The Deeside Way

The Deeside Way, or as it is sometimes called, The Royal Deeside Line, is arguably the jewel in the crown of cycling and walking trails in Grampian. Testament to its importance, if any were needed, is that it has been adopted as Route 195 of the National Cycle Network which is coordinated and promoted by Sustrans.
The 41 mile long Deeside Way starts at Duthie Park in the centre of Aberdeen and continues close to the River Dee through the heart of rural Aberdeenshire to Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park.

Like other disused railway trails the Deeside Way is suitable for cyclists of all ability, and is especially suited to families. The route is mostly level as it is built on the bed of the old Deeside railway line. Any gradients encountered are shallow.
Since closure of the line in the mid 1960's, a few of the bridges have been removed and some of the track bed destroyed. However, ramps have been constructed at many former bridge locations to allow safe easy access to and from the Way, and quiet lanes adjacent to the line are used where the former track bed has been destroyed.

The Deeside Way passes through (or close to) many places of interest including Crathes Castle, Drum Castle and Cambus O'May. These all make interesting detours or destinations for a picnic.

The Route

From Aberdeen to Banchory and from Aboyne to Ballater the route mainly follows the old rail line, but between Banchory and Kincardine O'Neil expect forest tracks, woodland paths and field margins. And between Kincardine O'Neil and Aboyne you will have to "Mind the Gap!" because there is no route currently available for this small section.

Under wheel the route is generally well surfaced with ash or tar making it suitable for all types of bikes, even children's.
The trail is shared with pedestrians (especially dog walkers) and occassionally horse riders, so do watch out for them. It is a good idea to have a bell fitted to your bike and give the other Deeside users a friendly ring as you approach them.

The cycle route starts at the Polmuir Road entrance to Duthie Park, in a corner of the small car park just behind the David Welch Winter Gardens.
To begin, the way travels through built up areas, overlooking the back gardens of city centre houses and into the tranquil grounds of the old Allenvale Cemetery. A new bridge was installed in 2005 over Holburn Street, adjacent to the old Holburn station, and extra trees were planted improving this section. The route then continues past larger properties in the more affluent suburbs of the Granite City as it heads west through the remains of stations at Pitfodels, Cults, Bieldside, Murtle, Milltimber, and Peterculter (or Culter, as its more commonly known by locals). At the Heritage Centre in Cults, the Way disappears for a couple of hundred yards though is easily picked again if you stay on Station Rd. After a short distance the Way joins a quiet country road at Coalford heading towards Dalmaik. The tarmacked road gives way to a forest path which meanders through forest and field back on to tarmac, and heading uphill to Drumoak.

Leave Drumoak on the pavement heading west and after a few hundred yards the pavement turns left, separating from the road. This continues past Drum, Park, and Mills of Drum before once again joining the main road for a hundred yards just before Crathes. Follow the signs onto the private access road and keep going past Milton of Crathie to Banchory, some 16 miles from your start point in Aberdeen.

Leaving the King George V Park in Banchory the route takes you across the River Dee and into Blackhall Forest. After crossing the Dee continue on the road for a 100 yards then turn right following the signs for Scolty Woodland Walks. Continue on the tarmac until the Scolty signs point you onto a forest track. Take this, pass the Forestry Commission car park, and follow the Deeside Way signs all the way through Blackhall Forest until you arrive at Shooting Greens car park. Just before leaving the car park look out for the path that runs beside the road - take this and head down through Slewdrum Forest to Potarch. Head for the Potarch Inn and bear right to cross the Dee. As you leave the bridge crossing the Dee look out for the car park on your left. The Deeside Way begins again at the far end of the car park. This superb new section leads on to Kincardine O'Neil.

Continue through the village, and at the petrol station cross the main road into Pitmurchie Road. Continue uphill to you pass the small row of houses and encounter a small cross roads. Take the left, to leave the tarmac and continue for a hundred yards, then take a right. Keep on this track as it winds uphill through woodland, and then descends quite sharply to cross the Dess Burn and meet a tarmacked road. Cross the tarmac and rejoin the path to cross farm land, and reach another tarmac road. Cross this road and continue past Aboyne Loch into Aboyne passing through the town to Victory Hall.

