Ceud Mile Failte!
Welcome to the Ballindalloch Castle website. I hope that you will find here all you wish to know about the Castle and Gardens, our family home since the Sixteenth Century.
From immersing yourself in the history of the Castle, its architecture and interiors, to enjoying the photos of the Gardens, I hope that you will be tempted to make the trip to Speyside to visit us.
Do call or send us an email with any questions, and do keep in touch with us by subscribing to the website and you will receive automatic notification of when the site is updated. You can also follow us on our Facebook page.
Do come and explore and enjoy five hundred years of Highland history, acres of formal gardens, woodlands and riverside walks, the children’s Playground, Picnic Area, Tearoom and Gift Shop…and some award-winning loos! The links to the right will take you to all the information about the Castle and Estate that you could wish.
Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens are open to visitors from Easter through to the end of September. My wife and I and all the staff at Ballindalloch Castle look forward to welcoming you here for a happy day out at the heart of Speyside…
…however, in these strange times of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been late to open up. We will do so in July and only then the Gardens and Grounds. Please go to the Opening times page for the latest information on when that will be and to our focused ‘Additional COVID-19 Arrangements’ for the additional safety elements that you will notice.
If you have any questions or comments, do get in touch with the team via the contact page. And, of course, you can keep up with all the latest news and developments at Ballindalloch on our Facebook page.
Planning your day? There is plenty to do at Ballindalloch, both inside and out. While the rule of thumb in the Highlands is to prepare for the four seasons to arrive in one day, have a look the Met Office forecast for Ballindalloch to check what the likely theme is going to be…!
Welcome to our page on the additional arrangements that we have made to keep you safe when you visit the Gardens at Ballindalloch Castle.
Before you travel
For any further information, please see: https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/
We hope that you will have a lovely time when you visit here…
Please note that as a result of these strange times that we are living through we will be opening on Wednesday 8 July 2020 but the Gardens only. There will be no entry to the Castle.
Our opening times and prices are as follows:
8 July 2020 until 30 September 10.00am – 5.00pm (last admission: 4.00)
Sunday – Thursday (Closed Friday and Saturday)
Please see the additional page on the website that deals with what we have been doing to make sure that your visit here is as safe as possible as well as a fun, enjoyable experience.
|Child (under 5)||Free|
|Family (2 adults + up to 3 children)||£14.00|
|* (Children Free on G.O. Season Ticket)|
‘The Castle offers lots to discover and do for younger visitors. There are quizzes for various age groups to be answered, with a prize for those who manage to complete them. Outside, there are friendly Shetland ponies and donkeys to say hello to. The children’s Play Ground has lots of swings, climbing frames and slides, a host of little tractors and diggers for the wee ones to ride, and a pedal go-cart racing track for the older kids.
And if they have any energy left, the Grass Labyrinth is perfect for dashing around and having adventures.
Responsible dog owners and their best friends are always welcome, although dogs (other than guide dogs) are not permitted in all areas of the Gardens nor inside the Castle.
There is a dedicated Dog Walking Area set aside in a paddock alongside the Car Park. In addition, visitors are invited to walk their dogs in the woods around the River Walk. These options are marked on the map of the Castle and Gardens that you will be given on arrival. We would ask visitors not to take their dogs into other areas of the grounds.
Due to the nature of the Gardens, the presence of other visitors and the ground-nesting birds and red squirrels that live here, we must ask visitors to keep their dogs under control at all times.
Ballindalloch Castle is set within extensive formal gardens, woodlands and riverside meadows. There are a number of designated walks around the grounds which offer walkers of all ages and abilities the chance to explore and enjoy this idyllic corner of Speyside. You will be offered a map on arrival, showing you the routes.
Our three beautifully manicured formal gardens – the Rockery, the Courtyard Garden and the Walled Garden – are ideal places for taking a relaxing stroll amidst an abundance of colours and scents. The tree-lined avenues and numerous gravelled paths skirting the edges of the Castle gardens offer the chance to espy Red Squirrels, Roe Deer and other wildlife native to the Highlands. At harvest time, hay and silage making will be underway in the grass pastures close to the Castle, adding the chance to observe the operations of a working estate.
For those who wish to venture further afield, the Riverside Walk wends its way along the banks of the River Avon, affording the chance to spot salmon and fresh water trout leaping in the summer months.
The Speyside Way, one of Scotland’s famous long-distance footpaths, also runs through the Ballindalloch Estate, following the course of the old Great North of Scotland Railway line, once a vital artery connecting Speyside to the wider world. About a mile west of the Castle can be found Ballindalloch Station, beautifully preserved, and a little further on, Cragganmore Distillery, founded by the 4th Baronet, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, along with the distiller John Smith, in 1869.
You can download .pdf versions of the latest maps of the Castle and Gardens and Castle Grounds below.
Visitors are invited to browse the selection of goods on show in our Gift Shop, which is full of items specially chosen by the Laird’s wife to complement their visit to the Castle.
