There are 11 cairns to discover within the Balmoral Estate. The cairns were commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate the marriages of her children and the largest was erected in memory of her husband Price Albert following his death. This short walk takes in two of the cairns – Princess Beatrice’s Cairn and Prince Albert’s Cairn (aka “the pyramid”!) A beautiful forestry trail awaits, and after a fairly steady walk uphill you will reach the summit of Creag an Lurachain (442 m /1450 ft) where the pyramid sits. A steeper but shorter descent follows, and a very lovely suspension bridge crossing. Optional de-tour to Crathie Kirk – regular place of worship of the British Royal Family.
Route: Start from the public car park at Crathie (AB35 5TL) – £3 at the time of writing. Cross the bridge over the River Dee heading in the direction of the Balmoral Castle information office and gift shop. On reaching the shop turn left to continue along a minor road. You will soon reach a right turn, signposted “Royal Lochnagar Distillery”, which you should turn onto. Keep right at the next fork and then at a 3-way junction take the road to the left. After passing several cottages, ignore a track to the left sign-posted “To Prince Albert’s Cairn” (you will come back down that way). Instead, continue ahead as the track goes through a gate and gently uphill through the forest. You will come to a crossroads – turn left to follow the track up a steeper hill. Just before this path emerges out of the trees, look out for a narrower path on your left. This will lead you up to the summit of the hill where you will find the pyramid-shaped Prince Albert’s Cairn. When you are ready to head back down, take the path heading SE then NE from the pyramid. After a steep downhill section you will arrive at Princess Beatrice’s Cairn. From here the path continues downhill to pass through a gate and meet up with the road you walked along earlier. Turn right onto the road and retrace your steps back to the minor road. Turn right here and after a short stretch cross the river via the suspension bridge. A pleasant footpath will lead you from here onto the A93 at Crathie Kirk (optional de-tour up the hill to see it). Turn left to walk along the pavement – the car park is on your left a short distance along.
WALK REPORT – 12TH AUGUST 2021
TikTok, of all places, is responsible for this walk happening! My husband saw the pyramid on TikTok and has wanted to visit it ever since. (I on the other hand, am so ancient that I had to google whether TikTok is written as two words or one word in order to write this paragraph….) The chance of a couple of days away anywhere in the country therefore took us to the edge of the Cairngorms, and on this particular day to Balmoral Estate. I had done my usual planning exercise of mapping out a route before we left home – one which took in quite a few of the cairns. Sadly when we got there we realised that the “Cairn Walk” was closed (we think due to the Royals being in residence at the time). Luckily we were still able to visit the pyramid – it would have been quite a drive from Ayrshire for nothing otherwise! As it turned out, the 4 mile loop we did do was really stunning and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
Having recently completed my Lowland Leader training and now in a “consolidation period”, I was keen to practice some skills. I am not sure how my long suffering husband felt about the constant dialogue he was subjected to – “About 300m along here we should pass a track on the right and after a short, fairly steep uphill section we should see another, narrower path on the left which we want to take. If we come out of the trees we will have gone too far. Oh look, do you know what this tree is? Oh and look, wild blueberries! Did you know…….. .” He did well putting up with me. And it was lovely to walk somewhere completely unfamiliar to both of us.
The trails were generally very quiet so it came as a surprise (and a roll of the eyes) to reach the pyramid – at the highest point on the walk – to find that a few families had arrived there before us. Our chances of a taking a person-less photograph were looking slim! We hung around for a bit and did manage a few carefully-angled shots, creatively blocking out people with tree trunks and that sort of thing. The views from the top were quite something, and I loved seeing the hillsides covered in purple heather. The whole walk was rich in plant life actually – we were able to sample some wild raspberries, blueberries and admired (didn’t dare eat) many varieties of fungi.
The return route was equally as lovely, as well as being much shorter, not to mention downhill all the way. We did discuss the perhaps more sensible option of doing the route in a clockwise direction, meaning that the uphill section to the pyramid would be a lot shorter. Swings and roundabouts really, since it would also be steeper! And there is something I like about keeping the highlight until near the end. Speaking of highlights, how fab is this suspension bridge?!
There is a lot to love about this walk, and whether you are a fan of the Royal Family or not, you can’t help but agree that this is a beautiful part of the country in which to reside, temporarily or otherwise.