Jigsaw – A Movie Review *SPOILERS*

So, just finished watching the last movie in the ‘Saw’ franchise, which I’ve been a HUGE fan of for the past 10 years… and I must say, I was quite disappointed.

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The prime thing which had attracted me to all the Saw movies, apart from the inventive torture devices, was actually the ability of the writers/producers to interlock all the movies and storylines togather like a jigsaw puzzle. That was the genius of the whole thing – that while the first movie in the franchise was taking place, chronologically we (later realize) that movies number 2 and 3 were also taking place (with different individuals) at the same time! I don’t want to give any spoilers here but I kind of had to in this case. So basically the some of the whole was better than it’s individual parts.

And that’s great HOWEVER as of the third and fourth movies we started seeing a common plot emerge, which the writers just continued to exploit by repeating again and again… and in the case of the latest ‘Jigsaw’ movie, yet AGAIN.

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For Pete’s sake, how many ‘disciples’ did this guy have? How many ‘ex-victims’ did he ‘convert’ to his ideology of pain? Were they all unaware of each other? And will the producers continue to milk this cow forever? It was a great idea and twist the first time round, and ok the second time round too. But a third secret disciple… and a fourth? Even at a distance of 10 years from Kramer’s death?

Ugh – yea again sorry for the spoilers. I just wish I could erase this last movie from my head and keep the old ones. So, thanks, but no thanks.

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Finding ‘Eva Luna’ in Utrecht

Ever since I first read Isabel Allende’s ‘House of Spirits’, as well as watching the great movie, it has been my absolute favorite when it comes to her novels. Her writing style, not to mention her rich descriptions, and the way she uses magic realism, enchants me, however, I must admit, most of her books seem to follow the same formula.

There is the main female character who is always strong and fey, facing any adversity with creativity and courage, the mysterious and dark male characters, whom she falls in love with (there are usually at least two or three of these), a couple of strong yet flawed mother-figures, an almost-always absent father-figure, as well as a major war/social upheval in the background. The male love interest is always, in some way or other, invariably linked to some kind of resistance or rebel force, and the heroine ends up trying to help him, even though she’s shocked by the harsh reality he lives by. And this is the plot-line for most, if not all (since I haven’t read all of her books) of Allende’s works.

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Although not actively seeking out her books, I tend to read IA’s novels when I come across them, even though at this point they are entirely predictable.This was the case when I purchased one of her novels which I’ve been curious about for some time now. I refer to ‘Eva Luna’ which I’ve been hearing about on and off for some years.

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While in Utrecht (Netherlands) last December, my boyfriend was off visiting the bell tower and I had some time for myself. I didn’t go up with him cause I’ve been suffering from some back problems recently and all those stairs were definitely not going to help my muscles. So, obviously, I ended up gravitating towards the local bookstore. Most of the books were in Dutch and there was only a small selection of books in English… and there it was – ‘Eva Luna’. 

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Although purchased some weeks ago now, I only started to read it, and finished it, last week. The plot was, once again, the same as usual, yet Allende’s writing style was as rich and captivating as ever, so no I’m not at all sorry I bought this book. I’m not gonna delve any more into the storyline as I guess I’ve already given enough spoilers. 

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Re-reading Narnia – Misogynistic but Pleasant

It’s 2018 and I’m sick in bed. For a change. 2017 was characterized with health problems and currently, 2018 doesn’t look to be much different. On the bright side, this gives me more time to read (and watch K-dramas).

Being in the mood for Xmassy children’s books to end the year, at the end of 2017 I started re-reading the Narnia books. I hadn’t read them in years and having purchased a second hand quasi-new copy at a very good price, thought this the perfect opportunity to do so.

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If you have only watched the Narnia movies, you have missed a lot. In case you did not know this, there are a total of 7 Narnia books (and only 3 movies). Speaking of the movies, the first movie to come out, and the most famous of the Narnia books, is ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Although most people believe this to be the first book in the Narnia series, it is actually the second, that is, in Narnian chronological order. Let me explain – the American published Narnia books number the series in order of publication. And in that case, yes the ‘Wardrobe’ book would be the first one. C.S Lewis himself however, preferred to look at the books chronologically, meaning that ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is to be considered the first book, which is how UK publishing houses do it.

