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Royal Deeside : Walks around Dinnet

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Walks around Dinnet Area

The village of Dinnet stands at the edge of the delightful Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve. Recently, the Upper Deeside Access Trust has created several new pathways through the Reserve and have up-graded several others. A brochure illustrating the walks is available locally and in some VisitScotland Tourist Information Centres.

The old Deeside railway also used to run through Dinnet and the former track-bed is now a cycle and walking path. So with both sets of walking opportunities Dinnet offers much to those who like walking along with history and wildlife.

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  Dinnet pages Introduction Accommodation History Walks  

Gate Lodge, Dinnet near Ballater
A Gate Lodge in Dinnet, near Ballater

The map below gives a guide to the locations of various places of interest around the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve

Map of Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve near Ballater
Map of the Muir of Dinnet near Ballater


The Kinord Stone

celtic cross

The Kinord Stone, which can now be viewed on the shores of Loch Kinord (see map), is the best example of a Celtic symbol stone in Britain. Carved in granite, this beautiful Celtic Cross is believed to have dated back to the ninth century AD. It is thought that is was commissioned by St Fumoc to furnish a small chapel at Kinord. Others suggest that the stone dates back to the days of Malcolm Canmore, 11th century, when the aforementioned chapel was consecrated by his wife, Queen Margaret - later St Margaret of Scotland. Indeed, there are remains of a small, rectangular building close by, but no evidence to prove that it was ever a chapel.

The original location of the cross is sadly lost, as the stone was moved to a safe location in 1820. It was returned 100 years later and thought to occupy a site very close to the original.

The Crannog

(Picture of the crannog)

Still to be seen in Loch Kinord, although now nothing more exciting than a small, grassy mound covered in stones and a couple of bushes. What you are, infact, looking at is the best original example of an Iron Age crannog in the whole of the North East of Scotland dating back to the early years of the first millennium AD.

A crannog is a man made island, created from wood and stone on which a dwelling house would have stood. The idea was defensive. Normally, a causeway would lead from the crannog to the mainland. However, in times of attack, the causeway would be destroyed, leaving the family safe on their island on the loch and the attackers on the mainland. Most of the lochs in Scotland would have had such dwellings on them, but very few have survived. It is a credit to the engineers of this one that it has survived for almost 2000 years!

Four log boats - or canoes - have been found in the Loch around the crannog, and one is said to still lie in situ, buried in the mud. These boats were hollowed out of oak and would have given the family residing in the crannog safe passage back to the mainland when there attackers had left.

This particular crannog could have been inhabited well into the middle ages, and mention has been made to its use as a prison extension of Castle Island in Malcolm Camore's day and also as a tollbooth

Castle Island

(Castle Island on Loch Kinord - viewed from Viewpoint in BurnO'Vat)

Although the Royal connections in Deeside are well know from the advent of Queen Victoria, Deeside has been home to Royalty for several centuries. Although Lumphanan and Kincardine O'Neil can boast the biggest Royal Connection in Deeside, happily Dinnet has also seen it's fair share of monarchs too.

Castle Island, on Loch Kinord, seen know as a grassy mound near the shores, has an awesome history. It is thought that a stronghold was erected here as far back as the early 11th Century, and occupied for a time by King Maelbetha (1040-1057) - better known as Shakespere's MacBeth!

It fell into the hands of Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III) when he succeeded the throne in 1057. Canmore and his second wife Margaret (later canonised as St Margaret of Scotland) made good use of this Island fortress, although not much is documented about this time. It is understood, however, that while the Royal family took pleasure in the Castle, criminals could enjoy the views from the Loch at 'His Majesty's Pleasure' - the crannog was used as a tollbooth, "where he kept his prisoners"! So taken was Queen Margaret by her home in Kinnord, that she consecrated a chapel on the shores (See section on Celtic Cross)

The next time that Castle Island is mentioned in the history books is 1296 and 1303, when it is believed that Edward I "the Hammer of the Scots" camped overnight there when leading his troops through Scotland

In 1335, after the Battle of Culblean, Sir Robert Menzies fled the battlefield and sought refuge on the island, which had been given to him, rather prematurely, by Earl Davy. He only managed to spend one night there before surrendering to Sir Andrew de Moray's men.

