Travel review: Blair Atholl, Scotland

Highland Games
Highland Games

“Wow this is like something out of the Famous Five’’, exclaimed an excited Ruaridh as he and five-year-old Flora enjoyed a weekend of historic culture in Scotland.

And first stop had a real tartan twist as we joined hundreds of visitors for the annual Atholl Gathering and Highland Games at Blair Atholl, some 35 miles away from Perth.

Blair Castle

Blair Castle

With all the ingredients of a traditional games, we had fun watching caber tossing, hammer throwing, Highland dancing and our favourite, the good old tug of war. Ruaridh got into the spirit too and joined in the 8 to 10 year old race, which Enid Blyton’s Famous Five gang would approved off. With the runners lined up, half had already set off before the official hooter had set them on their way!

The games were set in the stunning grounds of Blair Castle and featured Europe’s last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders, formed to protect the ancient monument.

With bagpipes blaring and heads held high, the men of this magnificient army looked majestic as they marched into the gathering and officially started off the fun.

The games predictably attract lots of foreign visitors and it was great to see the reactions of holiday-makers as kilt wearing giants of men competed in a series of ancient games. Flora particularly liked the wrestling, because you had the chance to see whether there was any underwear present under the kilts!

Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Blair Castle itself dates back to 1269 and has been home to the many Earls and Dukes of Atholl. The castle tour takes you through the fascinating history with highlights including a visit by Mary Queen of Scots to the Civil War. And if that’s not enough, you can discover the Jacobite cause and the disaster at Culloden following Bonnie Prince Charlie’s visit to the castle. Queen Victoria’s stay resulted in the Atholl Highlanders being formed and they today play an important part in the castle.

As with a lot of castles and estates, there is so much more than just the historic monument. Lovely gardens house beautiful plants and for the outdoor adventure fan, there are Landrover safaris, walking, trekking, cycling and fishing, all organised by the Atholl Estate workers. And you can stay in accommodation in the grounds, from caravans to secluded lodges.

A few miles outside Perth takes you to a very different setting, but an impressive one too. Scone Palace is one of Scorland’s most important stately homes. Its most important asset is the Stone of Scone, which is said to have been the coronation stone of Kenneth MacAlpine, the 36th king of Dalrida.In 1296 it was captured by Edward I and taken to Westminister Abbey. Students tried to rescue it in 1950, but the stone broke into pieces. A smaller piece was saved and in 1996, the stone finally returned to Edinburgh Castle. It was last used in the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and a replica is on show at Scone Palace.

The palace itself is a house full of luxury, wonderful wide rooms crammed with jewels and finery. Small visitors are given an eye spy sheet to keep them entertained and to encourage them to look at what’s on offer.

And the grounds contain lovely walks, a magnificent maze (which we survived!), an adventure playground and best of all for Ruaridh and Flora, a handful of beautiful peacocks, roaming around and having the visitors eating out of their hands.

As with Blair Castle, there is so much more than just the house, with outdoor sports on offer and luxury accommodation too, fit for king or pauper.

Now that really does sound like something the Famous Five would have enjoyed, with lashings of ginger beer of course!

Join in the Scottish culture trail via Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, www.blair-castle.co.uk and Scone Palace at www.scone-palace.co.uk