We have scarves, gloves, socks and woollen blankets by world-famous cashmere producer Johnstons of Elgin, luxurious soaps, moisturisers and bath products from Scottish Fine Soaps and The Highland Soap Company, sheepskin hats, gloves and rugs, a variety of Harris Tweed items including bags, ties, spectacle cases, and hip flasks, and a range of pendants, earrings and brooches from the Heathergems collection. We also stock a delectable selection of biscuits and shortbread from Walkers of Aberlour, pure heather honey, gift tins filled with biscuits or fudge, and an assortment of toys, games and books for children.
Featured alongside the more traditional Highland gifts and our own ‘Ballindalloch Castle’ souvenir range are items from some of our talented local producers, including lavender Highland Cows and Scottie dogs from ‘Blairies of Banffshire’, and a variety of locally-made jams, chutneys and marmalades. In addition, we have a new range of candles and home fragrancing, made locally and for sale exclusively at the Castle.
Our selection of books ranges from the natural environment, history and whisky to walking guides and maps – and, of course, we stock the cookbooks ‘I Love Food’, ‘I Love Food 2’, and ‘I Love Food 3’, as well as ‘I Love Banffshire’ (the latter produced for charity), all by the Laird’s mother, Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell – more about these on our Books page.
Clare Russell, the current Laird’s mother, is the author of four splendid books, all inspired by her love for the culture, the countryside and, above all else, the cuisine of Speyside and the Scottish Highlands. Her three recipe books, I Love Food, I Love Food 2, and I Love Food 3, have been widely commended for their accessibility, versatility, imagination and charming humour, and in I Love Banffshire, her wonderful tribute to the people and the place, she captures for posterity the richness and diversity of this historic county.
All three books are available from the Castle Shop, or direct from the author.
All proceeds from I Love Banffshire are donated to local charities, and to date over £25,000 has been raised.
To learn more about I Love Food, I Love Food 2 and I Love Banffshire, please read on.
I Love Food (£25)
This book of ravishing recipes features stunning photography along with personal observations, cartoons, poems and family photos. Starters, mains, puddings, teas, ‘naughties’, nibbles and greens are given a classy modern Scottish Highland twist – and you’ll even find a few treats here for the dog in your life!
I Love Food is a different, fun, informative, entertaining and, above all, practical cookbook for busy modern lives. As Clare says, “I do hope that you will enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and that your motto, too, will become ‘taste, ease and speed’.”
“At last a book that has helped me overcome my fear of cooking! The recipes are easy to use and look amazing. I highly recommend this book to everyone, as it caters not only for dinner parties but also has some v quick supper and lunch dishes.” [iona186]
“The recipes are simple and easy to follow with a great injection of humour – the results are amazing; honestly, they are. There is everything in this book including recipes for the dog and ‘midnight feasts’!” [David A. Jamieson]
I Love Food 2 (£25)
Following the success of I Love Food, Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell received so many requests for second helpings that she has now produced I Love Food 2. Full of fabulous recipes, amazing photographs, poems, sayings and ‘quirky bits’, this further feast of sophisticated culinary know-how is an elegant cook book, equally at home on both the kitchen table and the coffee table.
The book reflects Clare’s love of food, family and her idyllic Speyside surroundings. “I love food,” says Clare, “but I am not prepared to spend hours slaving over a cooker”, and so the recipes in this book are designed to achieve mouth-watering results with the minimum of time and effort.
The fantastic food photographs, all taken inside or around the Castle, reflect the combined skills of brilliant Castle chef Kenny Flesh, and Inverness photographer John Paul.
Apart from food, Clare’s other passion is dogs, and the ‘Woof!’ pages feature recipes concocted especially for man’s best friend. You’ll find also ‘Miaow’ for cats and ‘Tweet’ for garden birds, and a section on the recommended diet for another of Ballindalloch’s furry inhabitants, the Red Squirrel.
“As good as the original I Love Food which was excellent and have recommended it to several other foodie friends.” [Mrs Anne Dawson]
“Bought this for my wife as a Christmas present. Had previously bought her the 1st book and she loved it. Been drooling over some of the recipes so looking forward to sampling some of the dishes in due course. Wife spent Christmas flicking through the pages and seemed highly satisfied with this gift.” [Mr Les Harrow]
I Love Food 3 (£25)
Following on from the success of her cookery book series ‘I Love Food’ and ‘I Love Food 2’, Clare now presents a third helping of recipes reflecting her love of easy home cooked food, family and the ravishing Speyside surroundings she adores.
“I have every book of Clare Russell and they are my favourite cookbooks of all. BRILLiANT recipes and delicious too!”
Signed copies of the ‘I Love Food’ series can be purchase directly from the author’s website www.ilovefood.com
I Love Banffshire (£25+P&P)
Imagine a whole county beautifully encapsulated and portrayed within one book. Well, that is what Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, Clare Russell, has achieved in I Love Banffshire, a spectacular 200-page book ‘by the people and for the people’ of the county.
