Nessie and wildlife: Armies and the Blair Atholls

Well we didn’t actually go to Loch Ness this time but we did go by it and through Inverness. So no Nessie, although I did buy the grandchildren a book all about Nessie and how she lost her glasses!

We did however, see some really good wildlife whilst we were in Scotland. I didn’t keep a good tally mostly because I didn’t recognise the birds that sang all around us but suspect we heard some skylarks on the high moors.

We certainly saw a wide variety of raptors including red kites, and swallows and martins and other insect eaters.



And as for the bird life on the waters there were so many different kinds, including shovellers and diving ducks and the greatest fun of all was a Gosander and her brood of 13 (!) chicks. She was quite a small bird and certainly the first time we had seen one – they don’t breed that often in the UK we read as the RSPB estimates only 2600 breeding pairs in the UK. A gosander ‘duck’ has a serrated bill to eat fish – mostly trout and salmon and thus the fishermen are not keen on them; they nest inland, and some are resident in Northern England and Scotland. There was no sign of the male gosander that we saw.

We also several grey herons both in and out of the water.

Grey Heron and Gosander and chicks

Grey Heron and Gosander and chicks


We are fairly certain we saw a capercailzie and definitely black rabbits as well as red squirrels – well one stopped us in the road as it thought about crossing. We also had an encounter with a pheasant mother who came out into the road and stood stock still. When she was convinced we weren’t moving she called her 3 tiny chicks out of the verge to cross the road. They were amazingly small…

Our final wildlife encounter was a bat in Atholl Castle! We think it must have been disturbed in some way as it was broad daylight and it followed us up the winding 14th century stairs to the old castle and the attics – probably where it usually roosts.

Blair Atholl Castle has its own private army since Queen Victoria’s time – and this is the only (official) private army in the UK. There were some 30 rooms open to view with furnishings from the 17th century. The castle was largely destroyed in the Jacopean revolt as there were brothers fighting against brothers – one for the Crown and one for the ‘King over the Water’. Prince Charlie (Bonnie of the song) stayed there before the Crown and Govt garrisoned the castle, thus chasing him away. The Jacopean army led by one of the brothers then besieged his brother and the Crown Garrison in the castle.. so the castles was changing sides a bit. There was a lot of army stuff on display – weapons, guns, and so on….

And nearly everywhere we went Mary Queen of Scots had visited, been imprisoned, or generally had a connection with the family line and so on…

All this is of course celebrated in the Highland Games it hosts, oh and of course there is the distillery and whiskies for those interested…

In Victorian times the main castle was rebuilt in a French Gothic style with a 9 acre walled garden which was historically linked to the castle and which had always had 2 large ponds in it. In the 1970s etc the garden had been used as a tree plantation and the ponds had been left to fill in but 20 years ago the castle owners decided to restore it – including the ponds (it was on a slope which meant that water flowed down into the pond areas)… they also restored a 18th century Chinese Bridge with islands, beds and dredging. The ponds now held a variety of unusual ducks.

The garden had wonderful scents with very old roses and old varieties of apple and pear trees.P1000489 P1000511

The castle and walled garden

The castle and walled garden

The castle café was £3 for a double expresso and shortbread was £1.60. the people looking after the rooms etc all wore the Atholl tartan and a piper played every hour or so in the courtyard…. (

Now we also some not so uncommon and not so wild life  in and around and not just the castle and its grounds but on our travels. There were the Highland Cattle of course; sheep aplenty; and what we think is an alpaca alongside some donkeys and sheep.. a pet we presume..

Not so wild life

Not so wild life

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