Episode 3 - Blair Castle

Listen to Episode 3 - Blair Castle.

Interviewer: Grant Stott (GS)

Interviewee: Mo Tracey (MT)

GS: Hello and welcome to another episode of Tour Guide Tales, brought to you by VisitScotland.
I'm Grant Stott, and each week I'll speak to a different tour guide to hear the eclectic, and often incredible, rich history of Scotland through their knowledge, stories and experiences. Today, I'll be speaking to Mo Tracy, head guide of Blair Castle. First built in the 1200s, Blair Castle has been a place of interest throughout the centuries. Its white-washed walls have seen royal kidnappings, Scotland's final siege and Queen Victoria's private army. Set in the idyllic Perthshire countryside near Blair Atholl, its fairy-tale exterior and dramatic history make the castle a draw for so many from all over the world, including some rather famous names. So, let's hear some tour guide tales of Blair Castle.

GS: Well, Mo Tracy, let's just start straightaway, shall we? Give us a little bit of an introduction to yourself and how you came to be head tour guide at this stunning piece of Scottish history.

MT: Maureen Tracy to my Glasgow family and friends, but since I've left Glasgow everybody's known me as Mo. Always knew that I would work at some point in a historical building. And, up came an advert for this job, I applied, got an interview and didn't get the job. So, I was quite devastated but hey ho! However, there had been some kind of mix-up, and they were on to me very, very quickly and I was absolutely thrilled. I think they thought I'd be upset but no - I was thrilled just to know that I was coming to work in this beautiful building, because the minute I walked into it I was gobsmacked, to say the least. What a place to work after a career in teaching. The icing, literally, on the cake.

GS: So, was your introduction, your first introduction to the castle, was it when you got the job? You had no connection with the place before?

MT: Literally, yeah, that was. I had gone in for the interview and had been given a quick tour. Me running round this guy who had the biggest, longest legs. And he was going at a rate…

GS laughs.

MT: …and I was just running behind him.

GS: I'm 6 ft 4 myself. I can relate to that.

MT: Oh, no. This was a big chap and I was running behind him, and I wanted him to stop and just let me look at something. And I just remember saying 'is this real?' And the more he took me through the thirty odd rooms that I would be having as my job, I was, it was one of the happiest times for me, ever. Especially at the end of a career in teaching.

GS: So, tell me, how do you, when you get a job like this, how do you then start to learn the history? Because, you know, we've got quite a bit of it here. How do you go about learning the history of this fantastic castle?

MT: Grant, if you're nosy, first of all, this is great. All these doors that say private, that you go to those places and you're not allowed near them. The history itself always sort of - just general Scottish history - sort of entertained me all the time, but to do this every day, all day, I honestly didn't think very much about the task ahead until I had my uniform on and I appeared the first day and I said to the head guide 'what if somebody asked me a question'. And, you know, it's a thing that I'm asked often by the new guides who come to me, 'what if someone asked me a question?' He said 'well, if anybody asked you a question about something like that, what would you?', and I said 'well, tell them that I don't know. Probably just say that I'm new and that I'm learning but' - and this is the bit - 'I'll go and find out'. And that was the start. It's taken all these years for me to amass a bit of information and build on it. You get to the stage where you go hunting, you go looking, because you see something that you want to link up to something else and you're, subconsciously, amassing this information because you want to and because you're enjoying doing it. And that's how you learn. You learn because you want to, because you're interested.

GS: So, I guess, your background and your career as a teacher, and your self-confessed nosiness - I'd say, would come together and be perfect for the job.

MT laughs.

MT: Nosiness is the big one, yeah, I like to know about things but teaching background - perfect. I fell into that trap very easily, that was lovely. Also, just before I came to work at the castle, I had worked alongside my partner in the hotel industry which give me an insight into service. And we at Blair Castle are big on that. Every person who comes in that door is the king or the queen. And it's up to us as guides and staff to make sure they go out the other end not saying 'I learnt a lot' - that's ok if they do - but 'that was a good day out'.

