deesidewalks.com

Welcome to Deesidewalks.com, a website for people looking for walking routes on Deeside in Scotland.


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

The Seven Bridges Trail

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The Seven Bridges Trail Includes the ruins of Knock Castle. 
*** PLEASE NOTE: due to flood damage Polhollock Bridge over the River Dee is closed so you can do the walk on the north or south banks of the river but cannot cross over ***

Starting point: Ballater Bridge over the Dee
Distance:  long (6.2 miles / 10 km)
Climb: 50m, very gentle
Difficulty: easy, except for the length and 200m on a narrow path
Underfoot: mainly roads or Land Rover tracks, 200m on narrow grassy path
Estimated time to complete:  3 hours
Scenic value: 6/10
Overall rating: 5/10


View The Seven Bridges Trail in a larger map

Comments: The Seven Bridges Trail is a good choice for those looking for a walk of a good length but with not too much uphill and which is almost entirely on wide, flat tracks. In fact it lends itself to mountain-biking because you could do almost all of it on bike and easily push the bikes along the short parts on where you couldn't ride them. 

The walk also takes in some interesting local history: the kids will love the ruins of Knock Castle, and you will also see the wrought-iron Polhollick Bridge, The Queen Mother's old fishing lodge and learn the story of the railway line west of Ballater which was built but on which trains never ran - because a certain monarch decided she wasn't keen on the idea. 

A Bing map/Ordinance Survey map of the same area:



Route

There is a route for this walk displayed on the Cairngorms Access Trust board in Ballater Village Centre. It suggests starting the walk along the old railway line. I'm going to suggest doing it the other way: starting along the Old Deeside Road and finishing up returning to Ballater along the old railway line as I think that is a prettier way to finish the walk. As you go around the walk you'll see the wooden sign-posts placed by the Access Trust although they'll be pointing back the way you came.

1st Bridge - Ballater Bridge

The walk starts at the first of the seven bridges, Ballater Bridge. Cross over the bridge to the South Deeside Road. 


Seven Bridges Trail - Ballater Bridge
Cross Ballater Bridge.
When you get to the South Deeside Road turn right. 


Seven Bridges Trail - The South Deeside Road
When you get to the South Deeside Road turn right. 
2nd bridge: Brackley Burn Bridge

After about a half a mile walking along the South Deeside Road you approach a junction (see below). This is the Bridge of Muick (Muick is pronounced "Mick"). About 100 metres before the junction is a bridge over a small burn, called Brackley Burn. The burn comes from three sources near the top of Pannanich and flows just past Glen Muick House. 

Continue over Brackley Burn Bridge until you come to the junction below.
The Bridge of Muick on the Seven Bridges Trail
Continue over Brackley Burn Bridge to the junction at the Bridge of Muick. 

3rd bridge: The Bridge over the River Muick

At the junction in the photograph above, there is a pretty granite bridge. The road bends around to the right and crosses it. Just before you get to the bridge you'll see this memorial plaque. It commemorates a chance meeting on 16th September 1899 between Queen Victoria and the Baronet of Glen Muick, Sir Allan Russell MacKenzie, who were out driving by carriage; and the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Downman. 


Memorial Stone to the Gordon Highlanders, Deeside Walks
The plaque commemorating the meeting between the Queen and the Gordon Highlanders.

The chance encounter was given an added significance by the events that followed shortly afterwards. A month after the meeting, the 2nd Boer War broke out. The Gordon Highlanders were immediately mobilised and arrived in South Africa that November. Three months later they were in action in Magersfontein in a battle that would presage the pointless slaughter of trench warfare in World War I. 

On 15th February 1900 the men who, five months earlier had met the Queen, were ordered to attack a Boer Trench. They came under heavy fire from their right flank. Lt Colonel Downman rose up to try and signal his men to wheel round and face the attack but in so doing he received a mortal wound and died. Six other men were killed and 35 wounded.  


Getting back to our walk, pass the plaque and continue to follow the main road over the Bridge of Muick. 

Now the road becomes very straight. Continue along it. 


The South Deeside Road, Deeside Walks
Continue to follow the South Deeside Road. 
The road passes a junction with a wide gravel road on the right shortly before a set of buildings that is Dalliefour Farm. At the junction there is a Deeside Access Trust marker post on the verge on the left-hand side that points down the gravel road. 

If you prefer you can take the gravel road to the right now and shorten the walk a bit, but I would suggest continuing along the South Deeside Road for a further quarter-mile because down there is a sight worth seeing: Knock Castle. 


Dalliefour Farm, walks near Ballater
I suggest continuing down the main road for now. You will return to this junction. 

