Visiting Blair Castle in Scotland

Blair Castle, found near the village of Blair Atholl in Scotland, is located between Perth and Inverness in Highland Pertshire. Being the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, and strategically located in the Strath of Garry, it holds an important place in Scottish history, both strategically and culturally. Whoever held the Castle was gatekeeper to the Grampian Mountains, and the most direct route to Inverness, which is also the reason why Blair Atholl itself possesses such a colorful history. It is situated at the entrance of Cairgorms National Park and surrounded by a magnificent backdrop of hills and forests. The village of Blair Atholl itself in fact grew up as a means of supplying the Castle, and lies at the confluence of the Rivers Garry and Tilt, 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry. Blair Castle is the focal point of the Atholl Estates, which once covered 350,000 acres, that is, 141,640 hectares of the Scottish Highlands. Currently, the estate lies on 145,000 acres, that is, 58,680 hectares, making it one of the largest in Scotland.

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Blair Castle stands on the ancestral home of Clan Murray, as it was historically the seat of their Chief. The first known structure to be built on the site dates at least to the mid-13th century, and the oldest part of the present Castle is known as Comyn’s Tower, which was built in 1269. This was commissioned by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who wasn’t even the legal owner of the estate at the time. Comyn was in fact a neighbor of the rightful owner, David I Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, who started building on the Earl’s land while this was away on crusade. When the Earl came back home, he found the interloper building on his land and complained about it to King Alexander III. The Atholls won back their land, evicted the Comyns, and incorporated the tower into their own castle.

In 1322, David II Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl lost his titles and estates after his rebellion against Robert the Bruce. The title was granted to a number of individuals until, in 1457, it was given to Sir John Stewart of Belvenie, King James II’s half-brother, as a reward for fighting against the Douglasses and Macdonalds. 

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The castle was engulfed in warfare once more in the 17th century during to so-called Wars of the Three Kingdom. At the time, the Murrays supported the Royalists, and this led to the castle being captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652. These held possession of it until the monarchy was restored in 1660. In 1676, the restored King Charles II granted the title of Marquess of Atholl to John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl as a reward, and the 2nd Marquess was given the title of Duke in 1703 by Queen Anne.

During the subsequent Jacobite uprisings, the Murray family was divided as to its loyalties. In 1746, Lord George Murray, together with a force of Jacobites besieged his ancestral home in an attempt to regain possession of it, however before he could succeed he was ordered to retreat in order to fight elsewhere, at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last siege to take place on British soil. Afterwards, Lord George Murray went into exile and later died in Holland, George Murray, his oldest brother, died as a prisoner in the Tower of London, and James Murray, the 2nd Duke of Atholl, resumed residence of Blair Castle.

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James Murray in fact later inherited the title of King of the Isle of Man via his maternal grandmother. The title came with a huge income and properties, which helped fund his project of transforming the medieval castle of Blair into a grand Georgian mansion, tearing down turrets and castellations, in order to create a more fashionable residence. The 3rd and 4th Dukes also prospered, and the grounds around the Castle too were transformed and improved.

In 1844, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, visited Blair Castle and stayed there for three weeks, during which the Queen granted the Duke of Atholl permission for the founding of the Atholl Highlanders as a private army. This is today the only private Army in Europe. During the First World War, Blair Castle was used as a Red Cross hospital. During the Second World War, the Castle was used to house a displaced private school and a number of evacuees from Glasgow. Blair Castle was one of the first private houses in Britain to open its doors to the general public, which it did in 1932. The 11th and current Duke of Atholl visits each year, while the Blair Charitable Trust runs the day to day management of the estate.

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Blair Castle is the focal point of a breathtaking historical landscape. Its extensive parklands in the impressive magnificent Highlands are set in a number of walks and trails, and the grounds themselves form part of superb woodlands. There is a deer park and pony trekking center close by, as well as a woodland adventure playground for young children. One can most easily arrive at the Castle through Blair Atholl village. Once one passes the handsome gates, one can use the visitor’s car park to the east of the Castle, from which one can choose to explore either the gardens first, or the visit the castle itself. If one chooses the castle, this is reached by crossing a small pleasant footbridge over the Banvie Burn and walking across a large open area.

