Blair Castle is Scotlandís most visited privately owned historic house. With its gabled and turreted white exterior and crenellated parapets it lends a friendly air to the extensive grounds in which it sits. However, the turrets were added in the 1870s.
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A castle has stood on this site since 1269. Its stone keep survives today and is the part of the castle called Cummingís Tower (Mortlake tapestries are hung in the tower and a state bed is on show). A three storey block was added to the castle in the early 1500s by the Earl of Atholl (John Stewart). The hall and upper hall from this addition still stand. They serve as the formal dining room and drawing room today. The dining room has elaborate white stuccowork with ceiling medallions while the drawing room has red damask wall hangings.
Further additions were made to the castle in the 1630s when new owner John Murray took over. One hundred years later (in the 1730s) when the earls became dukes, they made Blair into a showpiece they thought proper for their elevated title. A two storey wing was begun but the Jacobite uprising brought family complications.
Because of this plans were scaled down to that of renovating the exterior and fancying up the interior. A state apartment was created to span two floors. Connecting the two floors is a staircase hung with family portraits. Rococo plasterwork decorates this area as well as the drawing and dining rooms. The exterior was renovated again in 1874. A ballroom was added at the same time.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed here in 1844 prompting their love affair with Scotland which resulted in the purchase of Balmoral Castle at a later date.
Visitors can view 32 rooms that contain furniture, paintings, china, armour, Brussels tapestries and other treasures. In the Stewart room are Stewart relics, portraits, and 16th and 17th century furniture. Earl Johnís room has one of four original copies of the National Covenant (1638). Portraits decorate the picture staircase. A Georgian drawing room contains 1756 mahogany chairs while the tea room has 18th century Chippendale and Sheraton china cabinets.
A few of the other rooms on show, many with portraits, are the Dukeís corridor, the book room, a dressing room, the Derby room, the tapestry room, and the china room with a collection of continental, oriental and English fine china.
An interesting note is that the Duke retains the only private army in Britain, known as the Athol Highlanders. The 80 members perform ceremonial duties.
In the parkland are deer, peacocks, and Highland cattle. There is a mid 18th century walled garden with herbaceous borders.
Perthshire (Perth and Kinross)
Seven miles (11.3km) north of Pitlochry
Off the A9
Tel. 0 1796 481 207
Open: April-end Oct, daily, 9.30am-5.30pm (last admission to castle 4.30pm); Nov-end March, Tue and Sat, 9.30am-2.30pm (last admission to castle 1.30pm); week between Christmas and New Yearís, 10am-3pm
Historic Houses Association member; parking; self serve restaurant; shop; wedding venue; self catering facilities
Web: Blair Castle and Gardens
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except walled garden by JThomas, courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland
Text and photos © by Barbara Ballard