GS: Well, let's go to the building itself now, Because if people who've never visited before, they say 'right, we're going to Blair Castle today', they may be forgiven for having an impression in their mind of what to expect given, you know, the profile of Edinburgh Castle, given the profile of Stirling Castle, these well-known Scottish castles. This is clearly a castle but not as we know it.

MT: It's in the village of Blair Atholl, off the A9 between Pitlochry, or even, I should say, maybe Perth and Inverness, and access to the castle is through the main gates in the village. Once you're through these gates, there's a very long drive of lime trees that take you up - if you're walking - 10 minutes, 15 minutes. And as you get nearer, all of a sudden, emerges this lovely, big, white building. Turrets, crenellations, and the main door right there in front of you, inviting you just to come in and see what's there. So that's the first thing you see when you get there.

GS: Just to take us right back. As we've seen in the introduction, this thing dates back to the 1200s when it was originally built as a castle in the traditional sense and then it changed.

MT: It was a medieval building, a tower to start with, Cummings Tower, and built because of where it sits. It sits at the gateway to the Highlands of Scotland. In those days if you were in charge of that tower you literally controlled who went up and down that road. Today, it's coaches and people traveling between Inverness and Perth, and ultimately Edinburgh. Big, white building, 'wow, must go there'. The tower of 1269 was added to, and by about 1530, it was as big as the building is at the moment. It was kind of rough - a main great hall with supporting rooms underneath it. By about 1740ish, because of an inheritance through a marriage of the Isle of Mann, it was changed into the fashion of the day which was a Georgian house - they called it Atholl House. So, the turrets and the crenellations, all of that came away, a pitched-roof chimneys, and the Duke embarked on an interior also befitting a grand Georgian house. And at the same time, a garden to match it. That's the way it stayed. The only interruption with that was the 1745 Jacobite uprising. And the next major change, again, down to, I would say, another fashion statement led by Queen Victoria - she had stayed at Blair Castle in 1844. She, I think, she was doing a wee reccy. I think she was out just looking around to see a nice spot for her to have a castle which culminated in the 1850s and Balmoral. So, she set a trend for Victorian baronial type buildings, and that's what happened at Blair - it became a baronial, a Victorian baronial building. The additions then were to the entrance hall. The entrance hall was expanded up the way and a little suite of rooms put on the top. Then, a ballroom built, a ballroom for grand entertaining because up until then, Grant, they had been entertaining on the top floor, and I don't know if that's got anything to do with the fact that in 1985 the floor between that top floor room and the room underneath it gave way - literally fell down. So, the ballroom was built to help alleviate that problem and has become a focus, I would say, for modern day Blair Castle.

GS: It's really quite a history that you've just given us. There's a little potted history over the years since its first origins as that tower in 1269. But, let's just sort of maybe touch on a couple of historical moments that it has played a part in over these years, and, well, what we mentioned in the introduction was a royal kidnapping. Give us the background to this story.

MT: Our motto 'Furth, Fortune, and Fill the Fetters', okay? Jon Stewart of Balvenie, one of the early ancestors, was half-brother to James II of Scotland who was having a bit of nonsense from the Clan MacDonald, and the chief of the clan was calling himself Lord of the Isles. And the King wanted it stopped - he was Lord of the Isles. So, he called on his half-brother, Jon Stewart, and he gave him an instruction, as I said ''furth, fortune, and fill the fetters''. In modern speak 'get out there - I'll see that you're okay if you bring me MacDonald back in chains'. He wanted it stopped. So, Jon Stewart of Balvenie embarked on the job to bring Macdonald back. The story goes that he knew MacDonald drank from a certain well, he took the water from the well. So, to make it easier to capture him, he laced the water with honey and whisky, thus slowing him down a wee bit and making it easier to capture him. And that drink has become, what we knew in the area here as, Atholl Brose. It's a mixture of honey, whisky, meal and water. And, I believe, Queen Victoria was quite partial to it when she stayed in the area. She actually drank out of Neil Gow, the famous fiddler who entertained the second, third and fourth dukes - she drank from his goblet of that. Nowadays, in a very modern setting, it's quite a popular sale in the castle shop.

