Blair Atholl Historic Trail
Follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and witness the numerous historical sights that remain in Blair Atholl today as you walk our Historic Trail. The journey will take you back centuries in time, on an enchanted nature trail and wonder of discovery.
Blair Atholl is an amalgamation of 2 small villages. Blair Atholl itself, the largest village in the area is bounded on the south side by the River Garry and bisected by its tributary, the River Tilt. It was created by the Dukes of Atholl round Blair Castle. To the east is Bridge of Tilt, part of the Lude estate. The boundary between the two estates is the River Tilt. The Black Bridge, identified on Timothy Pont's map of Blair Atholl dating from 1583-96, was the only river crossing. Originally there were two small hamlets on the east side of the river, Kilmaveonaig and Ballentoul. Ballentoul was built to replace Kilmaveonaig, abandoned when the original road was diverted.
Blair comes from the Gaelic blar (a plain). Atholl is more likely to come from Ath-fhodla ('New Ireland').
Until 1822 the military road from Dunkeld to Inverness ran from the Craggan corner below Lude House and then by Kilmaveonaig to Old Blair. The new bridge across the River Tilt on the current line of road through the village was opened on 16 September 1822, so that Blair Town (now Old Blair) was bypassed. At that time also, the haugh (low-lying area) of Blair Atholl contained little other than the corn mill, its associated farm and buildings.
When the new A9 opened in the late 20th Century, by-passing Blair Atholl completely, the quality of life in the village certainly improved. However, its links with the past played a vital role in shaping the community, as you will discover on the Historic Trail.
1 BLAIR ATHOLL PARISH CHURCH: The church was designed by an Edinburgh architect Archibald Elliot and opened in 1825. The decision to build was based partly on the fact that St Bride’s church at Old Blair was falling into disrepair while it had been by-passed by a new road south of Blair Castle. During a three week holiday at Blair Castle in 1844, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended a service at the Blair Atholl Parish church on 15 September. The Minister, The Reverend Doctor Alexander Irvine, was asked to limit his sermon to 25 minutes.
2 COUNTRY LIFE MUSEUM: The museum is located in what was once the village school. Built in 1833, it was extended in 1849 and again in 1875 when a new classroom was added. In 1873 there were 135 pupils of school age in the Parish. Blair Atholl school is now located in St Adamnan’s Road, Bridge of Tilt.
3 BANK HOUSE: To the west of the museum is the former Union Bank building with its tea caddy roofline designed in 1923 by George Arthur & Son. The Bank of Scotland finally closed in 2004.
4 BRIDGE OF TILT: The bridge was built when the road through Old Blair was replaced by the road which now runs through the village. The bridge which was opened in 1822 comprises three segmental arches and triangular cutwaters. A cantilevered footpath was added on the south side around 1960.
5 GOLF COURSE: The nine hole course in Invertilt Road was laid out in 1905 in the classic James Braid style. The course was converted to 18 holes after World War One, but reverted to 9 holes during World War 2.
6 SITE OF FREE CHURCH: Construction of the first Free Church of Atholl started in 1843. The wooden building at Kings Island south of Blair Atholl was liable to flooding and in 1855 a site was obtained in Bridge of Tilt where St Andrew’s Church was built. In 1900 St Andrews became part of the United Free and remained so until 1929 when it merged with the Established church to form the Church of Scotland. In 1950 St Andrew’s was used as the parish church when Blair Atholl church was renovated. With two large main churches now open, St Andrew’s was demolished. In 1968 the main building was removed, followed in 1971 by the tower. The vestry building remains across the wooden fence at the site between the Kilt Shop and the tilt Stores which is now a rest garden.
7 BAPTIST CHURCH: A thatched building was put up in 1821 in the village of Kilmaveonaig by Baptist missionaries. A new church was built at Ballentoul in Bridge of Tilt in 1836. It was closed in 1886 and converted into a private house, now called Annat Cottage.
8 KILMAVEONAIG EPISCOPAL CHURCH: St Adamnan’s Episcopal Church at Kilmaveonaig is dedicated to the blessed Eonan (St Adamnan). It was first mentioned in 1275. Rebuilt in 1591 by the local family, Robertsons of Lude, it fell into disrepair after 1689 when episcopacy was disestablished in Scotland. Because of its association with the Jacobite cause, the church was burnt by government forces in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden. It was rebuilt in 1794 following the repeal of the Penal Acts in 1792. After a period of disuse further restoration took place in 1898 and the church was rededicated on 28 July of that year. It has been in use ever since. Funeral hatchments, diamond shaped plaques depicting the shields and arms of the Robertson family, can be seen in the church.
