Ballindalloch Castle

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This is a bit off the usual tourist beat although it is popular with locals. It has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546 and is still very much a loved family home with the owners taking a hands on approach. Michael was talking to the present owner, Mrs Russell, while he waited for me to finish going round.

The castle is reached by a long wooded drive off the A96 and through an electric gate which is kept shut when the castle is closed to visitors. The ticket office is by the gate and does not take credit cards. We were given maps of the castle and gardens. The drive takes you through the estate with estate cottages and a nice but brief view down on the walled garden. We went past the field with pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. The herd was founded in 1860 from the hardy, black hornless cattle who have been in North East of Scotland since the 12thC.

There is a large car park by the 17thC dove cot and children’s play area. This has slides, swings, plenty of toy tractors and a train made out of whisky barrels. Our grandchildren would have loved this. Next to the car park is an enclosure with lamas which were a ruby wedding present to the present owners.

The castle is reached through a laburnum tunnel, now a bit boring but judging by the number of seed heads would have been a glorious sight in the spring. Surrounded by well tended grassland with mature specimen trees, the castle is an attractive white harled building dating from the 16thC when a tower house was built with crow step gables and small turrets. In the 18thC it was extended by the addition of a pair of lower wings with gable windows and a smaller tower at the far end, which is now the estate office. The wings enclose a small courtyard reached through an open archway with the estate clock above. There is a shop and very good tea room.

There are attractive herbaceous borders along the wings of the house and a rock garden with arches of roses to the front. This is a most attractive place.

Entry to the castle is through the main door with a splendid armorial panel carved above. This leads into a small tiled hall and then the main ENTRANCE HALL with the reception desk where we were given a warm welcome. Visits are free flow and there are information sheets in every room. Photography is not allowed inside. The entrance hall is unusual as the vaulted roof with scrolls and foliage is supported by a central pillar. This was part of the 1805 renovation. There are 18thC pistols over the fireplace, a Louis quinz bureau with a beautiful inlaid marquetry design. There is a big barometer and long clock dated 1699. In a corner is a big display cupboard with china. The grand stair case leads off from a corner of the room.

This leads into the DRAWING ROOM in the 1776 wing. This is a very attractive room with plain green carpet and green damask wall paper. This theme continues through all the ground floor rooms. Sofas and easy chairs are covered with cream upholstery. There are occasional tables with lots of family photographs. An old window has been converted into a display area with a selection of Victorian Coalbrookdale china.

This leads into the LAIRD’S SMOKING ROOM used by the gentlemen after dinner with tobacco boxes and cigarette cases on the table. There are easy chairs and an upright rather uncomfortable looking sofa. On either side of the fireplace are two long thin mirrors with gilded carvings of flowers which may be by Gringling Gibbons. On the far wall is beautifully inlaid cabinet on legs with an etched bone inlay. There are another two window displays with china.

Spiral stairs lead to the first floor and a long corridor with portraits by Murillo and Velaquez on the walls as well as Royal portraits and signed photographs of Royal visitors.

The first room visited is the LIBRARY, a lovely wood panelled room dating from the 1850s. This is supposed to contain one of the best country house libraries in Scotland with over 2500 books kept in tall bookcases with cupboards at the bottom. In the centre is a round table with two rows of small drawers round the edge. There is a small bureau, occasional tables with china and window seats with cushions.

Next is LADY MACPHERSON GRANT’S BEDROOM, a delightful room with pale blue carpet and watered silk wallpaper. The white fitted cupboards have blue watered silk panels like the wallpaper. The drapes of the four poster bed and curtains have a large floral design. Furniture includes a Queen Anne bureau, early Victorian dressing table with mirror and pink upholstered chairs. The 19thC dressing case was discovered in the attic still with its contents including silver backed brushes, mirror, tray with jars, button hook and other essential items (of unspecified use).

The next room is the DINING ROOM which is the largest room in the castle as it was the 16thC great hall. It is panelled in American pine and has a splendid paster cast ceiling thought to be a copy of one at Craigievar Castle. Furnished with dark red curtains and a tartan carpet this is a warm and friendly room.

The fireplace has a wooden surround with the coat of arms of the Macphersons and the Grants with the family mottos. ‘Ense et Animo’ (with sword and courage), the Grant motto. ‘Touch not the Cat Bot a Glove’ is the Macpherson motto and is roughly translated as “don’t mess with us without your gloves on”. There are large portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte on either side of the fireplace.

