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Issue 45 - Perthshire – exploring the heart of Scotland

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 45
June 2009


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Perthshire – exploring the heart of Scotland

Charles Douglas looks at the landscape and lore of Perthshire.

Perthshire never fails to impress.

Encompassing 2494 square miles, it is bounded to the north by Inverness and Aberdeenshire, to the east by Angus, to the southeast by Fife and Kinross, to the south by Clackmananshire and Stirling, and to the south west by Dunbartonshire. It can therefore genuinely claim to be the very heart of Scotland.

A land of gentle, rolling hills, rich farmland and broad rivers, it has traditionally brokered the journey from the more inaccessible Highlands to the affluent Scottish Lowlands lying across the Firth of Forth to the south. For centuries, drovers from north and west would arrive from the northern hills to sell their herds of small black cattle at the trysts of Crieff, Comrie and Perth, places which, so far as most Lowland merchants were concerned at the time, were the last outposts of civilisation. But a great deal has changed since then, not least with the M90 which sweeps relentlessly north from the Forth Bridge to bypass the recently designated City of Perth.

Situated two miles from Crieff in the west is the Glenturret Distillery, Scotland’s oldest distillery, home of the Famous Grouse Distillery Tour which culminates in your first dram.

Immediately to the south at Muthil are the gardens of Drummond Castle, which open from May until October.

Although the castle is not itself open to the public, it is worth a look since it dates from 1491 and is the ancestral seat of Clan Drummond.

Between Strathearn and Strathallan sits the Gleneagles Hotel, one of Scotland’s most famous leisure resorts playing host to numerous prestigious golfing tournaments, including the Scottish Open. In close proximity, nestling into the Ochil Hills at Blackford is the Tullibardine Distillery for your next dram. At Bridge of Earn, which is Elcho Castle, a one time stronghold of the Fifebased Wemyss Family. Dating from the 16th century, it has been sympathetically restored and provides a fascinating insight into the lifestyles of the past.

Another fascinating historic site to visit is that of Huntingtower Castle, formerly known as the House of Ruthven, which lies just outside of Perth and is today managed by Historic Scotland. In 1582, the 15 year-old James VI was held here against his will by the 1st Earl of Gowrie who was determined to break the young King’s dependence upon his cousin, the ambitious Esmé, Duke of Lennox.

Although Gowrie was later pardoned, the unforgiving James saw to it that he was later executed for High Treason.

The City of Perth, which many believe was founded by the Roman Agricola as early as AD83, occupies an ideal strategic location being at the meeting point of tracks and passes from the northern mountains. Straddling the fast-flowing River Tay, Perth was so favoured by James I that at one stage it seemed destined to become Scotland’s Capital.

However, his murder by dissident nobles at the Royal lodgings of Blackfriar’s Monastery in 1437 put paid to that.

Today, with its celebrated public parks, the North and South Inches, Perth’s city centre is a welcoming, green place, with attractive houses and shops. The Perth Museum and Art Gallery in George Street houses exhibitions on social history and archaeology, silver and glass, and a fine collection of paintings by Sir Edwin Landseer, and Sir John Everett Millais, and Scottish artists D. Y. Cameron and John Bellany. In the former Waterworks Building in Marshall Place is the Fergusson Gallery which contains a spectacular collection of paintings by the Scottish colourist J. D. Fergusson. Another major visitor attraction is the Black Watch Regimental Museum housed in Balhousie Castle in Hay Street. On display is the history of this most remarkable regiment which was raised in 1715 to police the Highlands and to help quell the Jacobite Uprisings.

Horticulturalists may want to stop off at the Branklyn Garden in Dundee Street, which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland and contains an outstanding collection of rhododendrons, alpines, herbaceous and peat-garden plants.

At the Augustinian Abbey of Scone, the long ago kings of Scotland were required to take part in the traditional coronation ceremony, performed on Moot Hill, a grassy mound within sight of the main entrance of present day Scone Palace. The Stone of Destiny, upon which they were crowned, was brought here in the ninth century by King Kenneth MacAlpine in his attempt to unify Scotland. However, four centuries later it was seized and taken to London by the invading Edward I of England. Based on the original house, the existing monastery was enlarged and embellished in 1802 and is today the home of the earls of Mansfield. Within are fine collections of French furniture, ivories, 16-century needlework and porcelain. The estate hosts regular race meetings, an annual game conservancy Scottish fair, polo tournaments and carriage driving competitions.

As the A9 continues north, the scenery widens with vistas of glens and mountains as it travels towards Dunkeld and Pitlochry.

An alternate route is the A93 which takes you past the celebrated Meiklour Hedge, one third of a mile long and 120 feet (36 metres) high and credited with being the largest beech hedge in the world. This road takes you to Blairgowrie and its sister town of Rattray which are both at the centre of Perthshire’s seasonal fruit growing industry. Between Blairgowrie and Dunkeld is the Loch of the Lowes, a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve where otters and rare Osprey thrive.