9 GENERAL WADE’S ROADS: On instructions from George I, General George Wade built around 250 miles of military roads and 28 bridges in Scotland. Work on his first road from Dunkeld via Pitlochry and Blair Atholl to Dalnacardoch and Inverness started in 1728. The Great North Road passed in front of Kilmaveonaig Church, over the Black Bridge at Old Bridge of Tilt to Old Blair and onwards in a north westerly direction to the Drumochter Pass. Evidence of this road can still be seen outside Kilmaveonaig church. Fine examples of General Wade’s military road bridges can be seen locally at Dalnacardoch, Trinafour, Tummel Bridge and Aberfeldy.
10 WISHING WELL: The well is located beside the path alongside the River Tilt. It remains a tradition to throw white pebbles into the well and make a wish.
11 WITCHES ROCK: Women deemed to be witches were thrown off the rock. Those who were supposed to be witches could save themselves from drowning; those who weren’t drowned!
12 GROTTO: The grotto was visited by Queen Victoria when she stayed at Blair Castle in 1844. On the opposite bank of the river, the mill race from the corn, lint and sawmills in Old Bridge of Tilt spilled into the river at what was known as the York Cascade.
13 OLD BRIDGE OF TILT: The bridge at Old Bridge of Tilt was part of the Great North Road. It was upgraded by General Wade.
14 HANGING TOWER or BALVENIE PILLAR: The pillar was erected by the Second Duke of Atholl in 1755 to mark the place where executions took place in accordance with his own Regalian Jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the Earls of Atholl, which covered all criminal cases in Atholl except high treason, was extensive until such Heritable Jurisdictions were abolished in 1747. John Stewart was the last person to be hanged publicly in 1630, having been found guilty of murder.
15 MINIGAIG STREET: The sign on the wall of a house in Blair Atholl near St Bride’s church, marks the start of the old Minigaig Pass, the main route through the Grampians from Atholl to Badenoch. The route was used by drovers and continued to be used until about 1900 by those intent on avoiding paying tolls on the parliamentary route.
16 OLD BLAIR LODGE: Originally a coaching inn on the Great North Road. In 1736 the inn-keeper extended his facilities to include 17 rooms and stabling for 26 horses. In 1806 the Caledonian coach service provided a twice weekly service between Perth and Inverness taking three days to cover approximately 120 miles. By 1811 the journey time was down to 2 days. The Royal Mail coach from Perth to Inverness operated on the new road from 6 July 1863 and Blair Atholl was served by a stage coach twice a day. Coach services were affected by the coming of the Highland Railway in 1863. Dorothy and William Wordsworth were noted visitors to the inn at Old Blair.
17 ST BRIDE’S CHURCH, Old Blair: This church may have been founded by St Adamnan but it is named for St Brigid, the famous abbess of Kildare. Reference is made to the church in 1275 in Boiamund’s Taxatio Beneficiorum. Its vault is the resting place of Bonnie Dundee (Graham of Claverhouse) leader of the Jacobite army at the Battle of Killiecrankie. The burial enclosure for the Atholl family is adjacent to the church. The church was repaired in 1824 but only remained in use until 1825, replaced by the new Blair Atholl Parish church.
18 BLAIR CASTLE: The castle is the seat of the Dukes of Atholl. Construction started in 1269. There have been at least three periods of further major construction on the site. Most of what can be seen today dates to the 1870s. The castle is steeped in history with links to Oliver Cromwell, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots. It is the home of the Atholl Highlanders, the only remaining private army in Europe. The castle and grounds are open to the public throughout the summer and on selected days during the winter.
19 VILLAGE HALL: The hall was designed by J. Macintyre and built in 1906/1907 by subscription as a drill hall for the Scottish Horse whose emblem, can be seen over the front door. The regiment was formed by the Marquis of Tullibardine, heir to the Duke of Atholl, and is named the Tullibardine Drill Hall. The hall now has many uses and is the practice venue for the Blair Atholl pipe band.
20 BLAIR COTTAGES: West of the village hall, further expansion of the village was started In the 1850s, when plans for Cottages in Blair were drawn up. These consisted of a row of substantial stone houses including shops, a police station and a post office. At the same time a smiddy was built beside the mill lade.
21 OLD SMIDDY and VET: Owned and operated by John Panton and his son Alex. The businesses were combined from 1863 to 1963. The smiddy remained open until the 1970s. The building has re-opened as a bespoke blacksmithing business.
22 SADDLER AND SHOEMAKER: The shop specialising in hand made boots and shoes closed in 1975 when Alistair Seaton retired. It became a gun shop, a computer business and today it’s an architects’ office.
23 POST OFFICE: The Post Office, originally located in Ferry Road opposite the Atholl Arms Hotel, was completed in 1829. When it moved to its present location round the corner, the original building became a gift shop before being converted to a doctor’s surgery.
