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Gentry Does It: Scotland’s Most Impressive Stately Homes and Gardens
Come with us as we visit some of Scotland’s most impressive stately homes and their gardens, which are ready to welcome you this year…
It’s all very nice admiring the grandeur and workmanship that went into designing and building some of Scotland’s most impressive buildings, but sometimes looking is not enough, we want to experience the houses and grounds in all their glory.
After a difficult couple of years, Scotland’s stately homes are looking forward to welcoming you back, whether for the first time or a long-awaited return visit. With a level of opulence we’re only really used to seeing on screen, a visit to a stately home is a chance to see original paintings and antique furniture in their actual settings. You can walk the grounds where kings and queens once trod, hear stories from experts on past residents, and sometimes even take a tour with the present-day owner. Here are some of the best reasons to visit our stately homes this spring and summer.
For a Highland Fling
Home for centuries to the Earls, Marqueses, and Dukes of Atholl, this castle, which opens again in April 2022, hosts long-term exhibitions on the Jacobite risings (over which the family was torn) and the sartorial elegance of past dukes and duchesses. However, the highlight of the castle’s calendar is the Atholl Highlanders weekend, which this year takes place on 28-29 May. The Atholl Highlanders are the only remaining private army in Europe and act as the personal bodyguard to the Duke of Atholl, who is Chief of the Clan Murray. In 1842, the Atholl Highlanders escorted Queen Victoria on her tour of Perthshire when she was a guest at the castle, and on her return visit two years later, they mounted the guard for the duration of her visit. For this, the Atholl Highlanders were presented with colours by the queen, which granted them official regiment status. On the Saturday of this celebratory weekend, today’s hand-picked body of local men armed with Lee-Metford rifles will parade in all their finery in front of the castle, performing a full set of drills and taking the salute from their Chieftain to the rousing sounds of the regiment’s pipe band. On the Sunday, the Atholl Gathering and Highland Games will take place. Opened by the pipes and drums, the day includes traditional games of tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and tug o’ war, as well as Highland dancing.
To Peek in the Royal Wardrobe
Further north, in Aberdeenshire, in the surrounds of the Cairngorms National Park, lies Balmoral, the Scottish holiday home of the Royal Family. A private residence, the only room open to the public is the Ballroom. This year, however, to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, there are a few special experiences available to visitors when the gates open to guests from 1 April to 2 August. First up, viewers can see Life at Balmoral, an exhibition showcasing a range of dresses that Her Majesty has worn at Balmoral – evidence that she doesn’t always wear tweed skirts and weather-proof coats when she holidays in the Highlands. Then, on the Platinum Jubilee weekend (2-5 June), guests can attend a special afternoon tea in the Piper’s Hall, where footage of celebrations taking place across the UK will be streamed. Advanced tickets are required to visit Balmoral, and the Jubilee weekend is expected to sell out fast, but if you miss out on that, you can still see the exhibition and explore the extensive grounds and gardens with the very good audio guide.
For a Behind-the-Scenes Experience
Set in an estate of 6,000 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland, just outside Edinburgh, impressive Arniston House is a little-known countryside retreat. Home to the Dundas family since 1571, the house that stands today was built by revered Scottish architect William Adam in 1725, replacing an older tower house, and it is considered one of the most important Georgian houses in Scotland. Like many old country houses, it fell into disrepair over time, and since the 1970s it has been undergoing a lengthy restoration programme. In 2022, the house’s Family Guided Tours return, led by members of the Dundas family, and take just over an hour. The tours cover all three floors of the house and are an engaging way to learn about the history of the family, the house and Scotland as a whole. It’s a chance to see stucco works, beautiful period furnishings and a world-renowned art collection up close, with a knowledgeable guide on hand. The season begins on 3 May, with tours at 2pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with tours also on Sundays from July to 12 September.
This is an extract. Read the full feature in the March/April issue of Scotland, out on 18 February.
Published six times a year, every issue of Scotland showcases its stunning landscapes and natural beauty, and delves deep into Scottish history. From mysterious clans and famous Scots (both past and present), to the hidden histories of the country’s greatest castles and houses, Scotland‘s pages brim with the soul and secrets of the country.
Scotland magazine captures the spirit of this wild and wonderful nation, explores its history and heritage and recommends great places to visit, so you feel at home here, wherever you are in the world.