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A Castle With All The Trimmings
Crathes Castle (Grampian)
Member Name: eilidhcatriona
Crathes Castle (Grampian)
Advantages: You can spend a whole day here, beautiful grounds, plenty to see
Disadvantages: Cost can mount up
Crathes Castle was completed in the late sixteenth century, by the Burnett of Leys family. It is now owned and run by the National Trust for Scotland, and is open to visitors all year round. The Castle is extremely well preserved, and in addition to the building itself, there are extensive gardens and woodlands, café and shop, plant sales, and a childrens playground.
The Castle is located near Banchory, in Deeside. You can reach it by following the Slug Road (A957) all the way from Stonehaven, or take the North Deeside Road (A93) out of Aberdeen. It is also possible to take local bus services from Aberdeen.
Currently, admission to the grounds alone costs £10.50 for adults, £7.50 for concessions and is free to members. There is an additional charge if you want to go into the Castle itself - I have been unable to confirm this charge, but from memory I believe it is around £6, and again free for members. It is quite an expensive day out, but family tickets are available from £20 (1 parent), and you can very easily spend a whole day there when the weather is fine.
The Castle itself is very interesting, but having visited the grounds numerous times over the last two decades, I have only been inside twice. I would advise thinking about whether you want to spend the extra money - do you enjoy historical buildings? The interior is in excellent condition, and largely as it was when inhabited however. The Castle is full of interesting artefacts, including some important artworks, both paintings and painted ceilings. You can also visit the Green Lady's Room - like many castles, Crathes is rumoured to be haunted by a Green Lady. When I was younger I found this a little scary, but that was soon forgotton when we got to the old times toilet - a hole in the floor several floors up!
For me, a visit to Crathes is a visit to the grounds. There is a large walled garden, which again has an additional small charge for entry, but is well worth the visit. The gardens are laid out as they were when created, and are full of mature plants and trees. There is a doo'cot in the gardens, as well as sculptures and fountains. All the plants are labelled, something which came in very handy one visit when my mum decided she wanted a wall of flowering plants (campanulas) like the gardens had, and she was able to check the name.
At a slightly higher level than the walled garden is the famous yew hedge topiary, which dates from the early eighteenth century. These hedges are impressive but I always find they are home to spiderwebs!! Also at this level is the croquet lawn and sundial.
Beyond the walled garden, getting further away from the Castle itself, there are extensive woodlands and fields which are part of the grounds. You can walk in these as a visitor, but there are sometimes special nature walks organised for children and families, especially in the summer - I went on one when I was young, and it was very enjoyable and educational.
Near the entrance you will find the collection of buildings which house the shop, café and toilets. In the building with the shop there is also a small nature centre, which is great for the kids- it's one of those places where you stick your hands into dark boxes and identify the objects within!! The shop itself is very good. I find that some National Trust properties have tiny shops, but the one at Crathes is a reasonable size. It has a selection of Crathes Castle souvenirs, and a lot of Aberdeenshire and Scotland gifts, such as silverware and china. There is also a very good book selection, again covering local and national topics, and a good choice of Scottish childrens books. I would definitely advise popping into the shop.
The café...well, several years ago they changed the café. It was once a traditional National Trust café, with tea and scones and happy elderly ladies serving. Now, it has been rehoused in another building and is a much different affair. They serve clever sandwiches, the scones are not homemade, and every time I've been there since it changed, they've run out of almost everything on the menu. When I have managed to have something to eat, it has been of good quality, but it's not somewhere I would run to again. The staff are now, on the whole, local young people - and it's good that the Castle is giving them employment, and the service is efficient, but it's not the same.
The toilet facilities are much improved in recent years, and are clean and well maintained.
Now, there is one part of the Castle which you will see a lot of if you go there with children...the adventure playground. This was built at a time when I was still interested in such things (well, I'd still love a go but I don't think I'm allowed now...) so I can report on how much fun it is! I'd be happy to state that this is one of the best adventure playgrounds I ever visited as a child. Back then, there weren't all these specialist charging places, and adventure playgrounds were found in local parks and at tourist attractions. The one at Crathes can keep kids amused for hours. There are climbing frames, slides, swings, monkey bars, tyre swings and an aerial slide, among other things. There is parents seating around the park, or there is a large grassy slope leading to it which is usually strewn with parents having a break!
Beside the car park is the Crathes Plant Sales. If you are interested in gardening, this is worth a visit as they have a good selection of plants, including a lot of what you can see in the walled garden. It was here that my mum found her campanula which she had seen in the garden.
All in all, Crathes Castle is one of Aberdeenshire and Deeside's premier tourist attractions, and well worth a visit for locals and visitors alike - I have no idea how many times I've been there, but while writing this I find myself wanting to go back! It can be a slightly expensive day out if you choose to go into the Castle, but it is free to National Trust members and the family tickets offer good value
Summary: A lovely day out for the whole family
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