Balmoral Pyramid and Cairns Walk – People don’t necessarily expect rural Aberdeenshire to boast a pyramid, but it does. Located on the Balmoral estate, this cairn was built in 1862 by Queen Victoria to commemorate her beloved husband Prince Albert who died in 1861. It can be visited on its own, or part of a longer hike that takes in several other cairns that chart the lives and marriages of the Royal Family. This is what you need to know. *Contains affiliate links
Before you Start – Balmoral Pyramid and Cairns Walk
The walk to Prince Albert’s Cairn I estimate takes around 40 minutes from the car park. To see all the cairns mentioned in this feature it’s roughly a 6 mile walk taking around 3 hours. I took my kids along (aged 6 & 7) and it took 5 hours! I’d packed snacks, lunches and drinks, worn sturdy shoes and lots of layers as temperatures rise and fall depending on the section of the route (exposed hill or shaded forest). Handwarmers really saved the day at one point. Plan ahead – suncream, water etc. – because this can be a full day out. Oh, and remember the camera/fully charged phone because the photo opportunities are fantastic.
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The route I undertook isn’t permissible when the Royal Family is in residence (usually for the month of August and early September every year), but you can still walk to Prince Albert’s cairn directly from the car park.
There are few signposts and little mobile coverage, so print out the directions before you head off and don’t stray off the paths.
Parking – Balmoral Pyramid and Cairns Walk
Park at the Crathie Tourist Information Car Park. When I visited it cost £3 for the day to park, so bring change for the machine, or, if the Visitor Centre’s open, you can pay by card inside.
Get Started – Balmoral Pyramid and Cairns Walk
Cut down the path to the left of the Visitor Centre, then pass the old kirkyard on your right (where you’ll find John Brown’s resting place) and you’re on your way, over a shoogly suspension bridge and into the woodland. Remember, even without the cairns the scenery here is stunning, including views of Lochnagar and sweeping vistas across Royal Deeside.
Cairn 1 – Princess Helena’s Cairn
Most of the cairn’s celebrate Queen Victoria’s children’s nuptials. The first cairn is easy to miss unless you follow the directions carefully because it’s quietly tucked away in the woodland. It honours Princess Helena’s marriage to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866. [We peaked too soon, stopped and had our sandwiches here – so impatient. This cairn felt like it took the longest to reach but after that we were on a roll.]
Cairn 2 – Princess Louise’s Cairn
Princess Louise’s cairn, perched on a rocky knoll, was built to commemorate her marriage to the Marquis of Lorne in 1871. Compared to Princess Helena’s monument it has much better views over the countryside.
Cairn 3 – The Purchase Cairn
This was one of my favourites – the Purchase Cairn was erected in October 1852 to commemorate the purchase of the estate by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It has a superb views over Deeside that were quite breathtaking. You can see why the Royal couple loved this land and decided to buy it and escape here.
Cairn 4 – Prince Leopold’s Cairn
Talk about the top spot – Prince Leopold’s cairn has great views down onto Balmoral Castle itself. A wonderful place to quietly take in the castle.
Cairn 5 – Prince Arthur’s Cairn
Prince Arthur’s cairn was erected to mark his marriage in 1870, but I loved these views en route between Prince Leopold’s Cairn and Prince Arthur’s Cairn.
Cairn 6 – Princess Alice’s Cairn
This cairn highlights Princess Alice’s marriage to Prince Louis of Hesse in 1862. At this point we were ticking off the cairns like a treasure hunt, waiting for the big reveal of the pyramid.
Prince Albert’s Cairn – The Great Pyramid
When you stumble upon the Pyramid it’s so striking and so bold, pointing up into the Scottish skyline, yet the inscription is personal and emotive – ‘To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862’. A very poignant engraving on a remarkable structure.
Cairn 8 – Princess Beatrice’s Cairn
After seeing the pyramid poor Princess Beatrice’s cairn couldn’t compete, but it was my final stop before heading back (exhausted) to the car. What a truly wonderful walk if you carve out the time and rally the tiny troops.
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Tips and Directions – Balmoral Pyramid and Cairns Walk
*The directions I followed are here, by Walk Highlands.
-If walking with little ones, try to join up with another family to spur each other on.
-Write off the evening, and go easy the next day. I felt absolutely shattered and suggested cereal for dinner that night, but I’m pretty unfit right now.
-Nearby, you can also visit Crathie Kirk where the Royals attend church when they’re in residence in Balmoral.
-The most recent cairn celebrates the Queen’s 2021 Diamond Jubilee. This can be found at Balmoral Castle, and wasn’t included in our walk above.
If you’re looking for a recommendation of where to stay in the area I’d seriously recommend Douneside House. It offers incredible food, hotel rooms or smart lodges (the lodges are dog friendly), and it excellent gardens and grounds, a pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam room and gym. Check prices and availability here