Perthshire castles worth visiting for architecture, contents, gardens
Whether you’re a history fan or looking for something to do to pass the time while your other half is off golfing, Perthshire is full of castles that are well worth a visit. From defensive architecture and fascinating collections to fine gardens, Perthshire castles can provide a great day out. Here are few of the nearest ones to The Red House.
Lying between Coupar Angus and Perth, Scone Palace is a castle with a long and colourful history going back to the days of the Picts, some 1500 years ago. It is the historic crowning place of the Kings of Scots, including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce, and was the home of the Stone of Destiny (otherwise known as the Coronation Stone). In a strategic position at the junction of the Tay and the Strathmore valley, Scone has played an important part in Scotland’s history for centuries.
Nowadays Scone Palace is the stately home of the Earls of Mansfield, housing fine private collections of clocks, ivories, porcelain, books, furniture, textiles and papier maché objets d’art. A guided tour will show you the best and recount the story of the Palace and the people who have lived and died there.
The gardens are definitely worth a visit. They are dominated by the Moot Hill, the historic crowning place, which is now crowned by a tiny chapel. A replica of the Stone of Destiny sits in front of the chapel.
The star-shaped maze, planted in a mixture of green and copper beech hedges to reflect the family tartan and emblem, will keep you occupied for as long as you want... You can also visit the kitchen garden, where produce for the Palace kitchens come from.
And it’s not every Perthshire castle that can boast a race-course within its grounds: Perth Racecourse, on the edge of Scone Park, hosts race-days and corporate events year-round.
Located on Perth’s North Inch (island), Balhousie Castle is the headquarters of one of Scotland’s most famous regiments, The Black Watch. Originally built in the 1200s, the castle in its present form dates from the 1860s.
Balhousie has played many parts in its time, from defensive family home to convent. It now houses the Regimental museum, displaying uniforms, medals, photographs, diaries and other significant items that bring to life 250 years of the military history of Scotland in general and The Black Watch in particular.
There are also regular special exhibitions of portraits and other memorabilia around a particular subject.
You can wander around the Museum on your own but to get the most from your visit a guided tour is highly recommended. The Museum is open all year round, seven days a week, so there’s never a bad time to go.
In stark contrast to Scone Palace and Balhousie Castle, Huntingtower is a Perthshire castle with a bitter history of feuding. It’s now an empty shell, two formidable towers joined by a range. There is nothing soft or comfortable about Huntingtower these days, though it was a family home for many years.
It also served as the prison for King James VI when he was captured by the Ruthven family and held captive for 10 months (he never forgave them).
There are fine painted ceilings in some rooms and a doo-cot (dove-cot) in the roof. The two towers are on different levels and there are lots of steps, but it’s a great place to let your imagination run wild – and no guided tour to tell you you’re wrong! The garden is also an excellent place to enjoy a picnic lunch in good weather.
South of the city of Perth lies Elcho Castle, one of Scotland’s best-preserved 16th century tower houses. Unlike Huntingtower it has no dramatic history: it was the country home of the Wemyss family who mainly lived at Wemyss Castle in Fife. It has been in state care since 1929, a time when high taxation and lack of staff saw many fine houses abandoned or demolished.
Elcho was built at a period of transition in Scottish architecture, when the need for defence was giving way to a desire for comfort and privacy (though there are still plenty of gun-holes at ground level here). It has hardly changed since it was built, apart from being given a new roof and window glazing in the 1830s. Inside you’ll find the remains of fine decorated plasterwork to give you an idea of the luxury in which the owners lived, while outside there are pleasant gardens to wander round.
Drummond Castle, near Crieff, was built around 1490 and remodelled around 1890. The castle itself isn’t open to the public but its Gardens are internationally famous, and you get fine exterior views of the castle from them. They are an excellent example of a courtly 17th century Scottish Renaissance garden, remodelled in early Victorian times and restored in the 20th century.
The gardens are built into the side of a steep hill and several flights of steps have to be negotiated to see the entire garden, though there is wheelchair access to most parts. Aside from the formal gardens, you can also visit the glasshouses and kitchen garden.
Whatever sort of castle experience you’re looking for, the area around Perth has something for you – and there are hundreds of other famous castles nearby, including Blair Atholl and Glamis. The Red House Hotel makes a great centre for castle-hunters, just as it does for golfers or whisky-fanciers, so call us today to arrange your Perthshire castles history-hunting holiday.