After a rebuild that took over a year, the Old Royal Station reopened in August 2018. This followed a disastrous fire that all but destroyed the station early on the morning of 12 May 2015. The rest of this page remains as written before the fire: we will update it once we have visited the rebuilt Old Station.
Ballater's Old Royal Station continues to stand at the heart of this Deeside village over 40 years after the last passenger train pulled out on 28th February 1966. Today it serves as the village's Tourist Information Centre complete with a well-stocked shop: and as a museum and exhibition celebrating the station's links with Royalty.
The railway first came to Ballater in 1866, when the Deeside Railway built its station here. Whether this fed the tourist boom, or simply took advantage of the draw created by Queen Victoria when she purchased Balmoral in 1852, is debatable. What is certain is the regular use was made of the new railway by the area's occasional royal residents and their guests and visitors. Much of the royalty of nineteenth century Europe passed through Ballater railway station at one time or another, including the Czar of Russia in 1896.
Entry to the Old Royal Station's Tourist Information Centre and shop is free. A small admission charge gives access to the platform and waiting room. There has been an exhibition celebrating the station's links with royalty, and with Queen Victoria in particular, since 2002. This has always featured a two-dimensional representation of the royal train with Queen Victoria disembarking. Since the beginning of 2008 the station has also been home to the carriage in which Queen Victoria travelled to Ballater in 1869. For the first time in over 40 years, Ballater railway station saw the arrival of a real train.
Actually, the original carriage in which Queen Victoria made her journey to Ballater remains at the National Railway Museum in York. The replica which arrived in January 2008, by road and crane, was built especially for display at the Old Royal Station. The idea had been suggested by Prince Charles during a visit to Ballater, and the hand-made replica had been commissioned by VisitScotland, with financial support from the National Lottery and various other bodies.
Visitors to the exhibition are able to board the end of the Royal Carriage and glimpse the opulence within, which comes complete with figures representing Queen Victoria and one of her daughters (and a remarkably lifelike black labrador). In the background a soundtrack of a conversation between them adds further atmosphere.
The new Royal Carriage adds greatly to the interest and sheer fun of a visit to the Old Royal Station. But in many ways the real highlight remains, as it was before, the royal waiting room, fitted out as it was during Queen Victoria's day. This is home to another figure representing the Queen (there are three in total in the exhibition), plus others of a servant and a lady-in-waiting. Doors opening from the waiting room lead to a washroom and to the Royal Loo.
The railway platform itself is home to a range of information panels, interactive games and Victoriana. Also on the platform is an Edinburgh Dog Cart presented to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth by the St Cuthbert's Co-operative Society on 30 June 1966, ironically just four months after passenger services ceased from Ballater station.