I'll be the first to admit that Royal Deeside is a part of Scotland that I don't know very well. Famous as a favourite stomping ground of Queen Victoria, the current Royal Family continue to enjoy their summer break at Balmoral Castle, one of many fine castles that dot the area.
The River Dee flows through the heart of the region which also encompasses nature reserves and part of the Cairngorms National Park, making it a favourite destination for lovers of the outdoors. All of this makes me wonder why, other than a visit to the Braemar Gathering, I've not spent more time getting to know this part of the country.
Recently, I was invited to stay at Mill of Dess Lodge on the Lower Dess Estate, and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make a proper acquaintance with Royal Deeside.
Lower Dess Estate is situated next to the pretty village of Aboyne between the town of Banchory and the village of Ballater which means it is centrally located for exploring the region. Lower Dess is a relatively small estate on the north side of the River Dee which offers peaceful river walks and fishing on the doorstep.
Nearby Glen Tanar Estate has numerous walking and biking trails through Caledonian pine forests and acres of wilderness. If you prefer something different the estate also runs Land Rover safaris which from my experience in other parts of the country, can be a really fun way to get off the beaten track.
If castles are your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with so many just a short drive away. Some of the best local castle choices are Craigievar, Crathes, Drum, Kildrummy, Corgaff, Braemar and of course Balmoral, although check the opening hours and days for each castle as they do vary depending on the time of the year. For the complete Scottish experience, you can combine a castle tour with some local whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery which runs tours and tastings.
Of course, you could just spend time exploring the pretty towns and villages that dot the river or follow the Victorian Heritage Trail which takes in many regal castles, estates and landmarks.
I've listed the things I got up to during my visit at the bottom of the page if you need any more ideas.
On arrival we were welcomed by Anna, the Lodge Manager, who gave us a quick tour before showing us to our bedroom. By luck Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I had the entire place to ourselves which made our stay even more special.
The lodge has 10 bedrooms, a sitting area and a dining room. You can stay on a bed and breakfast basis (as I did) or book the entire lodge and even organise private catering if you prefer to eat in.
As you can see from my photos, the decor has a light and contemporary feel with some bright touches and a rustic nod to the local wildlife. The lodge is furnished to a high standard and was spotlessly clean, it really did feel quite luxurious.
That evening we planned to eat out and Anna offered to have the wood-burner in the sitting room lit for our return. After a long day travelling and some snowy weather still keeping a grip on Scotland, it was an appreciated touch and we enjoyed melting into the cosy sofas in front of the fire. I did make one more quick dash outside when I noticed an amazing sunset forming and snapped a few photos before settling indoors for the night. The great WiFi connection at the lodge meant I could quickly upload some sunset pictures to social media as it would have been a shame not to share all that pink and orange beauty!
All the bedrooms are named after fishing pools on the estate and we stayed in the Jock Rae room which is decorated in a tasteful palette of grey, cream and orange. There was plenty of storage space and all the usual extras you would expect including a well stocked hospitality tray and Sky TV.
The large bed was dressed with crisp cotton covers, and a choice of pillows ensured a great night's sleep.
The spacious bathroom had a bath and large walk-in shower, along with fluffy towels and a bathrobe provided. I was pleased to see the bathroom was stocked with Scottish Fine Soaps toiletries as I always give bonus points to accommodation that supports and promotes Scottish products in all areas of their business.
Breakfast is served in the large dining room which was set up with cereal, fruit, toast etc (including gluten free options) and fruit juice.
In addition we also enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast which was cooked perfectly, not only is Anna a great host, she is also an excellent cook. A large cafetiere of freshly brewed coffee helped set us up for a busy day of exploring.
As there were no other guests staying, Anna kindly gave me a tour of some of the other bedrooms which are all individually styled. The rooms are situated on two levels in two separate wings of the lodge, either side of the sitting and dining room, Each room can be made as a double or a twin and from what I could see, they were all of an equally high standard.
The following morning we were taken on a short tour of the estate by Eoin, the estate ghillie. Although I've never been fishing myself, it is a popular attraction in the area and I was really fascinated finding out more about the complexities of fishing and the conservation of the river Dee. Eoin has been living and fishing in Deeside since the 1970s so it is fair to say he knows his stuff.
If fishing is your thing or something you would like to try, the accommodation at Lower Dess is well placed and equipped for salmon and sea trout fishing. Eoin showed us a rather special fishing hut on the estate which had a cosy, rustic charm with an outside terrace and views of the river, I was actually thinking it would make a pretty cool little house!
The other accommodation option on the estate is Mill Cottage which can sleep up to 4 people. As there were guests staying I couldn't look inside but I could admire the river views from outside.
MY RECOMMENDED THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
Despite only having a short amount of time in the area, I managed to do quite a lot thanks to the central location of Mill of Dess Lodge. Here are the things I recommend -
For bookings and the latest rates, visit the Mill of Dess Lodge website.
You might also be interested in these Aberdeenshire travel posts -
Take a road-trip along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
Visit Peterhead Prison Museum - Scotland's answer to Alcatraz
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Disclaimer - My accommodation was provided for the purposes of a review and my opinions are based on my own experience. However, I always carry out additional independent research to ensure my own experience matches up with that of other guests. This way I feel I can confidently recommend featured accommodation to my readers.
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