Deeside ~ the Deeside Way
A walk for water babies: a waterfall and a wild swim
The Deeside Way
My friend Sara and I spent an afternoon walking the Deeside way from Lower Dess estate, to Kincardine O'Neil and then on to the Potarch Bridge. We were hoping for a wild swim on the River Dee and, although we started under heavy grey skies and an heavier rain shower, we ended in warm sunshine and a bright blue sky just as we found the perfect wild swimming spot. En route, some stunning Aberdeenshire scenery...
We started the walk from our accommodation at the Mill of Dess Lodge. Passing the pretty lochan on the estate road out. we watched an ominously dark sky ahead darken further and we made it only as far as the main road - just a few minutes from the Lodge - before a heavy shower moved in.
Fittingly, the rain came just as we reached this grim reminder of more brutal times (below): a hanging stone or gibbet, that was propped up just beside the busy A93 road. Tucked in beside an old wall, the stone carries a plaque that describes its use by the Barons of Barony to 'dispense justice' until they were stripped of their feudal powers in 1747.
Pondering its past, Sara and I sheltered a little uneasily next to the stone under a tight tangle of rowan trees as traffic passed by, oblivious, on the busy road, creating spray in the roadside puddles that formed all too quickly. We waited until the worst of the downpour had passed and then set off up a small hill to join the well-marked Deeside Way, heading into the woods.
The rain eased off altogether and the path through the woods climbed gently up towards the waterfall. Although the trees prevent you from a long view of falls, you can hear them before you see them - especially right after a heavy shower of rain! Rounding the corner to see the waterfall suddenly come into full view, it's certainly an impressive sight: wide and high and featuring a number of cascades; it's well worth a walk to see.
Although beautiful, the waterfall and its peat-coloured pool is quite inaccessible, certainly from the Deeside Way's path, so there was no chance of a swim there, but far better was yet to come! We followed the route as it continued through the woods and passed occasional homes and farms and all the while the weather improved, bit by bit.
After the wood, arable farms fringed the small town of Kincardine O'Neil, one of Deeside's oldest villages. It's a busy wee place, full of charm and character - in both houses and people! We stopped at the village store for coffee and counsel, advised by a kilted local about the best places to swim nearby. On his advice we set off for Potarch, "just a bit further on - perhaps 20 - 30 minutes away."
Well, let me tell you that it was a lot further than that! It took us more like 2-3 hours, in the end, but it was SO worth it! The walk was easy - mostly very flat ground on well-worn paths with clear signage - and the views were both pretty (cottages and gardens) and pretty spectacular. This is a really special part of Scotland with what, I think, is some of the country's most iconic and romantic scenery: peaty rivers and dark forests, gentle hills and heathery moors. It is a magical place, even on an overcast day.
A bench allowed us to rest and stare awhile at this marvellous stretch of the River Dee. Does it get any better?!
And from the path we saw all kinds of autumnal bounty, including damsons, apples and brambles.
We pondered a paddle at this point of the Dee (above) but the river felt a little ... unwelcoming, somehow. Not a great entry point and flowing very fast. With only the occasional bit of sun on it, it looked too forbidding. The Potarch Bridge was just ahead, however, and the clouds were clearing, so we kept going - trusting that our local guide was right.
By the time we got to the Bridge, the sky was clearing and the sun was finally coming out to stay.
From the brow of the Bridge, we could also see exactly why our guide had recommended this spot: lots of access points over sand and smooth rocks to deeper, bronze-brown waters that offered varying speeds of current, from none to fast. Wild swimming perfection!
After an hour or so in the water (yes, really - it was *that* comfortable), we walked across the bridge to have a cup of tea at the Potarch and, from there, we called a taxi to take us back the ten miles we'd ended up walking from the Mill of Dess Lodge.
This bit of the Deeside Way gave us a fabulous walk, a beautiful waterfall and wonderful wild swim. Highly recommended!
Are you someone who enjoys wild swimming? Have you got a location that you’d be willing to share?! I know of good spots on Skye, in Glen Lyon, at other points on the Dee and on the river Garry near Killiecrankie but do share if you have a good one! Leave a comment below.
The Tripographer’s notes
Unslumping level? 10/10
Would I go again? Yes
Best time to go? We went in late August, which is great for wild swimming because the water has had all summer to warm up a little (hopefully!), but this walk would be beautiful in any season.
Best for? Medium fitness level; family, friends,
Top tip? Wear clothing for the forecast and take a Hammam towel - lighter than a terry beach towel and much more absorbent. I didn’t but wished I had. In fact, I don’t have one. *Adds to Amazon Wish List.* Also, go to the Potarch for a cup of tea with cake.