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Come with us as we visit some of the most impressive stately homes in Scotland and their gardens…
Stately homes in Scotland
It’s all very nice admiring the grandeur and workmanship that went into designing and building some of the stately homes in Scotland, but sometimes looking is not enough, we want to experience the houses and grounds in all their glory.
With a level of opulence we’re only really used to seeing on screen, a visit to a stately home in Scotland 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 the stately homes in Scotland 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. 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. Advanced tickets are required to visit Balmoral, but if you miss out on that, you can still explore the extensive grounds and gardens with the very good audio guide.
To see jaw-dropping interiors
This 16th-century castle in the Scottish Borders, with its fairytale turrets and rose-pink sandstone exterior, has been home to the Maitland family – once one of the most influential families in Scotland – for more than 400 years.
The castle has some of the most exquisite interiors of any Scottish stately home, with 17th-century Dunsterfield gold gilded plasterwork ceilings and a huge collection of family portraits and busts.
On a guided tour (May-September), you can visit the grand state rooms and enter the Toy Museum ‘school room’ to admire a selection of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian toys. You can also book in advance for a private tour with a member of the Maitland family.
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.
To listen to a story or two
Pay a visit to the adored 19th-century home of Scotland’s most celebrated storyteller: Sir Walter Scott. Overlooking the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders, Abbotsford was the realisation of a long-held dream of Scott to create his own “rambling, whimsical and picturesque” home, which he filled with all his favourite possessions: books, armoury, Jacobite memorabilia, and all manner of historic artefacts. The house and grounds are open from 1 March until September.
In the later years of his life, Scott wrote prolifically to pay off mounting debts, and he said of Abbotsford: “The stones speak both of triumph and disaster”. Nonetheless, a visit here is a great way to get into the mind and imagination of the great man.
To discover a new favourite
Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens
The problem with Scotland, and Aberdeenshire, in particularly, is that there is such a wealth of castles that sometimes beautiful ones like Ballindalloch get overlooked. Home to the Macpherson-Grants since the 16th century, this issue’s cover star, known as ‘the Pearl of the North’, is a real hidden treasure, in Speyside.
Originally built more as a fortress than a family home, remarkably, it remains largely intact, despite being sacked by Royalist forces in 1645, though a good deal of Victorian ‘confection’ has been added to the medieval Z-plan layout. This year, from 12 April to 30 September, you can step over the threshold and see rooms that tell the family’s story, such as the dining room with its magnificent fireplace and original Allan Ramsay portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte, gifted to General James Grant for his military service in the American Wars of Independence.
Ballindalloch Castle sits in the middle of a working estate and its grounds and gardens are delightful to wander, so allow yourself an extra hour or so to do them justice.
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