Following on from her hugely successful recipe books, Clare’s work as Lord Lieutenant inspired her to capture for posterity the richness and diversity of her county – its glorious landscapes, towns, villages, coast, culture, history, personalities and many other aspects – in a memorable collection of stunning photographs and features. Uniquely, the book primarily comprises photographs and submissions by the county’s many photographers and artists, both professional and amateur, complemented by some of Clare’s recipes and anecdotes.
A strictly limited edition of 3,000, each copy numbered and signed by the author, has been produced by Heritage House Group, with a choice of either blue or pink dust jacket covers.
The Castle tearoom is run by Gemma Duncan and her team, who perform miracles in their tiny kitchen, in which they produce an apparently-endless supply of hearty soups, freshly made sandwiches, delicious cakes, scones and tray-bakes.
Our home-made soups are gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians, and we offer a dairy-free option too, all served with a bread roll. To follow, choose from our selection of freshly-made sandwiches: egg or tuna mayo, Aberdeen Angus beef with creamed horseradish, or Moray gammon and mustard, smoked salmon, cheese with onion or pickle, or bacon. If you fancy your sandwich toasted, we can do that as well!
Our cakes are all baked on the premises; you haven’t lived until you’ve had a slice of Hummingbird Cake, made with pineapple, banana, walnuts and cinnamon, and slathered with a delicious cream cheese frosting – or try our very popular Carrot Cake, which never fails to impress or, in the morning, a freshly-baked scone, still warm from the oven . . .
For something different, check out our ‘daily specials’ board; perhaps smoked mackerel pâté with toast would fill that little gap, or red pepper hummus served with pitta bread and olives?
We were flushed with success to scoop the prize in the ‘Best Loos’ category of the 2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards. Clare Russell, along with her husband Oliver, accepted the award for the Castle from the broadcaster and historian, Dan Snow, at a presentation held at Goldsmiths Hall in London.
Scotland’s first ever Single Malt Distillery, Ballindalloch Distillery, was commissioned in 2014 and is now open to visitors by appointment: enjoy a dram from our private cask collection of finest Highland malts.
You can find out more by visiting the Distillery website.
Ballindalloch lies within the historic county of Banffshire, mid-way between its sandy beaches and picturesque coastal towns and villages in the north and the spectacular scenery of the Cairngorm Mountains at its southernmost point.
Climb Ben Rinnes, our local hill, and you will be rewarded with a view of the county from the sparkling waves of the Moray Firth to the heather-clad mountains, a patchwork of fields, woodlands and hills, dotted with settlements and cut through by shining salmon rivers.
Chief of these, and best-known, is the River Spey; renowned the world over for its salmon fishing, it is Scotland’s second-longest river but undeniably its fastest. It is joined in the grounds of Ballindalloch Castle by the River Avon, at the end of its 38-mile journey from Loch Avon, high in the mountains. The area’s third great river is the Findhorn, which flows serenely into pretty Findhorn Bay after a tortuous passage through a series of dramatic gorges in its upper reaches.
The Moray coast has been rated as one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines. It has everything from sandy beaches and pretty fishing villages to striking cliffs and rock features, and it is also a nature enthusiast’s paradise with its resident bottlenose dolphin colony, and a variety of other wildlife such as seals, ospreys, ducks and otters, and even an occasional Minke whale. The seabird population, in summer, includes puffins, gannets, fulmars, shags, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills. On a completely different note, venture a little further east to the quaint little fishing village of Pennan, one of the locations for the 1983 film ‘Local Hero’, and you will see the red telephone box (now a listed building) which featured in the film!
Further inland, you may care to explore some of the area’s towns and villages, such as Dufftown, Aberlour, Archiestown, Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, where you will notice the old stone houses set on generously wide streets, all arranged upon a regular grid system. These ‘planned villages’ were built by landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries to attract much-needed skilled labour to the Highlands of Scotland. Many of these settlements remain today in broadly their original form, though the industries upon which they were founded are long gone, and tourism has now become very much the basis upon which they survive.
Our local cuisine is rather special too: wild salmon, seafood, venison and game, and possibly the best beef and lamb in the country are all found hereabouts in abundance. The area’s rich seafaring and agricultural traditions not only survive, albeit in more modern form, but are flourishing too, and the quality of our local produce is second to none. Not for nothing have some of our larger food producers attained international acclaim – think Baxters of Speyside, Walkers Shortbread, Lossie Seafoods. Then we have whisky …
More than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries are situated in the Speyside area; among them are famous names such as Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Tamdhu, Cardhu and Macallan. Banffshire alone has 29 distilleries, including our own Ballindalloch Single Malt Distillery. Over 40 are listed on the ‘Whisky Trail’ (although not all of them are in Banffshire), including the historic Dallas Dhu, which no longer produces whisky and is now run by Historic Scotland as a museum. Also open to visitors is Speyside Cooperage, the only place in the UK where you can experience the ancient art of coopering.