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I myself own a UK version of the box series (thank the Goddess), in which the books are numbered chronologically, which is how I prefer to read them. This means that the books should be read like this:

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Movie No. 1)
  3. Prince Caspian (Movie No. 2)
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie No. 3)
  5. The Horse and his Boy
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

While books 2, 3 and 4, which were made into movies, tackle the adventures of the Pevensie children in Narnia, the other books concern other main characters. The Pevensie children feature in these books sometimes as well, but they mostly do this as Kings and Queens of Narnia and they are not the main characters.

I love the books HOWEVER there are some things which bug the hell out of me. For example, no one can deny that almost every book treats the female gender as though it was made of glass. This mentality is not surprising since the author was writing these books in the 1950s, however reading sentences like ‘it is a sad day when women must go to war’ really irritates me. War is ALWAYS terrible, no matter who actually fights in it. Also, why are the boys always given swords and weapons, while the girls have to make do with bows and small daggers, or even face seriously scary foes with no weapons at all??

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As author Philip Pullman himself writes, these books are ‘monumentally disparaging of girls and women’. And what about the baddies who always seem to be powerful women who have gotten ‘above themselves’ defying the patriarchal institution of Aslan? I am of course talking about the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Prince Caspian’s wife, another powerful woman, is not even given a name in the series! The only ways she is referred to is as someone’s daughter or someone’s wife! Very disturbing to say the least!

That being said, another thing which irritates me is the whole Aslan – Jesus metaphor, but that’s just me and it is mostly portrayed in the last book… at least in my perspective since I tried to ignore it as much as possible till the end, and considered the whole thing as fantasy.

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Apart from that, re-reading the series was a blast, and I also discovered echoes of Neil Gaiman, which leads me to believe that the series must have inspired Gaiman to write and develop certain ideas, such as the star-woman concept in ‘Stardust’ for example.

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Exploring Gent – Tips on where to go!

Hi guys, just got back from a two-week stint in the Lake District, UK! Was so amazing! I really want to write all about it but since I had already started writing about my previous trip in Belgium, I’d rather finish telling you all about that first. So, here goes!

During our third day in Belgium, we explored the medieval city of Ghent. Ghent is called the ‘Flower City‘ because of its fertile soil and flourishing colorful greenery, however personally I’d rather call it ‘Little Venice’ or ‘the City of the Canals’, because, of course, it is riddled with picturesque winding canals, just begging to be explored through a boat ride (which in fact, I actually did… more about that in another blog post).

The largest canal is called the ‘Sea Canal’ and it actually links Ghent to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing a great route for exporting products made in Ghent, most especially textiles. The canal is, of course, man-made, and it was constructed in 1827.

Wherever there are canals, there are of course bridges. Ghent, being a completely medieval cobbled city, is endowed with some magnificent stone bridges. The largest one, and the one I made a point of traversing, was the Saint Michielsbrug, which is an imposing stone arch in the middle of the city, and which was built in 1909. From the bridge, one can admire a magnificent view of the city center, with its gothic Cathedral and Baroque Town Hall. Not to mention all the cute medieval houses and many of the other canals! So very romantic!

Perhaps not so well known, is the so-named ‘Graffiti Street‘, which is, actually, a narrow winding street full of the most artistic and eccentric sprayed paintings imaginable. Unlike the rest of Ghent, this is a modern addition to the other-wise historical town. Yet, it does not detract from the town’s medieval charm. Rather, it adds some special quirkiness and color. It is actually quite hard to find and we had a merry time exploring the winding hidden alleys of Ghent while trying to find it!

No one can visit Gent without admiring its Stadhuis, or Town Hall. Built in the late flamboyant Gothic style, in the 16th century, the Stadhuis of Gent is quite large and contains a chapel, a throne room, and an arsenal hall. And talking about gothic architecture – make sure you also visit Saint Bavo’s Cathedral! The photos say it all!

Last, but certainly not least (before the boat ride, that is), we climbed up the many stairs to the famous Gent Belfry Tower, which is the tallest building in Gent. The view from up there was simply breathtaking and quite well worth the climb!

P.S Don’t forget to also take a look at the Gravensteen Palace which is a real fairytale castle! It also served as a location for the filming of the T.V series ‘The White Queen’, which I love by the way. 

More about this trip will be written in future blog posts.

Please note that all photos are originals taken by me on site (apart from these last 3 of the Castle which were taken by my other half).

 

The Treasures of Antwerp Square

If you think about it, the Flemish mush have been very neat people. I say this because when I was in Belgium, each of the major Flemish medieval cities was structured in the same way. Be it Ghent, Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp – each of these cities, built during the middle ages, sprawls around one large main square which is surrounded on all four sides by important buildings built in a gothic architectural style. Each square in each city has a Town Hall, where decisions about the city were taken by the Town Major, important meetings took place, and where people even got married (and still do actually). There is also always at least one cathedral, usually sporting a very tall tower with a magnificently crafted large clock at the top.

