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Dee Valley

Dee ValleyDee Valley View slideshow
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).

Banchory - Crathes Castle

Exterior of Crathes Castle near Banchory.
Follow the A93 westward and after 3mi/4.8km the home of the Burnett family will come into view. It is now run by the National Trust for Scotland. Crathes Castle is a classic example of Scottish baronial style. The tower house with its small oriel windows, pretty corner towers and windows of varying sizes and surrounding ledges was begun in 1553 by Alexander Burnard (later Burnett) and his wife Janet Hamilton. Their initials can be made out above the original entrance door on the east front. The plans for the L-shaped complex, which was completed in 1596, were once again supplied by the local Bell family, who are also linked with Midmar, Craigievar and Castle Fraser. While issues of defense preoccupied earlier owners, the 16th century building clearly reflects the residents' aesthetic concerns and issues of prestige. In the 18th century the need for greater comfort led to the construction of an extension. This was burnt down in 1966 but has been rebuilt and restored to its original condition. The entrance to the castle is in the restored Queen Anne wing. The castle's upper stories are worth a tour, if only for a glimpse of the beautifully painted wooden ceilings (1600). They were painted by local artists after the panels had been fitted. The figures depicted in the Room of the Nine Nobles - typical of the decorative work of the time - are the ancient heroes (Hector, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great), three Old Testament characters (David, Jesse and Judas Maccabaeus) and three famous rulers (King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey de Bouillon). The legendary ghost of Crathes is said to haunt the Green Lady's Room, where the ceiling is also painted decoratively. Nine muses dancing and playing music are depicted in the old Music Room, together with the Five Virtues. In the same room the great Gobelin-style tapestry on the wall was the work of William Morris ca. 1868, while the Muses Room contains a Thompson chair, complete with the tiny wooden mouse which is found on all pieces from the Yorkshire furniture designers. Unique to Scotland is the Long Gallery (ca. 1620) which runs the full width of the top floor. The oak panels with royal coats-of-arms plus those belonging to the family are the only ones of their kind in Scotland.
Address: Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Crathes AB31 5QJ, Scotland

Crathes Castle Garden

Crathes Castle Gardens.
The parkland was first laid out in 1702 but at the beginning of the 20th century landscape gardeners William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll gave it a new look. The neatly trimmed yew hedge (18th century) attracts a lot of attention, not to mention the magnolias, oleander and rose garden.
Crathes garden is especially worth a visit in the summer. It includes eight gardens, each with a different theme, as well as trough gardens and greenhouses.
Address: Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Crathes AB31 5QJ, Scotland

Banchory, Scotland

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.
Address: Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ, Scotland

Ballater, Scotland

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.

Balmoral Castle

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.

Crathie, Scotland

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, Scotland

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.

Braemar Castle

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.

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