Those whose interests incline to the historical will find traces of the area’s past are everywhere. The first Pictish settlers left their mark on the landscape with the standing stones, cairns and stone circles that scatter the moorlands. The real Macbeth was crowned King of Scotland in 1040 at Pitgaveny near Elgin, and Balvenie Castle, seven centuries old, lists the names of Edward I of England and Mary Queen of Scots in its visitors’ book. Our own Ballindalloch Castle and the neighbouring fortifications of Brodie Castle and Gordon Castle recall the time when Scotland’s most powerful clans called this their home.
Old clan traditions are revived during the annual Highland Games which take place throughout the area in summer. It is believed that these events were originally held in order for clan chieftains to choose the fittest and strongest athletes for their warriors and bodyguards, but they are now much more social occasions – although competition can be just as fierce! Most towns have their own Highland Games, where you can expect to see hammer throwing, tossing the caber, putting the shot, tug-o-war, highland dancing, solo piping, drum and pipe bands, and stalls selling souvenirs and local produce.
From coastal paths and trails to more strenuous hiking in the mountains, Moray offers some spectacular walking opportunities. There is plenty of sport to be had too, and private estates like Ballindalloch offer game shoots in season, as well as day permits and ghillie support for keen fisherman. Swap the waders for plus-fours and you’ll find an excellent array of golf courses locally. Within easy reach we have the Royal Dornoch, ranked as one of world’s top ten golf courses, the Nairn Golf Club, host to Walker Cup and Curtis Cup competitions, and Castle Stuart, three-time host to the Scottish Open.
So whatever your reason for visiting Speyside – whether you’re here to relax and enjoy the beaches and the scenery, explore the castles and follow the ‘Whisky Trail’, walk the mountains, take in a festival, fish the Spey or Avon, play some golf, or travel far and wide – we’re sure you will enjoy your stay.
Haste ye back!
For accommodation options in the area, you can do no better than head to one of these local sites:
Ballindalloch Castle has been the home of the Macpherson-Grants since the Sixteenth Century and today is one of the finest surviving examples of a classic Scottish baronial castle. It is also home for me and my young family, and so regularly rings to sounds somewhat less usual in heritage properties!
We hope that many people will be tempted to visit the Castle so do please explore the website which will give you some idea of the history of the place and of the Macpherson-Grant family. If you have visited the Castle, the website will hopefully be a place you can return for more detail on what you have seen.
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Guy Macpherson-Grant and his wife Victoria today continue a tradition of family stewardship here at Ballindalloch Castle that dates back to the 15th Century.
The lands of Ballindalloch and Glencairnie were granted to John Grant of Freuchie by King James IV in 1499 in reward for his: ‘Good faithful and thankful service in peace and war’. It was John Grant’s grandson, also christened John, who began the construction of a castle at Ballindalloch in the 1540s.
Throughout the turbulent 17th Century the lairdship of Ballindalloch Castle remained the preserve of the Clan Grant; the title passing from father to son, brother to brother, uncle to nephew at various times over six generations. Then in 1711, John Roy Grant passed the castle and its estate to his cousin Colonel William Grant of Rothiemurchus: soon to be amongst the first commanders of the famous Am Freiceadan Dubh (or Black Watch). William’s daughter married into the Macphersons of Invereshie, and the current laird, Guy Macpherson-Grant, can trace his own ancestry back to this union of two of the foremost families of post-Reformation Scotland.
Traditionally, the lairds of Ballindalloch have been, at heart, men of the Highlands, concerned first and foremost with being good custodians of their estate. One notable exception was General James Grant, who inherited Ballindalloch Castle in 1770. Born in 1720, the 11th Laird participated in the capture of Havana from the Spanish and St Lucia from the French, before becoming Governor of East Florida in 1763. Following his inheritance, General James went on to fight in the American Wars of Independence and, upon his return, became Governor of Stirling Castle. Though something of a stranger to the estate, the General commissioned two new wings for Ballindalloch Castle and insisted upon being buried within the grounds, in sight of the River Spey.
Upon General James Grant’s death in 1806 the title passed to his nephew, George Macpherson of Invereshie. In 1838 George was created a baronet, taking the title ‘Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch’, thus finally uniting the names of two of Speyside’s oldest clans. The 1st Baronet was a devoted farmer and his stewardship brought about tremendous improvements in the efficiency of the Estate. In similar vein, the 2nd Baronet, Sir John Macpherson-Grant, despite his sadly short-lived tenure, commissioned the extensive modernisation of Ballindalloch Castle carried out by Moray architect Thomas Mackenzie around 1850. The 3rd Baronet, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, added a further wing in 1878, but is better known for establishing, in 1860, the Ballindalloch herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle: now the oldest herd in the world.
It fell upon the 5th Baronet, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, to guide Ballindalloch Castle and Estate through the tumultuous era of two world wars. Of the many changes wrought by the post-war world, one was the end of male primogeniture. So when the 6th (and last) Baronet, Sir Ewan Macpherson-Grant, passed on the tenure of Ballindalloch Castle in 1978, he did so to his daughter. Clare Macpherson-Grant had journeyed ‘o’er the border’ to London in the 1960s and married Oliver Russell, second son of Admiral The Honourable Sir Guy and Lady Russell.
