Cairngorms National Park, located in the Scottish highlands, is truly one of the most beautiful places in the entirety of the United Kingdom. There is not only natural beauty to behold, but also exciting historic sites that should not be overlooked when visiting.
The national park was established in 2003 but unsurprisingly it is the home of much older structures like the Georgian Ruthven Barracks or the medieval Drumin Castle. Famously the Royal family regularly decamp to Balmoral Castle which can be visited on certain months. Many of the sites are close to dramatic mountains and scenic countryside, making them even more appealing as sites of interest.
Here are 8 of the best historic sites to visit in Cairngorms National Park.
1. Blair Castle
The ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and now home to Europe’s last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders, Blair Castle has been home to 19 generations of Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl. It is said to have been started in 1269 by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who started building on the Earl of Atholl’s land while he was away on crusade. Known for its beautiful tapestries, intricate plasterwork and weapon collection dating from the Battle of Culloden, the castle has also hosted Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Victoria.
Today, more than 30 rooms featuring Scottish cultural history, architectural design, period furnishings, family portraits and landscape paintings are on display. The gardens are also immaculately maintained and are equally popular in the summer months.
2. Ruthven Barracks
These early 18th century barracks were built on the site of an earlier medieval fortification during the reign of King George II. Their purpose was to house troops loyal to the British Government following the unsuccessful Jacobite uprising of 1715. The stone building saw military confrontation on two occasions – in 1745, when 300 Jacobites tried to take it, but were fended off by 12 redcoats, and in 1746 when a more successful attack was launched.
The complex has been standing empty ever since, with the walls slowly fading away with the harsh Highland climate. The ruins are open to visitors, who can enjoy this unique survivor of the 18th century for free.
3. Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle has been the seat of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546. It is one of the few stately homes that has been owned by the same family throughout the centuries. The building was originally just a tower house, before undergoing extensive enlargement works during the Victorian era. The result was a beautiful dreamlike home for the Macpherson-Grant family.
The estate building is not only glorious from the outside but its interiors are grandiose as well. It houses one of the best house libraries in the whole country. Visitors should also not miss the magnificent fireplace in the grand dining room.
4. Braemar Castle
This formidable looking castle overlooks the countryside near the village of Braemar. Originally built as a hunting lodge in 1689, the structure was used as a garrison by British troops following the Jacobean defeat in the 18th century before eventually ending up as the home for the Chiefs of Clan Farquharson. The castle has seen some significant visitors through the ages, the most well-known being Queen Victoria.
From 2006 onwards the building has been leased to the local community who are keeping its doors open to all visitors.
Having fallen in love with the Highlands after their first visit in 1842, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who first bought the lease to Balmoral in 1848, despite having never visited the site itself. Finding the existing castle too small, they commissioned Aberdeen architect William Smith to build a completely new structure some 100 yards from the original. Prince Albert himself had a role in the design process, taking a particular interest in its turrets and windows, and the Balmoral Castle we see today was built between 1853 and 1856.
Today Balmoral Castle remains the private residence of the British Royal family, and as such many of their private rooms are closed to the public. Between April and July however, some of Balmoral is open for visitors. The highlight of the site is the Castle Ballroom, a magnificent hall adorned with portraits, silver statues, and Minton China still used to host dances by the Royals each year.
6. Drumin Castle
One can only imagine how this ruined castle would have looked like during its heyday. Built around the 1370s, the fortification was updated and extended over the centuries, before being abandoned in the 18th century. Nowadays only two walls remain of this once imposing structure, but nevertheless it remains an interesting site to explore.
Extensive works have been done at Drumin Castle to stabilise the ruins. The site is open to the public and can be accessed free of charge.
7. Highland Folk Museum
The Highland Folk Museum offers the opportunity to explore the life and work of the Highland people throughout the centuries. The 80 acre large site has examples of dwellings from different eras, ranging from the 1700s to the 1950s, and is Britain’s first open-air museum. Live actors help one to get even more immersed into the experience.
There are many interactive elements to the museum, with a plethora of different activities one can participate in. The museum’s entertainment provision makes it an ideal place to visit for families with young children. The local shops and cafe also make sure nobody will leave empty-handed or with an empty stomach.
8. Kildrummy Castle
Known as ‘the noblest of northern castles’, the medieval ruins are truly some of the most impressive in Scotland. Built in the 13th century, the castle was originally the seat of the earls of Mar. During the Scottish Wars of Independence the site was visited twice by the English King Edward I – ‘Hammer of the Scots’. The glorious building was left abandoned following the Jacobite uprising in 1715, when James VII’s son, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart rose up to reclaim the throne for the Stuarts.
Kildrummy Castle is open to the general public, but it is recommended to book your visit in advance.