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The route from Strathdon to Ballater is 19.1 miles in length and has climbing of 1,647 feet. It has been given a difficulty rating of 7.
Set entirely in the Cairngorm National Park, this cycle is not for the fainthearted – it is magnificent, it is majestic, it is a monster! The route runs from the River Don in the north to the River Dee in the south and is a particular favourite at Ride the North. You meander alongside the Don for the first few miles. After crossing the river and turning south, you are now on Gairnshiel itself, and there is no mistaking that you are in the Cairngorms rather than Royal Deeside. The views are breathtaking, but this is mountain moorland and the road is very exposed as well as high – the winds can be swirling and strong, and you might want to think about carrying extra clothes.
Strathdon is a village, but it is also an informal geographical area which takes in Bellabeg. For many years the area was called Inverlochty due to its location at the confluence of the River Don and the Water of Lochty. There is a war memorial in the village, which hosts a traditional Highland Gathering. For cheese lovers, try out Strathdon Blue, Scotland’s answer to Stilton.
You head south out of Strathdon, immediately crossing the River Don. You head west after 1.5 miles and the road starts rising from here and doesn’t stop until mile 8.9 and the high point of 1,801 feet. You leave the Don at mile 6.6 and then climb Gairnshiel. This is the toughest single section on an overall tough route, climbing 626 feet in 2.3 miles, with ramps up to 10% in gradient. But what goes up must come down, and the descent is fast with a particularly steep section at mile 11.4. You cross Gairnshiel Bridge (built in 1751) after 12.4 miles, before continuing downhill through Glen Shiel, surrounded by beautiful woodland and hills. You join the main A93 at mile 17.4 (please take care), before entering Ballater from the northwest and finishing in the centre of town.
Ballater is a small town in Royal Deeside and the Cairngorm National Park. In the 14th century the land was owned by the estate of the Knights of St John, but a settlement wasn’t properly established until 1770, first as a spa town and then as a tourist destination. It is now a mecca for outdoor sports, and also for enthusiasts of the Royal Family – Balmoral is just 7 miles west. It is worth visiting Glenmuick Parish Church and the restored railway station, which was the terminus of the Aberdeen to Ballater line which closed in 1966. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants in town – indulge yourself, you deserve it!
By clicking on the ‘play’ symbol on the graphic below you can see route map. The elevation profile of the ride can be seen via the Hills tab with files for use with a GPS device also available for download. If you take any photos of the route that you’d like to share, please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org
Onward rides from Ballater can be found here