From 1978 for over thirty years, Clare and her husband Oliver devoted themselves to diversifying the activities of this ancient Highland estate, ensuring that Ballindalloch Castle continues to play an important role in the 21st Century, as both a working estate and a family home.
Their son, Guy Macpherson-Grant, and his wife Victoria moved up to live in the Castle in August 2014 and now work to make sure that the management of the Estate is carried on with the same dedication and attention to detail.
15th and 16th Centuries
Situated on the banks of the River Avon, a short distance from its junction with the River Spey, Ballindalloch Castle has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since it was finished in 1546.
However, the lands of Ballindalloch and Glencairnie had been granted to John Grant of Freuchie by King James IV in 1498, though his grandfather is described as ‘Crown Tacksman of Ballindalloch’ in 1457. In turn, it was John’s grandson, also named John Grant, who began building the castle around 1542.
Constructed at a time when the Highlands were rife with clan feuds and prey to the avarice of monarchs, both English and Scottish, Ballindalloch Castle was once a fortress as well as a family home. The original castle was formed in the shape of a ‘Z’ plan, with the living quarters, a three-storey square block of stone, flanked to north and south by two high circular towers, each protecting two sides of the rectangle. The Rivers Spey and Avon formed a natural moat to north and west, and the entrance to the castle was guarded by an apparatus designed to drop stones and sewage upon unwanted visitors.
It has puzzled observers ever since that John Grant did not build his castle upon the high grounds slightly to the east. If there is a strategic or geographical explanation then it is lost. All we have is a legend. John Grant ordered his stone masons to construct a castle upon the hill, but more than once a new dawn would find the foundations turned to rubble and lying across the bed of the River Avon. Eventually John Grant determined to keep a night time vigil upon his fledgling castle, only to find himself and his stonework swept off the hill by a mighty gust of wind sweeping down from the rocky tors of Ben Rinnes, accompanied by a demonic voice imploring him to build his castle “on the coo haugh”. So it was that Ballindalloch Castle came to be sited upon the ‘cows’ meadow’ running alongside the banks of the River Avon.
For a century the positioning of the Castle on the flat meadows as a result of the spectral warning served the Grants well. Then the internecine feuding of the English and Scottish Civil Wars intervened in the history of the Castle. The Clan Grant had sided with the Covenanters, who stood alongside the English Parliament in their dispute with Charles I. In 1645 Royalist forces under the command of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, sacked the castle, burning the interior and causing the Grants to flee. It was to be a short-lived victory, however. Within the year the Royalists were defeated and the repair and reconstruction of Ballindalloch Castle had began.
This century saw the addition to the original 16th century building of two wings to form the original Rose Garden. In 1718, Colonel William Grant added the two storey southern wing. In 1770, General James Grant saw the need for a further wing to the north to accommodate his French chef who had returned with the General after his time as Governor of East Florida.
The second – and final – occasion on which the ramparts of Ballindalloch Castle were to be breached was not by the forces of Man but by the forces of Nature. Known hereabouts as the ‘Muckle Spate’ (large flood), a great thunderstorm broke across the Cairngorms in August 1829, causing the normally stable rivers of Strathspey and Moray to burst their banks, wreaking havoc amongst low lying dwellings and farmland. A visitor to Ballindalloch Castle shortly after the storm, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, recorded how the “garden wall for a time protected the Castle, but at last it gave way, and for twenty-four hours a body of water twenty-five yards wide rushed against the ground storey of the Castle, filling the vaulted passages. The garden was covered in four foot deep with sand; a ravine was cut between the Castle and the river bank…”.
The Macpherson-Grants, like their ancestor John Grant three centuries earlier, were prompted by this ‘act of God’ to ring the changes, and by the mid 19th Century the tired and battered fortress had been transformed into a modern Victorian mansion. The work during 1848 to 1853 was overseen by Moray architect Thomas Mackenzie, who received widespread plaudits for his sensitive modernisation. He created, according to one visitor at the time, “an air of light, yet massive strength, and mingling modern and antique appearance…one of the most perfect specimens of the old Scottish castle north of the Border.” His style was consciously historicist , invoking all his antiquarian interests.
Architectural historians are today pleased that while Mackenzie added the baronial Scottish design that his Victorian client requested, the original architecture is still there for all to see and enjoy.
Some essential modernisation took place in the 1960s as Sir Ewan Macpherson-Grant added bathrooms and tamed somewhat the excess of the Victorian additions. A wing to the North East was taken down – it had dry rot – and the plan of the Castle was updated for modern living by the addition of several bathrooms.
Further, during the 1980s Clare Russell, Sir Ewan’s daughter, oversaw the further modernisation of the Castle inside, with fabulous interior design being applied to the public rooms.
To the 21st Century eye, Mackenzie’s subtle melding of the original ‘Z’ plan, turreted fortress with modern wings, adorned with large dormer windows and gabled roofs, has the uncanny look of a ‘fairy-tale’ castle.
