Ballindalloch Castle & Gardens

After our 4-day adventure on the west coast, Lindsay and I stayed close to home for a few days. We did a little gardening in his yard, caught up with the laundry, and started planning our next adventure!

By Sunday, May 27th, we were itching to get out again to explore something new. We set our sights on another castle with ancestral ties, Ballindalloch. It is situated in Speyside near the Cooperage we had toured just a few days earlier.

It sits in a lovely setting near the convergence of the rivers Avon (pronounced Aan) & Spey. It is a private castle and has been in the MacPherson-Grant family since 1546. John Grant built it and he was one of my 12th great grandfathers.

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The drive into the castle was a long leisurely meander through the woods, and down to the rivers’ edge with the remnants of an obvious protrusion of spent daffodils, wood hyacinths, and tulips that had been in full bloom recently lining the road and filling every meadow. I bet this place is gorgeous in the early spring with all the bulbs!

Once we got parked and started making our way along the path to the castle we were blasted with a bright cacophony of colors from the newly opened Rhododendron blossoms. It was ablaze! If there was one there was a thousand rhododendron bushes here and it was the absolute peak of their bloom.

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The path led us under a long arched tunnel toward the back of the castle at the end of which it narrowed just before revealing what lies beyond…

IMG_4932The door off to the right near the turret leads into a lovely cafe with all sorts of goodies inside waiting to tempt your taste buds!

The center archway was off limits. I presume this is the entrance to the private quarters of the family that currently resides here. Off to the left in the square building was an audiovisual room where the tour began with a nicely prepared presentation about the heritage and history of the castle.

After the presentation, we continued making our way toward the front door on the east side of the castle. Immediately we noticed a barrage of antique cars arriving and strategically parking in front of the castle. We soon learned that they were holding a special car rally event that day for Mercedes Benz of every vintage, make and model!

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That was a fun treat to get to look at all those cars as an added bonus. Let’s head into the castle and see what its about…

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Like so many, Ballindalloch Castle was once a fortress. The original castle was formed in the shape of a ‘Z’, with living quarters, a 3-story square block of stone, flanked to north and south by two high circular towers to protect two sides of the rectangle. The Rivers Spey and Avon formed a natural moat to the north and west.

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Throughout the centuries many changes were made, wings were added and the place got a lot bigger to become what it is today!  Architectural historians are pleased that while baronial Scottish designs were added and updated the building in the 19th century, the original architecture is still there for all to see and enjoy.

We approached the front door to begin our tour.

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Unfortunately, when we entered we were informed photography was not allowed due to the fact that it is a private residence and their privacy must be respected, so I don’t have any pictures of it to share with you.

Also, as is often the case with privately-owned castles, we only got to tour a portion of the castle, but at least most of it was the oldest part. Its interior was beautifully decorated but rather modern and contemporary; the ceilings had been lowered, the walls drywalled, and it looked more like an expensive modern house of the rich and famous than a castle. Some essential modernization took place in the 1960s by the addition of several bathrooms and in the 1980s the interior underwent a lot of changes.

About the only room that was not changed much was the library and office of the Lord. Otherwise, it just reminded me of a house in Sunset Magazine; not at all what I’m looking for in a castle tour experience. They did not seem to have much nostalgia, nor interest in the ancestral heritage these walls hold.

In the upper reaches of the original tower at the top of the spiral staircase (one that I think is only climbed by visitors) there were a scant few old photographs and antiques of days gone by, but otherwise, it felt very devoid of history.

There were lots of pictures of the current residents’ family, but no old photographs or paintings of past Lords and their families. Kind of sad, I thought. I’m just glad they kept the integrity of the outside of the castle with its subtle melding of the original ‘Z’ plan, the turreted fortress with modern wings adorned with large dormer windows and gabled roofs and that, at least from the outside, it has the uncanny look of a ‘fairy-tale’ castle.

Once outside again, the beautiful blooms of the rhodies beckoned to me so I went to explore this hillside garden with fountains, rock pathways to climb and many, many bright colors to surround myself with.IMG_2409

 

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I worked my way to the top of the hill…

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…and then turned around to see the view below…

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Then I began the descent back down enjoying the bright colors all the way down. Although rhododendrons don’t generally produce any discernable scent, occasionally one of the varieties does, like the wild ones we have in the Pacific Northwest. The golden yellow blossoms here surprised me with the same pungent scent I find at home.

Back down the hill beautiful views of the castle and its guests emerge…

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We worked our way back around the back of the castle again to follow the pathway to the walled garden beyond. This 1/3-mile path was profusely lined with rhododendrons of every hue its entire length!

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Inside the walled garden, the view was expansive.

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We were just a bit early for the rose blossoms which will adorn this garden. The purple lavender and blue flowers gracing the flower beds were just beginning to flower. I imagine this is quite an oasis during the longest days of summer coming soon.

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Soon after we had left the estate of Ballindalloch Castle and got back on the A95 highway heading toward Keith, I spotted a signpost on the side of the road indicating Pictish Stones were nearby.  A quick turn left and down the hill on “the old road” and we found ourselves at Inveraven Church.

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Just inside what looked like a roofed entrance on the north side of the church we found the protected ancient Pictish Stones…

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and a handy-dandy interpretive panel to tell us all about them!

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That is some fascinating information, and I learned a few things too about the Picts. So glad we stopped here spontaneously to check it out.  We also went inside the church and looked around the churchyard at the gravestones.

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In the corner of the churchyard was the family vault for the Grants at nearby Ballindalloch castle. None of my ancestors would be buried within its walls because it wasn’t built until the 18th or 19th century.

After that interesting and informative stop, we continued on down the road stopping in Aberlour for a lemonade and a refreshing break along the River Spey at the park. Nothing quite refreshing as dipping your tootsies in the cool running water on a hot spring day!

That concludes our visit to Ballindalloch Castle & Gardens (and Pictish Stones nearby!)

Attitude of Gratitude ~ Flowers, lots and lots of flowers; that’s what I am grateful for! Been told they are God’s way of smiling and if that’s true then God was really happy today!

 

 

 

 

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving American 65-year young great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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