I last visited Blair Castle and Atholl Estates in May 2017 when I joined the press pack to cover the Atholl Highlanders’ Parade. It was a spectacular event and Mr G (the blogger’s assistant) and I left bursting with Scottish pride. We’ve been keen to return since that wonderful visit, so were delighted to receive an invitation to spend the weekend at the swanky new Atholl Estates Woodland Lodges in the grounds of Blair Castle. This time The Teen and Wee White Dug joined us too.
Atholl Estates Woodland Lodges
Our home for the weekend was a two bedroom, pet-friendly lodge in a nice leafy setting a short walk from Blair Castle.
The enclosed decking was a big hit with the boy. He was safe to relax al fresco (under the watchful eye of his overprotective Mummy).
Inside, there was a twin room for The Teen, an en-suite double for Mr G and I, a bathroom, plus a living/dining area with two large comfy sofas.
Our fridge had been packed full of goodies for the weekend, including pre-prepared meals cooked in the castle kitchen. Now this was a lifestyle I could get used to.
After unpacking we went for a short walk, before settling down for dinner and a lazy night.
Dinner was tasty and effortless to prepare. Chicken, green pepper and mushroom with seasonal veggies, and a dessert of lemon posset went from fridge to table in a matter of minutes.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we enjoyed coffee, pain au chocolat, plus sausage and bacon butties from our breakfast hamper. It set us up perfectly for the day ahead.
Our first itinerary activity was booked for 10:45am, so we left the teen slumbering and headed to Blair Castle for a wander in the garden.
The boy was fascinated by some chickens we met en route, but it was a friendship hampered by chicken wire. He then turned his attention to the lovely ladies in the castle’s ticket booth. His flirting was rewarded with a biscuit, which he greedily accepted.
It doesn’t matter how many times I visit Blair Castle, I can never resist photographing it.
Atholl Estates activities – Segway tour
It was soon time for our first itinerary activity of the day – a Segway tour. Now joined by The Teen, we headed to Blair Castle Caravan Park, feeling a mix of excitement and nerves.
Segway Ecosse have been running escorted Segway tours on Atholl Estates since 2012. I’ve always fancied having a go on a Segway – BUT when you factor in the potential for embarrassment (and pain) if you fall flat on your face, and the fact that the guy who invented the Segway died in an accident involving one, then they’re maybe not quite as much fun as they look?
Our instructor Trevor quickly laid our fears to rest. The guy who invented the Segway was still alive and well. The person who died was involved in the marketing of the vehicles. He died when a cliff crumbled beneath him. That sort of thing happens to hikers too and I still “enjoy” cliff walks. There was still the falling flat on your face part though. Again, Trevor quickly bust that myth. It’s not possible, no matter how hard you try. You see, the Segway is an incredibly clever piece of kit that constantly calibrates shifts in weight and movement to keep you upright – relief.
After a five-minute briefing Trevor felt like an old pal. He had us at ease, and raring to go. We were ready to progress to the practice field.
Mr G went first. The Teen and I sniggered from the sidelines as we watched. And he was off, shoulders hunched and clinging on with white knuckles. A few words of encouragement from Trevor and he relaxed. He was soon grinning like the Cheshire Cat as he looped the practice field, posing for photos as he zoomed by.
The Teen went next, and was a natural. She whizzed round behind Mr G as Trevor praised their efforts.
The pressure was on. “Please don’t make it look difficult” I pep talked myself, stepping onto my Segway.
I didn’t – it was easy. Woo hoo.
Practice run over we followed Trevor up, then down a small hill, before heading out of the caravan park and along a woodland path towards Blair Castle.
We stopped for a photo in front of the castle, then were on our merry way, past the beautiful Hercules Garden and into lush, green woodland.
We finished our Segway tour with a full speed (12.5mph) sprint back towards the caravan park.
We said goodbye to Trevor and headed back to our woodland lodge, all three of us buzzing with excitement and huge Segway fans.
We quickly changed into smarter attire for our next activity – eating.
Afternoon Tea in Blair Castle Ballroom
At 12:30pm we sat down to afternoon tea in the spectacular castle Ballroom. We were far from inconspicuous, sitting at a solitary table in a cordoned off corner of the Ballroom. We didn’t care though as we felt ‘gey fantoosh’ tucking into afternoon tea surrounded by such grandeur. Visitors touring the castle looked on bemused, probably wondering who the heck we were!
We started with the savoury goodies – salmon fingers, sausage rolls, and haggis balls. All extremely moreish.
Next, we moved on to the sweet treats. We praised the chocolate eclairs, raved about the coconut slices and waxed lyrical about the scones. And don’t get me started on the little cinnamon donut thingies filled with cream – Mmmmm.
High on sugar, we turned our attention to the sandwiches. The fillings were delicious. Coronation chicken, cheese, ham, salad, all favourites and not a boring cucumber sandwich in sight.
We left the ballroom at more of a waddle than a walk, hyper after such a grand dining experience.