GS: I can quite imagine.

MT: So, yes, a modern kidnapping, if you like. For that job, though, Jon Stewart was made an earl in 1457. And this is the first time this family were on the rung, the ladder rung of titles. They went on to get the title of marquess in 1676, I think it was, for loyalty to the king. And again, for loyalty, Queen Anne made them dukes in 1703. So, yeah, a royal kidnapping when you put it that way, that has set the whole thing going.

GS: Fantastic! Queen Victoria has clearly got quite a connection with the castle as well, and I'll come to that in a moment. But let's also talk about Scotland's last siege. This is back in Jacobean times. Tell us about this.

MT: Well, Bonnie Prince Charlie has arrived, and instead of staying in Scotland and sorting out the situation in Scotland, I think he was in such a high that he had decided that he would head south. Lord George Murray, the brother of the Duke was one of his commanders and tried to persuade them from doing that. They marched all the way down to Derby. And the story goes that if they had wanted to really take land, and I think they weren't ready and they possibly could have, but no - they turned back and arrived back in Scotland quite demoralized and, I would have said, tired and hungry and wondering what was going to happen next. And Lord George Murray ended back at his own home which was being surrounded by government forces. I believe there were about 39 little outposts, and inside the castle itself was Sir Andrew Agnew, commander of the government forces. Okay, now his boss was the Duke of Sutherland and took all his instructions from him. Lord George managed to take those 39 little posts which gave Sir Andrew quite a little shock, so he decided he would deal with it right away by coming outside and facing up to the forces before they had a chance to amass a bigger force. So, he stood outside and challenged them to come forward, but nothing happened. So, the only other way was to go inside and prepare for a siege. By that time, Lord George Murray's forces had surrounded the castle and they had two big - I think there were four pounder - cannons which they started to fire at the castle. In fact, there's a lovely wee story about Lady Lude, who was a Jacobite supporter in the next estate, the Robertsons. And she came over asking 'could she set off the first cannon' and away it went. Now, they realized the walls were so thick nothing was happening with those little cannonballs coming over, so they moved the cannons up the hill a bit and set up a little foundry in the kirkyard and started to heat the cannonballs. All in all, over that three-week period, about 207 cannonballs came over - 185 of them hot, and all it did was damaged the roof. The two Jacobite brothers who were on the outside against their brother James, who was the duke at the time, spoke to each other and one said to the other 'look, this could happen', more or less, 'that we destroy this building', and the other said 'well, fine - for the cause'. So, they were committed. And on it went. With nobody going anywhere, in or out, except, I believe, one soldier who came out from the fort on horseback, I believe, heading down towards Dunkeld to get reinforcements. But I don't know what happened to him, but they found his horse, I believe, two days later - just wandering around, no sign of the soldier. So, obviously that was, that didn't work. They brought then a girl called Molly, who was the innkeeper's daughter, and she claimed to know both sides. So, she was the person to send in to see if something could be done. And she came waving these surrender sheets and saying to Sir Andrew Agnew that 'surrender now and you'll be well looked after, you'll be fine'. And no, no takers for that either. So, stalemate inside, the supplies weren't getting in, they couldn't even get water from the Banvie Burn, and they started to store up urine, which came in handy because as the hot cannonballs came over, they - with ladles from the kitchen - cooled down the cannonballs with the urine, and used urine to help to put out some of the fires that took over the roof area of the building. Fate took her hand, the troops were called away, the Jacobite troops were called away to go north to that fateful battle, the Battle of Culloden, and the rest is history. From then on, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled, Lord George Murray escaped to Holland, and William - the other brother, with the other Jacobites - ended up in the Tower of London, but he died after that. And the siege was over. The Duke came back, looked at his house, thought 'mmm, do I finish doing these Georgian renovations or is that the end of the story'. But no, the Georgian renovations were continued. And thank goodness 'cause that means I've got job today.

MT laughs.

GS: And that's what we can enjoy as well. So, it's as if, it has clearly survived so much. And we talked about the connection that Queen Victoria has. She's obviously, she was obviously very taken by the building as well. And tell me about, because she installed her own army.