Travel west from Ballinluig, and the A827 takes you to the picturesque town of Aberfeldy and Dewar’s World of Whisky, which is centred around the Aberfeldy Distillery.

The distillery tour comes highly recommended and provides you with the third dram of your journey. However, an added attraction is the adjoining nature trail and its colony of red squirrels which have been nurtured by local enthusiasts.

On the far side of the town lie the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, a scenic walkway made famous by Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns.

Here too, at Weem, is Castle Menzies, clan seat of the Menzies Clan and, close to the nearby village of Dull. Those in search of adventure can take part in Highland Safaris, a range of excursions into a 250,000 acre Highland estate accompanied by a kilted ranger. Who could resist?

Not to be missed on Loch Tay, source of the great river that winds its way 54 miles through Aberfeldy and Dunkeld to Perth, is the Scottish Crannog Centre, an authentic reconstruction of an Iron Age loch-dwelling built by the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology. At the head of the loch is the village of Kenmore where, each January, the salmon fishing season is launched. Close by is historic Taymouth Castle, the historic home of the Campbells of Breadalbane, and where Queen Victoria stayed on her first visit to Scotland in 1842.

Returning to the A9 to venture northwards, the road by-passes the towns of Pitlochry, with its world famous Festival Theatre, and Blair Atholl, where the Atholl Palace Hotel, a former dower house for the earls and dukes of Atholl, dominates the skyline.

Between April and September be sure to visit the Pitlochry Dam and 86 metre high Fish Ladder which was created so as to enable salmon to climb into Loch Faskally after the River Tummel was damned.

Next stop is Blair Castle itself, gleaming white against a backdrop of the Grampian Mountains.

At Killiecrankie, in 1689, the first Jacobite Rising took place against the Government troops of William of Orange. The Jacobites won, but their leader, John Graham of Claverhouse, best known as ‘Bonnie Dundee,’ was killed in action. On anniversaries of the battle it is said that a red glow appears over the landscape.

Prominently situated in the 135, 000 acres of the Blair Atholl estates, Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the dukes of Atholl and, in 1746. This was the last fortress in Britain to withstand a siege. Today the castle is managed by a family trust and open to the public throughout the year. Although the 11th Duke of Atholl lives in South Africa, he remains the only British citizen permitted to have his own private regiment, the Atholl Highlanders, the ranks of which are recruited from local landowners and Atholl estate employees. Each year they parade at the Atholl Gathering held during the last full weekend in May.

One notable stopping-off point, just north of Blair Atholl, and close to the romantic Falls of Bruar, is the off-road House of Bruar which provides a superb cashmere and tweed retail experience with food hall and restaurant facilities. From here the main road commences north west up Glen Garry before sweeping round to the north east towards the Highland Capital of Inverness.

