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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.

A shaded parking area is available and marked near the Duck Pond.

Photograph, with thanks: CC Sarah Joy


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?

Bon appétit!

The Family

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.

General Grant

General Grant

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.

The family today

The current laird, his parents and siblings

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.

In 2002 Clare Russell was given the great honour by Her Majesty The Queen to be Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, the Queen’s representative in Banffshire. You can find more about Mrs Russell’s work as Lord Lieutenant here.

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.

Aberdeen Angus

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.

Black, hornless cattle had been grazing the Highlands since the 12th Century. From the 16th Century onwards various types of hornless cattle were being bred in the North East of Scotland. By the late 1700s two local breeds had come to prominence: the old ‘Doddies’ of Angus and the ‘Hummlies’ of Buchan. Both breeds have a strong claim to being forerunners of the Aberdeen Angus.

In the 1820s Aberdeenshire farmer and member of parliament William McCombie, along with (but working separately from) Hugh Watson of Keillor Farm in Angus, through line breeding and selection for type, began producing a breed of cattle noticeable for the quality of its meat and the ease of its rearing.

Their pioneering work was taken up by the 3rd Baronet of Ballindalloch, Sir George Macpherson-Grant who, upon inheriting the Estate in 1861, set about the refinement of the breed: a labour of love that was to become his life’s work for almost half-a-century.

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 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

The Biggles Story

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.

Captain W E Jones

Captain W E Johns

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.

Pitchroy Lodge Ballindalloch

Pitchroy Lodge Ballindalloch

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 Black Watch

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.

Soldier of the Black Watch c.1740

Soldier of the Black Watch c.1740

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.”

Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

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.

Details from Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

Details from Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

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.

Header Image: Black Watch at Fontenoy, 1745 William Skeoch Cumming (1864-1929)
Soldier of the Black Watch. Engraving of Samuel MacPherson of the 43rd Regiment of Foot, National Army Museum, London
Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758 Artist Unknown


Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell, the current Laird’s mother, is the author of three 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 two recipe books, I Love Food and I Love Food 2, 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 Estate Office.

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 (£20+P&P)

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+P&P)

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 Banffshire (£30+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.

History of the Castle

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.

BC053Constructed 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.

17th Century

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.

18th Century

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.

19th Century

BC001The 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…”.

BC179The 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.

20th Century

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.

21st Century

Ballindalloch Castle and GardensTo 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…

GalleryClick on the thumbnail to see a full size image



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