Overlooked by mountains on both sides, the A93 follows the pretty Dee valley from Aberdeen to Braemar where it turns to the south and crosses the Cairnwell Pass north of Glen Shee before linking up with the roads from Dundee and Perth.
Drumoak - Drum Castle and Garden
Drum Castle, the third oldest tower house in Scotland, lies some 10mi/16km west of Aberdeen. The huge granite structure was commissioned in 1286 by the first mayor of Aberdeen Richard Cementarius. In 1386 Robert the Bruce granted his standard-bearer William de Irwyn rights to the royal wood at Drum - the land is now planted with a marvelous rose garden and an arboretum containing a number of rare trees. The castle stayed within the de Irwyn family until 1976 when it was adopted by the National Trust for Scotland. The fortified tower - for defensive reasons the walls reach a thickness of 13ft/4m at ground level and 10ft/3m higher up - has changed very little over the centuries. Only in 1619 after the Reformation did the ninth laird, Alexander Irvine, request the Aberdeen mason Bell to convert the keep into a Renaissance style mansion. This part is still largely untouched. In the oak-paneled Saloon, it is the portraits - by Raeburn, Reynolds and Graham Gilbert - and the view of "Castlegate in Aberdeen" by the Scot Hugh Irvine which deserve most attention. In the Dining Room, look out for a magnificent Chinese porcelain tray (18th century).
Built in a typically Scottish Baronial style of architecture, Crathes Castle is a striking 16th century building.
The local history museum in Bridge Street, Banchory (pop. 6,200), was opened in 1993. Displays cover the production of perfume, Highland costumes, the fiddler Scott Skinner and also the natural environment.
Peel Ring of Lumphanan
Although the surrounding stone wall was built in the 18th century, Peel Ring itself (11mi/17.6km northwest of Banchory; A980) dates from the early Middle Ages. It was in this valley between the Dee and the Don that Macbeth met his death at the hands of Malcolm Canmore. Macbeth's Cairn indicates the site of the fateful encounter.
Return to the Dee valley and continue west along the A93 as far as Ballater (pop. 1,300). The village art gallery opened by the Swiss artist Rudolphe Christen in 1902 displays works by local artists.
Queen Elizabeth II's summer residence in Scotland (7mi/11.2km from Braemar) has come to embody the Neo-baronial style of the Victorian era. The estate was first mentioned in documents in 1484 and, after Queen Victoria bought it in 1852, she commissioned the Aberdeen architect William Smith to implement plans drawn up by her husband Prince Albert. Inside the castle, the Ballroom with its paintings and other objets d'art and also a collection of coaches are open to the public, but only when the royal family are not in residence.The extensive parkland is ideal for a relaxing stroll.
The foundation stone for the parish church at Crathie was laid by Queen Victoria in 1893 and the chapel contains many reminders of the queen's connections with the region. Services here are attended by the royal family when they are in residence at Balmoral and they attract many onlookers.
Braemar (pop. 800; 1,100ft/335m) is one of the most popular centers in the Grampian region.
Royal Highland Gathering
Many visitors are drawn to Braemar on the first Saturday in September for the Royal Highland Gathering. Members of the royal family often attend the grand occasion and have been known to take part. Many of the 20,000 or more spectators turn out in traditional Scottish costume - the women wear tartan dresses and the men a kilt and plaid. "Tossing the caber", a sport unique to Scotland, is one of the spectacular events at the gathering. While the bagpipes play, the trunks of young fir trees are tossed from a vertical position.
Highland Heritage Centre
The history of the Braemar Gathering, the Scottish equivalent of the Olympic Games, is documented in the Braemar Highland Heritage Centre in Mar Road.
Work on the crenellated Braemar Castle began in 1628 but by the end of the 17th century the building was burnt down by the Jacobite Farquharsons. After the defeat at Culloden, the L-shaped fortress fell into English hands and was used as a base for the Hanoverian troops. A star-shaped curtain wall was added for extra protection. Although the castle is still in use as the residence of the Farquharsons of Invercauld, visitors can view, among other things, the barrel vaulting in the lower stories, the underground dungeon and the great iron gate.
Dee Valley Pictures