A CROWD of more than 360 people flocked to Mar Lodge, near Braemar, on Sunday.
The National Trust for Scotland property attracted visitors from Aberdeen, Angus, Tayside, the USA and Germany, as well as a number of local families who had great fun with a duck quiz that took them all over the buildings, seeking information, and a wealth of other activities new for 2010.
"It was a good day," said property manager Chris Hewitt. "There seemed to be a vibrancy and enthusiasm we don't always get. People expressed a sense of wonder that there was so much happening.
"We had three groups being shown round with a view to booking a wedding venue; videos showing the rebuilding of the Lodge after the fire of 1991 and the natural history and recreation opportunities on the estate; and the children's events including Easter egg decoration in the Stag Ballroom."
For the first time, Mar Lodge put on food, including soup and venison burgers, and the clever use of the ground floor Derry Apartments for this allowed visitors a rare glimpse at the residential facilities of the main building.
The remarkable Stag Ballroom – with more than 2,000 sets of antlers - was host to a number of displays and activities, with senior ranger Peter Holden, ranger Eamon Flood and head keeper Stewart Cumming on hand to answer questions. Functions coordinator Jane Torrance also provided an elegant display of what could be done for grand events like balls and weddings.
Another first was the use of a storyteller, Joan Anderson from Ballater, who dressed in period costume to tell adults and children alike about the daring deeds of the Black Colonel of nearby Inverey, the curse attached to Dark Doom's Pine, Mar Lodge's Tree of Gold, hidden treasure and fairy mounds.
"That brought a breath of life to what we do here," said Mr Hewitt. "A written description of a painting or room can be quite cold, but a story is a real thing told by a real person who can bring it to life for the audience. We'll definitely do that again."
The tiny St Ninian's Chapel nearby was also open to the public, though it belongs to the Scottish Episcopal Church, not the National Trust for Scotland. It was built at the same time as the present Mar Lodge, but gifted to the church by the first Duke of Fife, and is dedicated to St Ninian, who was Scotland's first saint, credited with bringing Christianity to the lowland picts.
The Episcopal Church always ensures that the chapel is open at the same time as Mar Lodge because of the close connection, though the tiny building is also open for public worship every Sunday at 11am in winter and at 6pm from now on throughout the summer until autumn.
Lay reader and former Braemar GP Dr Hugh Dawson said they hadn't had as many adult visitors as usual, but lots of children had followed the duck trail to the west window which shows St Michael slaying a dragon.
He was delighted that some of the visitors had returned later in the afternoon for the Easter Service, which included a Baptism and was conducted by the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, the Rt Reverend Robert Gillies, who comes every Easter Day to lead the service in one of the smallest churches in the diocese with a tiny, but enthusiastic, congregation.
For more information about Mar Lodge, go to www.nts.org.uk/property/45/.