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Royal Deeside : Nature Reserves plus, part 1

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On this page three fine areas in the western half of Royal Deeside are briefly described. Here we can do little more than give you a taste for what you will find. Royal Deeside is lucky in that so much of the area has long been in the hands of well-managed estates.

The three areas are owned or managed by different bodies:

Mar Lodge Estate is owned and run by the National Trust for Scotland.

Morrone Birkwood is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Lochnagar and Loch Muick are part of the Balmoral Estate.

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Linn of Quoich, Mar Lodge, Braemar
The Linn of Quoich part of a beautiful walk in the Mar Lodge Estate near Braemar

Mar Lodge Estate

The National Trust for Scotland rather tersely and modestly describe Mar Lodge Estate as follows:

“The 29,380 ha (72,598 a) estate is part of the core area of the Cairngorms, internationally recognised as the most important nature conservation landscape in the British Isles. The estate contains four of the five highest mountains in the UK. It includes the upper watershed of the River Dee and remnant Caledonian pine forest of national importance. Some 7,080 ha (17,500 a) lie within the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve. Large parts of the estate are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the majority of it is within National Scenic Areas. The outstanding wildlife and birdlife on this prime example of a Highland estate are characteristic of the northern mountainous areas of Britain. Conservation work here includes reducing the red deer population to allow regeneration of the native Caledonian pine forest. There is pedestrian access to all the estate, including short and long distance walks, but no special facilities”

This is very much an understatement. That the area contains some of the most wonderful walks and stunning scenery and that the centrepiece of the Estate is the fascinating Mar Lodge with its unique ballroom is somewhat taken for granted. But then, they have a problem: just how do you describe the width and intensity of the Mar Lodge experience in one paragraph? Simply to note that the description does not mention the popular beauty spot of the Linn of Dee or the delightful Linn of Quoich or add that in all there are some 15 Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) on the estate is enough to realize that this is an area spoilt for riches. It also contains the source of the Dee and the start (or finish) point of the Larig Ghru, the 22 mile walk through the heart of the Cairngorms. Indeed, there is believed to be a cairn marking the centre of Scotland – but nobody can recall where it is! Just 4 miles west of Braemar, this estate is one of Scotland’s greatest treasures.

Note on Mar Lodge: Mar Estate was long the seat of the Earls of Mar. The present Mar Lodge was built for the Duke of Fife and Princess Alexandria in 1895. In 1966 death duties forced the division of the estate, with Mar Lodge Estate (and house) being one part. The house was used for a period as a hotel for skiers and walkers. It was then sold as a private home to an an American millionaire. After a major fire, the house was re-built to its former glory. In 1995 the estate was put on the market and after a public appeal and a donation from the Lottery fund, it was bought for the nation by the National Trust for Scotland. The house itself is used for administrative offices but sections have been tastefully converted into self-catering apartments.

Morrone Birkwood, Braemar

Morrone Hill (2835 ft) towers over the village of Braemar and on its side are the remains of a very ancient birch wood. Morrone Birkwood is a special place - as regular visitors will know. Set in some of the most impressive mountain scenery in Scotland, the reserve offers people a unique experience - even within the Cairngorms. Morrone is special for many reasons, and its unusual combination of birch, juniper and lime-loving herbs makes it a very important site. Not only is it rare to find woods like this, but it is even more unusual to find patches of such fertile soils in the uplands. It produces a woodland community that is the best example of its type in Britain - you would have to go to Norway's mountain birchwoods to find anything like it. Not surprisingly, in such an area as this there is much wild-life and it is not uncommon while walking in the wood to come across a herd of wild deer.

Both Morrone itself and Morrone Birkwood are popular walks from the village of Braemar. At about the point where the hill walk leaves the birkwood there is a direction finder. From the direction finder you can see 9 Munros - including Ben MacDui, The Devil's Point, Carn a' Mhaim, Cairn Toul, Braeriach, Derry Cairngorm, Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Mheadhoin. You can also see several Corbetts (mountains over 2500 feet high), Morrone itself being one.

Loch Muick and Lochnagar

Ten miles south-west of Ballater, behind the royal Balmoral estate, is Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s finest mountains (3786 ft). The subject of a poem by Lord Byron and a children’s book by the Prince of Wales, this is not only one of the most romantic mountains in Scotland but one of the most popular with both walkers and climbers. At the foot of Lochnagar lies the wild expanse of Loch Muick, almost totally encircled by steep mountains. Located on the royal estate of Balmoral, its surrounds are home to many types of wildlife, including mountain hare, grouse and herds of red deer. The loch, about 8 miles south-west from Ballater, is accessible via a narrow road running through Glen Muick. This delightful road climbing up past the Falls of Muick terminates at the Loch Muick car park and visitor centre. (There is a small parking fee – used to maintain footpaths and other facilities.)

The area offers a wide range of walks of varying length and difficulty, from the relatively easy tracks around Loch Muick, to the more challenging routes onto Lochnagar and Broad Cairn. Loch Muick is also the starting point for some long-distance walks through the hills to the south. Those who just walk around the loch, total distance about 5 miles, are rewarded by seeing the isolated cottage built for Queen Victoria and its backdrop of the beautiful Glasalt falls. In the first snows of winter, the hill scenery is transformed, with the cliffs of Lochnagar offering superb snow and ice climbing.

For more reserves see part 2

Top of Page

Introduction Balmoral Castle Crathie Kirk Castles 1 Castles 2
Braemar Castle Nature Reserves 1 Nature Reserves 2 Ballater Station  




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