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This is the Town Hall, or City Hall in Antwerp, also called the Stadhuis. It stands on the western side of Market Square and was built in the 16th century. Its facade is richly ornamented and quite impressive, decorated with various well-crafted statues. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get inside the Standhuis because there was a private wedding taking place, and access was, of course, prohibited unless you were invited. So, we turned right around… to be confronted by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady on the other side of the square.

 

Hauntingly gothic on the outside and beautifully baroque on the inside. I can never have enough of visiting Gothic Cathedrals! And no, I am not Catholic, it’s the art and architecture itself that I love. Those people invested everything they had in their cathedrals, it was the place where they went to dream and hope for a better tomorrow. In a world of misery, pain, and poverty, peasants had nothing else beautiful to look at. Imagine, even today, when we have all our geegaws, out plasma screens and hi-tech computers, when we all know how to read and write and are able to amuse ourselves, even NOW we are awed by these amazing gothic structures… now imagine people who have absolutely nothing – how THEY must have felt when entering a place of such incredible breathtaking beauty!

Anyways, hehe yes I love art and I love architecture.

 

Moving on, the Cathedral is full of paintings done by Rubens, the artist whose house I had visited just before (see previous post). And just look at that stained glass!

 

Oh and by the way, did I mention all those other historic medieval houses around the square? Today, most of them are restaurants and pubs, but they still contain their original magic. Imagine having a drink in a 600 year old bar!

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In conclusion – 10 points to Antwerp Square!!

Outsider

I don’t know how old I was, when I first became  aware of the bubble.

Crouched in a hollow darkness, I always felt as if I was enclosed in a sphere of shadows. A liquid-like transparent force creating a barrier between me and the rest of the world. In slow motion, I moved within it, out of sync with every one else. Almost matching… almost, but not quite.

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Maybe it was the terror, that harsh violent presence which made me stutter and hesitate, which first created the circular protective barrier. Or maybe it was the cruel indifferent light reflecting off everyone else which first brought it into being. For sure, my awareness of it only strengthened it. My shield. My cage.

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For a time, I believed it had gone. Disappeared with a pop. Finished. For a time, I thought I was here, un-veiled, un-masked, just like everybody else.

Of course, I was wrong.

My bubble is still here. It is dark, dank, comforting. Like an old musty blanket I can clutch around me and slap over my eyes whenever I see something which should not be. I am still here, in a way. But really, I am not. Because I do not want to be. I am not with you. I am not with anyone. And no one is with me. No one looks at me. No one wants to.

In the end, the bubble does not make that much of a difference after all.

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How I deal with Depression

When I’m in a bad place (emotionally speaking) I always turn to things which comfort me. This summer, I could not turn to comfort food, since I am trying to keep track of my calories. I did turn to my one and only, however I really did not want to be too clingy – the poor guy needs his space after single-handedly taking care of all the house chores, etc for the past two and a half-months, so I had to lay off in that sense. And that, of course, left ‘comfort-books‘!

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Some books are a guilty pleasure. As the years roll by, I read them again and again at studious intervals, associating certain books or book series to certain mind-sets. Now, don’t laugh at me, but I actually have a book which I like to read each year when the first big storm hits after an arid summer. The book in question is ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith. There is also a series of books I read when I’m feeling particularly witty or frolicksome (mainly Neil Gaiman), and books I just love to read at Christmas-time, because, you know, they put me in the mood. Whenever I am about to travel on holiday, I also try to find books with a story based in that particular country, and I always manage it! I really had a field day when I went to Venice (why do books set in Venice always seem to be erotic romances?), and of course, the UK is easy. And so on.

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Since this summer was a terrible one for me, as I had to spend most of it in bed and in pain due to health issues, I obviously gravitated towards those books which comforted me. The 10-book part series I read, is the one which first introduced me to epic fantasy books, and the one which made me fall in love with that style of writing when I was 13 years old. I am speaking about David Edding’s Belgariad (first five books) and Mallorean (another 5 books).

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Recently I discovered that these book series are considered to be YA. They were actually written in the 1980s, a time when the term and concept of YA novels wasn’t thought of yet. So even though some readers may consider them to be YA, I do not, as they are certainly not as vapid, mediocre or predictable as YA books usually are (yup, you got me, I hate YA books in general, though there are exceptions).

