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My Britain: Ballater, Scotland


26th Apr 2023 My Britain

My Britain: Ballater, Scotland

A tight-knit community village, surrounded by beautiful countryside. It's not hard to see why the Royal family likes it so much

A picturesque village surrounded by majestic countryside, Ballater has a longstanding connection with the Royal Family. It is the nearest town to Balmoral Castle, and many of the local businesses have had Royal Warrants bestowed upon them. 

"Should you stroll along the glorious Loch Muick, you might just be rewarded with the sight of a golden eagle"

Dig a little deeper and you will find a resilient community that has pulled together through storms, floods and fires. The sense of connection between locals is palpable, with initiatives like Victoria Week bringing people together for duck races and scarecrow competitions. Venture just outside of Ballater and you’ll come face to face with the natural world, from stunning lochs to untamed wildlife. Should you stroll along the glorious Loch Muick, you might just be rewarded with the sight of a golden eagle.  

We spoke to some locals to find out what makes living in Ballater so special.

Reesha Wales

The Bothy is the perfect place to come warm yourself after a long blustery walk through the countryside

Reesha Wales is the manager of The Bothy, a friendly and cosy cafe with an outdoor store next door 

I used to live in Braemar as a teenager but we actually holidayed in Ballater because my step-dad was a policeman in Ballater, so we’ve always had a bit of a connection with it. About ten years ago I moved back. My mum’s here, all my family’s here, it’s nice to have that connection. My husband moved here to Ballater with me. Now he’s a greenskeeper on the golf course—a real dream-come-true job! 

Ballater just has that special feeling. My husband always says, the further north you go the friendlier people get! In Ballater, if you see someone walking down the street you still say, “Morning!” People still do that here, there’s that community feel. And there’s so much that happens in the village which is all geared towards community. For example, we have Victoria Week, where there are activities on all through the week, and that’s organised by the people who live in the village. 

We’ve been through a lot. In 2015, we had a big flood, and then the station burned down in the same year. Everyone really pulled together and reacted quickly. For example, after the flood, we created a flood response team. Everyone wants to be part of Ballater together, it’s not every man for himself. It’s very connected. 

There’s a strong outdoor culture too. In The Bothy, we made up little leaflets that show you the walks around Ballater. Every day they all get taken by people keen to get out there! It’s stunning to live in. I actually live a mile outside the village and honestly it could be anywhere in the world, it’s stunning. And the wildlife is amazing, too. You can go up to Loch Muick and see deer roaming around. We’ve got buzzards and red kites, and recently a couple came into The Bothy and said they’d seen golden eagles. We had a kestrel on our fence the other day. It’s just amazing. 

"The definition of a bothy is a place to come after a really long walk, somewhere to kick off your shoes with a fire and a stove and simple, hearty food"

The royal connection for us is so special. They come to Ballater and they’re able to just be normal people. You might bump into someone you recognise in a local shop or cafe but you don’t talk to them, they’re just there having their coffee. It’s nice because Ballater doesn’t talk about the royals, we respect them. And the revenue they bring to our village is huge. When the flood happened in 2015, they sent sandbags to block the golf course so water couldn’t come in any more. As locals we’ve invested in them and they’ve invested in us. It’s really special to have that.  

The Bothy is a great place to work. I’ve got a really great team! The definition of a bothy is a place to come after a really long walk, somewhere to kick off your shoes with a fire and a stove and simple, hearty food. It’s basically somewhere to escape from the weather. And The Bothy really captures that cosy, comforting atmosphere. The owners of The Bothy actually started a mountain shop in Braemar first in 1986, Braemar Mountain Sports which holds Charles’ royal warrant. I think because it was outdoor folk that started it, that kind of continued all the way through and shaped The Bothy. 

My favourite spot in Ballater is actually Loch Muick. It’s just out the back of Balmoral and it’s just stunning. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it’s right on our doorstep.  

Julia McIntosh

When Julia and her husband bought the Wood and Wool building, it was derelict after Storm Frank

Julia McIntosh is the owner of Wood and Wool, an interior design shop in the heart of Ballater that sells bespoke furniture, paintings and more 

I’ve lived near Ballater for about 50 years. I originally lived in a remote place in the Highlands and then moved to Aberdeen. My grandparents lived in Ballater so there’s a family connection.  

As a child, I used to visit what was known then as the Toy Shop. That’s actually the building that now houses Wood & Wool. When it was the Toy Shop, it was frequented by the Royal Family, from Prince Charles and his brothers and sisters to Charles’ own children. The building is very well-remembered for that connection. The comedy Scotland the What? did a sketch based on the Royal Family using the Toy Shop.  

Ballater has a very calming influence on you. The local people are exceptionally friendly, it’s a very tight community. It became closer after Storm Frank in 2015, which wiped out a huge chunk of the retail part of Ballater, along with many, many residential houses. It really brought the community closer together, and that closeness has continued all these years. The spirit of Ballater is incredibly positive. They welcome anybody that comes into the community. It’s just a warm, warm feeling when you’re here. 

"Ballater has a very calming influence on you. The local people are exceptionally friendly, it’s a very tight community"

Wood and Wool was initially a hobby for both my husband and myself. Almost unintentionally it grew into a very successful business. My husband is the wood side of Wood and Wool, and I started as the wool side, as initially I was going to develop my love of textiles. As it happens, again not intentionally, my painting has become my main subject. At its heart the idea for Wood and Wool was for my husband and I to bring both our crafts together, and the majority of the work within Wood and Wool is created by us.  

My favourite place in Ballater is actually the building that houses Wood and Wool. The building was destroyed in Storm Frank, although we didn’t own it at the time. When we bought the property, it was derelict and hadn’t been occupied since the storm. We put a lot of hard work and love into it. It was the last building in the town centre that was unoccupied and it was very dark and sad. Because of its history, and maybe my childhood memories of visiting when it was a toy shop, it felt important to us to bring it back to life. We felt like we completed the jigsaw of the community, so to speak. And everyone was delighted when the lights came on and it came alive again.  

Megan Taylor

The bookshop is a family business, owned by Megan's grandparents

Megan Taylor works at Deeside Books and Gifts, managing the gift side of her grandparents’ business since 2016 

I was born in Torphins and brought up in Kincardine O'Neil, so I have always lived in Royal Deeside. My grandparents have owned their shop here in Ballater since I was very young and I have a lot of memories spending time in their book shop. I was very close to them growing up and was always coming to Ballater to stay over. Eventually, I did move in with them for a couple of years as it made it easier for work and I loved living in Ballater. 

I don't currently live in Ballater but I commute from Strachan for work most days, and I still love it. The peace and quiet, the gorgeous walks and views, it felt like a holiday every day! Whether it is a beautiful summer’s day, or we have a few feet of snow, Ballater is always breathtaking. The backdrop of Lochnagar is a view that I never get tired of driving towards in the morning before work. It makes me feel so proud. 

The community here is like no other, everyone looks out for one another. There are groups for all sorts of needs within the village, so no one ever feels alone here. There are always events on and things to do. In times of need, the community of Ballater comes together and everyone is accounted for.  

Deeside Books was first established as an antique and out of print book shop in 1997. It was refurbished in 2016, after Storm Frank damages, introducing Deeside Gifts into the business. It is special for me to work here because I see my grandparents most days—that is something I will treasure forever. I love seeing my regular customers and meeting new people. It is so interesting hearing about other peoples lives and where the have come from. My favourite comment I get is, "You are so lucky to live here!” As if I could possibly forget! 

My favourite place in Ballater has to be the tranquillity of being alongside the River Dee, or any of the many walks we have in and around Ballater. 

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