And yet once within the Castle gardens the gentle hum of activity quickly reminds us that Ballindalloch Castle remains part of a busy Highland Estate with several different businesses all based in the policies. In addition, to this day it remains the family home of the latest two generations of Macpherson-Grants.
Will there be any more notable additions (or subtractions) to the Castle? Only time and passage of this family’s history will tell…
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Over the entrance to Ballindalloch Castle stands the Macpherson-Grant arms, finely cut in freestone, inscribed with Ye Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in. Either side of the inscription is carved Erected 1546 and the codicil Restored 1850. These two eras, more so than any other, have left their mark upon the architectural style of Ballindalloch Castle: a tasteful blending of middle-ages fortification and Victorian gentrification that brings to mind a romantic chateau from the pages of a children’s fairy-tale. The furnishings to be found within, however, are broader in their influences and reflect the wide interests and extensive travels of the Macpherson-Grant family from the 18th Century to the present day.
The largest and arguably the grandest room in the Castle is the Dining Room. Entered by a wide staircase from the Hallway, flanked by large oak balustrades, this was once the Great Hall; the beating heart of the original 16th Century fortress, whose stone floors once felt the tread of clan chiefs and emissaries of the crown. Positioned centrally, there stands a magnificent fireplace, an original feature, above which hangs the coat of arms of the Macphersons and the Grants. The walls of the Dining Room are decorated entirely in American pine, part of the 1840s restoration commissioned by the 2nd Baronet, Sir John Macpherson-Grant, and carried out by Moray architect Thomas Mackenzie. Most notable amongst the original artworks that adorn the Dining Room are portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte by the famous Georgian royal artist Allan Ramsay, presented to General James Grant in recognition of his military service in the American Wars of Independence.
The Hallway itself, from which entrance to the Castle is gained, boasts a grand staircase and unusual umbrella and fan vaulting, designed by Thomas MacKenzie as part of the 19th Century restoration. A fine collection of military memorabilia is housed here, including a display of Scottish dirks (or daggers), a compendium of 18th Century pistols and a naval dress sword belonging to Guy Macpherson-Grant’s grandfather, who was 2nd Sea Lord and aide-de-camp to Her Majesty the Queen between 1953 and 1955. Visitors to the Hallway can also view a delightful collection of china displayed in a Sheraton corner cupboard dating from the 1820s, a fine Bureau Plat of Louis Quinze period and a set of Scottish chairs made in the Chinese Chippendale style.
In the north west wing of the Castle can be found the Drawing Room, constructed along with the south wing in the 1770s at the behest of General James Grant. Much of the furniture here is contemporaneous with the room, pride of place being taken by an oval Sheraton table and beautiful gilt mirror which date from the 1750s. Next door is the Laird’s Smoking Room, where in times past the Laird and his gentlemen guests would retire after dinner for cigars and a wee dram. The nice collection of china displayed here dates from the 1770s.
Lady Macpherson-Grant’s Bedroom is also situated in the north west wing, but the decor here reflects the influences of later centuries. Do not be concerned with knocking before entering, for the room, though once her ladyship’s bedroom, is no longer so! The centrepiece of the bedroom is a grand four-poster bed, manufactured in Scotland from cherry wood in the 1860s.
The Library, which was also panelled and refurbished as part of the Mackenzie restoration, is home to the Macpherson-Grant’s private collection of original 18th and 19th Century European literature: a collection which runs to some 2,500 volumes. This valuable archive was begun by Colonel William Grant who was a keen collector of early 18th Century classic English and French literature. Sharing the Colonel’s antiquarian sensibilities, the 3rd Baronet, Sir John Macpherson-Grant, added many historic Spanish texts to the collection whilst serving as Secretary to the Legation in Lisbon in 1850.
At the fulcrum of the two wings of the Castle stands a tower, constructed in the early 1700s. Here, on the first floor, can be found the Nursery. This rather remote and austere room was, in reality, part of the servant’s quarters, but it is used today to illustrate the experience of growing up at Ballindalloch Castle throughout the ages. The furnishings here include a beautiful inlaid Georgian highchair dating from the 1770s, a cane and mahogany cradle from the 1830s, a collection of antique teddy-bears and a dolls’ house made by Mr. Oliver Russell, the current Laird’s father, for his daughter Lucy in 1975.
An ascent of the adjoining and steeply spiralling staircase finds the Highland Tower; a caphouse which sits atop the original tower and once served as a watchtower. In later years this lofty room, with its cold stone floor and small arch window, was part of the servants’ quarters. Today it is preserved as such, complete with a simple wooden bed, side table and washing jug; a salient reminder, amidst all the grandeur, that life for the domestic servants of a great house was often ‘a life apart’.
Beneath the stone floors of the original 16th Century Castle there lies a dungeon. Here, where once the enemies of the clan Grant would reside, these past three centuries the wine has been kept. It was once the favourite room of General James Grant, whose ghost is said to walk the corridors of Ballindalloch Castle by night, his spectral journey a vain attempt to rediscover his beloved cellar.
