Scottish Daily Mail

Safari magic in Highlands

- by Maureen Sugden

DAWN has broken and retired Atholl Estates head keeper Sandy Reid is at the wheel of the Land Rover as we bump our way across a rocky stream.

We are high in the hills above the Perthshire village of Blair Atholl on a wildlife safari – and as we stop to watch the stags roaming, the beauty and stillness is heart-stirring stuff.

Sandy is a guide now and tells me that artist Sir Edwin Landseer, a favourite of Queen Victoria, took painting holidays here and was surely inspired to create his famous 1851 Monarch of the Glen by these stunning scenes.

We trundle on, binoculars in hand, searching f or t he estate’s resident eagles, who are shy today. But no matter; the black grouse l ek we encounter is quite a spectacle to witness – and listen to.

‘It’s like Saturday night in the pub,’ Sandy says, as the young alpha males strut through the heather, fluffing up their feathers, squawking and posturing in the hope they will impress the ladies.

Going off the beaten track on such a trip is one of the many attraction­s on offer here. At 145,000 acres, it is one of Scotland’s largest working estates, stretching from Dunkeld in the south to Blair Atholl and the Cairngorms National Park in the north. A paradise for nature lovers, walkers, fishermen and cyclists, there are golf courses nearby, salmon fishing on the Tay and distilleri­es to visit.

Other estate activities include Segway tours, bike trails, pony trekking and vintage tractor rides. We also take a 40-minute drive to the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, near Kingussie, showing how central our location is for the rest of the Highlands.

My husband and I, and our two wee boys, are staying in one of the estate’s Scandinavi­an-style woodland lodges – which comes with all modcons, including a patio terrace and BBQ.

Guests have access to the facilities at the nearby Castle Caravan Park, such as the games room and beauty salon – but our favourite pastime turns out to be a simple evening stroll along the road that leads up to Blair Castle.

It’s worth a visit during opening hours, too, to soak up the history of this building, which dates back to 1269.

The tapestry room, boasts the Mortlake Tapestries that used to belong to Charles I before being sold by Oliver Cromwell, whose forces took the castle in 1652.

Other visitors include Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Victoria.

We are only an hour-and-ahalf from the Central Belt but it feels as though we are a million miles from anywhere, such is the tranquilli­ty.

Our boys lap it all up, with our two-and-a-half-year- old yelling each morning: ‘Let’s go to the castle, let’s go to the castle.’ It is not often we are able to agree to such a demand, but we make the most of it while we can.

Two-bedroom lodges from £275 for a four-night let (MonFri) and from £275 for a FriMon three-night let. Threebedro­om lodges from £420 for four nights midweek and three nights Fri-Mon. Lodges available all year round. Tel: 01796 481263.

 ??  ?? High in the hills: A wildlife safari on the Atholl E Estates; a woodland lodge, inset
High in the hills: A wildlife safari on the Atholl E Estates; a woodland lodge, inset

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