Beatrix Potter Exhibition
It is said the well known children’s author
wrote Peter Rabbit here while on holiday in
1893. This charming museum and garden
is a must for children of any age.
Tel: +44 (0)1350 727 674
The Birnam Oak
A tree of immense size, age and legend.
The Birnam Oak and its neighbour the
Birnam Sycamore are thought to be
remnants of the great forest that once
straddled the banks and hillsides of the
Tay, celebrated in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
as the famous Birnam Wood.
Black Watch Regimental Museum
The museum of the world famous Black
Watch Regiment.
Tel: +44 (0)131 310 8530
Blair Castle
The ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of
Atholl and home to the Atholl Highlanders,
the last remaining private army in Europe.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 481 207
Dewars World of Whisky
The ultimate Scotch whisky visitors’
centre. This traditional working distillery
offers history, café, picnic area, nature trail,
shop and personal guided tour.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 822 010
Drummond Gardens
Scotland’s most important formal gardens
and among the finest in Europe.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 681 433
Elcho Castle
Bridge of Earn
A handsome and complete fortified
mansion of 16th century date, on the
banks of the River Tay.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 639 998
The Famous Grouse Experience
The home of Grouse is actually Glenturret,
Scotland’s oldest distillery (1818). This is
another of Scotland’s tremendous whisky
visitor attractions. The highlight has to be
the ‘flight of the grouse’ show, which
allows you to take to the sky and enjoy a
virtual grouse-eye-view of some stunning
Scottish scenery.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 654 366
Highland Safaris
Award winning Land Rover safaris
and off-road driving as well as a chance
to pan for gold in a purpose built
panning flume.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 820 071
Huntingtower Castle
The splendid painted ceilings
are especially noteworthy in this
castle which dates from the 15th
century. It was also here that
James VI was held captive by the
Ruthven family.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 627 231
Killiecrankie Battle Site
A famous wooded gorge where,
in 1689, Government troops were
routed by Jacobite forces. This NTS
site features a display on the battle
and footpaths.
Tel: +44 (0)1350 728 641
Perth Museum
An exciting look at the natural and social
history of Perthshire, housed in one of
Britain’s oldest museums.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 632 488
Scone Palace
The crowning place of Scottish Kings,
Scone simply oozes history. Outside it is
surrounded by beautiful gardens and a
peaceful woodland.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 552 300
Scottish Crannog Centre
Loch Tay
An authentic recreation of a Celtic lochdwelling.
Artefacts, wet-tanks, video,
ancient crafts, friendly staff and personal
attention bring the past to life.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 583
Tullibardine Distillery
Small but perfectly formed distillery, laid
out so the visitor can truly understand the
whisky-making process.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 682 252
The largest bookshop in the Highlands,
including an art gallery and coffee shop
housed in a beautiful old mill.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 822 896
Ardeonaig Hotel
Near Kenmore
Stunning small hotel that
comes highly recommended.
There are 20 rooms, two
cottage suites and five new
burnside rondawels (a South
African-influenced thatched
cottage). Rooms from
£100-£175 including dinner,
bed and breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1567 820 400
Ballathie House Hotel
Four star country house hotel,
with two rosettes for food. All 41
rooms are individually decorated.
Rooms start from £95 including
cooked breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1250 883 268
Benlawers Bunkhouse
Small and cosy four star hostel
offering six comfortable bunks.
Traditional stone cottage. Meals
and packed lunches supplied
on request.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 866 318
The Bobbin Mill
This stunning conversion of a 200
year old mill offers luxury selfcatering
accommodation for up
to eight people. A weekly rental
costs between £690 and £1140.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 679 830
Browns B&B
Small and comfy B&B with a
welcoming atmosphere.
Tel: +44 (0)1828 640 020
Clifton House
An elegant Victorian villa a short
stroll form the city centre. Prices
from £32-£50 per person.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 621 997
Comrie Cottage
Pretty, self-catering
accommodation situated on
the outskirts of the quaint and
peaceful village of Comrie.
Tel: +44 (0)141 942 8211
Crieff Hydro Hotel
A four-star family resort, set in its
own 900 acre estate with an
unrivalled range of leisure
pursuits. This famous hotel has
been extensively redeveloped in
the last few years.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 651 670
Fortingall Hotel
Four star country house hotel
nestled at the foot of a wooded
hill. Ten extremely comfortable
ensuite rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 367
Galvelmore House
A comfortable B&B blending
Georgian architecture with a
contemporary style. Rooms cost
between £28-£30 per person
per night, including full
cooked breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 655 721
Gleneagles Hotel
A world class five-star
resort offering guests
luxury and an unrivalled
choice of sports and
leisure facilities.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 662 231
The Inn on the Tay
A recently refurbished
five bedroom hotel, with a
56 seat restaurant and bar
offering outstanding food
and service.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 840 760
Kinloch House
A peaceful country house
hotel set in 25 acres.
Offers 18 bedrooms
priced between £170 and
£310, fine dining and a range
of leisure activities.
Tel: +44 (0)1250 884 237
Pinetrees Hotel
A fine Scottish mansion
set in 10 acres of mature
woodland. Nineteen
individually styled ensuite
bedrooms and elegant and
spacious public rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 472 121
Roseburn B&B
A stylish and intimate bed
& breakfast in central Pitlochry.
Offers three rooms and a
most delicious breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 470 002
The White Tower
A truly unique place to stay.
A five star self-catering
holiday home offering
exclusive and private
accommodation above
Taymouth Castle.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 829 228
63 Tay Street Restaurant
An excellent dining experience,
using the best in Scottish
produce delightfully cooked
and presented.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 441 451
Andrew Fairlie @
A stylish and contemporary
restaurant in Gleneagles Hotel.
Has two Michelin stars and the
prices reflect this. Cuisine is
French with Scottish twist.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 694 267
But ‘n’ Ben
Cosy restaurant offering
traditional Scottish and informal
fayre. Good value for money.
Tel: +44 (0)1241 877 223
Creagan House
This is a gem of comfort and
fine food, with an emphasis on
freshly prepared local produce.
Also offers five rooms, dinner
bed and breakfast starts at £88.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 384 638
Deans @ Let’s Eat
Daily blackboard specials are
available as well as the
innovative lunch and dinner
menus. An establishment
certainly worth visiting again
and again.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 441 451
The Courtyard Restaurant
A brasserie and bar that offers
a sophisticated and upbeat
dining experience.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 763
An historic inn and restaurant
in a beautiful setting, recently
refurbished and serving
imaginative and
delicious dishes.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 472 777