Prince Albert’s Cairn, more commonly known as the Balmoral Pyramid, is a memorial stone in memory of Prince Albert. The site is popular amongst tourists, not only for its history but also for the beautiful surroundings of the Cairngorm National Park.
You wouldn’t expect to see an Egyptian-style pyramid in Scotland, which is likely why it grabs so much attention. As well as the Balmoral Pyramids, there are also 10 other cairns to commemorate the marriages of Queen Victoria’s children.
Although steep in places, the path following the cairns makes for a beautiful walk amongst forested hillsides. In this guide, we will be providing you with all of the information you need to know about visiting this unique location!
What Is the Balmoral Pyramid?
The Balmoral Cairns are dedicated to the Royal Family, specifically Queen Victoria and her near family. The Balmoral Pyramid itself, the largest and most dominant of the cairns, was built in memory of Queen Victoria’s deceased husband, Prince Albert.
The feature consists of a concrete Egyptian-like pyramid, located in the perfect clearing to get a vast view over the tree-covered hills. The pyramid was built using granite and measures 12 metres square.
Cairns are often used in Scotland as a way of navigating on mountains or through barren terrain, showing hikers where the path is or to mark a summit. However, in this case, they are memorial and marital cairns. Memorial cairns were also commonly used before gravestones were carved.
The History of the Balmoral Cairns
Queen Victoria herself personally assisted in erecting almost all of the cairns, the most prominent commemorating the passing of her dear husband, Prince Albert. He passed away in 1861, and Queen Victoria erected his cairn in 1862.
The majority of the rest are marriage cairns for each of her 9 children. Princess Alice, Princess Louise, Princess Helena, Prince Arthur, and Prince Leopold are all located on Craig Gowan (the route for the circular walk).
Princess Beatrice’s Cairn is also included on this walk, situated just below Prince Albert’s Cairn at the base of Creag an Lurachain. Princess Royal is located nearby on a hill called Canup, Prince Alfred’s Cairn is on Ripe Hill, and Prince Albert Edward’s is on the Coyles of Muick.
The Purchase Cairn marks Victoria’s purchase of the Ballochbuie forest in 1878.
Most people believe that these 11 cairns are the entirety, but there are actually 14. Within the further three is one for Queen Victoria’s mother, known as The Duchess of Kent’s Cairn. The final two were erected in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
There was however one more cairn, dedicated to a man named John Brown. John Brown was a personal attendant for Queen Victoria for many years, and one of her favoured. He was a controversial man, and either loved or hated by the public.
However, this cairn was later removed due to suspicions that he was in fact a lover rather than a friend to Queen Victoria.
Where Is the Balmoral Pyramid?
The cairns are spread out across small, forest-covered hills on the East side of the Cairngorm National Park. The area of Scotland they are situated in is called Aberdeenshire.
Balmoral Castle and the cairns are located on a road between two quaint towns, Ballater and Braemar. The nearest village is called Crathie. It’s very small, but you will easily notice it if you are coming from the Braemar side.
The closest that you can park to the castle grounds is in Balmoral Car Park, just opposite Crathie Kirk. From here, you will begin your walk.
How Do I Get to the Balmoral Pyramid?
You can either walk directly to Prince Albert’s Cairn and then return the same way, or you can do the circular route.
Direct Walk – 5.5k, 190m ascent (allow 2 hours)
From the car park, walk through a track cutting across a field on the side of the bridge closest to Ballater. Then, head down a minor road and pass a graveyard.
You will come to a fork, turn right and follow the road until you cross a bridge. Then turn right again then almost immediately turn left heading uphill towards Easter Balmoral.
Continue forwards until houses appear on your right, opposite a forestry track. Turn right here, then immediately left. You will pass some cottages on your left and the road turns to track. You will soon reach a gate, then turn slightly left and head steeply uphill.
Follow the path. You will soon reach Princess Beatrice’s Cairn, then shortly after you will arrive at Prince Albert’s Pyramid. You will not be able to miss it. Return the same way.
Circular Walk – 7.2k, 300m ascent (allow 3 to 3.5 hours)
The circular walk starts off the same. If you want to continue to the rest of the cairns, carry on the same path.
Head downhill now, you will soon reach another fork. Turn right, heading downhill.
When you reach the next fork, you can either turn left to visit Princess Alice’s Cairn, however, it is a very long detour. If not, continue forward to visit Princess Helena’s Cairn, Princess Lousie’s Cairn, Purchase Cairn, Prince Arthur’s Cairn, and Prince Leopold’s Cairn.