The first room one sees as one enters the castle is the 19th century entrance hall. Two storeys high, with wood panelled walls covered by muskets, swords and shields, the Great Hall is truly a picturesque experience. Crossing the main hall, across the vaulted ground floor, the Castle tour continues with a grand total of 30 other rooms. These give a rich and varied impression of Scottish life over seven centuries, and give visitors of the castle the opportunity of understanding not only the way the Dukes and Earls of Atholl lived, but also historic customs and traditions.

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One of the most spectacular of the Castle rooms is surely the Tapestry Room, which is hung with Mortlake tapestries, once owned by King Charles I. The Victorian ballroom is also impressive, with its display of 175 pairs of antlers. All the rooms are filled with iconic period furniture and fine art, including a number of Jacobite relics, Masonic items, fine porcelain, and collections of weapon and lace. The present dining room was built during the 18th century. 

The six-storey Comyn’s Tower is the oldest known part of the Castle, dating back to 1269, although it was later re-modelled in the 5th century. In 1740, the 2nd Duke transformed the medieval structure into a stylish Georgian home, removing the turrets and applying fashionable Georgian finishings. 

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Some of the rooms at Blair Castle are in use today for a number of ceremonies and events. They can be used as conference venues, for private dinners, business functions, corporate meetings, special receptions, and even weddings.

Beyond the Castle itself are its grounds and gardens, which flourish over 145,000 acres, and most of which were laid out in the 18th century. To the north of the castle is Diana’s Grove, home to some of Britain’s oldest and tallest trees, while to the east one can find the famous nine-acre Hercules Garden.

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My article on Blair Castle was published on the Polish website castles.today. If you wish to read it in its entirety, please click here.

Medieval Mdina 2015 – Fun vs Stress!

I have been taking part in Medieval re-enactment events for around five years now I think. Re-enactment is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work, since it entails research and dedication. Schedules may create a huge problem when one is busy, as I am now (I am trying hard not to mention the reason for now, since some things are not certain yet), however I did my best to at least take part in the largest Medieval re-enactment event in Malta – that is, Medieval Mdina.11150445_10202941013445574_9091571844769933387_nMdina is one of the oldest cities in Malta. It was our old capital city (before this became Valletta), and it is a real gem in that it is not only surrounded by almost intact original Medieval fortifications, but that even its streets, buildings and tiny churches retain their original Medieval structure. It is here that once each year, the Local Council, supported by other institutions, organizes the Medieval Mdina Festival, which consists mainly of Medieval re-enactments, that is, battles, skirmishes, mini-plays, etc, but also other things like children’s entertainment and a Maltese market.11174364_10153169035657225_4141713534861189242_oLast week I also wrote an article for the magazine EVE about it, which one can read here http://www.eve.com.mt/events/the-medieval-mdina-festival-2015/ The Festival spans two whole days – that is Saturday and Sunday. I was unable to participate on Saturday this year, however I did go for the full day on Sunday, and had a lot of fun too. WP_20150419_10_35_51_ProI am a member of a Medieval re-enactment group called Anakron, and we had various settings, which were prepared by the group itself. These consisted of a tavern, a ‘healer’s’ section with all the instruments of the time, a forge, a weapons’ display and even a section with some penned animals! I was posted mainly at the Medieval tavern. My boyfriend is one of the warriors, and these were divided into two groups and had a ‘skirmish/play’ to perform twice a day. It was great fun, even though he got killed twice, and was accidentally wacked over the head with a lance (he has a bump the size of an egg now poor mite lol).11146653_415903498590130_3416647958152944126_o11154672_415901328590347_4192225215605107363_oBeing a reenactor is pretty expensive, since all our clothes, underclothes, and props have to be bought by ourselves at specialized shops. This is also true for eating utensils (mostly made out of pottery or wood). We are a semi-professional group, and yet Anakron is pretty strict in that everything has to be done according to realism. For example, garments at the time were mostly made out of cotton or wool, so no velvet, brocade, lace, satin, or other materials may be used. Certain colours like purple and red were reserved for the nobility, so since we mostly portray peasants, we cannot use those either. A far cry from T.V serieses like ‘Reign’ and ‘The Tudors’, who for someone like me, who is kind of wary of this kind of thing at this point, are a real eyesore, since they are not historically correct at all.