A quarter-mile after the junction with the gravel road, the South Deeside Road turns to the left. Straight ahead an overgrown track heads up the hill into the woods. If you are on foot the shortest route to get to Knock Castle is to follow the overgrown footpath over the hill. It's just a short distance and you can't go wrong. 


If you are on a bike follow the road around to the left. 


Approaching Knock Castle - Deeside Walks
If you're on foot take the overgrown track straight ahead. If on bike, follow the road. 

For those on a bike: After 200 metres you'll come to a crossroads. Turn right. 



Ardmeanach - Deeside Walks
Those on bike will come to a crossroads, turn right. 

From the crossroads a Land Rover track leads up the hill into the woods. You can just about manage this on a bike in low gear. 



Entrance to Knock Castle, walks near Ballater
Follow the Land Rover track uphill into the woods. 

I can't resist mentioning that there are some very pretty cottages around here but in fairness to the owners I won't say precisely where. 



Country Cottage on walk on Royal Deeside
Rural bliss in Royal Deeside

Back to the Land Rover track through the woods, after a short distance it will emerge and turn left along some fields. Follow it. You'll see Knock Castle in front of you. Don't try to climb the fence, it is electrified. 



Knock Castle, the Seven Bridges Trail
Follow the road left, Knock Castle is straight ahead. 

After a short distance you'll see a stile over the fence. Check there is no livestock nearby in the field. Assuming there is not, climb over the stile and walk across the field to the castle. 



Stile leading to Knock Castle, Seven Bridges Trail
Climb over the stile and walk towards the castle. 

Knock Castle

The castle was built around 1600 so you might think that would have been after most of the fighting and bloodshed of days of yore. Not a bit of it. 



Knock Castle, near Ballater, Deeside
The castle was built around 1600. 

Have a close look at the upper windows. Do you notice anything odd?


Underneath the windows on the 1st floor there is a line of three holes.     Can you guess what they're for?


Pistol holes on Knock Castle, history of Deeside
Look out for three holes under the upper windows
The answer is simple: to shoot people. The idea was that if the castle came under attack the occupants could see their attackers from the relative safety of the narrow windows and fire at them with their pistols through the holes (provided the attackers were standing in just the right place of course!).

It turned out that the castle's architects were right to anticipate violence. Originally, the castle was occupied by the Gordon family. Shortly after the it was built, around 1600, the 2nd Laird of Knock was murdered by members of the neighbouring Forbes clan. His brother Alexander Gordon, the 3rd laird, took over. 

According to the story, Alexander Gordon sent his seven sons out to cut peat for the winter store. The brothers strayed into the territory of the Forbes clan, with whom the feud was still going on. They were discovered by the Forbes and all seven brothers were killed, their heads were severed and impaled on their peat shovels. 

Some time later Alexander Gordon began to get concerned as to what had happened to his seven sons that he had sent peat collecting. He  told a servant to go see what had happened. When the servant returned and told Alexander that all his sons had been murdered and their heads impaled on their shovels, in shock Alexander reportedly fell down the spiral staircase you can still see at one corner of the castle and also died. 

While you're at Knock Castle you may also want to see if there are any highland cattle in the surrounding fields but be careful - don't enter fields containing cattle, don't feed them and keep dogs under control. 


Highland Coos on the Seven Bridges Trail, Deeside Walks
There are sometimes highland cattle in the fields around Knock Castle.

After Knock Castle

I've tried hard to find a route from Knock Castle that means you don't have to return the way you came after visiting it but there isn't really one. So instead you'll have to retrace your steps from Knock Castle back to the South Deeside Road and then return down the South Deeside Road past Dalliefour farm until you come to the turn-off at the gravel road. The gravel road will now be on your left although the photograph below is taken from the east of the junction and so the track is on the right. There is a marker post in the grass verge opposite the junction. 

Take the wide gravel track which is now on your left. 


Dalliefour Farm, walks around Ballater
Return to the junction with the gravel track (now on your right) and turn onto the gravel track.
Just to check you're on the correct road - almost immediately you should see a gate across the gravel road. Go through it. 


Seven Bridges Trail, Deeside Walks
If you come to a gate almost immediately you're going the right way. 

Go down the gravel path. To your right are trees and just beyond them you may see the River Dee. To your left are fields. After about half a mile look to your left - you may see the silhouette of what appears to be a young deer:


Metal deer on a walk around Deeside
You may see this to your left after about a half mile. 

How did I know a deer what going to be in that spot when you were doing your walk? Because it's not a real deer. It is a metal silhouette that the game-keepers use when taking clients deer-stalking to give them some practice using their rifles and check they are reasonable shots. 


Continue along the wide gravel Land Rover track. 


South Deeside Road, walking route around Ballater
The gravel track enters a wood. Continue straight ahead ignoring turnings to the left and right. 

