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Local information

Accommodation in Perthshire
Perth & Kinross Highland Perthshire

Blair Castle, Perthshire

Location: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH18 5TL (map and directions)

Blair Castle is located in the village of Blair Atholl, 78 miles north of Edinburgh, set in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains and the Perthshire highlands. The castle is the seat of the Clan Murray, the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl as well as home to the Atholl Highlanders, the last remaining private army in Europe.

Blair Castle, Perthshire copyright David Monniaux
Blair Castle © David Monniaux

History of Blair Castle

It is said that construction of Blair Castle was begun in 1269 by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who was a neighbour of the Earl of Atholl. Comyn’s construction site spilled onto the Earl’s land, and, upon returning from a crusade, the Earl complained to King Alexander III, who awarded him his land, including the tower, back. Thus, the Earl of Atholl incorporated the new tower into his own castle.

In 1457 King James II granted Earldom of Atholl to Sir John Stewart of Balvenie after the original Earls died out in the early 1300s. This passed ownership of Blair Castle and its estates on to the Stewarts as well. Blair Castle saw further expansion in 1530 with the building of a great hall over a series of vaulted rooms south of the original tower. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1564. In 1595 the 5th Earl died without a male heir. As his daughter married Sir William Murray, their son, John Murray, became the first Murray Earl of Atholl.

As affiliated Royalists, Blair Castle was captured by Cromwell in 1652 and occupied for eight years until the restoration of King Charles in 1660. The loyalty of the Murrays was rewarded with a promotion of the 2nd Earl of Atholl to the 1st Marquis of Atholl in 1676. The 2nd Marquis was promoted by Queen Anne in 1703 to the 1st Duke of Atholl.

During the Jacobite uprisings, the castle was captured and then recaptured by government troops. After the end of the Uprising, James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl continued on at Blair Castle, converting the medieval castle into a Georgian mansion. He transformed the exterior by doing away with the towers and castellation and added chimneys and also comfortable interiors to the castle, as well as landscaping the garden.

James Murray then unexpectedly inherited the role of the King of the Isle of Man, and the huge income which came along with the inheritance helped Murray continue the transformation of Blair Castle. In 1844 Queen Victoria stayed at the castle and during her stay she granted the Duke and the Athollmen the Queen’s Colours. This resulted in the founding of the private army known as the Atholl Highlanders. Their role today is purely ceremonial.

Blair Castle, Perthshire copyright David Monniaux
Blair Castle © David Monniaux

After a series of successful land deals related to the arrival of the Perth-Inverness railway in Blair Atholl in 1863, the 7th Duke of Atholl netted a substantial amount of money and, as a result, employed David Bryce, the famous Edinburgh architect, to convert the 1740s Georgian mansion in a Scottish Baronial style castle. This meant that Blair Castle somewhat returned to its roots, the tower and castellations were returned to the exterior and a new entrance hall and grand ballroom was added to the interior.

During World War I, Blair Castle was used as a hospital, during a time when the 8th Duke of Atholl was heavily involved in the army as a career soldier and whose wife, Katharine Ramsay, became the first Scottish female MP and later the first woman to hold a ministerial post in a Conservative government.

The castle was then used to house evacuees from Glasgow in World War II, though it had already opened its doors to public visits in 1936. The castle did not become a major tourist attraction until 1957 when Iain Murray, the 10th Duke of Argyll, helped to increase visitor numbers dramatically. The everyday running of the castle is in the hands of Blair Charitable Trust, though the Murrays still retain ownership of the castle. Today Blair Castle receives more visitors than any other private house in Scotland.

Map and directions

Opening times are from late March to late October from 9:30am – 5:30.

View Blair Castle in a larger map

Other castles in Perthshire

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