There are lots of things to like about Blair castle: the gardens are stunning, there’s a tame bagpiper on hand to provide the atmosphere, the arboretum contains some spectacular trees, and, should you want to walk, rather than learn about the Duke of Atholl, his private army and vast wealth, you can walk along tumbling Highland streams in colourful mixed woodlands.
Another thing is that the castle and grounds are actually open most of the year unlike many of Scotland’s visitor attractions. It is only shut from end November to the end of February and it opens again over Christmas and new year.
We wandered into the grounds by mistake having walked from where we were staying in Blair Athol, along the gorgeous path by the Tilt and arrived, by way of an avenue of beach trees, at a statue of a well-built Hercules at the highest point of Hercules walk and overlooking the beautiful and well-kept walled gardens. The children had decided what they were doing today and it had, apparently, not included a walk. They packed their own lunch and two rucksacs full of note pads and reading books and other things and dragged us off to leave them somewhere while we went on one of these hateful walks we keep dragging them on. In the end we left our voluntary Hansel and Gretel in Diana’s grove, the 2nd Duke of Athol’s tree collection, where the adventure playground proved an irresistible draw, and headed up-stream, away from the castle grounds and into the woods.
We managed a couple of hours, interspersed with update phone calls with the children, walking through autumnal gorge woodland of bronze-turning beech. Below us the Tilt cut and polished its way through the grey metamorphic rocks. A couple of Bridges draped with thick moss added to the atmosphere.
On our return we listened to the children regale their adventures in the woods, heard how wet their feet were and then listened to the moaning as we marched them down the spectacular avenue of limes away from the castle and to the wonderful cafe of the Water Mill in Blair Athol village.
The Water Mill is a 400 year-old working mill, bakery and cafe with delicious cakes and scones, lunches and homemade bread.