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Royal Deeside : The Deeside Railway

Images of Royal Deeside, Scotland
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The River Dee is central to Royal Deeside but although used for transporting goods such as timber it was never greatly used for travel. Traditionally the main form of movement (and communication) was the North Deeside Road (or A93) with lesser use of the South Deeside Road. A description of a journey along these roads is given elsewhere in this site (journey).

However, central to the development of Royal Deeside as we know it today was the railway. Although in use for only about 100 years it changed the area dramatically. It created publicity through its use by royalty and important visitors travelling to and from Balmoral, it created a cheap form of transport for people holidaying in Deeside and it acted as a commuter railway for people working in Aberdeen.

Today the station at Ballater is a visitor centre recalling this time and a short stretch of railway near Banchory is being re-opened by railway enthusiasts. Long sections of the trackbed are used as popular public footpaths.

Below is a brief history of the line.

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Ballater Station, The Deeside Railway
Ballater Station around 1960


The railway through Deeside began on 7th September 1853 when the line opened between Aberdeen and Banchory. On 2nd December 1859 the line was extended to Aboyne and on 17th October 1866 to Ballater which became the terminus. A track was laid to the Bridge of Gairn but was not used and its alignment is today the walk-way known as the Old Line. Originally the whole line was a single track with passing loops but between 1884 and 1899 a double track was laid to Park enabling a frequent suburban service between Aberdeen and Culter. This popular service was nick-named 'The Subbies'.

Over the years Ballater saw a great variety of steam locomotives. The best remembered is the 'Great North' 4-4-0 class of which 'Gordon Highlander', the sole survivor, is now in the Glasgow Transport Museum. From 1958 an electric battery railcar, affectionately christened 'The Sputnik' was used experimentally for some years.

Initially the railway as far as Aboyne was operated by the Deeside Railway Company and to Ballater by the Aboyne and Braemar Railway Company. The companies joined to form the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1876. The 'Great North' itself was amalgamated in 1923 with other east coast railways to form L.N.E.R. Finally, in 1948 British Railways assumed responsibility for the Deeside line until the controversial Beeching Report of 1963 resulted in closure of the line despite vigourous local opposition. Passenger services from Ballater ceased on 28th February 1966 and freight service later that year. The last journey of Queen Elizabeth from the station had begun at 7.15pm on 15th October, 1965. In its heydey mainly famous people, including the Tsar of Russia, used Ballater station as did many thousands of ordinary tourists.

Royal Station, Ballater, Scotland
The old Royal Station at Ballater is now a Visitor Centre

Ballater Station was at first a simple booking office on a single platform but in 1886 the Royal Waiting Room was built to a design approved by Queen Victoria. Having fallen into disuse after the closure the station was refurbished and used as an area office by the local District Council. The Royal Waiting Room was visited by Queen Elizabeth on its centenary in 1986. Afterwards Her Majesty inspected the Royal Guard in front of the station as had been the tradition after the arrival of the Royal Train. In 2002 after extensive refurbishment the station buildings were re-opened as a visitor centre also housing the local tourist office.

The Deeside line to Ballater was in the forefront of rural railway lines: scenically because of the beautiful views from the train and socially because of the exceptional array of passengers. From all over the world, they ranged from British and Foreign Royalty and Heads of Governments to youngsters with rucksacks and bicycles. Maybe soon the line will see such activity again, if only over the short stretch between Banchory and Crathes.

Top of Page

Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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This website is maintained for the benefit of the residents of Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland by
Ballater (RD) Ltd, a charitable company limited by Guarantee.


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