MT: When she visited in 1844, a private visit that was arranged - and I must say that the people at the castle honoured that privacy, which shows the friendship they had with the Queen. We only learned about what happened through the diaries of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But they honoured that privacy when she came to stay. Chance to come out of the goldfish bowl as the Royals find today, I'm sure, when they come north. And she went with Albert stalking, she did trips on her own with an Athol hillman, and she all in all relaxed and had a nice time. While she was here, though, she was aware of being looked after - those Highlanders guarded her, I believe a guard was mounted outside and, I believe, one of the family members wasn't allowed in because he couldn't remember the password. Yeah, she went from castle to kirk, down that lovely drive, which was created with the lime trees and the new gates just for her, and backwards and forwards, all in all having a nice time. So, when it was time to go, she asked if colours could be given to the men of Atholl from her. The minute she had awarded them colours, what she had virtually done was created an army as she had given the duke the chance to call up these men for his own convenience and become his bodyguard. She was actually given a slap on the wrist for doing it and told not to do it again. But great for us because no other army was created that way, and to this day we are proud to say that we have the only private army in Europe.

GS: It's a remarkable, it's a remarkable story, and so many things have happened around the castle. Well, let's take a step in the castle, if you like. We've got an idea of the history that surrounds it, we've got an idea of what it looks like as you drive up the driveway, and your coach, and your car, you appear there. What happens when you step through into the castle, what do you see?

MT: There's only one word to describe it and that's wow. And the number of people, even wee children coming through that front door, wow… The wow factor, a deliberate attempt by the Duke to impress anybody coming in. From that entrance hall you're taking an elongate bottom corridor surrounded by antlers - it being a hunting estate, and the Duke of Atholl having set up his own little antler part. So, all these antlers came from four beasts that he had, and he decorated the hallway with them. That's another wow factor.

GS: So, I just, just let me take you back a bit. You see that wow factor as soon as you walk in into that hall that he has created. What lines the walls, what do we see in that main entrance hall?

MT: There are swords, there are daggers, there are many, many pieces of weaponry that have been used. It was done at a period of time when it was fashionable to show your weapons like pieces of art. And it has been done in a Baronial style. We actually have archival drawings of the seventh Duke measuring out a big circle of Brown Bess flintlock muskets with her targe in the middle. It's beautiful. The fireplace is of marble and it holds curling stones, because curling was a big thing in the area. And, of course, his gardens created a situation where the family and friends, etc could curl - when they did curl - in the open air. So very, very, as I say, a room with a wow factor when you walk in.

GS: So, that's what is as you arrive. You then go through this corridor with the, lined with these antlers.

MT: Once you leave that room and you start to climb stairs, you're very aware of the change to the Georgian sort of look. Portraits, furniture, it's into the next wow factor room which is the dining room: apple-green colour and a magnificent ceiling of stucco plaster done by Thomas Clayton. Beautiful ceiling which, remembered I mentioned the drawing-room being used upstairs and the ceiling came down, well, this was the one. 1985, open door, housekeeping in the morning, and the ceiling was on the floor. Immediately they called in help, scaffolding was put up, and 18 months later you wouldn't know the difference. So, the ceiling is back to normal. From there, you go through a little anteroom into the old tower. Through there, you've come right along the back end, if you like, of the castle and then out again to the front where you cross the balcony that lets you look down and see that beautiful hallway. And then up a spiral, used by servants - one either side, actually, of the stairway - because servants only, main stairway - family. Up to the top of the spiral you've got bedrooms, the grand drawing room which is another big one - holds some of the furniture, sofas and chairs which would have been stitched by the third Duchess and her family. From there we're through into a little, tiny room and it holds the Jacobite connection, it has pictures of Lord George Murray. And then from that little room, we're through into the tapestry room, the last room of the tower, and that holds tapestries - Mortlake tapestries, tapestries done by Flemish weavers, brought over to show the British how to do tapestries, and they've been hanging there since about 1649 - gives you a little insight as to what would have been on the walls in medieval times before the Georgian substitution took over. So, from there - and you're back to the front again - we found by the little set of rooms, which is at the very top of the extension to the entrance hall, the Banvie Suite. And here's another jewel - it holds the furniture that Queen Victoria used on her visit: the actual bed that she slept in, and the bits and pieces, the desk, the dressing table, the mirror, the pool screen for the front of the fire, and all this furniture which was commissioned for her to stay there. So, you know, when you go in there and you look and you think ''gosh, that's the bed, she actually slept on there'. And I'll tell you a wee secret. I went in there one day and a child was bouncing on it…

