Welcome to Blair Atholl
Blair Atholl is a picturesque stone village lying at the confluence of the Rivers Garry and Tilt, surrounded by mountains and glens. Situated 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry, it is one of the final stopping points on the A9 before the road continues east and north through the Grampian Mountains. To the west of the village is the Blair Atholl estate and Blair Castle. Much of the history of Blair Atholl revolves around its estate and castle.
Blair Castle - Blair Atholl
The site of the castle, a stone’s throw east of the village, was chosen for two reasons. The first was that its ancient forests provided amongst the best hunting grounds in Scotland. Second, and most importantly, being situated in the Strath of Gary the holder of any fort here would have control of the major road north to Inverness. Being such a strategic point the area was a dangerous one throughout the middle ages. Blair Atholl village grew up as a means of supplying the castle.
Work had begun on the castle by 1269. In this year the Earl of Atholl returned home from the Crusades to find that a neighbour, John Cumming of Badenoch, was occupying his lands. John had gone some way to completing a tower. The earl protested to the king, but to no avail: the tower remained, even if Cumming did not, and became know as ‘Cumming’s Tower.’ Cumming’s Tower is not only the oldest but the tallest part of today’s building.
The Earls of Atholl eventually saw sense: the tower was accepted and the building project enlarged. The second phase of building started in 1530 when the Great Hall was added, over a series of vaulted chambers. In 1564 the Great Hall welcomed Mary Queen of Scots. The medieval keep was remodelled in the 18th century and made into an elegant Georgian mansion before being remodelled again in the 19th century to make it look more like a medieval keep, in accordance with the latest fashion, ‘gothic revival’. The latest phase has seen the addition of a visitor centre. As it stands, the white turreted castle with a spectacular mountain backdrop, is one of Scotland’s most popular and considered by many to be amongst the country’s most beautiful.
Blair Castle has been the setting for numerous significant events in Scottish History. One of the earliest is the besieging of the Castle by Angus Og, Lord of the Isles. After storming the castle he took the Earl and countess hostage to Isle of Islay where he demanded a ransom for their release. In 1509 the courtyard was the scene of the beheading of Allan MacRory in the presence of King James IV.
Outright warfare came to the area in the 17th century. Cromwell’s forces took the castle in 1652 and it remained in their hands until the restoration of 1660. In 1688 Viscount Dundee led the Jacobite army to an astounding victory over superior government forces at the Battle of Killiecrankie, fought at the Pass of Killiecrankie just east of Blair Atholl (see article, Pitlochry). Among the Jacobite soldiers were the men of Blair Atholl. Unfortunately for the Jacobites Dundee was killed that day. He is said to have been watering his horse beside Urrard House when he was struck by a bullet fired through one of the windows. Fatally wounded he was taken to Blair Atholl’s Old Inn where he died. In Blair Castle the breastplate he was wearing, pierced by the bullet that killed him, has been preserved ever since.
Tragedy came to Blair Atholl with the return of conflict in the 18th century. The Duke and his second son, James, by their support for the government found themselves at war with the Duke’s first and third sons, William and George. With the failure of the 1715 campaign William and George fled to France while James inherited the title. William returned with Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and they both stayed at Blair Castle. James deliberately stayed away. With the failure of the rebels at Culloden in 1746, William was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died, and George, who had survived Culloden, died in exile in Holland.
A great many of the buildings in the village of Blair Atholl face the estate, to the north eastern side of the A9. This reflects the importance the estate has had on the development of the village. The estate’s labourers have lived here for generations in some of the old stone buildings we see today. Amongst the oldest of the buildings is the Water Mill; completed in 1613 it was originally used for making oatmeal, at one time Scotland’s staple diet. The mill is still in working order and the building now also doubles as tea room. For a clearer understanding of the village’s development the Atholl Country Museum charts the folk history of the area with interesting displays of village and country life. With all Blair Atholl has to offer, this charming old village, surrounded by mountains and history, will leave its mark on you long after you leave.