We experienced a Scottish day out featuring local produce (you can actually see it growing), good food, play areas for kids, shopping opportunities, history and heritage. A mix that, I'm guessing, works for most families.
Folk I know have been talking about Gordon Castle Walled Garden, near Fochabers, in Morayshire for ages, and we finally got round to visiting. The name doesn’t really convey what a family friendly wee excursion it is.
The castle itself, the stately home of the Gordon clan, founders of the globally respected Gordon Highlanders Regiment, is now an exclusive use venue, boasting excellent salmon fishing on the River Spey. This rich history, fishing beats and exclusivity was of little interest to my preschoolers, the main attraction for them was the Natural Play Area set within the Walled Garden. The playground is made from reclaimed materials from around the estate; it’s an earthy combination of wood and sand, with an excellent wee foot-operated water pump.
The boys were able to make rivers, dam the rivers, ‘bake’ an array of mud pies of numerous configurations, sizes and textures, as well as balancing on the wooden planks, hiding in the wooden hut and generally running amok.
Wellies are recommended – we didn’t bring ours but the tots didn’t care. Prices for entry to the play area is £3 per child April-October, and £2 per child October-April. Us adults are free, as long as we have our kids with us – no solo sandcastle parties then. The ethos also stands out in this era of health and safety. The play area is designed to allow children to ‘start exploring their environment’, ‘start learning to manage risk outdoors’ with a combination of slopes, tree trunks and rocks. ‘Their physical and mental health will be the beneficiaries at the expense, maybe, of a few cuts and grazes’. We didn’t see any kids experiencing cuts or grazes, but I like this slightly more rugged approach.
The Walled Garden has more to offer than just the play area. It’s one of Britain’s oldest and largest of its kind. At 8.5 acres, visitors are welcome to wander amongst the array of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers flourishing in the grounds, and step inside the the restored Victorian ‘Mackenzie and Moncur’ glasshouse, home to plentiful tomatoes and a variety of chilli plants.
Much of the produce grown in the garden is plated up in the café – the strapline of the castle is ‘Provenance doesn’t get any Purer’. The café is decorated in calming green hues, with gardening implements hanging on the walls and it has a very down to earth atmosphere. There’s a children’s menu: Mr Tot chose vegetable batons, breadsticks and hummus; Junior (who wouldn’t generally let a vegetable pass his lips) ordered the soup and was tricked into eating Vitamin C.
Next there’s the shopping. Yes, you can pick up fresh fruit and vege (how very wholesome) but let’s talk gin. Gordon Castle is now renowned for its gin, with the botanicals grown onsite. It also has raspberry and plum liqueurs for those with a sweeter tooth. Apples naturally make their way into Gordon Castle cider. There’s also a range of jams, chutneys, vinegars and fudge etc. A luxury health and beauty range was launched in 2014, which is also pretty affordable. Choose between ‘The Orangery’ and ‘The Herb Garden’ range, featuring scents and essential oils fresh from the estate: The Orangery bubble bath got my vote. My only note was that the shop also sells very expensive ceramics (teapots for £125), all in reach of little hands, which I wasn’t expecting in such a family-friendly location. It’s my responsibility to avoid kiddie breakages in any shop, but just a heads up as it’s quite a hefty price-tag.
Like many mums I couldn’t concentrate on shopping with the tots around, but Gordon Castle products are available online, with no postage fees in the UK. This is such a plus for me: I’m so tight-fisted when it comes to postage charges. I ordered my brother a mix of Gordon Castle gifts to remind him of home as he no longer lives in Scotland. Within two days he was tucking into his hamper, at no additional postage cost to me, so I was genuinely impressed. You don’t have to visit in person to get a taste or scent of Gordon Castle, or if you wish to restock up on any favourite products you can do so without heading for Morayshire.
The estate now creates around 290 products, all unique to the castle, so the shopping options are relatively extensive. A date for the diary is 20 May 2018 when the Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair, which now welcomes 10,000 visitors annually, will bring colour, noise, tradition and, no doubt, more lovingly crafted mud pies to this corner of Morayshire.
OUR STORY – We drove direct from Aberdeen to Gordon Castle, which is essentially sixty miles, and 1.5 hrs north west from the city. Main practical note, just to be absolutely clear, despite the name Gordon Castle Walled Garden don’t expect access to the castle, it’s the Walled Garden you’ll be visiting. We then spent some time by the sea at Spey Bay.
If you like what you read then don’t miss a post, enter your email address in the follow box and You’re In, or join the conversation on Facebook. For any queries or opportunities please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We received complimentary entry to the Natural Play Area and lunch for review purposes.
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