Final preparations are being made at a Highland castle for the annual parade of Europe’s last private army which was created during Queen Victoria’s travels to Scotland in 1844.
The Atholl Highlanders Parade and Gathering will be held at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl on Saturday and Sunday.
The regiment is made up of men from the surrounding estate with its gamekeeper and farm manager among those who will be marching along with sons of the its former caravan park manager.
Also marching will be the sons of the 12th Duke of Atholl who lives in South Africa and won’t be attending this year’s event.
Jane Anderson, archivist at Blair Castle, said: “There is always a great buzz on the estate at this time of year. The Highlanders have been practising their marching for the last couple of weeks in the castle grounds.”
READ MORE: A history of Scotland’s Highland Games
The regimental uniform of Murray tartan and a Glengarry hat had stayed much the same since the Atholl Highlanders were formed.
A sprig of juniper is presented to each new recruit with the herb represented on the Murray family badge.
While in the early days the men carried Lochaber axes, the Highlanders now carry rifles. However, their bodyguard role is purely ceremonial.
The Atholl Highlanders were born out of a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1844.
Two years earlier, Lord Glenlyon, later the 6th Duke of Atholl, took a bodyguard of his men to greet the Queen at Dunkeld, with several other local lairds.
Ms Anderson said; “There was dancing, piping and lunch and the Queen was said to be impressed with the Highlanders, as well as thoroughly entertained.”
“In May 1844, she returned to Blair Castle for a holiday with Prince Albert. The Atholl men stood guard during this stay of unprecedented informality when Albert stalked and the Queen enjoyed pony rides.
“In recognition of this service she granted the Highlanders the right to carry the Queen’s colour and thus to bear arms.”
“The following year The Queen’s and Regimental colours were presented at the Atholl Gathering which was moved to Blair Castle on the anniversary of the Queen’s visit. This became the social highlight of the year at Blair.”
For the rest of the 19th century, under the 6th and 7th Dukes, the Highlanders paraded annually at Blair Castle.
They also provided a guard for members of the royal family and for visitors such as the Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Grand Duke Constantine.
They also visited the Braemar, Dunkeld and Glasgow Games and the opening of Glasgow’s water supply at Loch Katrine.
Ms Anderson added: “During the Great War of 1914-18, the Highlanders went into abeyance due to most of the men being called up for service.
“Between the wars the pipers continued to parade for distinguished guests such as the Crown Prince of Japan and King Feisal of Iraq. They also piped at the Caledonian Ball in 1938.”
It was in 1966 that the 10th Duke decided to revive the Highlanders.”
The Highlanders parade kicks off on Saturday at 2.30pm on the forecourt of the Castle, accompanied by the sound of the Highlanders pipes and drums.
The following day, the Gathering will take place, with the Highlanders officially opening the Highland Games with a “March on”.