Eventually, the gravel track turns to the left. There is a wall and some fields beyond. Through the last of the trees you can make out the elegant metalwork of Polhollick Bridge. 



Approaching Polhollick Bridge, Deeside walk
The track turns right, you pass a wall and can see Polhollick Bridge in the distance. 

4th bridge: Polhollick Bridge


Follow the path to the buildings and Polhollick Bridge. 

The bridge was built in 1892 by James Abernethy and Co of Aberdeen. The same firm built Cambus o' May Bridge 13 years later in 1905 and Invercauld Bridge in 1924. The bridge was gifted to the public by Alexander Gordon and is a Grade B Listed Building.   


Polhollick Bridge, Deeside Walk
Polhollick Bridge is the 4th bridge on the Seven Bridges Trail

Cross Polhollick Bridge. On the far side a Land Rover track leads along the river for a short distance and then towards the North Deeside Road. Follow the Land Rover track. 



Seven Bridges Trail near Polhollick Bridge
Cross Polhollick Bridge and follow the Land Rover track on the other side. 

The new footpath / the route along the road for cyclists

There has been a recent improvement to this walk. Those on foot can avoid walking along the North Deeside Road (A93) back to Ballater by taking the new footpath. 

Those on bike however will struggle to take the footpath and therefore I would recommend cyclists only to follow the Land Rover track until it joins the A93. Turn right onto the A93 and follow it for about half a mile. 


The 7 bridges trail joins the Braemar Road
Cyclists: follow the Land Rover track to the North Deeside Road and turn right.  

Cyclists, just after the Bridge of Gairn (see below), turn right off the North Deeside Road at some farm buildings and take the grassy footpath there. You are now back onto the main route. 

 
Cyclists, turn off the A93 at these farm buildings and look for a grassy footpath to your left (see below).


Walkers, you have a new route. After Polhollick Bridge walk about 100 metres until you come to a gate on your right. Go through the gate. 


Walkers, go through this gate on your right about 100m after Polhollick Bridge
The wooden gate leads onto a narrow footpath through the woods. Follow it. 


Follow the footpath through the woods. 

The footpath briefly becomes more like a Land Rover track but then branches off to the left. Be sure and take this left fork. It is denoted by a marker post. 


Go left where the footpath appears to branch, into the woods. 

After a short distance you will come to stream with a large rock in the centre of it to allow you to cross. Cross the stream. 


Step across the stream using the large rock in the centre

The path comes out of the woods and follows the edge of some fields. There is a wooden bridge across a tiny stream. This bridge has been erected recently and, ahem, doesn't count as one of the "Seven Bridges" otherwise they would have to rename it the "Eight Bridges Trail".  


Cross the wooden structure that for accounting purposes is not a bridge. 

Shortly afterwards the path reaches a small river, the River Gairn. The path bends to the left and follows the River Gairn until you come to a wooden bridge. Use the wooden bridge to cross the River Gairn.

5th bridge: The Bridge of Gairn


Cross the wooden bridge over the River Gairn
The Bridge of Gairn is the 5th bridge on the Seven Bridges Trail. Those on bike will cross the road bridge slightly further up river. 

For those on foot, once you are across the wooden bridge, immediately turn left and follow the tarmac road up past the farm buildings towards the main road. 


Once across the Bridge of Gairn immediately turn left
Just before you reach the main road there is a grassy footpath leading off to your right. Walkers and cyclists: take this path. 


The old railway line going back to Ballater, walks on Deeside
Take the grassy path on the right of the slip road. 

There is a branch of the grassy path leading right but ignore that. Bear left, following the path down the valley. 



A branch in the path, Deeside walks
Bear left at the junction in the path. 

You are now on the route of the "old railway line" (more about that later) heading down the valley back towards Ballater. 



The old railway line, walks near Ballater
Follow the broad Land Rover track down the valley



6th bridge: Bridge opposite "Polvier" The Queen Mother's Fishing Lodge

The penultimate bridge is this wooden one across an unnamed burn that leads into the Dee. Go across it. 

The 6th bridge on the 7 bridges trail, Deeside walks
Cross the wooden bridge over the burn (this photograph was taken in December.)
Through the foliage, can you see a wooden lodge on the other side of the River Dee from the bridge? This is "Polvier", the old Fishing Lodge of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the wife of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the present queen. 


Polvier the Queen Mother's fishing lodge on the 7bridges trail
Across the river is Polvier, The Queen Mother's fishing lodge
Continue to follow the old railway line downhill until you come into the west side of Ballater village. The track arrives at the Old Line Road which leads into the village. Follow the Old Line Road


The Old Line Road, Ballater, Deeside walks
The track joins the Old Line Road in Ballater. Follow that road. 