It was time to head back to our lodge for another outfit change before our afternoon activities commenced.
A tour of Blair Castle & Victoria exhibition
The boys would be chilling, while The Teen and I went on a guided tour of Blair Castle. Photography is only permitted inside the castle Ballroom so this section is photo free, but believe me when I tell you that the thirty castle rooms open to the public are incredible.
Our guide Lorna was excellent. Her tour was relaxed, funny and full of interesting snippets. I was bemused to discover that the shewee was not a modern invention.
The Teen is a bit of a geek when it comes to historical TV dramas. They’re her guilty pleasure, so she loved the castle’s Victoria exhibition, which is on until early September. She was delighted to see costumes and rooms that appeared in the drama.
Lorna expertly guided us through all 30 rooms, in an impressive 60 minutes. I was sad to say goodbye, but we had another appointment to keep.
We were meeting Mr G and The Wee White Dug for our final activity of the day. A Land Rover safari.
Atholl Estates activities – Land Rover safari
Our expectations of our driver/guide Sandy were high. Throughout the day he’d gained almost mythical status. We’d heard him described as “some man”, “a character”, “great fun”. It seemed that everyone on the estate knew and loved Sandy.
He was waiting outside the castle for us and looked every inch the country gent. Handshakes and hellos over, we hopped in the Land Rover and were off.
Conversation flowed as we headed north up the A9. Sandy told us he’d worked on Atholl Estates for 60 years. 10 years ago he’d retired from his position as Head Gamekeeper and Stalker, but rather than put his feet up he started running Land Rover safaris on the estate. And what better guide than the man who knew every hill, glen, mountain track and wild beastie on the 145,000 acre estate.
Turning right off the A9 at Dalnamein, we passed through a metal gate and drove up a rough track into woodland. Soon the trees disappeared and we were in a mountain glen with a river running through it. No cars, no people – just us, and maybe some wildlife if we were lucky.
Within seconds of us exiting the trees Sandy was peering intently at a hilltop. Apparently he could see stags. Yes, lots of stags he confirmed after consulting his binoculars. We peered too but could see nothing. A more focussed attempt at peering followed, and finally we could see tiny moving dots on the hilltop. We seem to have passed some sort of peering test, as Sandy handed us binoculars as soon as we spotted the stags. I looked through mine and there were dozens of stags. I could even make out their antlers. As we watched they started running. It was an amazing sight to witness.
We were in awe. In awe of the majestic stags, and in awe of Sandy’s hawk like eyesight.
A few seconds later we discovered that Sandy had ninja like reflexes as well as bird of prey vision! Mr G was happily snapping photos when his phone bounced out of his hand, and through the open car window. It was hilarious, but I knew the mother of all tantrums would follow if it was broken. Sandy broke instantly and the phone was retrieved damage free – phew. Apparently it had come perilously close to being crushed by the Land Rover’s rear wheel.
Our safari took us high up into the hills of the estate and we spotted black grouse, red grouse, a short-eared owl and lapwing as we went. Sandy’s passion for the landscape and its flora and fauna shone through.
Our 2 1/2 hour tour finished at the deer park in the grounds of Blair Castle. Sandy told us that forty-five years earlier he’d found an orphaned deer in the hills and brought it back to the castle. There he hand reared it and saved it from certain death. And so, Blair Castle’s deer park was established.
When we hopped out of the Land Rover the deer spotted Sandy and came charging towards him. It was an amazing end to a fascinating and exhilarating tour. Sandy had more than lived up to the hype surrounding him. He really was “some man”.
That evening we feasted on pre-prepared beef bourguignon, red cabbage and mashed potatoes, followed by rich chocolate mousse. Those castle chefs sure could cook.
Exploring Blair Castle Gardens
The next morning I rustled us up a nice cooked breakfast using our hamper goodies. After breakfast we enjoyed a leisurely Sunday morning stroll around the castle grounds, before reluctantly heading home.
We met Diana the Huntress surrounded by huge trees in a stunning leafy grove worthy of a goddess.
In a leafy clearing nearby, a hero of Scottish history lay in eternal slumber amidst the ruins of St Bride’s Kirk.
On 27 July 1689 John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee, or Bonnie Dundee as he was also known, led his Jacobite army to a surprise victory against Government forces loyal to William of Orange at the Battle of Killiecrankie. Victory came at a price for Dundee, as he was mortally wounded and died shortly after the battle.
We finished our walk in the Hercules Garden, admiring the colourful floral borders and adorable baby ducklings.
We loved every fun-filled second of our stay at Atholl Estates Woodland Lodges. Something really struck me during our time there, and it was that Atholl Estates is a community much like Scotland’s old clan system.
The people who live and work on the estate are fiercely proud of the place, and speak passionately about it (and rightly so). To them it’s not just a big estate owned by the landed gentry. It’s an important part of their lives and makes them part of a truly remarkable community.
Thanks to Atholl Estates for inviting us to stay, and for making our weekend so memorable. Although our accommodation, food and activities were provided on a complimentary basis all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……….