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
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