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It’s a real pity that there are not many of these Medieval festivals in Malta, even though right now to be honest, it is a relief too, because I have other priorities which are taking up my life and my time at the moment. Hobbies are all very well and good, and socializing is important, since I would go crazy if I couldn’t let my hair down and enjoy myself once in a while, however priorities are another matter entirely. When a hobby becomes a ‘job’, something you know you must do, and not something that you choose to do because you simply enjoy it, then it stops being a hobby, and starts becoming a stressful leash and pain in the bum, which is why at the moment I am really easing off certain things, in order to finish others. This is why, unfortunately, at the moment I have let my blog go as well. If things go as they should however, by this time next week, life will be quite a tad easier, and I will be able to write more too 😀

Finally finished writing 5 articles on French Castles!

Finally I have finished writing five articles on five of the castles I visited during my holiday in Southern France last month. Will be uploading the link when they are published online.

For now, here are some pics 😀

Ohhh…. memories, memories. Wish I was still there!

1. The Lastours Castles – now that was ONE HELL OF A CLIMB! A once in a lifetime opportunity… thank all the gods lol

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2. The Chateau de Peyrepertuse – Another Cathar Castle (and another climb) – beautiful!

Chateau bas de Peyrepertuse3. The Chateau de Queribus

images (1)4. Chateau de Comtal in the City of Carcassonne – Medieval wow!!

download5. The Fort de Salses – almost on the border with Spain! YES i do get around! ;p

download (1)And what’s more, I have more French architecture in store! Asked the publisher whether he was interested in more articles on France, since I visited many more places while I was there. Let’s see what he replies! Fingers crossed!

I have fallen in love with SOMEONE ELSE… in France!!

When one talks or thinks about France, one usually associates it with chic couture, smartly dressed divas sipping martinis under sun-protecting umbrellas, handsome men driving fast convertible cars, or high heels tapping moonlight-kissed pavements while inebriating red, white and rose wines are consumed by the bottle.

You think that this is what my one week long holiday in France (which I’m in the middle of right now) is all about?

LOL WRONG!!

All I packed were three changes of clothing, some underwear, and the usual hand-luggage-load of books, and the clothes consist mainly of two pairs of trousers, three long warm cardigans and one pair of very flat, very strong boots. Why? Because this is a CULTURE ie. CASTLE-oriented holiday – meaning days of walking, climbing, hurrying and walking even more, in order to see as many castles, cathedrals, museums, monuments, abbeys and ruins as possible. And if a couple of coffee shops or bars get thrown in randomly, fine, but the main aim is to actually enjoy the COUNTRY of France, meaning its rich history, culture and natural environment, NOT waste time in shopping, wine tasting, and wannabe snobbish pursuits (which i can do well enough in my own country anyways, thanks very much). Sure if i wanted to go sway my ass in St Tropez or the Cote d’Azure i could have, we are not that far away (only around an hour and a half by car), and my ass is not so bad either ;p But really, I’m not interested.

What interests me are the Cathar castles in the Languedoc area, which are around two and a half hours away, but worth the drive (not to mention the climb, since most of them are situated on rocky mountains, only accessible on foot – thank all the Gods for my good boots).

This morning, we visited the County of Orange, most notable for its HUGE Roman amphitheatre, one of the only three in the world which still has an intact stage wall. The place is magnificent, and photos truly don’t do it justice.

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Between visiting Orange and the next castle on our itinerary (this was the picturusque Chateau Grignan), we walked around a bit, and amidst the kisses and laughter, spotted one of the cutest little teashops i have ever seen in my life.

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We stopped for a strong coffee (in my bf’s case) and a ‘French’ hot choc + slice of lemon merengue + strawberry + blueberry cake = HEAVEN for moi.

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Seriously – O…M…G

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I’m in love 🙂

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Mystery Solved! Of Fairytales and Castles…

In 2013, my bf and I went for a holiday week in Kent, England. While we were there, we visited many beautiful castles and other places, including Dover Castle.

