Travel review: Blair Atholl, Perthshire

Enjoying the autumn colours on the Atholl Estates. Photo (c) Stephen Farthing
Enjoying the autumn colours on the Atholl Estates. Photo (c) Stephen Farthing

Dazzled by rich golden colours entwined with ruby red and deep orange – the car fell silent as we took in our own private autumn show.

October doesn’t always bode well for taking a break, after all the weather can be all too wet and gloomy. But boy were we glad that we made the effort and headed to the big tree county of Perthshire and the wonderful Blair Atholl, home to the historic Blair Castle.

Peeping out through the trees is Blair Castle. Photo by Paul Booth

Peeping out through the trees is Blair Castle. Photo by Paul Booth

As we sped up the A9, the colours of the leaves on the trees were just spectacular and they must have been good, because even Ruaridh (8) and Flora (6) took time out from their usual heads in books activities and stopped to stare as we passed row upon row of simply breath-taking colours.

We were heading to the Blair Castle Caravan Park, which sits in the tiny village of Blair Atholl, at the gateway to the Cairngorms National Park. This sleepy village has lovely traditional houses, The Atholl Country Life museum and for a tiny place, its is well served for food and drink.

The castle is at the heart of the village with the caravan park just next to it and guarded by two magnificent Highland bulls, who are celebrities in their own right. Tourists stop to look and admire them and we discovered their weakness – carrots!

Ruaridh and Flora had great fun waving carrots to entice the two across the fields, where they very politely took the carrots whole and with one crunch they were gone. Obviously not a sentimental pair, any attempts to stroke them, were greeted with a sharp, but gentle swish of their huge horns to bat you away!

Walking the tightrope . Photo by  Angus Forbes

Walking the tightrope . Photo by Angus Forbes

The caravan park was at its best when we visited, with the two or three bedroom vans surrounded by the colourful autumnal trees and alongside the flowing River Tilt.

The caravans are to a very high standard with a decking area on the outside and a full kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms inside. The lounge area is comfortable and spacious and there is a DVD player, as well as the television to keep you entertained at night.

Linen is provided as well as all the kitchen utensils and cooking aids you need and the main reception area has a small shop to stock up, with a play area and putting green outside and lots of trails around the Atholl Estate, where if you are lucky, like us, you will spot red squirrels scampering up the tall pine trees.

During our stay the castle was closed for a national piping competition, but we were able to enjoy a tour of the lovely gardens, as admission is included in your stay. The castle which dates back to the 13th century is owned by South African born Bruce Murray, the 12th Duke of Atholl, a man who has his own private army, the Atholl Highlanders, a unique privilege granted to his family by Queen Victoria while visiting the castle in 1844.

Spectacular light show. Photo by  Angus Forbes

Spectacular light show. Photo by Angus Forbes

Thirty rooms in the castle are open to the public, from the majestic state dining room to the impressive baronial entrance hall. The grounds are lovely to walk around, with the Hercules Garden, recently restored to its original Georgian design and Diana’s Grove, boasting some of the country’s finest trees, including some imported from America.

There is a red deer park and adventure playground for the children to enjoy and Ruaridh and Flora loved petting the deer which ambled over in search of a treat.

Their love affair with the deer was only going to get better, for the next day they joined experienced guide Sandy Reid for a three hour roaring stag safari.

Dressed smartly in his tweeds, Sandy used his 50 years of experience driving us off road to find what we could see across the remote landscape.

And what fun we had, binoculars at the ready, we saw herds of deer led by their stag, roaming majestically across the hills, Sandy told us that in another couple of weeks, the deer would make their way inland as the weather sets in, but the sight of them marching along was wonderful.

Luckily for us, we also saw a pair of golden eagles perched on a rock, once they saw us though, they were off and we watched as they soared through the air. Kestrels and black grouse were also spotted and Sandy gave us a real insight into how the massive estate is run and also a masterclass in fine four wheel driving!

To round off our visit, we swopped natural colours for the artificial ones of the Flux show in The Enchanted Forest at nearby Pitlochry. Flux represents movement, waves and energy and boy this show had all that. Wonderfully organised, you are ferried by bus at night-time from Pitlochry to Faskally Wood and then let unleased on the light spectacular.

The event is organised to raise funds for the local community and this year has been record breaking. The number of people allowed in at once is closely monitored to ensure everyone gets a good view and the woods are lit up in the most spectacular way with music accompanying them as they dance amongst the trees. Two swans sat happily watching the show in the loch as a fountain caused a splash of colour and water.

Aerial artists All or Nothing performed some great stunts across a tightrope high above the water and two storytellers kept the children entertained.

The technical team had it just right, working the colours and lights so well to provide a stunning show – just as nature intended!

Factfile:

Accommodation: Blair Castle Caravan Park in Perthshire is something different from the normal run of the mill. Not only are you nestled in grounds surrounded by the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, but the caravans themselves are spacious, modern and with all the facilities you need. The two or three bedroom caravans hold the prestigious Thistle for quality and as well as being a stone’s throw away from the castle and gardens, there is a shop, Internet hub and games room, as well as a play area outside and lots of trails to follow on the Atholl Estate, which owns the castle and caravan park. There are woodland lodges for those wanting even more luxury and you can pay to pitch your tent or bring your own caravan, with washing facilities available. For more information on special offers and activities, log onto: www.blaircastlecaravanpark.co.uk

Activities: The Roaring Stag Safari is a wonderful way to enjoy wildlife up close. Led by Sandy Reid, who has over 50 years of experience, you get up close and personal with what lives on the 145,000 acre estate. With 9,000 deer sprawled around, Sandy has a lot to chose from, if he can find them of course! Patience pays off and a three hour safari will have you in raptures as you see magnificient stags, elegant golden eagles and goggle-eyed grouse in their natural environment. Check out: www.atholl-estates.co.uk/visit_land_rover_safaris.cfm

The Enchanted Forest near Pitlochry is a month long outdoor show which will take your breath away. Its based in Faskally Wood and is a musical and movement show set to music in the forest. This year’s show Flux, which runs until November 1st is sold out, but the annual event will be up and going next autumn too. Log onto: www.enchantedforest.org.uk