GS laughs.

MT: …holding, holding on to the glass screen at the front, bouncing.

GS: Yes, so there's a little word. If you ever go to visit Blair Castle, please keep your little ones under control, especially near Queen Victoria's bed.

MT: We love it! No, we just love it, having the little ones come, because they asked the most lovely questions like 'why is that mirror up there so big above the fireplace', and I said 'what would you put up there, wouldn't that be great for a great big flat-screen TV?', 'yeah, definitely!' So, I mean, the questions like that, they're fascinated with toilet situations 'cause there's none, and how they used, what they used for toilets, and their wee faces, I mean, they want to know, they're so good, because they ask these nitty-gritty things that maybe adults are thinking but don't want to talk about.

GS: I get the idea listening to you, Mo, as you take us through Blair Castle - this is quite a wonderful building to experience because, you know, you talk about the tapestries that are dating back to the 1600, you talk about the weapons on display in the front main hall, you talk about Queen Victoria's furniture, you talk about all these things from different periods of history. So, clearly, when you go through Blair Castle, you will be experiencing all different periods of Scottish history as you go around.

MT: That's what makes that house, Grant. That's what makes that house very, very special, because the people who've lived there, all different types of people contributing different things, whether it be from farming to being an entrepreneur, being a politician, being a soldier, being whatever - they all contributed. And the beauty of Blair Castle is that everything that's in there is part of that rich tapestry, if you like, that story is about them.

GS: Now, tell us about the attic, because the attic may not sound like a place that's accessible, but you can arrange to go in, to go all the way up to the roof space.

MT: You're at the highest point, you're up beside the flagpole, you're up where you can see on a clear day Beinn a'Ghlo, Ben Vrackie, the route north, the route south, the vista is just amazing. So, yes, to be away at the top of the tower of Blair Castle is a special treat.

GS: A spectacular view, I would imagine it. And let's also now talk about what happens on the outside of the castle, because it comes to life at different points through the year. You talked about the Scouts coming for the Jamboree, and there's also the Highland Games. What else happens in the grounds of this castle to keep it busy when things are normal?

MT: The walks are stunning. For those that… haha… I usually have a big giggle to myself, because for those that don't get very far and they go 'oh, what's up that hill', I say 'well, there's a big stag up there with about 12 girlfriends, why don't you go up and give him a wee watch and see what he's up to, that will keep you busy'. We have Diana's Grove, which has some of the highest trees - and these are all immediately next to the castle, this is something that you can do just in lovely weather - even  if you don't mind the rain - to go through Diana's Grove where you'll find the tallest trees, peace, seclusion, a statue of the Huntress Diana and St Bride's Kirk, where some of the dukes are buried, and down the back to Hercules Garden, developed way back in the days of the second duke in the 1700s to give fruit, veg to the castle, and the garden is a big feature of Blair Castle today.

GS: Well, it certainly sounds like it, and just listening to you and just trying to get an idea in my head of the scale of what there is to take in. This isn't something you can, I can imagine, you doing - jumping off a coach and get, being given an hour to have a look around. What do you reckon is the, what's the timescale, how long should you leave to do this justice?

MT: If you're interested and you really want to get the most out of Blair Castle - come for the day. Come as early as you can. Give yourself time. Take in what you're seeing. Time to chat to the guides, because that's a big feature. Also, we pride ourselves in the way we treat our guests by giving them time, answering their questions, finding out for them if we can't answer the questions, and giving them general information about the castle and its workings and what's around. So, I would, I'd be disappointed if I had to leave and there were bits that I hadn't seen. It's sad, you know, when you see coach tours and they've got to be back in their coach in 20 minutes and they're still on the top floor. Give yourself plenty time to come and really enjoy it.