The Old Line Road joins Braemar Place. To the left it leads up to the main Braemar Road. Straight ahead of you there is a footpath with a stone block in the centre to prevent any cars taking it. Walk straight ahead onto the footpath. 



Dundarroch Road, the Seven Bridges Trail
From the Old Line Road walk straight ahead onto the footpath. 

The foot path widens out into Dundarroch Road, a short cul-de-sac that leads to Invercauld Road. At the end of Dundarroch Road turn left onto Invercauld Road. 



Invercauld Road, Ballater, Seven Bridges Trail
At the end of Dundarroch Road turn right onto Invercauld Road. 

Follow Invercauld Road to the junction with the main Braemar Road. 
Turn right onto the Braemar Road. 


The Braemar Road, Ballater, Seven Bridges Trail
From Invercauld Road turn right onto Braemar Road. 
At the junction with Braemar Road you'll see a sign for the Seven Bridges Trail directing you back the way you have come. Don't worry. I've suggested doing the walk in a clockwise direction as it gets the less interesting part along the South Deeside Road over first. 

7 Bridges Trail sign, Ballater, Deeside walks
Don't worry about the sign post for the Seven Bridges Trail directing you back the way you came. 
Remember, so far you've been over six out of the seven bridges on The Seven Bridges Trail. You're now approaching the final bridge, what I would call "The Bridge Over Nothing". 

7th bridge - the Bridge Over Nothing


After a short distance, Braemar Road or "Bridge Street" as it is called at this point, goes over a hump back bridge. You can go straight over the bridge but I'd suggest taking the left just before the bridge which is called Provost Craig Road


7th bridge on the 7 bridges trail, Ballater, Deeside walks
Turn left onto Provost Craig Road just before the hump back bridge. 
Almost immediately turn right off Provost Craig Road across a small car park. Follow the footpath leading to Old Ballater train station. 

Old Ballater Train Station, Deeside walks
Follow the footpath to Old Ballater Train Station

If you look to your right while you're on the footpath you'll see why the final bridge on the Seven Bridges Trail is what I'd describe as a bridge over nothing: the road bridge goes over an empty tunnel. 

It looks as though there used to be a railway line here and the bridge was built for that reason however I can tell you that although a bridge was built, and the route for a railway line was laid out all the way up to Bridge of Gairn - there never was a railway line west of Ballater. The reason for this "phantom railway line" is all down to Royal whim. 

Queen Victoria and the Ballater railway line

In 1864 plans were made to extend the railway line which ran west from Aberdeen and which at that time terminated in the village of Aboyne, 10 miles east of Ballater. 

The plan was to extend the line all the way up the Dee Valley to Braemar. However, when the statute that was necessary to authorise the new railway line was placed before Parliament, The Aboyne and Braemar Railway Act 1865, the proposed Act authorised the construction of a railway line carrying passengers as far as Ballater only. From Ballater to Bridge of Gairn the developers were authorised to build a railway line or tramway for the carrying of goods only - not people. There was no provision for any rail line whatsoever west of the Bridge of Gairn. 

There doesn't seem to be any logical reason why the Act should specify that the railway line west of Ballater should be for the carrying of goods only and therefore the belief was that this was done upon the wishes of Queen Victoria who did not her peace and privacy in Balmoral Estate disturbed by a railway. 

Furthermore, in what is perhaps more evidence of the influence of the Queen, although the line was laid between Ballater and Bridge of Gairn - the old railway line that this walk goes along - no tracks were ever laid and no goods trains or trams were ever run. 

By 1868 the ground had been prepared for the goods railway to run as far as Bridge of Gairn, the intention being that it would carry timber from Ballochbuie forest, then owned by the James Farquarshon. A new bridge over the river Gairn had been built for the railway, when, all of a sudden, construction ceased. 

It may be just coincidence but it so happened that in 1868 Ballochbuie Forest, where the timber was to be loaded, was bought by Queen Victoria on a 10 year lease. She bought it outright in 1878. As the new owner of Ballochbuie forest Her Majesty no longer saw the need for the railway to collect the timber there and so the proposed railway route from Ballater to Bridge of Gairn fell into decrepitude, without a train ever having run along it.  

Old railway line bridge, Deeside walks
By the Old Station you can see the route of the railway line running west that was never used. 
You should now come out by the front of Old Ballater Railway Station, where Queen Victoria alighted on her way to Balmoral Castle before continuing her journey by carriage. 

If you're interested in finding out more about the old railway line you can have a look at the excellent museum in the old railway station in which Queen Victoria's royal train carriage is kept. 
Ballater Station at the end of the Seven Bridges Trail
For now, congratulations you have completed the Seven Bridges Trail!

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