Deeside Way: A Guide to Cycling to Banchory (with Kids) – On a sunny weekend this is the most wonderful experience. You will pass through beautiful lush green scenery, it’s peaceful, it’s stunning, it’s worth it, but this is what you need to know. *Contains affiliate links.
Just so you know – We’re based in Aberdeen but the route we undertook (in one go) was Cults to Banchory, overnighting in Banchory, then cycling back the following day. We carried clothes for a family of 4 in 2 panniers, plus snacks for 2 days, and lunch for 1 day. We didn’t pack a first aid kit and we probably should have done.
Starting Point & Where to Park on the Deeside Way
The route officially starts in Duthie Park, Aberdeen right next to the car park at Polmuir Road (the park has 2 car parks so don’t confuse them). A beautiful spot in its own right, Duthie Park has simply excellent winter gardens so do allow time to explore if you’ve never visited before. As we’ve cycled the first section, Aberdeen to Cults, before we decided to start our journey in Cults. Following signs for Allan Park in Cults, we parked up as soon as the cycle path came into view. With no meters etc. we were happy leaving the car overnight.
The cycle route in Aberdeen city is tarmacced. As you head into the country you get more country tracks, gritted paths, a mix of terrains, so don’t expect tarmac the entire way. The route used to be a railway line so expect relatively flat terrain overall, with occasional steep climbs. Yes, there are several hills, but in the scheme of things this is relatively easy going.
I thought that the entire route would follow the old railway line and therefore be cycle path all the way. This is not the case. It’s a remarkable stretch of cycle path but, for brief stretches, you do need to cycle on country roads so you need to watch yourself and your kids. They need to know how to ‘tuck in’ i.e. not cycle in the middle of the road. The most dangerous points to my mind, weren’t the roads, but very short stretches when we had to cycle on a notably narrow pavement next to a very busy road of cars driving very fast. At some points it’s safer to simply dismount the bikes and walk these short busy stretches.
Signposts on the Deeside Way
The route is well signposted. The only point we were confused was near Mosside farm, where a tiny sign pointed to the right but your instincts tell you to follow the road straight ahead towards the farm. Follow your instincts by going straight on towards the farm, do not swerve right, do not collect £200. Apart from this small blip, the signposting is pretty clear.
Attractions En Route & Rest Points on the Deeside Way
Along the route you’ll see horses, cows, sheep in the fields, and often horses on the Deeside Way too. There are so many places you can make an impromptu stop and take photographs or chill out, but below are some of our highlights. Be sure to leave time in your schedule for these moments – I felt that it’s about the journey as much as the destination.
Duthie Park is an attraction in its own right, with an outstanding Winter Gardens (named after the award winning green fingered gardener David Welch). It also features two playgrounds, vast expanse of grassland, boating lake, small hillock to ascend, bandstand and small café.
Once you’ve set off along the route there are several highlights or viewpoints along the way to stop for snacks and a breather. The first one I’d recommend is at Peterculter with sweeping views over the River Dee.
Be sure to stop at Bunny Village as we called it, in a random field just before Drumoak – a field full of burrows where you’ll spot around 100 bunnies. We’ve never seen so many rabbits in one place in our lives. Tiny leverets just sit in the grass nibbling away cute as anything.
Our third recommended stop point is in Drumoak. A huge expanse of grass with picnic tables to the left of the cycle path made for an ideal lunch pitstop. Right next to the river, this is a popular spot with swimmers who take a dip without getting caught in the current. Obviously, if you opt to paddle or swim it’s your choice and responsibility, so keep a close eye on your companions. We saw folk take to the water on stand up paddleboards destined for Aberdeen, slowly cruising down river. We spent an hour here, eating and taking a break from peddling. We swam on the return leg when we could use the clothes from the day before as towels!
At Milton of Crathes you can stop to admire the steam engine (and even take a ride when it’s back to full operations, just as Queen Victoria did when she visited Balmoral), or visit the shops, gallery and café there. We paused momentarily to admire the engines then pedalled onwards.
If you wish to see a castle en route then Crathes Castle is probably the easiest to make a diversion for. We didn’t stop, because we’re very familiar with this castle, but if you wish to add two or three hours to your itinerary then this castle, gardens, grounds and playground are worth a stop. [Free entry to the castle for NTS members (see box below). Entry to grounds and playground free for all.]
As you enter Banchory you’ll pass a clearly sign-posted Morrisons supermarket on your right, ideal if you need supplies for that night. We stopped the following morning to buy fresh sandwiches for lunch on the return leg of our journey. Bike racks are available right next to the cycle path.
It was a delight to pedal up to our accommodation, clearly signposted on the Deeside Way. You literally arrive at the back car park of Banchory Lodge Hotel, it’s ideally located and we felt victorious.
We have always loved Banchory Lodge, and this was my fourth overnight here. The hotel now has a very cool, very colourful outdoor (covered) dining area called the Sitooterie and cute-as-a-button dining sheds (heated), all with dishes from a smart barbecue menu. Expect fish tacos, grilled mackerel, smashed avocado and ‘Gaucho’ rubbed flat iron steak with charred corn. The kids menu features a rather delicious grilled chicken and corn on the cob. Alternatively dine indoors for their classic à la carte menu including chicken wings to start, pork belly as a main and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
The rooms are individual and quirky with their own sense of identity. Opt for a ‘Comfy’ standard room, or go ‘Top Notch’. Expect rolltop baths, complimentary robes and slippers and toiletries by Gordon Castle. Dogs are very welcome here too. Read a full review here, and check out prices and availability here.
If you’re seeking accommodation in Ballater, I’d recommend the Darroch Learg.
Expect to cycle the Deeside Way under your own steam. We assumed we could catch a bus to Ballater with our bikes, then cycle back stopping overnight roughly half way. The bus company can only transport bikes in the hold of a ‘coach’ rather than a bus, but can never guarantee the time of a coach. I phoned, I emailed, I phoned again, but computer says no. Of course it’s a shame that such a wonderful cycle path isn’t supported by local transport, especially as the buses drove past us practically empty, but they must have their reasons.
We set off pretty certain our kids could make the journey, but it’s worth having a Plan B in mind. Bring a bike lock so you can lock up the bikes and get a taxi/bus home. Have a pal/relative on standby who can pick you up if things don’t go to plan. Our eldest son did take a tumble off his bike at one point. He wasn’t injured but had cuts and scratches: after a lot of cuddles he picked himself up and peddled onwards, but we were glad we’d thought in advance about what to do if we couldn’t complete the journey. Mobile reception is pretty good en route and it’s a relatively busy path so someone will always help you out or fetch help if necessary.
Things to Pack
Bike lock. Wipes. First aid kit. Gloves (hands can freeze when cycling, even in reasonable weather). Suncream (you’re holding the same position for hours so you will quite likely burn!). Food and drink. Extra drinking water.
We had a truly fantastic time, with ups and downs along the way, but what an achievement. Take it at your own pace, and happy travels.