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Exploring the Punch Bowl in Deeside – and pondering Queen Victoria’s derelict picnic lodge

Gayle visits the iconic rock formation near the Linn of Quoich in Deeside – and ponders the future of Queen Victoria’s now-derelict picnic lodge.

The Devil's Punch Bowl and Queen Victoria's now-derelict picnic lodge.
The Devil's Punch Bowl and Queen Victoria's now-derelict picnic lodge.

It’s mesmerising to watch the River Quoich as it rushes, furiously, through the curious water-sculpted pothole known as the Punch Bowl.

I’ve always called it the ‘Devil’s Punch Bowl’ – someone once told me the devil mixed up vast litres of boozy fruit juice inside the rocky cavity and then got very drunk. What a fantastic tale!

The feature is also known as the Earl of Mar’s Punch Bowl, in tribute to Scottish Jacobite John Erskine (the Earl of Mar).

He reputedly made punch in the ‘bowl’ – either to celebrate a successful deer hunt, or to toast the Jacobite cause, depending on which story you prefer!

On a recent stroll up to the picturesque spot after heavy rainfall, the river was in spate.

A spectacular sight

Water bubbled, boiled and frothed over, into and under and out of the punch bowl. It was a spectacular sight.

The River Quoich crashing through the Punch Bowl.

The spot, on the Mar Lodge Estate, was hugely popular with Queen Victoria, who loved it so much she had a small lodge built here on the banks above the Linn of Quoich.

Dating from around 1850 and originally designed as a picnic shelter, it’s believed the monarch hung out here when she was staying at Balmoral Castle.

Fell into disrepair

However, over the decades, the single storey granite cottage – which is on the Buildings at Risk register – fell into disrepair and was boarded up in 2005.

Queen Victoria’s new-derelict picnic cottage.

Known as ‘Queen Victoria’s Picnic Lodge’, it can be seen today as a rather forlorn, sad-looking, shell.

However, there are exciting plans to bring the cottage back to life and open it up to visitors as a ‘working picnic shelter’.

Revamp fundraiser

The National Trust for Scotland’s USA Foundation has launched a $200,000 fundraiser to help cover the costs of the revamp.

They say: “It was here that Queen Victoria found a favourite picnic spot to share with family and friends when staying at Balmoral Castle.

“In 1857, she even opened a Gothic-style bridge nearby that still grandly connects the river banks.

“Queen Victoria’s Picnic Lodge was abandoned long before Mar Lodge Estate was taken into the care of the Trust and in its current state is a missed opportunity to engage visitors with the history and natural beauty of the area.”

Project to open the cottage

I got in touch with the National Trust for Scotland who confirmed that planning permission had been granted by Aberdeenshire Council for a “project” to open up the cottage.

A spokesperson told me: “We are excited to bring it back to life as a working picnic shelter, and the resonance of Mar Lodge and its royal connections have attracted interest in the project across Scotland and around the world.

Mar Lodge.

“With support from National Trust for Scotland members and supporters, including the NTS Foundation USA, a variety of work will take place over the coming months to restore its heritage and create a space for visitors to explore, supporting our conservation charity’s vision of nature, beauty and heritage for everyone.”

Save the cottage from further dilapidation

It would certainly be nice to see the crumbling cottage saved from further dilapidation, whether it opens as a low-key visitor centre (and not, God forbid, some Disney-style tourist attraction), or a private hire ‘shelter’ for walking or other groups.

However $200,000 is a lot of cash to raise, so here’s hoping people will want to dig deep.

There are loads of options for walking in the area, whether you just fancy a potter around the Punch Bowl, or a bigger hike.

Circuit around Glen Quoich

I hankered for a decent leg-stretcher, so I set off on one of my favourite walks – a 10-mile circuit around lovely Glen Quoich.

A rough path leads from the bridge overlooking the Punch Bowl up to a proper track that took me deep into the glen.

Passing through ancient Caledonian pines, the scenery soon opens up, with the impressive hulk of Beinn a’Bhùird coming into view.

I had to ford a couple of burns, which involved using my walking poles to steady me, and getting very wet boots and socks in the process. Please don’t attempt this if the water levels are high – it’s easy to be swept off your feet.

Hollow place of alders

The path crosses bleak moorland, until you eventually reach a narrow cleft known as the Clais Fhearnaig, thought to mean ‘hollow place of the alders’.

There are no trees here now but the lochan in the valley bottom apparently used to be a popular trout fishing spot.

Another path heads into Glen Lui, and drops down towards the main track towards Linn of Dee.

Keep an eye out for Gayle’s baseball cap!

It was around here that I dropped one of my favourite baseball caps! If you find it – it’s the one in the photo – please let me know!

When you reach Black Bridge, don’t cross it – that’ll take you back to the Linn of Dee.

Instead, continue on the track near the river and you’ll head uphill into woodland, a peaceful section of pines and heather, with cracking views across the glen towards the 859m Corbett of Morrone.

Take a map

The network of paths can confusing, so go armed with a good map.

But essentially, keep straight on and you’ll land up back on tarmac at Claybokie, these days a holiday cottage.

The final section of the walk takes you past imposing Mar Lodge. You can follow the river and skirt the grounds, or simply bash on along the road and back to the car park near the Linn of Quoich.

  • Parking is available at the end of the public road towards the Linn of Quoich, a few miles from the Linn of Dee.
  • Need coffee and cake? Check out The Bothy in Braemar.