During the 15th Century, the Land became part of Earl of Huntly's estate and the stronghold was re-fashioned as a hunting lodge. It is documented that James IV spent the month of October there in 1505, at the expense of the Treasuries purse (In those days, Loch Kinord was known as Loch Canmor, after Malcolm III) -

"The v day of October, to Jacob Edmanstoun for tursing of the Kingis doggis to Loch Canmore… xiiij s.
The ix day of October, to the boatmen of Loch Canmor, be the Kingis command… xiiij s.
To ane man that provit the water of the Don befor the King… ix s.
The x day of October, payit to Schir Peter Crechtoun he gaif, be the Kingis command, to ane blind man in
Loch Canmor… v s."

(Extract from the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer)

After these events, nothing of note has been written about the fortress, until, in 1646, when it once more found itself written about in the catalogue of events in another Civil War - Crown versus Covenant. In these days, the Kingdoms of Scotland and England were united under the control of Charles I, a great advocate of the "Divine Right of Kings". Again, this led to divided loyalties within Scotland leading to more fierce and bloody conflicts, many of them taking place through Aberdeenshire and Deeside. The Marquis of Huntly, a fervent Royalist, garrisoned his fortress on Loch Kinord in the name of Charles I, but not for long. It was sieged and captured by the Covenanters under General Leslie and finally demolished - for the last time - in 1648 by an Act of Parliament. Although the wooden bridge linking the island to the mainland survived until 1783, all that remains of the castle are some large stones covered in grass!

Burn O'Vat

(The Vat - viewed from the top of the waterfall)

The landscape of the Muir of Dinnet was moulded by glacial meltwater at the later stages of the Ice Age. Although in the depths of winter, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have never come out of the Ice Ages, the ice did actually retreat some 13, 500 years ago, leaving some geological treasures still visible today.

One such treasure if the Burn O'Vat, located just 2 ½ miles from the village of Dinnet on the B9119. Located in the heart of the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve, the Burn O'Vat is not only a Scottish Natural Heritage site, but also a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). As well as being one of the most popular walking trails in Deeside, and home to many species of bird and wildlife, the Vat itself is a 'must see' when you come to the area.

The visitors centre is located next to the car park, and gives detailed information about the formation of the Vat, local history and a comprehensive guide to what bird and wildlife to look out for in the area. The visitor centre is open ?-? and is usually manned by a Scottish Natural Heritage Ranger (?) who is available to answer any questions you should have. There are also toilets next to the car park.

With a number of tracks to choose from, your walk can be as long or as short as you like. Newly laid tracks make for easy walking and there is disabled access to many of the areas. In times of high water level, the route into the VAT may be slippery, and therefore dangerous. If in doubt, please check with the attendant.

Gilderoy MacGregor

Following the Civil war, looting and plundering was at it's worst. The local crofters employed the services of a band of MacGregors from Perthshire, led by Gilderoy, as mercenaries. Unfortunately, the cure was worse than the disease!! Once the looters were dealt with, Gilderoy and his band of men, set up a lucrative enterprise of cattle rustling, stealing and driving cattle over the drovers roads. They are believed to have hidden out in a cave at the Burn O'Vat and conducted their evil deeds for a number of years. The cave is still visible when the water levels are low in the Vat - a small recess behind the waterfall, which acts as concealing curtain over the opening. The cave is erroneously referred to as 'Rob Roy's cave', but is fact 'Gilderoy's cave'.

(Gilderoys Cave - Burn O'Vat)

So serious were Gilderoy's crimes that the following Proclamation was issued by the Privy Council March, 1636 -

"Patrick MacGregor (aka Gilderoy) and others hes associat and combynned themselves togidder, hes thair residence neere to the forests of Culblene (Culblean)…..and from these parts they come in darknes of the night down to the incountrie, falls unaware upon the houses and goods of his Majesties poore subjects and spoyles theme of their goods, and, being full handed with the spoyle they goe backe agane to the bounds forsaids where they keepe mercat of thair goods peaceablie and uncontrolled, to the disgrace of law and order. For the remeid whairof the Lords of Secreit Counsell charge all landslord and heretours, where thir brokin lymmars has thair resset, abode, and starting holes, to rise, putt thamselffes in arnes, and to hunt, follow and persew, shout and raise the fray, and with fire and sword to persew the saids theeves, and never leave aff thair persute till they be ather apprehended or putt out of the countrie"

In other words - Wanted: Dead or Alive!! With a price of £1000 on his head.

Gilderoy was eventually caught and hanged in 1658.

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