GS: It sounds like that's very, very important. So, Mo, in your time there since 2005 when you were first introduced to the castle, do you have a favourite room, do you have a favourite artefact, do you have a favourite part of the castle?

MT: Do you know, Grant, I don't have a favourite artefact. I really don't, because there's nothing that I could really single out. I love it when I'm in the tapestry room, and I'm actually saying to people 'these tapestries have been hanging here for 400 years'. I'm saying these words and I have to go and think sometimes and I say 'wow, I'm lucky to be here'. Or, I will tell you something. I did touch - and it thrilled me, it gave me a little thrill. We have a little exhibition on it, well, hopefully we'll be able to have it on. I was allowed to hold Bonnie Prince Charlie's compass - the compass that would have been on his person as he took them to Derby and back. But another…

GS: And that's in the castle?

MT: Yes, there at the moment - things to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the three brothers who were involved in his Jacobite campaign. But, do you know, in all of it - one of the rooms that I like to go to, I really, I have a wee thing about Queen Victoria, and I'd visit there. And you know we filmed, they did the series Victoria, and we had Jenna Coleman, Diana Rigg. The castle didn't shut, we went on with it while they filmed a few years back. But there's one room and it's a little dressing room off the blue bedroom in the tower, and it holds lithographic prints that were given to Duchess Anne from Queen Victoria - and it's Victoria and Albert and the nine children. What I like about it is that you can bring it right into modern world. On the notes to go with those lithographic prints there's the history of each child: who they married, where they went, and you can see at a glance why Queen Victoria was known as the grandmother of Europe.

GS: You're clearly passionate about the whole experience, aren't you? It's a whole experience, isn't it, as opposed to visiting just one room or one part of the castle.

MT: I'll tell you, the greatest accolade that I could get is when somebody says to me, or I read it maybe on that TripAdvisor or something like that 'you like working here, don't you?' That, to me, says it all. People won't remember what you said but they'll remember how you said it. And to me that says it all. If your passion comes over, you're making the experience that the guests are having - a lot better for having, you know, met you, and you them. And I use that, as I say, as a criteria when I'm training guides. I really love to see them right in there, telling people, and thrilling people, and exciting them. So, for that reason, I can't really say that there's one thing as such that draws my attention terribly much. I'm a very lucky lady!

GS: Well, it's fascinating, and hearing you speak about the visitors that come, we like to dip in to find out who has been to visit any of our particular sites, and I know you've had one or two, I mean, we mentioned Queen Victoria, obviously, and you can't get much grander than that, but some well-known figures have taken the time to visit Blair Castle.

MT: They have. Well, Bonnie Prince Charlie, of course, on his way down before he went to Derby. He's supposed to have danced with Lady Lute, that Jacobite supporter, at Blair Castle. He's supposed to have played balls on one of the west lawns, and he even had a portrait done while he stayed there - I think it's called Breakfasting at Blair Castle, all before he headed south. Mary Queen of Scots came. They organized a hunt for her. She came in 1564. The hunt was organized but, you know, they sent the ghillies into the hills to bring the deer down to Mary instead of going up into the hills to look for her. So, they brought, there was thousands of stags…

GS laughs.

