architecture, belvedere, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Perth & Kinross

The Whim, Blair Atholl, Perth & Kinross

High above the valley of the River Tilt, within the policies of Blair Castle, sits this beautifully designed and situated eye-catcher. A walk through woodland brings one to the folly and, turning, a wonderful panorama is revealed.

The Whim as it looks today was built by Lord John Murray (1729-1774), who was already managing the Blair Castle (aka Blair Atholl) estate before he succeeded his uncle as the 3rd Duke of Atholl in 1764. He was said to have ‘with great judgement’ laid out walks that ‘cannot fail to attract the admiration of every traveller of taste.’

Blair Atholl by Jane Hope, 1786. Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland National Galleries of Scotland, Licence: CC BY 4.0

The idea for a hilltop folly originated in his uncle’s lifetime, and a drawing in the Blair archives, dated 1747 and tentatively attributed to William Adam, shows the arched screen.

An early design for The Whim, dated 1747 from the collection at Blair Castle, Perthshire,

It is not clear if this structure was built at that date, or put on hold. But in 1760 a new design, which also included two pavilions in front of the screen, was proposed and drawings and a model were made. The building work was completed in 1762: no architect is recorded and the folly as built has been attributed to the Duke himself. An estate map of 1780, surveyed by the Blair estate factor James Scobie, shows the screen and pavilions, and is annotated ‘The Wheem’. A few years later Scobie included the Whim on another of his maps:

James Stobie, The Counties of Perth & Clackmannan, 1783. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, CC-BY. https://maps.nls.uk

The two little square pavilions are just big enough to shelter in, but the arched central screen is flat, and built only to catch the eye and ornament the landscape.

A visitor in 1799 wasn’t quite sure what to call the assemblage, and settled for a ‘kind of summerhouse’.

John Murray had also been unsure what to name his hillside folly. The story (recounted a century later) is that upon completion of the building, he asked the minister of Blair Atholl, Mr Stewart, what it might be called. Mr Stewart, after considering a little, remarked that it was only a whim. “Well, Whim let it be”, replied His Grace.

This area of Perthshire was popular with 18th century tourists, and there was much to pack into their itinerary, so only the more intrepid seem to have made their way up to the ‘singular building’. As well as functioning as an eye-catcher within the landscape, the Whim was also what was then termed a ‘station’ – a place from which the most perfect views could be obtained. From the Whim there were vistas across the Blair Castle designed landscape with the river and extensive plantations, and a wider view of the ‘whole course of the valley’.

View of Blair Castle from The Whim.

The Whim, listed by Historic Scotland at grade B, is beautifully maintained and will delight visitors for many years to come. Atholl Estates are also to be applauded for the series of way-marked trails that can be explored. The Banvie Burn Walk includes The Whim and, with a short diversion, the Balvenie Pillar, another fascinating landscape feature. It was quite magical on a bright November day last year with the fallen leaves fissling underfoot.

The autumnal equinox fell on Friday, 23 September 2022, so summer is officially over, and we can look forward once more to the gorgeously gaudy hues of autumn.

The walks can be found here https://d1ssu070pg2v9i.cloudfront.net/pex/athollestates/2021/06/21085312/Walks-from-Blair-Atholl-1.pdf

For more on visiting Blair Castle see https://atholl-estates.co.uk/blair-castle/

Comments are always welcome, please scroll to the foot of the page to share any thoughts. Thank you for reading.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Whim, Blair Atholl, Perth & Kinross”

  1. Barbara Howard says:

    Hello again, Editor. Thank you for another excellent Folly post. From your photos this Folly looks as if it was built yesterday. It is indeed, as you say, “beautifully maintained”. I was immediately reminded of The Connolly Folly on the Castletown estate at Celbridge in County Kildare. Looking at this photo on the Castletown House website it has been tidied up and given some protection since my stay at the Gate Lodge there some years ago.
    https://castletown.ie/the-parkland/110726_connolly_folly_072/
    Read more about it here :
    https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/conollys-folly

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Barbara. I’m a big fan of ‘stage set’ follies like this one and the Hundy Mundy in the Scottish Borders. I’ve not made it to Castletown yet, but an Irish jaunt is certainly in the planning stages. Thanks for getting in touch.

  2. Digby Harris says:

    We built a miniature version of The Whim at Hartforth, in a rather different situation, closely related to the house, to hide two adjacent cottages.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Digby. That sounds wonderful, it’s always great to hear how 18th century landscape features are reinterpreted in a new setting. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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