation of how small we really are.
We left our camping spot around 7am and headed back home, with a few stops along the way. We crammed so much into this weekend. Yawn, we were both tired, but happy.
Thanks for reading 💙