The weather had deteriorated and the sheets of rain put a damper on my mood and the idea of venturing out. But out I went anyway and decided to go to Blair Castle, a twenty minute drive in a bus from Pitlochry. It would pass the time and I’d rather be doing something, rather than sitting in a Bed and Breakfast all day.
I bought my ticket for Blair Castle at the Tourist Office in Pitlochry, which offered a 10% discount on food and drink at the restaurant in the Castle. The local bus picked me up from Fisher’s Hotel in the town centre and dropped me off right at the door of Blair Castle, which is a very good service I think. There is a self-guided tour that you can do around the thirty-roomed Victorian castle for £10.70. My tummy was growling at me so I went to the restaurant first. The range of hot and cold food was quite good and tasty too. Now that I had been fed and watered, I wanted to explore the Castle.
Blair Castle has grown and developed throughout the centuries and went through three development periods – Medieval, Georgian and Victorian. The earliest known part of the present castle dates back to 1269 and since then the building has slowly transformed into the beautiful Scottish Baronial style architecture that you see today. The tour of the castle takes you on an interesting journey into the lives of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl who owned and lived in the castle. One of the most impressive rooms in the building is the Ballroom. This room is used for Highland balls, wedding receptions and most importantly, for the annual gathering of the Atholl Highlanders.
The Atholl Highlanders is a Scottish ceremonial infantry regiment and has no military role but is in the private employ of the Duke of Atholl. For this reason, the regiment is known as being Europe’s only “private army”. Like many parts of the Highlands, this was a place that needed defending. The Men of Atholl stood and fought for their ancient earl, even way back in the Pictish times. By the 14th century those earls were based at Dunkeld but had also established themselves at Blair Castle. In 1777 the 4th Duke of Atholl raised the 77th Regiment of foot to fight against the rebellious Americans in the civil war over there.
The regiment was meant to be a relief force and as such, these Atholl Highlanders spent much of their time in Ireland training. I found that quite interesting and asked one of the guides if he knew where in Ireland the regiment were based. He phoned the archivist, who came over to the castle with a book and showed me what was written about the regiment. It said that they were in Ireland for three years training, initially based in Limerick, Galway and Clare Castles. Then they were moved to Cork, Clonmel and Ballyshannon. The year after that they were stationed in Dublin and places in the South East such as Waterford and Wexford. There were 1028 of them altogether. But they didn’t actually fight in the American War of Independence because the British surrendered in North America before they set sail.
After their three year term they were expected to be disbanded but the authorities who had spent money and time training them wanted the regiment to serve in the East Indies instead. On hearing the news, the men mutinied, were disbanded and their service came to an abrupt end. Highland lairds retained a retinue of men as a ceremonial bodyguard. In 1844 the Duke provided Queen Victoria with a bodyguard of 200 when she visited Blair Castle. In 1746 the London Government brought in draconian laws against the Highlanders, following the collapse of the 1745 rebellion. These laws included the prohibition on wearing tartan, wearing kilts, the playing of bagpipes and the right of Highland Chiefs to raise private armies.
Queen Victoria revoked the law of 1746 for the Duke and presented him with regimental colours, therefore elevating the Atholl Highlanders to a private armed regiment. In 1966 the 10th Duke of Atholl resurrected the regiment, complete with pipe band, received new colours and once again marched the Atholl Highlanders. Over the next thirty years numbers grew, events increased and the 11th Duke, John Murray, decided to continue with the regiment. It’s lovely to see an old tradition like this carried on in modern times. I really enjoyed my trip to Pitlochry and would recommend anyone to go there. It’s a quaint little Highland town and I will definitely go back there sometime soon.