MT: …all about outside. And, do you know what they did? They stampeded. And then they stampeded, I believe, some Highlanders lost their lives. It didn't stop the hunt. On they went, and they bagged a thing. It's like that between 200 and 300 deer that day, and five wild wolves. So, there you go. Who else have we had? Ohh, you know who else we had? And I just found this out not very long ago. Mary Queen of Scots' father, his mother who was the widowed Queen Margaret Tudor, and they stayed for three weeks and it was at a time where the the Great Hall was just being built round about 1530s. I think the chronicles say 1529. Anyway, it must have been a building site for them to come. So, they built them a summer house, a little house, a banqueting house, they called it. And that's where they stayed and that's where they were entertained. And they stayed for three days, they went out to hunt, they were feasting and hunting for those three days. And then, I believe, an envoy from the Vatican joined them for that visit. When it was time to go, as they moved away, the envoy turned around to look and there was a fire, because it was a Highland custom, I believe, to torch where the people had stayed on departure. So, there you go, so they stayed. Who have we had in a modern day? We've had, well, we've had Prince Charles, we've had Princess Anne, we've had Nancy and Ronald Reagan, we've had the Dalai Lama…

GS: …and recently Tina Turner!

MT: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! Imagine me forgetting about Tina Turner!

GS laughs.

MT: …'cause she's my, I was just told to be down at the front door, and down I went and the black Ford came round - still not knowing who it was - and out she stepped, just Tina Turner. Big hair, black dress, black leggings, big bovver boots, and what she said was 'oh, my God, it's a fairy castle!' And it does look like that to someone just coming for the first time - this lovely, white building, with its turrets and its crenelated roof. There were five of them. I took her on the tour. She was very polite and very inquisitive, about bobbing on in the castle and how life was, things like I said to you about the children with the toilet facilities - things like that, various objects that she wanted to know about. But, finally, the funny thing for me was, as I was walking through these rooms, I think every member of staff must have made a point - they must have been doing in shifts to get up to see what Tina Turner looked like - and one lady actually asked me three times, she couldn't believe that this hero of hers, or a heroine of hers, was actually in the castle. When I got them down to the ballroom, I asked her 'did she want some pictures at anything' because in those days we were a no photography castle, but now we are so you can take all your pictures and take them away with you. I asked her 'was there anything that she wanted to know', and she said 'well, yeah!' And they looked at each other and I thought 'here it comes, it's the one that they always asked: what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?' So, I looked to the heavens and I pleaded with my mother to give me a smart answer to give her. And I don't know where this came from, but I said to her 'when every Scottish girl is born, she comes out the womb with her hand by her side pointing up in an oath-like position and it's her way of saying: I'm taking this oath and I'm swearing never to see what's under the Scotsman's kilt.' So, I said to her 'for that's reason' - and in my broad Glasgow, I said 'I cannae tell you!'

GS laughs.

MT: So, that was her. But away she went, quite happy, seemed to enjoy her visit to the castle.

GS: But she never found out what's under the Scotsman's kilt, unfortunately.

MT: Oh, no, I wasn't telling her! No, I wasn't going to be the one that was gonna break the secrecy. Someone else could tell her, she could do that herself.

GS: So, Mo, tell me, it's clearly, as we've touched upon it, something you're very passionate about, it's a labour of love for you to do this job, but a privilege.

MT: It's a privilege that at this stage of my life, to be doing such a job that gives me the satisfaction. It's a bit different from school - you don't get taken away the homework.

GS: So, what do you love most about it? Do you think it's the place that you get to be there, is it the people that come to see, the people you meet?

MT: Three things, three things. The place you work, first of all, right? That sets the tone - you go in there in the morning and there's never a morning goes by where I never say 'gosh, this is super to be working here'. And I know the staff feel the same way. We support each other, we help each other. And, finally, the guests who come to see us. I am so lucky at this stage in life to be meeting with people from all over the world, all the cultures that come to Blair Castle - that is a buzz, to be able to speak to those people, give them a wee part of this lovely country that we live in.

GS: Well, Mo, it's been a real joy talking to you for a podcast today, and we look forward to you welcoming more people back to Blair Castle. And, as always, they can ask you anything that they want except, perhaps, what's underneath a Scotsman's kilt.

MT: Nothing to do with me. Thank you for having me along. It was lovely - I enjoyed it, too.

GS: Mo, thanks very much for speaking to us today. There you go, some incredible stories there from
Mo Tracy, tour guide at Blair Castle. As a guest posh like Tina Turner, she was simply the best! If you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you're listening. I'm Grant Stott. You've been listening to another Tour Guide Tales brought to you by VisitScotland.