After all this, following on from a slight bend, take a small track veering off downhill to the left. You will get to a minor road. Cross straight forward and head into the castle grounds.
At a three-way junction, take the second road on the right and follow it until you leave the castle grounds. You will now be back at the car park.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Balmoral Cairns?
Visiting in summer will give you warmer weather, so if that’s what you’re looking for then the best month to visit is during July. However, Scotland experiences all four seasons, and each one looks unique and different.
The coldest month, and therefore typically has the most lying snow, is January. This would be the best time to visit if you’re looking for a white walk.
In Autumn, all of the trees turn a beautiful orange colour. The peak Autumn time is August and September. Unfortunately, it’s worth bearing in mind that the circular route is closed in August and September, so if that was the walk you were looking at, then best avoid this time. The good news is that the return walk is still accessible.
Following on from this, if you also want to visit the Balmoral Castle, it is only open to the public from April to the end of July each year. Outside of this, visits can only be arranged if the Royal Family are not currently residing there.
How to Prepare for Your Trip to the Cairngorms
WHAT TO PACK
The weather in Scotland can change very quickly. Although the elevation gain to the cairns isn’t overly significant and the area is very sheltered, you should always have extra clothing and waterproofs just in case. This is the minimum recommended requirement for summer hiking in Scotland.
In winter, you should be even more cautious. If you have crampons, take them in your bag just in case the ground underfoot becomes difficult to navigate. Despite there being no steep drops directly by the path, we cannot advise against ice axes. At the very least, make sure you have waterproof shoes.
Other useful things to pack include; a hat, gloves, suncream, water, and food.
The temperature will rarely reach above 20°C. Summers are normally comfortable and mild, but you should expect a lot of rain. In the Highlands, it rains on average 250 days per year with an average of 175 days in other parts. Although winter and autumn are usually the wettest months, there is still significant rainfall during the summer too.
Below are the average temperatures in Scotland by month;
March, April & May – 5°C to 15°C
June, July & August – 17°C to 24°C
September, October & November – 4°C to 19°C
January & February – -4°C to 1°C
WHERE TO STAY
There are a few different options for overnight stays near the Balmoral Cairns, depending on how you want to spend it.
Luxury Option – Hilton Grand Vacations Club
You can’t get more luxury than Hilton. This hotel includes a spa, two indoor swimming pools, tennis/squash courts, and an outdoor play area to keep the children entertained too. The hotel’s restaurant, the Keiller Brasserie, offers the best seasonal, local produce.
It is only a 7-mile drive to the Balmoral Castle grounds.
Mid Range Option – The Boat Inn
The Boat Inn is a stunning, 18th-century-style pub with rooms. Although it is slightly further away (around 17 miles), it boasts a beautiful rural location overlooking the River Dee. Each room is individually styled and includes a log-burning fire.
There is also a beer garden, and best of all, dogs are welcome too!
Budget Option – Ballater Hostel or Braemar Youth Hostel
Ballater Hostel; Rooms here range from 8-bed dorms, 6-bed rooms, private rooms, and quadruple rooms. It is less than 9 miles away from Balmoral Castle, and the place has received a 9.7 rating from customer reviews.
The kitchen and lounge are shared, but each room comes with a private bathroom.
Braemar Youth Hostel; The largest dorms here are 6 bedded. There are also all-male and all-female dorms available, as well as a selection of twin or private rooms. Again, there is a shared kitchen and lounge area.
Dogs are welcome here for a small fee of £5. The youth hostel is very well-liked by couples, with a rating of 9.0 stars for two-people stays.
Wild Option – Wild camping
You can stay in your campervan or motorhome in the carpark, this is charged at £10 for 24 hours, but there are no services, so make sure you have a toilet and water onboard before you arrive.
Scotland is one of the few countries that legally allow wild camping. Whether this means pitching up a tent or stopping over in your car/van, you could pretty much sleep anywhere.
There are some really useful apps you can use to help you find spots, such as park4night. Just remember, that wild camping should be done responsibly, this means leaving no trace!
So there you have your complete guide to the Balmoral Cairns in Scotland’s stunning Cairngorm National Park. We hope this has given you a clear idea of what to expect on your arrival in the Cairngorms, and supplied you with the correct information you need to have fun and stay safe!
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