Summer arrived in Scotland last week, and as the mercury hit the high 20s, Scots uncovered their alabaster, white limbs and embraced al-fresco living with gusto.
The Wee White Dug was puggled (Scots for exhausted) with the heat, and point-blank refused to entertain the notion of walking in it. We’d been invited to the Atholl Highlanders’ Parade at Blair Castle on Saturday, so we left our puggled little travelling companion with The Teen and headed to the Highland Perthshire village of Blair Atholl to watch the parade.
It was hot and clammy, and worryingly the forecast was looking pretty ominous, with severe thunder storms and heavy rain expected.
The castle grounds were bustling when we arrived. The Atholl Highlanders’ Parade takes place on the last bank holiday weekend of May. It attracts around 1,500 visitors. It’s held the day before the Atholl Gathering – Blair Atholl’s Highland games.
Blair Castle is the ancestral seat of the Duke of Atholl, Chief of the Murray Clan. Its earliest known part dates to 1269, but it’s been extensively remodelled over the years, transitioning from medieval fortress to grand baronial home.
We kicked-off our day out with a self-guided tour of the castle interior. 30 rooms are open to the public, and it was fascinating to see just how many belongings an aristocratic family can acquire over several hundred years.
One room was full of china – Beautiful pieces from Dresden, Spode, Wedgwood and many more, filled floor to ceiling cabinets. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the sumptuous dinners they’d once have been showcased at.
Ornate four-poster beds, festooned with heavy drapes were a focal point in bedrooms, while corridors and stairs were hung with hunting trophies, family portraits and historic weaponry, including targes (shields) and muskets used at the battle of Culloden.
The Jacobite risings split the Murray Clan down the middle. Some were ardent supporters of the Jacobite cause, while others weren’t quite so keen to see the Stuart Dynasty back on the throne.
Lord George Murray, brother of James Murray 2nd Duke of Atholl led the Jacobite army during the 1745 rising. Murray had a brilliant military mind, and if Charles Edward Stuart had listened to his advice, then Culloden might not have been the brutal, slaughter that we remember it as today. I’ve always had a soft spot for Murray, he’s one of my favourite characters from Scottish history.
After a fascinating tour inside the castle we had a browse in the gift shop before lunch. I was delighted to find Westie themed items for sale. Every Scottish gift shop worth its salt, should stock at least one Westie item!
Now hungry, and ready for lunch we headed to the castle’s Tullibardine Restaurant. We were greeted by General Manager Jibbeon who explained that three historic dishes had been added to the weekend’s menu. The dishes, prepared by Chef George Urquhart had been created using recipes adapted from the castle archives.
I loved the idea of an Archivist/Chef culinary collaboration.
“We wanted to create a really special dining experience on what is a spectacular and historic day for the Castle. What better way than to leap in to the archives and take inspiration from the cooks that have gone before us.
I’m rarely tempted by meat dishes, especially not for lunch, but the Essence of Beef looked mouth-wateringly good. It was a slow-cooked dish of pulled beef, served with a choice of veg. The recipe was shared with the Atholl family’s cook during a visit to Westminster in the 1900s.
Delighted to see his favourite mushroom soup on the menu, Mr G stuck with our trusty lunch staple of soup and sandwiches. Neither of us could resist the enticing selection of cakes and traybakes on offer. I chose a sweet treat from my own archives – a strawberry tart, which was a childhood favourite of mine.
As it was warm outside, and the rain forecast still hadn’t arrived we made the most of every precious second of summer and ate our lunch outside on the terrace.
My cinnamon dusted cappuccino was the perfect accompaniment for my strawberry tart. I muttered an inaudible whisper to Mr G to try a piece but when he never heard me I left it at that, knowing if I was accused of not sharing later I could cover my back by saying I’d offered but been ignored!
With time to spare before the parade, we attempted to walk off lunch by exploring the castle grounds.
We bumped into a peacock strutting around with more swagger than the Wee White Dug. He swished by, head in the air like a bride dragging a large and ostentatious train.
The castle’s walled Hercules Garden is a lovely spot, dominated by an ornamental lake.
Nesting birds were everywhere, and we were lucky enough to spot a swan with a tiny signet. It was an adorable, little bundle of fluffy down.
As I approached the garden’s oriental bridge I spotted a small white head in a bush next to the bridge – I crossed quickly. Mr G was snapping away behind me, so I found a good vantage point and waited. It wasn’t long before I was rewarded – he stood on the bridge camera poised as two kittiwakes began circling overhead – he was oblivious. Oblivious, that is until they began dive bombing him angrily to get him away from their nest. He didn’t linger long on the bridge after that – oh, how I laughed.
The statues in the garden reminded me of Paris and I felt a twinge of sadness and longing for the city that stole my heart many years ago. Paris is my favourite place on Earth, and somewhere I’ve visited countless times over the years. For now it’s somewhere I’ve decided to take a break from visiting for obvious reasons. I’ll share my Paris highlights on here, when I finally get round to expanding my Beyond Scotland section.
As we left the garden we met the mighty Hercules lounging idly on his club. There was no time for us to lounge idly as we had a parade to watch.
We found a spot with a good view of the parade ground and waited for the Atholl Highlanders to appear.
The Atholl Highlanders are the only private land army in Europe. Their origins date back to the 1770s and the American War of Independence. In 1842 they escorted Queen Victoria on a tour of Perthshire. Two years later Queen Victorian stayed at Blair Castle as a guest, and the Atholl Highlanders acted as her guard. As a thank you for their service she awarded them colours, giving them official status.
I stood patiently listening for the skirl of the pipes – and there it was.
I felt my eyes well up as the Atholl Pipe Band led the Atholl Highlanders downhill and on to the parade ground. There’s something about the sound of bagpipes that stirs the soul.
The Atholl Highlanders were wonderful to watch, marching and coordinating their every move so precisely. They were impeccably well turned out too and I loved their tartan sashes.
It was a real treat to hear the Atholl Pipe Band play. They’re regulars at the famous Braemar Gathering and Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and it’s easy to see why they’re in such high demand.
The Atholl Highlanders stood to attention as they were inspected by the Governor of Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t envy them wearing those heavy outfits on such a warm, clammy day.
The event drew to a close with a short prize-giving ceremony. Mr G thought his luck could have been in when they announced there would be a prize for the best dressed Highlander. He left empty-handed, when it turned out to be an award for the best dressed Atholl Highlander, and not any old Highlander.
When the Atholl Estate Stalker won the prize for best shot the crowd all giggled. Surely he was odds on favourite to win that prize.
The grand finale of the parade was a brilliant ‘gie it laldy’ display of marching, pipes and drums – my toes were tapping away ten to the dozen. It was fantastic.
We left brimming with Scottish pride, and on our car journey home we chatted excitedly about our fun day out.
The electronic signs on the A9 were still flashing severe weather warnings as we drove home, but thankfully the thunderstorm held off until we set foot in the house – then it let rip. Perfect timing!
The Wee Dug was delighted to see us and jumped for joy. If The Teen was she hid it well!
If you’re feeling sorry for the Wee White Dug having to spend a dull weekend at home while we were off gallivanting, fear not. The next day we made it up to him with a trip to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. He was in his element hiking along a lovely, leafy part of the West Highland Way. Afterwards he cooled his tired feet in the loch.
I’d like to thank the team at Blair Castle for inviting us to experience their fabulous historic lunch and the unforgettable Atholl Highlanders’ Parade. It’s a day we’ll remember fondly for a very long time.
Although our lunch and entry to the castle were provided on a complimentary basis, all opinions, musings and comments contained within this blog are accurate and entirely my own.
Until next time ………