The plot is basically a bildunsgroman, that is, a coming of age story. We see Garion, a naive boy living on a farm, realize that the world, and the people around him are, and were never, what he believed them to be. The world is complicated, mysterious and wonderful, and Garion finds that he himself is a very special person, destined to change the course of the known world forever. I am not going to go into any more details as I do not want to give any spoilers. Suffice it to say that I really love the cast of characters presented by Eddings. Their repetitive banter may irritate one after a while – still I read all the 10 books in around 3 weeks (remember I’m house-bound here), so one must take that into account. The books are not as lengthy as the tomes I am used to, and the old Maltese Pound price tags attached to the covers make me even more nostalgic, remembering how happy I was about buying these first books out of my own pocket money. Books which, for the first time, no one had chosen for me because they were ‘what children read’, but which I had chosen for myself, deviating from the norm. 

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If you haven’t read the Belgarion and the Mallorean, I strongly suggest you do. They are not as popular or well-known as book series like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ or George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (Game of Thrones), but they are still worth a read. Then again, I’m biased, hehe…

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Who are the Book Fairies?

Have you heard of the Book Fairies? No, they don’t have wings, they don’t fly on flowers and they are of a normal size.

Let me explain – In March 2017, ‘Harry Potter’ actress Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) helped launch The Book Fairies project on International Women’s Day, when she hid feminist books around NYC – titles she had chosen for her book club (yes, Emma Watson has a Book Club). She is currently continuing her Book Fairy fun with the current book club read – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which she is currently sharing around Paris. 

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Basically, this is what being a Book Fairy is all about – Book Fairies are people who leave books in public places, in order for these to be found and read, and then passed on to other readers. The aim is to promote reading!

Although the project started in New York with only a few members, today Book Fairies number over 5,000 people sharing books in more than 100 countries. In fact, anyone can be a Book Fairy! All you have to do if you have some books you’d like to share, is to head over to the Book Fairies’ website here and order some VERY cheap green ‘Book Fairies’ stickers to attach to your books. One can also decorate the books with ‘Book Fairies’ ribbons or bookmarks, which can also be found on the official website here.

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Who knows, you could be featured in the Book Fairies page as a representative of your country! Take a look here!

As for me, I know that I personally could never be a Book Fairy because I’m a book hoarder and I’m too attached to my books to give them away. Once I’ve read a book, I want to keep it forever. Fortunately, no one is as book-greedy as I am!

Do you believe in Book Fairies!?

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Michael McIntyre in Malta!

It really happened! Michael McIntyre, the 41-year old British stand-up comedian and actor, finally came to Malta! Reported in 2012 to be the highest-grossing comedian in the world, McIntyre had been a long-time favorite of many Maltese satire and comedy fans, and finally these were pleasantly surprised to learn that yes, their idol was performing in Malta as part of his world tour. The response of the Maltese was impressive.

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Tickets for the comedian’s one and only performance, which was to take place on Saturday 22nd April at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre in Ta’ Qali, sold out within a mere 90 minutes of their availability. The response was so great, that another show on Friday 21st April, was later announced to be taking place as well.

Needless be said, I was one of those fortunate fans who managed to see McIntyre live, and boy, he was amazing. One of the things which impressed me was that even though he had been on the island for only one day, the witty and jocose actor had already started forming quite an impression about Malta and the Maltese. And as a real professional, he also joked and talked about his impression of our island during this show. Here are some points he made and which he presented in such a ribald and charming manner as to leave the audience roaring with laughter.

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Maltese Roads

McIntyre told the audience of his surprise when, as soon as he left the airport, his car started to navigate up and down Maltese roads as if he were on a ship in high seas. ‘In Britain’, he said ‘we have a problem because traffic really slows down when there are road-works taking place, as these create obstructions. In Malta, it seems like you have solved this issue, since there are never any road-works at all.’ The snide, yet sincere jab had the audience totally in stitches.

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‘It’s astonishing to see how common road-rage is among Maltese drivers. Everyone seems to be in a race, competing against each other. Your island is so small that you shouldn’t be worrying at all – you’re all going to arrive at your destination in a short time anyways!’

Maltese Women

Michael seemed to be totally serious about this one, and we all agreed with him. He said that although he had visited many different countries during his tours, he was still awed at how beautiful most Maltese women were. He also noted that husbands and partners seemed to be very proud of their wives, wanting to introduce them again and again to the same person.

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My article was published on LivingInMalta.com – please go here for the complete version.

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.