Ballindalloch Castle opened for the season on Good Friday, and I really wasn’t familiar with this historic attraction in Morayshire, until I came across it on the new Aberdeen Angus Trail. This trail links numerous locations with strong links to the globally renowned sleek black cattle that originate from these parts. Delighted to find a castle I hadn’t visited before we set off to discover more.
When you’ve finished driving up the extensive driveway and parked, the first thing you see is a fantastic playground. With a range of vehicles Jamiroquai and Jeremy Clarkson would be proud of, including John Deer tractors with wagons full of toy logs, a train, swings, climbing frames and slides, a wooden kinder-gym and (my personal highlight) two-seated go-karts for whizzing round a tennis court of tyres. I loved peddling Mr Boy about, despite my legs being way too gangly and my knees up to my ears as I pedalled.
Walking through the daffodils and arbor to reach the castle was an elegant approach. The castle itself is privately owned by the Macpherson-Grants, dating back to the mid 16th century. The rooms are sumptuous yet homely and warm. Not a drafty, austere building but welcoming. The Drawing Room looks elegant yet lived in. Apparently the owners do use the rooms in the evening, after closing, and you can sense this. The grandest room was the Dining Room, but even this wooden panelled, tartan carpeted space wasn’t overwhelming. My tots favoured the nursery, naturally, which looked about as tidy and busy as our nursery at home. It was at the top of the narrowest, steepest staircase, a case of survival of the fittest if ever I saw one.
Throughout the house were peppered images of the family with royalty, invites to royal events and the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, so it’s quite clear this is a family with friends in high places. Equally there are plenty of family photos on the walls, which again gives the property a lived in quality. It’s easy to forget when visiting castles owned by large organisations that they were originally designed for one key purpose – to be a home. A defensive or impressive home perhaps, but still a home.
Back outside the children climbed the rockery, with little waterfalls tinkling in the background. It was like a climbing frame for green fingered tots, and reaching the top left them desperately pleased with themselves.
Even the public loos are worth noting as they won the ‘Best Loos’ category of the 2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards, and the family accepted an award from Dan Snow! Random factoid alert there.
Lunch, in the tearoom, was quick and friendly. With a range of soups, sandwiches, cakes and drinks, the food is simple but filling and tasty. The staff were notably helpful and happily brought us extra bowls so we could share bowls of soups and icecream between out boys as they rarely require a whole portion to themselves. The shop sells a variety of gifts, but what stands out is the estate’s own whisky which first ran from the stills in September 2014.
Lastly we visited the Walled Garden, passing the donkey, ponies and llamas en route. We didn’t see any Aberdeen Angus cattle which was the only wee anti-climax but I believe they’ll be out over the summer months. Then it was time to return to the car, but not without passing the play park again and spending another 90 minutes in it! Ballindalloch has been off my radar for too long, I’m glad we discovered it.
The Lowdown – We drove from Aberdeen to Ballindalloch which took 1.5 hours. Private transport is required. Children under five are free (bonus!), and it’s possible visit the grounds only if you’d prefer – find prices and opening hours here.
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