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At the time, we were kind of angry and disappointed. The main entrance, which is quite awesome and beautiful, was blocked and full of scaffolding, and we were barred from entering parts of the main castle, because, we were told, there were works in progress. Again and again we asked what was happening, and they told us that Walt Disney was preparing the castle as a set for some scenes, for a future movie. At this point we were as curious as beavers and could not help but beg for news about this movie, but we were only told two things. That it was going to be a fairytale, and that one of the main stars was none other than Johnny Depp.

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Two years passed and I forgot all about it… though the fact that wherever we go seems to be full of scaffolding has remained an inside joke between me and my other half.

Yesterday, we went to watch ‘Into the Woods’ at the cinema – and suddenly BANG – there was Dover Castle!! There was the fairytale and there was Johnny Depp! Mystery solved! I was so excited! It was like I had been part of a fairytale, without even being aware of it. And truly, Kent is really fairytale country – it’s just so beautiful.

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The movie, although being very promising, ended up being nothing more than a disappointing mess. Still, apart from seeing my beloved Dover Castle in all its glory, I also got to see Annette Crosbie – Mrs Meldrew from ‘One Foot in the Grave’. She is so much older! And yet her face is still so sweet! She played the part of Red Riding Hood’s granny, and even though she appears only very briefly, I recognized her immediately 🙂

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She was a real looker in her time too – just look at this!

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Dreaming and House-hunting

Today my bf and me started that big and overwhelming adventure that is – HOUSE-HUNTING.

Ever since I’ve been small, I’ve dreamt about having my own place. A hole in the wall where to hide away from the rest of the uncaring world, a palace to design and buy things for whenever it suited my fancy, a tree-house where to store all my favorite things in the world.

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Although I’m aware that the house/maisonette/apartment/whatever we buy in the end will not be perfect, and will definitely not have ALL the features I desire it to have, I’m also aware that some things are achievable with time. For example, if there is no fireplace, one could be installed, if there is no parquet flooring, I could save up for it and install it as well. Budgeting here is the key. I think the important thing is to buy somewhere spacious which has the POTENTIAL of being all that one wishes… and then move on from there.

Saving up and changing color schemes or knocking down walls. creating windows or apertures or shift bathrooms around… that will come later.

Here’s a short list of all I’m looking for in a house. Some of these things will have to be there before I buy it, some of them are do-able later. I hope, in time, to get them all. The sky is the limit ;p

1. A cozy study where to enjoy all my books and obviously, write
2. One of those awesome writers’ desks in mahogany with a lot of little shelves and pigeon holes

desk3. A fireplace or stove

fire4. Parquet floors
4. A big kitchen
5. A combined affair of little shelves, tailor-made, to put all my herbs in
6. A window seat in the main bedroom (preferably)

window7. A 62 inch T.V
8. A big veranda or yard for my yet-to-be-bought owl and bbq set ;p
9. An old style rocking chair

rock10. Wrought Iron Chandeliers
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New Freelancing job! Writing about Medieval Malta!!

After years of writing just for myself, last year I finally decided to give myself a shake, take things into my own hands, and start selling what I knew how to do best, that is, WRITE.

I went on the local market and was scooped up by a local online magazine called EVE – http://www.eve.com.mt/ where I write articles on anything under the sun, but mostly on travel, culture, lifestyle, movies and books. In around 10 months, I became one of the top three contributors and had a raise. Not that money is an issue, since I have quite a well-paying full time job which has nothing to do with writing (unfortunately), but nonetheless, it is a way of understanding whether a magazine values you or not isn’t it?

2015 started with another new freelancing opportunity. On January 2nd, I was contacted by a Polish Touristic Association which is currently forming an online website focusing on Castles and medieval buildings. The coordinator of their page read a particular article of mine on facebook – this one: http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/01/01/capturing-castles-in-kent/ and he liked it so much that he wondered whether I could contribute to their project.

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Needless to say, I am overjoyed. Payment is not stellar, but the fact that I will be putting Malta ‘on the map’ so to speak, when it comes to Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque forts and castles, is something to be proud of in and of itself. This project in fact, will feature castles from all over the world, and the tiny island of Malta, which has so much to offer, will be in on it thanks to me!

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Next month will be quite busy, in that apart from having to do a number of presentations, audits, and training at work, and writing my EVE articles, I will also be researching Maltese history and architecture, since I need to produce written content for my new Polish bosses by the end of the month.

It will be an interesting challenge, and I truly hope I can make it!

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