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Travel & Holidays in later life

Where to stay, Blair Atholl, Perthshire, Scotland, Blair Castle Caravan Park

Set in nine acres of open space in the grounds of a picturesque and historic Scottish Castle, Blair Castle Caravan Park is a holiday destination in itself as well as an ideal base for exploring rural Perthshire. Hugh Taylor and Moira McCrossan enjoyed a few days in one of their Woodland Lodges.

The Woodland Lodges are set apart from the rest of the caravans in a small cluster. It’s a quiet spot, making it ideal for a get away from it all, chill-out, break. They are spacious, airy and very comfortable and warm, which was welcome as we were visiting in the dead of winter. I could happily have stayed indoors for the entire break, reading books or playing music but the rest of our party had other ideas. We still had enough light after checking in to go for a walk on one of the way-marked trails through woodland, uphill along Glen Tilt then across a bridge to return on a path at the other side of the river.

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Blair Athol is easy to reach by car and is just a few minutes drive off the A9, the main road from Perth to Inverness. The Caravan Park is also very close to the local railway station.

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The park is set within the historic grounds of Blair Castle, which is well worth a visit. It was built in 1269 as a mediaeval keep but centuries of alterations have seen it evolve into a Georgian mansion and then a Scots Baronial Victorian castle.
There are thirty rooms on display and touring them will take you through Scottish history as it related to the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. Mary Queen of Scots visited and Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed here during the ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion. The great Scottish Fiddler, Niel Gow, who lived in nearby Inver, often played at the castle and his portrait, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn, is in the ballroom along with his chair and his fiddle. The renowned contemporary fiddler, Pete Clark, recorded a CD of Gow’s Tunes called Even Now – The Music of Niel Gow. For the recording Pete played all of the tunes on Gow’s own fiddle in the Ballroom at Blair Castle.
When Queen Victoria visited, she granted the Duke the right to raise a private army. The Atholl Highlanders still exist as the only private army in Europe, although nowadays it is mainly ceremonial, mostly consisting of estate workers and friends of the family. Its survival is mainly due to the 10th Duke. He was also responsible for transferring the castle and most of the estate to a charitable trust to preserve it for future generations. He died the day after the trust was announced. All guests to the Caravan Park receive discounted entry to the castle and gardens. As well as the many walking trails, the park has a putting green and children’s play area and Segway Ecosse offer a range of Segway tours around the estate.

The estate is in the Cairngorms National Park, which offers an abundance of facilities and opportunities as well as spectacular scenery. Within easy reach are the picturesque towns of Aberfeldy, Dunkeld and Pitlochry. Each one is worth at least a day’s exploration. By chance we discovered that the world’s leading Celtic guitarist, Tony McManus, had just added an extra night to his UK tour. A couple of brief telephone calls and we had reservations for Tony’s guitar master class, dinner and then his solo concert. The venue was The Weem Hotel, just beyond Aberfeldy. It was an excellent evening with good food, great entertainment and a wonderful atmosphere in rooms heated by roaring log fires. The owner, Peter Butterworth, aims to establish it as a major centre for live music and we will certainly be going back.

Next day we returned to explore Aberfeldy.  We passed a couple of hours meandering up and down the quirky main street and lovely square. There are lots of interesting, retro shops from vintage clothing to arts and crafts, but the jewel in the crown is the Birks Cinema, a genuine 1930s Art Deco building brought back to life from the ignominy of bingo and amusement arcades. It closed in 1982 and by 2005 was on the market as a development opportunity. A group of local enthusiasts campaigned to returned it to its former glory and after years of hard work the refurbished building, including a café and meeting rooms, was opened in December 2013 by Hollywood actor, Alan Cumming, star of X-Men 2. Cumming is originally from Aberfeldy and following the opening, the first film shown was his latest film Any Day Now.

From there we repaired to browse the books in the Aberfeldy Watermill, leaving us ready for lunch in its café. On the outskirts of the town is the Aberfeldy Distillery. It’s one of the best distillery tours because it has an excellent small museum, which covers the history of Dewar’s from 1898 when John Dewar first started distilling his single malt just three miles from his birth place. Naturally the visit included the purchase of a bottle of Aberfeldy, one of our favourites.

Before leaving the town we went on a circular walk along the Moness Glen. It’s been named the Birks of Aberfeldy Walk after a poem of the same name that Robert Burns wrote in 1787 on his tour of the Highlands. The walk is mainly through birch woodlands, (birks being the Scots for birch trees). The outward journey was uphill along a gorge with streams dropping down the slopes. There’s also a statue of the poet sitting on a bench and many visitors sit beside him to have a photograph taken. The walk is just 1.5 miles long and not strenuous.

Heading back to our Woodland Lodge we stopped off for dinner at The Red Brolly Inn, Ballinluig. It is at the same junction where the Aberfeldy Road joins the A9. We’ve passed it many times but had not thought to stop before. It was first class. Nachos, haggis fritters, soup and bruschetta for starters followed by great fish and chips, rib eye steak, chicken Caesar salad, Scotch beef and Lai Fail Ale Pie for the mains. The house wine was very good but two of us stuck to the local Lai Fail Ale, which was outstanding. The food was great but it is the standard of service and the atmosphere that really makes this restaurant. It’s one of the friendliest places we’ve visited in a long time. It’s now going to be our regular pit stop for journeys north.

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