The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

The Royal Cairns of Balmoral

Thanks to a more reliable “dual alarm” system I finally managed to join fellow Stocket Dave on a non-group walk today. Taking the 7:45am 201 we headed west as far as Crathie, the starting point for a very pleasant walk around the Balmoral estate under strong June sunshine.

We weren’t sure whether there was a Royal presence this weekend, but after a close encounter with a Police Land Rover near Easter Balmoral we didn’t see any other security for the rest of the day. Our walk was to take in the Royal Cairns, of which there are 9 dotted around the woods and hills of the estate.

Princess Beatrice's Cairn

The first one was an easy find, located up a short stretch of pleasant woodland track with a fine view back down to the estate buildings at Easter Balmoral. This one proved a difficult climb so after a few attempts we moved further along the track which wound steeply up the hill to Prince Albert’s cairn on the summit.

Cairn No. 2

As would be expected this was a grand affair, a replica pyramid with a fine view of the surrounding countryside, particularly the Dee valley and the Ben Avon and Beinn a Bhuird plateaus.

We then headed back to the main track, crossed it onto the other side of the valley where a short diversion took us to the third cairn. This one was set back some way from the track so we left bags and had a swift walk through the woodland. This one was climbable and offered excellent views up to Lochnagar from the summit.

View from top of Purchase Cairn

The next one stood high above the track which afforded a fun scramble up and then another climb to reach the top of the cairn.

Climbing Purchase Cairn

The next cairn brought us back out the woodland. Purchase Cairn had been built to mark the purchase of the Balmoral estate and had a great view over the Dee Valley looking back east.

The sixth cairn of the day had a superb view down to Balmoral where a group of newly arrived tourists were heading down the driveway into the main house.

Tip of the No. 6 and Balmoral

The seventh cairn was again set away from the track but was easy enough to find using the map. It again had a fine prospect over the Dee valley and the distant mountains.

We then followed the track as it wound through the woodland, occasionally affording grand views out to Lochnagar and the rest of the Mounth. At one of these we paused to sit in the sunshine and enjoy a spot of lunch.


The seventh cairn was almost on the track but the eighth proved the most difficult of all. Located high on a craggy hill, hidden by dense foliage we had some trouble making our way around the base of the cliffs, and then up through a steep breach in the hill’s defences. Eventually, pushing our way through small pine tress, we spied the very tip of the cairn above the treetops. This was the tallest cairn of the day and I very nearly made it to the top before the handholds ran out.

Cairn No. 8

We now had an interesting time getting away from the cairn. Initially we followed a southwest course but a deer fence across our path diverted us to a more north-westerly heading. This luckily brought us down to a track, albeit one on the far side of the hill from our intended destination.

Bridge over the Dee

It was now simply a matter of walking on the hard track alongside the Dee until we reached a suitable crossing point. Along the way we paused for a sit down on a small dam and spotted various deer in the woods. Eventually we reached a suspension bridge across the Dee which was crossed, only to find the far gate locked. Not wanting to walk a further mile upstream we clambered over the gate and then had a refreshing drink from the river whilst we waited fifteen or so minutes for the afternoon bus to arrive.