Blair Atholl (from the Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Athall) is a small town in Perthshire, Scotland, built about the confluence of the Rivers Tilt and Garry in one of the few areas of flat land in the midst of the Grampian Mountains. The Gaelic place-name Blair, from blàr, 'field, plain', refers to this location. Atholl, which may mean 'new Ireland', is the name of the surrounding district.
Recently, the people Blair Atholl requested to be in the Cairngorms National Park; on the 13th March 2008, it was announced that Blair Atholl and some other Highland Perthshire villages will be in the National Park.
The town is bypassed by the A9 and has a railway station on the Highland Main Line. The main road north from Perth to Inverness ran through the village till the 1970s.
Blair Atholl's most famous feature is Blair Castle (NN 865 662), one of Scotland's premier stately homes, and the last castle in the British Isles to be besieged, in 1746 during the last Jacobite Rebellion. The Castle was the traditional home of the Earls (later Marquises, now Dukes) of Atholl. The Duke of Atholl is the only private person in the United Kingdom allowed to raise his own private army - the Atholl Highlanders. Its activities are social and ceremonial, and the ranks are filled mainly from workers on the extensive Atholl Estates.
The Castle no longer belongs directly to the Duke of Atholl, as the 10th Duke, George Iain Murray (1931-96), left the Castle in trust upon his death. His distant cousin the 11th Duke, John Murray (b. 1929), lives in South Africa, and returns annually to review the Atholl Highlanders. The oldest part of Blair Castle, known as Comyn's (or Cumming's) Tower, a small tower-house with immensely thick walls, is claimed (perhaps dubiously) to date from as early as the 13th century. The majority of the Castle is 16th century in date, though much altered. After the siege referred to above, the upper storey and battlements of the ancient Castle were removed to render it indefensible. A medieval appearance becoming fashionable once more during the 19th century, the Castle, which had become known as Atholl House, was raised in height and adorned with battlements once more. The many alterations in the fabric are largely concealed by the white harling (roughcast) on the walls. The collections of furniture, paintings, historical relics, weapons, embroidery, china, Highland artefacts and hunting trophies preserved in the Castle are among the finest in Scotland, as is the plasterwork and other décor of the principal rooms. Thirty-two rooms are open to the public, more than in any comparable stately home.
The Castle sits in extensive grounds, which the Dukes of Atholl have altered and added to over several centuries. Notable among the features are Diana's Grove and the Hercules Garden, both laid out in the first half of the 18th century, and rare examples of their period. Both are adorned with lead reproductions of Classical statues. The Dukes of Atholl were early and enthusiastic tree planters, and Diana's Grove contains some of the tallest trees in Great Britain. The Hercules Garden, recently restored, is a rare survival of a walled formal garden with an artificial lake and islands, surrounded by plantations of fruit trees. There are several other follies, bridges etc of various periods.
Also within the Castle grounds is the hamlet and former parish church of Old Blair (NN 867 666), the original focus of settlement in the area before the present village, which was laid out from the first half of the 19th century. The church was dedicated to St Bride and is a probable early Christian site. John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, 'Bonnie Dundee' was buried in the aisle attached to the now roofless church after the Battle of Killiecrankie, 27 July 1689. The modern railed burial enclosure of the family of the Dukes adjoins the ancient unenclosed churchyard. In the Middle Ages the main road from Atholl to Badenoch, and hence to the north of Scotland, passed through this village and the Minigaig Pass.
In 1946 the first Blair Atholl International Scout Jamborette was held within the castle grounds. This Scout Camp has been held every two years since, with Scouts from across the globe in attendance. The camp was the idea of Jack Stewart, International Commissioner for Scotland before and after the 1939/1945 war, who proposed a smaller international camp than a World Jamboree - a Jamborette. The Current Camp Chief is John Kennedy. On the 13th March 2008, Blair Atholl had won the appeal to be in the Cairngorms National Park, that means Blair Castle will be a common attraction.
Blair Atholl Village
Until the early 19th century the only building on the site of the present village was the Old Mill (open to the public in summer). It began to grow around the present parish church, largely as a planned settlement, when this was moved from Old Blair. The building of the main A9 North Road and railway line to Inverness encouraged the growth of the village, though the A9 has bypassed it since the 1980s.
The Atholl Folk Museum in the village has displays on the social history of the area. Open in summer (entrance charge).
A peculiar quirk of the town is ownership of the water supply. As a result of an unusual legal agreement made in 1911 for the benefit of steam trains, the responsibility for the public water supply to the people of Blair Atholl has been held by the railway companies who own the line through Blair Atholl, currently Network Rail. In April 2006, it was announced that Network Rail would finance the cost of connecting the Blair Atholl and Bridge of Tilt to Scottish Water's supply.
Blair Atholl Jamborette
Every two years, a camp takes place in the grounds of Blair Castle. On even years the site is filled with over a thousand people taking part in the International Patrol Jamborette that is Blair Atholl. Descending on this picturesque village are scouts and [explorer scouts] from across the world for a fortnight of camping in what is an ideal setting. It has been going since 1946 and a camp has taken place every 2 years. 2008 will see the 31st Jamborette with scout groups from Austria (2), Belgium, Canada (5), Denmark, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Malawi, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and USA (15) as well as a large amount of Scottish scouts.Official Camp Website.