The table dating from 1775 will seat up to 24 and has a display of silverware. At one end of the room is a sideboard with small striking clock. At the opposite end is a large painting of the Russell family above another sideboard. Window seats have cushions and there are small tables between the windows with more silver ware, including a large wine cooler. In a corner by the door is a grandfather clock dated 1780.

Three steps lead up to the CHINA ROOM which has two large cupboards containing a 1820s Ridgeway dining service. Another cupboard contains glassware. On the walls are pictures of game birds as well as of the estate.

The tour continues up the grand staircase with a splendid wooden banister and two large gilt framed mirrors on the half landing as well as a gong.

Down a side corridor, the first room is the BRASS BEDROOM with turquoise and pink floral curtains and drapes above a half tester brass bed. There is a huge bathroom off.

Next is the PINK BEDROOM with two single half tester beds with green and pink drapes. This was one of the original bedrooms in the castle and the stone lintel above the fireplace is dated 1546. It has a hip bath, warming pan, washstand with bowls and jugs. In the middle of the room is a small 1785 dressing table with silver backed brushes and three mirrors. Other furniture includes a large wardrobe and chest of drawers.

The tour continues up the HIGHLAND STAIRCASE with a iron yett (metal grille door) across the bottom. This is very narrow and no passing is possible on it. Downward traffic has priority and there is a bell at the top to ring to warn others that you are about to descend. (Visitors can skip this part of the tour and return down the grand staircase.)

Narrow and uneven steps lead up to the NURSERY, an Aladdin’s cave with small white dresses, crib, high chair, lots of teddy bears, dolls house, rocking horse, farm… Next to it is the SERVANT'S BEDROOM, a sparsely furnished room with a small bed with plaid cover, chest of drawers, commode and a wooden chair. In a corner is a privy with a wooden seat above an bucket and a basket containing heather and moss, which predated toilet paper.

The spiral staircase continues up to the top of the 1546 WATCH TOWER which was roofed over in 1602, This contains two trunks with brass studs, rifles and a sword which was given to one of the Macphersons by James VIII (The Old Pretender) and was later used in skirmishes during the retreat of Bonnie Prince Charlie from Derby.

Leaving this room, don’t forget to ring the bell to warn others you are about to descend. You have the choice of continuing all the way down the spiral staircase or picking up the grand staircase (the more sensible choice).

This brings you out into the DUNGEON PASSAGE, containing a lot of family portraits. This is supposed to be haunted by General James Grant who reviews the estate every evening on the way to the wine cellars. The lower dungeon is below the wine cellar.

At the far end is a small room with more family portraits and photographs of Royal visits. There is a video showing a 30minute TV programme made about the castle and the estate.

The tour ends by passing a small room which used to be a wash room (the toilets are now in a separate block in the grounds). This now contains an old fashioned pram and two pushchairs. On a wall in the corridor is a display of 19thC family medals including a Victoria Cross. Another display case has a fascinating display of Victorian pincushions. These are small silver animals with a velvet pincushion stuffed with sawdust or bristle to keep the pins clean and free of rust. There were donkeys, birds, dogs, pigs, cats and even a frog.

This was an excellent visit and probably our favourite castle visited during ten days spent in north east Scotland. It is very much a family home and a hands on approach by the owners. At £10 for adults and £8 for seniors we felt this was very good value. If you just want to visit the gardens the price is £5 and £4.

The WALLED GARDEN is about 5 minutes walk from the house along a well made track. It is now an ornamental rose garden although there are a few apple trees in a corner. In the centre is a small fountain with water lilies and four bronze herons. This is surrounded by a paved area with stone seats, climbing roses and catnip. It is a lovely place to sit.

Archways leading to the fountain are covered with clematis. The rest of the garden is grassed over. There are four free standing rose beds with cat nip borders and a small statue in the centre. Round the edges are posts with climbing roses and loop of rope swung between them. These have borders of purple and white campanulas. The design is completed by long rectangular rose beds also with campanula edgings.

Hydrangas and clematis climb up the walls, At the far end gate leads through to an area with green houses.

This is a lovely garden but almost impossible to photograph as it is seen best from above.

There is a mown grass maze and a way marked river walk following the banks of the Rivers Avon and Spey. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do these. Allow yourself plenty of time for a visit as you can easily spend several hours here. This was one of the highlights of the holiday, along with its tea room.

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