Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blair Atholl

Blair Castle Caravan Park
Blair Castle and Gardens
St Bride's Kirk
Dunfallandy Stone- Historic Scotland
Falls of Bruar
Dunkeld Cathedral- Historic Scotland

I did it! I went camping, and I actually loved it! Camping wasn't completely new to me- I have been camping- with a camper van two years ago with my family in Scotland, and before that for a few weeks in Africa. This time though it was just the two of us and the puppy, our own brand-new tent and the unpredictable Scottish weather. My brother didn't think I could do it, but you were wrong, Logan!

Last weekend, I picked up a camping in Britain guide on a whim thinking that someday Ian and I would use it. On our drive back home from Leeds, Ian suggested we spend our Easter weekend camping, so it was up to me to find a good campsite. I came across one in Perthshire that had received good reviews, and was dog-friendly (and next door to a castle!) so we booked a pitch for two nights. We spent the week collecting things that we would need, a camp stove, plastic bowls, mugs, the lot, and keeping an eye on the weather forecast, and come Saturday morning, the car was packed and we were on our way.

An hour into our two hour drive Ian remembered one thing we had forgotten- our camping table. Oh well. Two days preparing and cooking food on the ground was not the end of the world.  We arrived at Blair Castle Caravan Park, a camp ground that I could not recommend more, and although our first pitch, we discovered, was overrun with flying ants, they were very nice and gave us a much bigger one located next to the river and dog walking paths.

Saturday evening was a relatively relaxing time. We took Violet on an exploration of the little town Blair Atholl. I can't help but laugh every time I see or hear the name Atholl. Call me childish, but I know my family would be laughing along with me! I once went in to a shop near our old flat and the owner was sitting behind the till with her little grandson. She told me his name was Atholl, a nice Scottish name... the poor little guy never stands a chance!

Heading back to the campground, we took a walk along the river. This campground is brilliant for dog owners looking for a welcoming place to stay. Violet loved watching the dogs and their owners walk along the path, stopping to give her a fuss.

Easter was spent exploring the grounds of Blair Castle. The castle was beautiful and I really wish I could have gone inside, but I didn't want to leave Ian outside with the dog. Walking up the long driveway, the imposing white castle meets your eyes. Dating back to as early as the 13th century, it has undergone numerous stages of building and remodeling throughout the years. (This website has some great pictures of the interior of the castle.)

Blair Castle

Easter tractor rides at Blair Castle

The gardens themselves are also quite impressive. We started our walk through Diana's Grove, which is home to some of the largest trees in Britain. Originally designed in the 18th century, in the later 19th century the 7th Duke of Atholl added many conifers, some even being brought over from Yosemite and other American locations, many now standing over 40 meters tall.

Diana's Grove

The garden path eventually led us to St Bride's Kirk, the ruins of an ancient church. The walls of the church still standing date back to  post-Reformation, however, I believe that it stands of a cite dating back to the time of the Celts. Although there is not much left of the church, besides the four walls, a small mausoleum and the kirkyard, there is still something so beautiful about an old stone building surviving the ages.
St Bride's Kirk

We continued our walk down to Hercules Garden, a Georgian garden with a pond, named after the large statue of Hercules overlooking the gardens. It was a beautiful garden with lots of blooming fruit trees, but there was a mating pair of swans guarding their nest and it really had Violet on edge, so we cut our walk a little short just to calm her down. After the garden, we were getting a bit tired and hungry for lunch so we made our way back to the campground for a little rest.

Enjoying the sunshine

Hercules Garden

Violet's arch enemies

In the afternoon, we jumped in the car to go for a drive. With my trusty Historic Scotland guide book in hand it my my job to point Ian in the right direction. On the outskirts of Pitlochry we found an ancient Pictish carved stone, the Dunfallandy Stone. Located on someone's farm land, it's now covered with a glass box to protect it from the elements. Believed to have been carved in the 9th century, it's covered in Pictish symbols, knotwork, angels and animals. All these symbols were a type of alphabet to the Picts, who ruled the land before the Scots took over and it became Scotland. We jumped back in the car to do some more exploring but our plans were foiled as we couldn't find the next medieval church that we were planning on visiting. As it was getting late in the day, we drove back to the campsite for a dinner of spaghetti and a game of cards.

Stag carved on the Dunfallandy Stone

Water serpent

Monday morning, before heading back home, we went for one more hike up to the Falls of Bruar. It was quite an easy hike with two stunning waterfalls to enjoy along the way. Hiking early in the morning is the way to do it, we didn't see anyone else the entire time we were up the mountain. Popular in the 18th century, the falls, and the lack of trees and vegetation in the 1780s provided Robert Burns with inspiration for one of his poems, asking for the Duke of Atholl to fix this problem. Now there is definitely no lack of vegetation, so the poem must have worked! Ian and I both commented that the area reminded us of Lake Tahoe.

On our drive back home we decided to stop in Dunkeld. This small town has medieval origins, but is now one of the best preserved 18th century towns in Scotland, many of the buildings restored with the help of the National Trust of Scotland. It is also home to Dunkeld Cathedral. Built in the 13th-15th centuries, the choir of the cathedral has been refurbished and is still in use as the local parish church. It is open to the public and houses some important tombs as well as the 'Apostles' Stone,' another Pictish carved stone. The nave of the church, however, is now in ruins and along with the tower, which houses a small museum, are under the care of Historic Scotland. Sadly for me, but great for historic preservation, the nave was closed wile it undergoes some restoration. I was able to look through one of the windows to see a bit of the inside, but I would love to come back a some point after they have finished the work. While I was exploring the cathedral, Ian and Violet went for a nice walk along the river. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in the cathedral or its grounds, so Ian was kind enough to take care of the dog while I went exploring. We finished our trip with a little wander around town, and the best mocha that we have had in a very long time (if you ever find yourself in Dunkled, you MUST visit 'Spill the Beans Cafe' for a coffee!) and then found our way back to the car for the drive home.



Dunkeld Cathedral

Undergoing resotration

Nothing better than a funny sign...

...or two.

Blair Castle Caravan Park- welcomes dogs and includes wonderful dog-walking trails all around.
Blair Castle and Gardens- the castle does not allow dogs, but they are welcome in the grounds, including St Bride's Kirk and Hercules Garden.
Dunfallandy Stone- Historic Scotland- as it's outside, dogs are allowed but must be kept on leads.
Falls of Bruar- yes, a perfect hike to take our dog on.
Dunkeld Cathedral- Historic Scotland- dogs are not allowed in either the cathedral or the grounds, but I noticed several walking trails in the