By Jacqui Gray


The Scottish Highlands deliver majestic landscapes, brutal weather and a sense of complete isolation: amazing and terrifying!  The timeless landscape continues as it has forever with scenic walks, historic building and, ruins at every turn. This region has so much beauty and tragedy to discover.

My favorite area, in this part of the world, is Royal Deeside. Tucked away on the North East side of Cairngorms National Park, there is a lot packed into a small area.

Royal Deeside is home to Balmoral Castle,  which has been a summer residence for the Royal family since 1848. Granted its not everyone’s idea of a summer getaway, but was described by Queen Victoria as “my dear paradise in the Highlands.” and The Queen loves it, too. When the Royals aren’t in residence, visitors are welcome to explore the house and the extensive grounds. It’s an absolute must for history and Royal family fans!

Nearby is Crathie Kirk – a humble church where The Queen regularly attends Sunday service when in residence.   I was lucky enough to attend a wedding here! It’s an intimate church for a traditional Scottish wedding. Pippers even lined the drive; what a treat.

If you ever get a chance to make it to any of the Highland Games – do it!  Held throughout summer in towns and villages around the Highlands, it is kinda like a mini Olympics but mad Scottish style.  Competitors face off for supremacy in competitions ranging from pipe bands, tug of war, dancing, track events, hill racing.  But by far my favorite is when the kilted “heavies” get down to business – Throwing Hammers, Putting the Stone and Tossing the Caber.  Most popular Highland games are at The Braemar Gathering.  The first Saturday in September sees the village of Braemar swell with competitors, spectators and usually a Royal or two.

I swear I had a lot more fun than this photo shows!

Recently reopened in Braemar is the Fife Arms. Neglected for far too long and at best could have been described as dodgy, it has undergone an exquisite revamping.  The transformation is insane – amazing rooms, spa, restaurant, bars, and top-notch art installations.  Even if not staying there it is worth a visit for the house cocktail and art.

Walking tracks crisscross the Highlands, the more strenuous hikes made even more challenging with the ever-changing weather.  I love a good hike, but am not a fan of lugging gear around for every possibility. So when in the highlands I stick to the more sedate routes.  Burn O’Vat is one of those.

The route is well signposted, mainly flat, crosses wee bridges before coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face – or so you think!  Look more closely and find the narrow entrance-way, conjuring your inner Indiana Jones, continue on to discover the stunning natural amphitheater beyond. Past this point, you need some agility to scramble over boulders, cross the stream and climb up and down paths.

Close by is the village of Dinnet and my favorite bed and breakfast in the world.  I always base myself at the gorgeous Glendavan House when in these parts.  It is an old school Bed and Breakfast.  A stately grand house, impeccable attention to detail in the well-appointed rooms, a welcoming fireplace, out of the world breakfast, a guest fridge with complimentary drinks, snacks in the pantry and a million other beautiful details.  Yes, all of that is lovely, but the warmth and hospitality of the hosts is the outstanding feature.  True Scottish hospitality and certainly worth a couple of nights stay!

Can you go to Scotland and NOT do at least one whiskey tasting?  With 47 distilleries in the region, all offer very distinct flavors you may have to make more than one stop for a few sips.  Lucky enough to be in Scotland in May? Check out the Whisky Festival

It is a world of contrasts –  intriguing, brutal, stunning and welcoming.  Every trip I fall in love with it a little more.

Some tips to make the most of your time:

Go in summer – it’s not summer as most people know it, but winter is bitter

Get a car – you will need it to get around.  Except of course when doing a whiskey tour

Burn O’Vat – get in early; it gets crowded later in the day

Hiking – Be prepared, Scottish weather is brutal and unpredictable, even in summer

Take great walking shoes – even though I have said hire a car, to get the most out of the area you need to get walking


To hear more about Jacqui’s adventures, or even join her on one, go to her website and follow her on Instagram!

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