Blair Castle and the surrounding pine woods will take your breath away, literally, when carpeted with snow, or frozen with a hard frost. The famous Highland estate is set in beautiful Perthshire, which is also known as Big Tree Country for its rich foresting heritage, majestic specimen trees and woodlands.
Chances are you’ll see it in wintery finery too: Atholl Estates, by the village of Blair Atholl, with its rolling mountain backdrop, is in Highland Perthshire, where the mercury is prone to dip.
The castle’s owners, the Dukes of Atholl, were tree enthusiasts. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the second and fourth dukes introduced the country’s first larch timber plantations. Today, these contain the coniferous larch as well as Norway spruce – the nation’s favourite Christmas tree.
1 A cluster of conifers
Starting at Glen Tilt car park, walk up the road to a crossroads at Old Blair and turn left. After some houses the road crosses the Banvie Burn before reaching a T-junction. Detour left for Diana’s Grove (charge applies in summer season) – a nationally important collection of conifers – close to the pretty, turreted, castle.
The star attraction is the enormous Douglas fir, with its egg-shaped, hanging cones.
At a huge 59m (194ft), it is one of the UK’s tallest trees. The Douglas fir, named after Perthshire botanist David Douglas, is native to America, where it’s a popular Christmas tree. It looks especially stunning when dressed with snow.
March back uphill and follow the West Drive through parkland dotted with attractive trees before entering woodland, where the route turns uphill and the pine scent is uplifting.
Among the denuded larch (although a conifer, larches lose their foliage in winter), you’ll see red-branched Scots pine and Norway spruce with their long rounded cones, and painfully sharp, rich-green needles. A native tree before the Ice Age, it was reintroduced in the 1500s. Through gaps in the trees you can see shapely Corbett mountain Ben Vrackie and the Garry Valley below.
2 Valley vista
After reaching the top of the hill, follow the track by the tree-lined Banvie Burn. Pass a bridge and detour right for the Whim. This folly (marked 3 on the map) was built in 1761 to give castle dwellers and visitors an eye-catching view. It also provides a fine vantage point over the estate.
Finish the walk by continuing along the burn to cross the bridge by Old Blair and find a pub with a roaring fire to warm your numb toes.
HOW TO GET THERE
Blair Atholl is north of Pitlochry. Take the A9 from Perth to Killiecrankie and then the B847. In Blair Atholl, take the minor road north (by a sharp bend) for the Glen Tilt car park.
FIND OUT MORE
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry
Atholl Estates offers walking and cycling trails, wild camping, fishing spots and Land
Atholl Arms Hotel
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5SG
The Bothy Bar at The Atholl Arms Hotel, opposite the entrance to Blair Castle, serves wholesome Highland fare by a roaring fire.