Dis­cover cas­tle coun­try

For­get Ger­many, ig­nore the Loire — if you want cas­tles galore, look no fur­ther than Scot­land. Janice Hopper ex­plores the high­lights of Aberdeen­shire

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

Home to more than 300 cas­tles, stately homes and ru­ins, Aberdeen­shire is Scot­land’s cas­tle coun­try. From the Queen’s own res­i­dence to ru­ins with a tale to tell, it’s hard to beat for any­one in­ter­ested in his­toric, ma­jes­tic build­ings set in un­spoiled ru­ral idylls.

Around 20 of the re­gion’s most dra­matic ex­am­ples have been linked to form a tourist trail il­lus­trat­ing the up­heavals of Scot­tish his­tory, im­pres­sive ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­rior de­sign, art, ar­mour and not least, the sto­ries of the peo­ple who lived and worked there.

So whether you seek out a bat­tered fortress, an el­e­gant stately home suited to a Jane Austen char­ac­ter, or a re­treat fit for roy­alty, you’ll dis­cover tales of love, wealth, con­flict and pa­tri­o­tism echo­ing round ev­ery room. THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN Open­ing its doors for the sea­son on April 1 is Bal­moral Cas­tle, the sum­mer res­i­dence of the Royal Fam­ily. In the 19th cen­tury High­land Scot­land cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion as a wild, ro­man­tic des­ti­na­tion — and the ideal place for some­one in the pub­lic eye to es­cape.

Which is ex­actly what Queen Vic­to­ria did when she re­fash­ioned Bal­moral Cas­tle near Brae­mar in the heart of Royal Dee­side. Af­ter ac­quir­ing the es­tate in 1852, work be­gan to re­build and ex­tend the small ex­ist­ing cas­tle to make it fit for a Queen. Vic­to­ria was so happy with the fin­ished re­sult she de­scribed Bal­moral as “My dear par­adise in the High­lands”.

It’s still an an­nual re­treat for our cur­rent royal fam­ily, with Queen El­iz­a­beth II act­ing as pa­tron of the lo­cal High­land Games, the Brae­mar Gath­er­ing, in Septem­ber. And while it’s still a pri­vate space for the Queen and her fam­ily to en­joy, there’s lots for vis­i­tors to ex­plore.

The grounds and gar­dens are all open to guests, along with a gift shop and cafe. In the sta­ble block, ex­hibits de­scribe the back­ground of the cas­tle as well as the so­cial his­tory of those who worked on site, such as how the game­keep­ers man­age the wildlife and heather moor­land. There’s also a film about how the 50,000 acre es­tate is run to­day and the work in­volved.

The main at­trac­tion of the tour is the Ball­room within the cas­tle it­self. Here are dis­played works by Land­seer and Carl Haag as well as out­fits worn by the Queen, although this grand room

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