The Deeside Way leaves Aboyne from Victory Hall, crossing the B9094 Tarland road en route. It then crosses the main A93 before reaching the Deeside Gliding Club layby. It then continues to Dinnet, and the Cambus O'May suspension bridge. From there it is an easy pedal to Ballater, crossing the A93 once more on the way. The route finishes at the Old Royal Station, historically used by royals travelling by train to nearby balmoral Castle. The station building houses a tourist information centre, restaurant and tearoom, public library as well as a small museum.

If you want to follow the Deeside Way on an a map then you'll need either the Sustrans Cycle Map of Aberdeenshire, or both of the local OS maps:

History of the Deeside Line

The Deeside Railway Line opened on 7th September 1853 with a service between Aberdeen and Banchory. The line was extended and on the 2nd December 1859 a service to Aboyne began, followed on 17th October 1866 with a service to Ballater.

The line was planned originally to end at Braemar but Queen Victoria was afraid her privacy would be disturbed by hordes of tourists at Balmoral so she bought land along the route between Ballater and Braemar to prevent this. Ballater Station was the nearest station to Braemar so contained Queen Victoria's waiting room. The waiting room was preserved at the station and formed part of the Station Museum. Unfortunately the museum was destroyed by fire in May 2016, however it has been restored and reopened in August 2018.

The Royal Deeside Line, as it became known, was a single track with passing loops but to enable a more frequent suburban service a double track was laid to Park between 1884 and 1899. This popular service was nick-named "The Subbies", because it served the suburbs of Aberdeen.
Initially the railway as far as Aboyne was operated by the Deeside Railway Company and from Aboyne to Ballater by the Aboyne and Braemar Railway Company. These companies joined to form the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1876. Following further mergers and amalgamations the line ended up being operated by British Rail in 1948. Its fate, like so many other railways, was decided by the Beeching Report of 1963. The final passenger service ran from Ballater on 28th February 1966 and freight services finished later the same year.
Interest in creating an off-road cycle way using the former railway line dates back to the early 1970s with some sections of the line being acquired for public ownership. In 1992 Kincardine and Deeside District Council undertook a study into the feasibility of creating a route from Aberdeen to Ballater. Since then the route has been developed in sections as funding and resources have become available.
If the history of the railway, and Deeside in general interests you then there are a number of good books and DVDs around that will give you some details, atmospheric pictures, and perhaps even rekindle some memories. Below is a start, click on any of the images for more details.

Suggested Day Cycle Rides

Question - How do you eat an elephant?
Answer - One bite at a time!
For many this tactic is also the key to getting the best out of the Deeside way. For sure, you can have a great day's cycle from Aberdeen to Ballater and back, however for many folk this is just too much to do in a day. So below are a few suggested days out that will leave you with a great sense of achievement, though not so tired that you never want to sit on a bike again.

Milltimber to Duthie Park
Join the line where it crosses the B979 and cycle towards Aberdeen. If driving to the start, then you can park in Milltimber Brae (or in Station Rd which connects both Milltimber Brae and the trail). When you get to Duthie Park, lock up your bike and have a walk around the Winter Gardens before re-fueling at the cafe. Cycle racks are available outside the cafe.

Dinnet to Ballater (12 mile round trip)
Join the line at the cross roads in Dinnet. There is a convenient, free, car park on the opposite side of the road from the start of the Way (map ref NO 459 987). The surface is a little stoney under wheel for the first ¼ of a mile requiring a bit of concentration but this soon gives way to a smoother trail and easy going. After 2¾ miles you reach the former Cambus O'May station and the white suspension bridge over the River Dee. The bridge offers easy access to the banks of the Dee for picnicking.
Continue past the cottage and take a right (signed) to follow the line as it travels adjacent to the main road, past the entrance to Cambus O'May forest walks and cycle trails.
A mile and a half beyond the entrance to the forest the Way crosses the main A93 to Ballater. The bridge is long gone, so take care crossing the road.
The remaining mile and a half to Ballater continues on the old railway bed past modern housing, before it reverts to a footpath where it crosses a minor road a couple of hundred yards short of the town centre. The official end of the line is Refreshments are widely available in Ballater.

Cambus O'May to Dinnet (7 mile round trip)
Free car parking is available at the entrance to Cambus O'May woods (map ref NO 406 981). Leave the car park and with care cross the main road (A93 to Ballater) to join the Way. Turn left and continue past the cottage, the suspension bridge and station to reach Dinnet after some 3¾ miles.

 
Other Nearby Cycle Trails to Try

Other family friendly cycle trails to explore in the area include:

The Isla Way follows the Isla valley from the whisky capital, Dufftown to Keith