* For more writings on the architecture and furnishing of Ballindalloch Castle please see:
Bruce B. Bishop Lost Badenoch and Strathspey (2011)
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The Gardens are the pride and joy of the Laird’s mother, Clare Russell, and the Head Gardener, Giles Sumner. Although not blessed with the most ideal of climates to produce reliably horticultural firework displays, the Gardens have been planned to make the most of the soil and the landscape throughout the year!
The formal grounds of Ballindalloch Castle were principally laid down in the second half of the 19th Century, following the extensive restorations to the Castle made around 1850. To the north and east the grounds are bordered by the River Spey and the rising gradients of Cairn Guish. To the west lies the River Avon (pronounced Aan), its source on the summit of Ben Macdhui, with tributaries from the Cairngorms and Beinn Mheadhoin, and at 38 miles in length, the longest tributary of the River Spey. To the south stands the Bridge of Avon, dating from 1754, once the entrance to the Castle, once too a military road, built following the final subjugation of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. A remarkable structure, it is carved into the rocky gorge and consists of a lofty arch spanning two ornamental turrets. Although long disused, over the keystone can still be seen the Macpherson-Grant coat of arms and the family motto: Touch not the cat bot a glove.
Today the visitor enters the Gardens by passing the 18th Century Doo’cot (or dovecote) and soon discovers that there are, in fact, three distinct gardens waiting to be explored. Beyond the large lawn extending from the front of the Castle lies the Rockery, climbing up from the lower slopes of the valley of the River Avon, and affording fine views of the Castle itself. Adjacent to, and enclosed on three sides by the Castle, sits the Courtyard Garden, classically formal and hauntingly romantic. North of the Castle a laburnum arch and tree-lined avenue leads to the magnificent Walled Garden, redesigned in 1996 to celebrate the Castle’s 450th anniversary, and a profusion of colour and perfume all year round.
From the riot of daffodils in Spring to the Autumn roses, with the herbaceous border through the summer, there is plenty to see around the Castle all through the year. All three gardens offer a cornucopia of flora and fauna. Red Squirrels darting here and there between the magnificent trees; roe deer grazing along the banks of the River Avon.
A visitor to Ballindalloch Castle during the Edwardian era recorded: “There seems wood and water everywhere [and] there are so many ornamental trees that one forgets for a moment that the castle is in the Highlands.” A century later little has changed; the gardens of Ballindalloch Castle still provide a welcome oasis amidst a wilderness of granite topped mountains and heather bound moorlands.
As a result of careful planning, the Gardens perform for the visitor all through the year. From the lovely rose garden to the majestic tree-lined walks, this surely must be the most memorable part of any visit.
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Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens sit at the heart of a multi-faceted Highland estate. During the summer season up to 35 people are employed in the various activities.
You will find out more details about the businesses that go to make up the family business at the Estate’s website.
However, there are a number of elements of the Estate that bear mention here. You can explore them by clicking the links to the right of this page.
The cattle you see today grazing serenely beside the River Avon, hornless with hides polished jet black, are descended from the herd first started by Sir George Macpherson-Grant in 1860, and are now the oldest surviving bloodlines of Aberdeen Angus in the world.
Today the Aberdeen Angus is one of the most recognisable and popular beef breeds in the whole world. If you would like to know more about the Ballindalloch herd, or to organise a visit, then please go to the Estate website.
For more information on the Aberdeen Angus breed visit the website of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society at www.aberdeen-angus.co.uk
Best known by the sobriquet Captain W.E. Johns, William Earle Johns was the creator of one of the best loved characters in English literature – Biggles. Drawing upon his time as an RAF pilot during the Great War, Johns penned over one hundred Biggles stories, charting the rip-roaring adventures of his eponymous fighter-pilot ace. He was also the author of over sixty other novels and factual works, as well as scores of magazine articles and short stories, and the brave new world of aviation remained his passion throughout his prolific writing career.
What is perhaps less well known is that Captain W.E. Johns wrote many of his Biggles stories here at Ballindalloch. In September 1944 Johns became the tenant of the 5th Baronet, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, when he took up the lease on Pitchroy Lodge. His attempts at re-joining the RAF had been thwarted (at 46 he was too old) and Johns had spent the period of the Blitz serving with his local ARP (Air Raids Precaution) unit in Reigate Heath, Surrey. For the majority of the war he had worked for the Air Ministry, helping with the recruitment and training of RAF and WAAF personnel.
His reasons for seeking refuge in the Highlands lie in the complexities of his private life. Unhappily married and with his wife refusing him a divorce, Johns wished to make a home with his long-term partner Doris Leigh, but without prejudicing his standing as a children’s author. So he chose Ballindalloch, far off the radar of polite London society. William and Doris were to make Pitchroy House their home for the next nine years.
