by David Wheater
Last month I visited Scone Palace, one of Scotland's finest grand houses, with an incredible history spanning almost 2,000 years.
It's perhaps most well known for being the site where Scottish Monarchs were crowned, on the Stone of Scone, including Macbeth in 1040 and Robert the Bruce in 1306.
Scone Palace is located close to the city of Perth, near the River Tay, and about a 1 hour, 15 minute drive from Edinburgh. It's still the family home of the Earl of Mansfield and his family, the Murrays, who have now been resident at Scone Palace for 400 years - which is pretty amazing.
The Gothic sandstone palace you see today dates back to 1807 and replaces an earlier Augustinian Abbey which was badly damaged during the Scottish Reformation. It's now considered to be one of the finest Gothic Revival Style houses in Scotland.
Moot Hill & The Stone of Scone
Moot Hill, located directly in front of the palace, was the ancient crowning place of the Kings of Scots. A replica of the Stone of Scone (or 'Stone of Destiny') sits just in front of the beautiful Presbyterian Chapel, which serves as a mausoleum for the Murray family.
The Stone of Scone, currently kept at Edinburgh Castle, is set to return to Perthshire as the centrepiece of a brand new museum in Perth City Hall, which is due to open in 2024.
The Palace Tour
Included in the price of my ticket was an excellent tour, which included most of the rooms on the ground floor of the Palace. Highlights for me were the Dining room where Queen Victoria & Prince Albert dined in 1842, the elegant Drawing Room and the magnificent library, which now displays the Murray family's amazing collection of fine porcelain.
My favourite room of the tour, however, was the Long Gallery which, at 150 feet long, is the longest room in Scotland! During their visit in 1842, Queen Victoria & Prince Albert were entertained by a display of curling on the highly polished wooden floor, which so impressed the Prince that he became President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The beautiful organ at the end of the long gallery is still played during weddings at the Palace, which I thought was rather lovely.
Crown Jewels & Dido Belle
A replica of the Scottish Crown Jewels known as 'the Honours of Scotland' is displayed at the end of the tour. I really enjoyed the tour. The guide and staff at the Palace were really friendly, informative and helpful. The gift shop is well worth a look and if you enjoy a good story, I can really recommend picking up a copy of the book 'Belle', which tells the true life-story of one of the ladys of the family, Dido Elizabeth Belle. It was also made into a film which is also well worth watching.
Old Scone & Graveyard
The old Scone graveyard, mercat cross and 16th century archway are all that remains of the old village of Scone, which was moved a couple of miles away when the gothic palace you see today was built in 1803. The old Scone graveyard is very atmospheric and contains some very old and beautiful headstones.
The Murray Star Maze
As well as an adventure playground, there's lots of fun things to do at Scone, including the aMAZING Murray Star Maze. I'm ashamed to say, that despite my best efforts, I completely failed to complete it - but hopefully you'll have better luck! The Murray Star Maze is included in the ticket price and fantastic fun for the whole family. The bronze statue in the middle is of the water nymph 'Arethusa' and the shape of the maze itself is based on the 5-pointed star which reflects the family's emblem.
Apparently, the shortest distance you can complete the maze is just 30 metres. I think I may have covered at least ten times that in my epic fail to complete it!
The Palace has an excellent tea room and I enjoyed a lovely lunch sitting outside on the Palace's beautifully manicured lawns admiring the magnificent peacock, who really knew how to strut his stuff!
The delightful kitchen garden was a pleasure to walk around and is under the excellent care of the head-gardener, Brian Cunningham, whom you may know from BBC Scotland's excellent gardening program - 'The Beechgrove Garden' - one of my favourite TV shows. The kitchen garden was recently reinstated in 2014 and supplies the Palace's restaurants and cafes.
Gardens & Pinetum
Scone Palace Gardens are beautifully planted and contain a wonderful Pinetum named after the great plant-hunter, David Douglas, who was born in Scone in 1799 and worked as a gardener at the Palace for several years.
The Pavilion, which is named after him, contains lots of fascinating information about him and the trees in the collection. It's constructed from Douglas Fir and recycled slate from the estate. Walking amongst the enormous giant redwoods, which tower above you, makes you feel very small, but it's a very calming and serene experience. Some of the trees have been there for over 250 years and it certainly makes you reflect on your own place in space and time.
The Gardens at Scone Palace are very beautiful and peaceful with lots to discover and admire. The grounds are a wonderful place to spot wildlife and I saw many birds and butterflies I'd never seen before. The highlight, however, was a red-squirrel who was too fast for me to film, but I did manage to get a quick snap of him which you can see in the video.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Scone Palace and look forward to going back soon.
For more information about the Palace and opening hours visit their website at www.scone-palace.co.uk