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At present there are 13 walks to choose from, from around Ballater and Loch Kinord - and with more walks added regularly.

The Cairn on Craig Vallich

Some local history and a great view of Ballater commend this walk...
Starting point: Ballater bridge over the Dee. 
Distance:  medium (4 miles / 6.4 km)
Climb: 220m, steady, quite steep in places
Difficulty: medium, steep climb in places, final part over heather
Underfoot: mixed - Land Rover track then final 200 m over heather
Estimated time to complete:  2 hours
Scenic value: 6/10
Overall rating: 4/10

View The Cairn on Craig Vallich in a larger map

Comments: If you've stayed in Ballater for any length of time the chances are you'll have seen a solitary, lonely-looking cairn on the hills to the south west of the village that looks like a sentinel keeping watch on everything that goes on down below. But, how do you get up to it? Well, here's how. 

There are some downsides to this walk: you have to walk a fair way along the south Deeside road and then straight up a steep road to the cairn and back again the way you came. If you fancy taking the walk I'd suggest taking a mountain bike (one with some really low gears!) to get up there a bit quicker.  

On the plus side, the view from the cairn is fantastic.  


Just before you reach the left turn that you want you will see a bench and a memorial stone by the side of the road. It commemorates a chance meeting between Queen Victoria and the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, who had been camping at Glen Muick, on 16th September 1899. Sir Allan MacKenzie, the Baronet of Glen Muick, was with the Queen and he presented the commanding officer of the Battalion to her, Lt Colonel Downman. 

Upon the Queen's request the 1st Battalion marched past her carriage.    The meeting was particularly significant because of events that followed soon afterwards: Less than a month later, on 11th October the 2nd Boer War began. The troops the Queen had met were hastily mobilised. They arrived in South Africa on 28th November. 

On 15th February 1900, five months after their meeting with the Queen, the 1st Battalion was involved in desperate fighting at Magersfontein, one of the earliest examples of the use of trench warfare. The Gordon Highlanders were ordered to assist in attacking Boer trenches following an artillery bombardment. The British had shelled the trenches from daybreak until midday. When the order was given to advance however, in an illustration of how effective trenches were in protecting soldiers from an artillery attack, the advancing British troops came under sustained fire from their right flank from Boer soldiers. 

According to the official record, Colonel Downman ordered his men to retreat, to the displeasure of the overall-commanding officer on the day. 

However, four witnesses who were present in the heat of the battle told a different story. According to them when Colonel Downman realised his men were exposed to the lethal flanking fire, or "enfilade fire" as it was known, he rose up, to try to signal to his men on the right to fall back, and to the men on the left to move up, effectively to swing the battalion around to meet the threat head-on. 

In doing so however, Colonel Downman was exposed to enemy fire. He was hit and mortally wounded. Six other men were killed and 35 were wounded. Captain Towse was awarded a VC and two other men were mentioned in despatches for gallantry. 

This memorial stone was erected by Sir Allan MacKenzie, who made the introductions on that day in September and whose own monument sits on the side of Pannanich. 

The memorial of the 1899 meeting between Queen Victoria and the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders
The memorial commemorating the meeting between the Queen and the Gordon Highlanders. 
Once you have taken the left, just before the bridge follow this narrow road along the side of a field. 

Walks around Ballater, near the Bridge of Muick
Follow the narrow road alongside a field.
The narrow road now leads through some trees. It passes a cross-roads. Continue straight ahead. The road passes a cottage on the left and then swings around to the left beyond it. By now it has become more of a Land Rover track. 

Ballater walks, approaching Craig Vallich
Pass the cross-roads, follow the road round to the left past the cottage. 

The Land Rover track continues to turn around to the left. There is a junction to the right. Take the track to the right. 

Junction on the walking path near Ballater
Take the right fork at the junction. 
A few metres up this new Land Rover track is a high wooden gate. A sign on it says that walkers are welcome but that the staff of the estate you are about to enter are at work all year round managing the deer populations. The main shooting season is from 12th August to 20th October and during this period you must be especially careful. As the sign says, stick to the paths and if you hear the sound of gun-fire do not approach it. 

With that provisio in mind - go through the gate to the side of the main gate blocking the Land Rover track.   

Gate on the forest path on Craig Vallich, Deeside walks
Go through the gate to the side of the high gate across the track. 
The Land Rover track leads uphill gaining height rapidly. You can do this on a mountain bike but it is hard work, trust me. 

The path up Craig Vallich, near Ballater
Follow the Land Rover track as it ascends quite steeply. 
Soon the track turns away from the trees on your right and leads almost directly uphill onto the open moorland. Continue to follow it for about 700 metres. You will lose sight of the cairn during this climb. 

To get to the cairn you are going to have to head off the path through the heather to your left. I'd wait until you are roughly level with the cairn to make your walk through the heather as short as possible - because it is hard work. You certainly want to avoid having to walk up the slope through the heather unless you are a real glutton for punishment. 

To help, I'd suggest looking out for a distinctive wooden post with a small metal box on top of it to the right of the track you're on. It is some sort of equipment. When you see that you are almost at the right place. 

On Craig Vallich, near Ballater, Deeside Walks
Look out for the distinctive post to the right of the track with a metal box on it. 
The marker post on Craig Vallich, Deeside Walks
Twenty metres after seeing the post turn left off the track. 
Continue up the path about another 20 metres or so beyond the post and then, take a deep breath, and head off through the heather to your left. You will not be able to see the cairn at this point. It goes without saying - if you can see any sort of activity by estate workers, or hear any guns, do not do this. 

Assuming there is no sign of shooting in the area clamber across the heather as best you can for about 200 m. You won't be able to see the cairn when you step off the path but shortly you'll come over the shoulder of the hill and there it will be.  

The cairn on Craig Vallich, Ballater, Deeside walks
Inscribed on the cairn is 1871 "A.R.M"
The only inscription on the cairn is "1871 A.R.M". I can't discover what the significance of that is but the initials probably stand for Allan Russell MacKenzie, on whose estate the stone stands and who was present at that meeting in 1899 commemorated by the stone at the bridge.  

A panoramic view from Craig Vallich, Ballater, Deeside
The Dee Valley, with Ballater to the right, from Craig Vallich

In the panorama above, the hill in the foreground on the left is called called "The Knock". In the far distance are the hills of Carn Dearg, Candacraig and Craig of Pony. Glen Gairn, straight ahead, leads up between them. The walk Lary to Morven will take you up there. On the right is Ballater with Craigendarroch behind. 

When you have taken in the view retrace your steps back to the path and then back down the hill to Ballater. Alternatively, if you fancy another 200 m climb you can climb to the top of Craig Vallich, but that is for another walk. 

For now, congratulations, you have completed the walk to the cairn on Craig Vallich!


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