A low-level circular walk along the River Dee to Polhollick suspension bridge from Ballater, with an optional diversion to Knock Castle. You can find more information about the route and its history at These Vagabond Shoes.
From the tourist information centre in the old railway station in Ballater, head through town southeast along Bridge Street, towards the bridge over the River Dee onto South Deeside Road. Cross Royal Bridge and continue to the junction.
Directly across the junction is a fingerpost sign marking a well-surfaced trail into the woods; follow that up a short rise then turn to your right to find the route to Bridge of Muick, marked with blue waymarks. Do not walk along the roadside here, as it is a winding country road with no safe footway for at least one kilometre.
Follow the trail through the woods for a short distance to reach the huge pink granite edifice of the Mackenzie Monument, with views across the River Dee to Ballater.
After approximately 1km, the route joins the road for a short distance by the cottages to cross the second bridge, over Brackley Burn, before joining a track running parallel to the road for around 200 metres. At the end of the track, the route emerges on a bend in the road just before Bridge of Muick.
The route follows the straight road for around 700m to a junction with a gravel road just before Dalliefour farm. At this point you can make a diversion to Knock Castle, a 16th century ruin with a colourful history, adding an extra 2km to the route, or continue along the gravel road towards Polhollick.
The gravel road runs almost dead straight towards the forestry plantation of Dalliefour Woods (also spelled Dallyfour and Dalhefour within the space of two grid squares on the OS Map), passing another field of coos, and a tiny cottage. The track has great views over to Ballater, nestled under the oak-clad slopes of Craigendarroch, and is always a good location to look out for raptors, hares, and roe deer.
At the far edge of the wood the white-painted Pollhollick suspension bridge comes into view. The bridge was fabricated by Abernethy and Co of Aberdeen in 1892, who produced several other suspension bridges on the Dee, and gifted to the local people by Alexander Gordon of Kent. It was seriously damaged in the extreme flooding that followed Storm Frank in December 2015, but is now fully restored.
Over the bridge, the track dog-legs away from the river towards the main A93 road. Cross the road, and follow the waymarking to pick up a track that runs along the top of the embankment parallel to the road. Descend the steps to cross the A939 at the junction, and continue on the track for another 250 metres, emerging on the side of the A93 at Bridge of Gairn. Cross the road, then the bridge, to find a the blue waymarked track between the houses and farm buildings.
The narrow footpath becomes a wide, well-surfaced track leading the last kilometre and a half back into Ballater along the riverside.
From the edge of town you have two options: continue on the riverside footpath around the back of the golf course towards the caravan park, or follow the track towards the houses to meet the roads that will lead you back towards the Old Railway Station.
There are several cafes and coffee shops in Ballater where you can find post-walk refreshments, such as The Bothy and the Bridge House Cafe, though some will close for the winter. There's also the Balmoral Bar, if you're in need of something stronger.
Knock Castle Diversion:
Knock Castle is a ruined 16th century towerhouse below the Crag of Knock, overlooking the River Dee and guarding the entrances to Glen Muick. It is typical of the homes of the landed gentry of the time, and visible beneath the windows are shot holes for defensive pistol fire to deter raiders.
Rather than following waymarks at the junction near Dalliefour Farm, continue along the road for around 400m to where the road bends to the left. Follow the rough grassy track leading uphill into the woods, where it meets a gravel road and you'll have a first glimpse of the castle. Follow the gravel road westward for around 300m to find a stile that gives access to the field surrounding the castle. Retrace your steps back to Dalliefour to resume the circular walk. The diversion adds around 2km to the total length of the walk.