24 BLAIR ATHOLL WATER MILL: A mill is recorded on the site beside Ford Road in Timothy Pont’s map of 1600. It had a roof of straw thatch and turf and was known as Katherine’s Mill after Lady Katherine Hamilton who became the first Duchess of Atholl in 1703. The mill was pulled down and rebuilt in 1840. The mill stopped working in 1929 but it has been reopened as it is today, making flour and offering tours of the mill.
25 RAILWAY BRIDGE: Joseph Mitchell, son of Thomas Telford’s deputy engineer, persuaded the Sixth Duke of Atholl to overcome initial reluctance to allow a railway through his estate. Mitchell’s second bridge over the River Tilt was built in 1861-62. It has two castellated turrets at each end with arches through which trains pass. The two ends are connected by latticed trusses. Mitchell’s first bridge crosses the River Garry at Struan and his third is the viaduct on the Pass of Killiecrankie.
26 GASWORKS: In 1871 a gas works was built in the village a few hundred yards east of the mill and within a year Blair Castle was lit throughout by gas. This was extended to the church and school in 1896. The cost of installation in the school was £21.12. 00 The field alongside the gasworks (now built over) was used by a travelling circus.
27 FERRY ACROSS THE RIVER GARRY: The ferry located at the end of Ford Road close to Garryside houses enabled farmers on the opposite side of the river to bring corn to the local mill. The ferry was one of three on the River Garry. There was once a ford at the same spot which was crossed by Queen Victoria on horseback.
28 GARRYSIDE HOUSES: In 1856 work was started on the row of houses known as Garryside. The houses overlook the River Garry close to the current footbridge.
29 FOOTBRIDGE ACROSS THE RIVER GARRY: The footbridge across the River Garry, fifty yards below the old ford at the end of Ford Road, was completed in the early 1860s. It replaced the three-arched stone bridge built in 1737 and destroyed six months later by a severe flood. The remains of a buttress of this bridge can still be seen on the south bank on the down side of the footbridge.
30 ATHOLL ARMS HOTEL: The foundation stone for the new inn was laid by the Fourth Duke of Atholl on 23 June 1830; it was completed in 1832. In 1854 considerable additions were made to the hotel, when an east wing was built. Further stabling, coach houses and servants’ quarters were extended at the back to service the considerably enlarged inn. These additions were finished in 1877 when a further building at the rear formed a rectangle and completed the courtyard.
31 BOWLING GREEN: The green is on a site north of the Atholl Arms now occupied by the flower and home-ware shop.
32 BLAIR ATHOLL STATION: The Highland Railway from Dunkeld to Pitlochry was opened on 1 June 1863. The extension from Pitlochry to Aviemore was opened on 9 September 1863. Permission to lay track through the Atholl Estate was granted on condition all trains stopped at Blair Atholl station. At its busiest up to 70 men were based at Blair Atholl station. Two banking engines were on hand at the station to push trains on the up hill sections to the north. Once the line was extended to Inverness, 4 trains ran each day from Perth, completing the journey in 6 hours. In 1877 sleeping carriages were introduced. From 1922 the Highland Railway became part of LMS, being absorbed into THE national network of Britain in 1948. Blair Atholl station ceased taking goods after 1966 and was down-graded again in 1989, with fewer trains stopping.
33 WAR MEMORIAL: The memorial was unveiled on 18 May 1924. It commemorates the fallen of World War I and 2 and weighs 20 tons. The stone was quarried at Craig-y-Barns, Dunkeld.
34 DONALD MACBEATH: Donald MacBeath is the Highlander on the road signs welcoming you to Blair Atholl. He was born in 1831 at Ruidh–na–Coileach, a farm east of Blair Atholl. He enlisted in the Scots Fusilier Guards at the age of 20 and served with distinction for four years in the Crimean War and was awarded the medal of Distinguished Conduct. He saw action again at Sebastepol, Balaclava and Inkerman. When he returned to Blair, he was appointed Sergeant Major in the Atholl Highlanders. In 1864 he was promoted as head keeper on the Atholl estate and retired in 1905. He died in 1911.
The Building of Scotland: Perth & Kinross
John Gifford - Yale University Press
Perth & Kinross: An Illustrated Architectural Guide
Nick Haynes - Rutland Press
Atholl & Gowrie North Perthshire: A Historical Guide
Lindsay J. Macgregor & Richard Cram - Berlinn Ltd
Pitlochry: A History
Colin Liddell - Watermill Books, Aberfeldy
Church & Social History of Atholl
John Kerr - Perth & Kinross Libraries
Life in the Atholl Glens
John Kerr - Perth & Kinross District Libraries