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George Mitchell: I’ll never bypass breathtaking Banchory again

George enjoyed a break in Banchory, and visited Crathes Castle.
George enjoyed a break in Banchory, and visited Crathes Castle.

When I’m back home in Scotland and heading off to the Highlands or to walk Loch Muick, I usually bypass Banchory, taking a rural route instead. Nothing personal against Banchory, that’s just the way it is.

I do remember though visiting Banchory as a child. My parents took me at Easter, we had a picnic in the King George V Park and I used to roll my painted hard-boiled egg down the grassy hill.

Well, it was a hill to me – now it looks more like a wee slope. Funny how you see things differently as an adult.

Friends of ours own a static caravan in Banchory and told me I could go over any time I wanted. So, I made my plans, loaded up my mountain bike and grabbed a lift over.

The caravan was not what I expected. I’m not sure what I thought I would be getting, but my head was full off images of a 1970s campervan, with a fold-down bed and a single-ring stove to cook on.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

This was a small house, basically. Fully fitted kitchen with gas cooker, fridge, microwave, washing machine, coffee maker, a lounge with TV, two bathrooms and two bedrooms.

Wonderful, and all to myself – even better.

The Silverbank caravan site is nestled in a leafy area, a stone’s throw from the River Dee and a five-minute walk from the main drag. A perfect spot, as in very close to nature and a short walk uphill for a well-deserved pint of an evening.

I settled in, spread the maps out all over the coffee table and made my plans.

The old-fashioned High Street in Banchory. 

Banchory, with a population of around 7,000, is a charming town. It has that old-world feel of a bygone era.

Its streets boast genuine local shops, as opposed to walking down Aberdeen’s Union Street, for example, where all you seem to get these days are pound shops, vape shops and mobile phone shops. And that’s if you’re lucky.

The last time I wandered down Union Street, this once-stunning street had certainly seen better days I felt. I’d never seen so many boarded-up shops, especially in the lower half of the street.

Victims of Covid I’d guess, as in they have never managed to re-open. It really is a sorry sight and looks nothing like the classy, bustling street I remember when I used to live there back in the day.

Banchory, on the other hand, is a delight. I felt far removed from city life, yet the amenities on display were more than enough for my needs. Coffee shops, newsagents, bakers, hotels, you name it, all there. I was spoilt for choice.

George enjoyed exploring Banchory’s local shops.

And despite having no train line anymore, there are regular bus links as far as Braemar and right into the very centre of Aberdeen.

You actually don’t need a car to get to Banchory, but a bike will certainly come in handy if staying for a few days.

I’d six days at my disposal, and would spend most of it cycling.

Weather wise? I was there two weeks ago, and how to sum it up? Well, in the space of an hour and a half it was warm… then the temperature dropped and down came the rain… then the bluest sky I’d ever seen… then came belting hot sun…. and finally we had blankets of heavy clouds.

Oh yes, it can only be Scotland in August!

Biking around the town, to get my bearings, I was in awe at many of the houses. Wow, well out of my league; stunning granite dwellings nestled in mature gardens. My apologies if you saw me skulking around on my bike and stopping to take photos of your house. Hope you didn’t call the police!

Literally seconds from where I stayed stands the River Dee. I did try to bike along the paths close to the shore but it was rather difficult due to huge tree trunks – see my picture of one such stunning tree. So I decided to stick to walking the shores of this beautiful river.

Biking along the riverbank was tricky thanks to these trees. 

That said, I’ve never seen it so low. I could have walked from one side to the other and the water would not have come over my knees, with the middle of the river not coming over my shins.

We’ve had a few days of heavy rain snice I was there, which will have helped, but it needs more of the wet stuff, and lots of it.

The water level in the River Dee was pretty low. 

According to my map, the best place bar none to cycle around here is along the Deeside Way.

The Deeside Way is a path for walkers and cyclists, that in parts basically follows the route of the old Deeside railway. Although you can actually walk this path from Aberdeen all the way to Ballater.

It took me some time to find the path in Banchory, but once I did, I rode it every morning, going this way and that, wherever it took me. I went as far as Aboyne in one direction, but my favourite part was from Banchory to Drumoak and back.

And at Milton of Crathes, just opposite Crathes Castle, stands the station where they have actually managed to restore part of this once glorious railway line. The original line falling to the now infamous Beeching cuts of the 1960s, which decimated much of our railway network.

Oh Doctor Beeching, you have a lot to answer for. But much more about that in a few weeks, for he deserves a column all to himself…

Milton of Crathes.

Crathes Castle, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, sits just a few miles out of Banchory. Nestled in stunning private grounds surrounded by glorious countryside, it’s well worth a visit.

It had been years, decades even, since I last came. One day, after biking along the Deeside Way, I found myself just across the road from the entrance, so headed up the path into the grounds.

On coming face to face with the castle itself? Magnificent. I didn’t go in, as it was nearly closing time; I simply enjoyed the serenity of the well-manicured gardens, especially the walled garden.

Apparently, it was none other than Robert the Bruce who gifted the land to the Burnett family, who then went on to build the castle in the 16th Century. The family then lived in it for 350 years. And of course, it has its own ghost, the Green Lady.

I had also planned to walk up nearby Scolty Hill, but time simply ran away from me. Ah well, next time.

After two bike runs each day, and a walk along the river, I was shattered come evening. Even on the Saturday night when my neighbours and their friends had an outside karaoke, and they were all belting out everything from Flower of Scotland to My Way, it didn’t bother me and I fell into bed at 10pm and was out like a light.

Banchory and its surrounding area is beyond charming. There really is something for everyone. Especially if you love Mother Nature and the feel of a real town.

Thanks, Banchory, I’ll be back.