Whilst staying here in Ballindalloch the ‘Captain’s’ output was prestigious and many of Biggles’s best known adventures – Biggles in the Orient (1945), Biggles Takes a Holiday (1949) and Biggles Takes the Case (1952) to name a few – were penned as his creator sat in his study looking out across the River Spey. In Biggles Delivers the Goods (April 1946) Captain W.E. Johns has his hero deliver the following soliloquy:
“While men are decent to me I try to be decent to them, regardless of race, colour, politics, creed, or anything else…I’ve travelled a bit, and taking the world by and large, it’s my experience that with a few exceptions there’s nothing wrong with the people on it, if only they were left alone to live as they want to live.”
It does not seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to conclude that Captain W. E. Johns found a place he could be ‘left alone to live how he wanted to live’ here at Ballindalloch.
Biggles fans regularly come to Speyside to soak up the scenery that inspired the author; apparently, if one is very observant it can even be recognised in passages of his books.
The dark green, blue and black tartan and red heckles of the Black Watch, oldest of the Highland regiments, has become part of the iconography of Scotland and the history of the Am Freiceadan Dubh is interwoven with the history of Ballindalloch Castle.
Though today Badenoch and Strathspey is a haven for tourists, there was a time, four centuries past, when this part of the Highlands was a haven for rebellious clansmen and lawless bandits. Throughout the turbulent years of the English and Scottish Civil Wars the loyalties of the major Highland Clans were always volatile and at various times both royalists and republicans had found willing help in the mountains beyond Perth. The year 1645, for instance, had seen the flag of the Covenanters flying above Ballindalloch Castle, leading to its sacking by Royalist forces under the command of the Marquis of Montrose, who himself had sided with the Covenanters only a few months before.
The ‘pacification’ of the Highlands in the 1650s by government forces and subsequent Restoration of King Charles II encouraged the establishment of a permanent force to ‘watch over’ the region. Independent companies of loyal Highlanders were formed under the overall command of the Earl of Atholl. Alongside the clans Argyll, Murray, Menzies, Fraser and Munro, the Clan Grant offered its fealty to the newly restored Stuart monarchy by raising its own company of Highland troops to ‘watch over’ the territories of Badenoch and Strathspey.
Following the failed Jacobite Rebellions of 1689 and 1715, and the split loyalties once again evident amongst the Highland Clans, the independent regiments were disbanded, only to be revived again in the 1720s. At the request of Major-General George Wade – famous (or perhaps infamous) for overseeing the second ‘pacification’ of the Highlands in the aftermath of the 1715 uprising – six companies, each comprised of one hundred men, were to be raised and commanded by clan leaders loyal to the Crown. In Wade’s own words, these men were to be “employed in disarming the Highlanders, preventing depredations, bringing criminals to justice, and hinder rebels and attainted persons from inhabiting that part of the kingdom.”
One of these independent companies was formed under the command of Colonel William Grant, the 9th Laird of Ballindalloch who, like his forefathers, took on the responsibility of ‘watching over’ Badenoch and Strathspey.
To set themselves apart from the existing regiments of the British Army, and to drum home their ‘independent’ identity, the soldiers of the Highlands eschewed the traditional red coat of the British soldier and donned the now famous dark green, blue and black tartan. This idiosyncratic uniform, when combined with the force’s primary role of ‘watching over’ the Highlands, gave rise to the Gaelic epithet Am Freiceadan Dubh: and the name ‘Black Watch’ was to stick.
In 1739 the independent Highland companies were brought together to become a ‘regiment of the line’ – the 43rd, or Highland Regiment of Foot. Seven years later the 43rds passed their first significant test of loyalty to the Crown, helping to put down (what proved to be) the final Jacobite Rebellion.
Records suggest that a significant number of the Black Watch serving in 1746 had relatives fighting alongside Bonny Prince Charlie. It may have helped that the regiment itself was stationed upon the Kent coast to repel any possible invasion from France. Nevertheless, companies of the Black Watch were involved in the bloody security operations that followed Culloden and carried out their duties without wavering.
Despite their indisputable loyalty, from the regiment’s inception and beyond, men of the Black Watch saw themselves as something apart from the British Army. Writing in 1822, one of their commanders, Major-General Sir David Stewart of Garth, wrote of his men that they were:[O]f a higher station in society than that from which soldiers in general were raised; cadets of gentlemen’s families, sons of gentlemen farmers…men who felt themselves responsible for their conduct to high-minded and honourable families, as well as to a country for which they cherished a devoted affection. [cited in Trevor Royle, The Black Watch: A Concise History (2006) p.20]
This devotion to the Highlands would help sustain the morale of the Black Watch throughout the following centuries; fighting far from home upon the battlefields of Fallujah, Waterloo, the Somme, Ypres and Alamein, to name but a few. Today the proud military traditions of the Highland soldier are upheld by the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, or the ‘Black Watch’ as they still prefer to be known.
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Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens
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As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, we have been keeping abreast of official advice and have now taken the difficult decision not to open the Castle and Gardens to the public at Easter.
We are very sorry to have to delay our opening until further notice but feel that it is the right thing to do for the protection of our staff and the well-being of visitors.
The team and I very much hope that we will be able to open our doors again later in the year to welcome you back to Ballindalloch. We will keep you updated via social media.
In the meantime we send our best wishes to you and your families in these challenging times.