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Royal Deeside

The stunning landscape that moved Queen Victoria to decree it "Royal"
is still beguiling visitors a century-and-a-half later.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

The frothy, churning waters of the Falls of Feugh are an off-white colour swirled with peaty brown. I have come to this conclusion while standing on the Bridge of Feugh, a short walk from the centre of Banchory, the beating heart of Royal Deeside. I am standing on the bridge, debating the exact hue of the waters below, while waiting, patiently I might add, for the first appearance of the star attraction. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes...and there it is: a tiny, dark shape hurling itself up like a solitary exclamation mark trying to escape the empty white page. The leaping salmon of the Falls of Feugh are a miracle of tenacity, the very sight of which delivers an intoxicating jab of adrenaline, one best calmed by a swift retreat to the aptly named Falls of Feugh tearoom for a strong brew.

The woman I have followed to this most charming, beautiful and, at times, desolate, area of Scotland would have preferred something stronger than a cup of tea, for when Queen Victoria, who first bestowed the "Royal" on this area of Deeside, was in residence 150 years ago, she was more than partial to a nip or more of our national drink. John Brown, her ghillie, bodyguard and, perhaps, something more, once told her: "Don't stay thirsty." Yet, although whisky might loosen her tongue, the landscape itself was the greater intoxicant for Victoria. On her first visit in 1847 she wrote: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils."

Just 20 miles away from Banchory sits Balmoral Castle, which is open to the public from April to late July each year, and whose rolling estate covers more than 49,000 acres of Cairngorm National Park, including seven Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet), many of whose summits Queen Victoria reached -- aided, it should be said, by an intrepid pony and supportive guides. Today the stable blocks are used to house artifacts and photographs and, while the vast flower gardens are accessible to the public, the only room in the castle to which one can visit is the ballroom, once the site of an annual "Ghillies Ball" and now filled with artwork, silver and other artifacts from the castle.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Bannockburn Experience by Keith Aitken.

Click here to preview our feature article on Steaming Through The Highlands by Terry Williams.

Click here to preview our column on Scottish Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photo © Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint