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Issue 75 - Kinross and Perthshire

Scotland Magazine Issue 75
June 2014


This article is 4 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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Kinross and Perthshire

Local history, where to go, what to do...

The county of Perthshire in all its glory extends from Strathmore and the sea port of Dundee in the east, to Rannoch Moor in the west, and from Aberfoyle in the south to the Pass of Drumochter in the north. In total, the county boundaries, encroaching upon the little county of Kinross, sandwiched between the Kingdom of Fife and Clackmannanshire, encompass 5,286 square kilometres.

Travelling towards the City of Perth from the Forth Road Bridge, the M90 bi-passes the small town of Kinross. Turn left on the A977, and skirt around the giant ivory-coloured NATO communications golf ball, or take the A91 from Milnathort to Stirling. From Kinross, the route swings into the Ochil foothills of Strathallan and Strathearn leading through the picturesque villages of Rumbling Bridge, the Wicks o' Baiglie, the Yetts o' Muckhart and the Crook of Devon, climbing north to Dunning and Forteviot and through Gleneagles to the world-famous golfing resort next to the long town of Auchterarder.

Kinross still basks in a certain celebrity from being on the shore of Loch Leven where in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned within its island castle. Loch Leven is nowadays a National Nature Reserve. but during the summer months you can take a boat to the now ruined island fortress. In July, the area resounds to the sounds of rock bands at the annual T in the Park, held at the Balado Activity Centre.

Overlooking Loch Leven is the magnificent Kinross House. Built by Sir William Bruce, the 17th century architect responsible for re-styling such iconic buildings as Thirlestane Castle at Lauder, Hopetoun House at South Queensferry, and Holyrood Palace, it passed to the Montgomerie Family and since 2013, under new ownership, is being leased out for VIP hospitality events. Nowadays, the M90 bi-passes the villages Milnathort, Glenfarg, and Bridge of Earn, affording a serene tranquility to the rich farmland on either side and reaching a plateau as the road turns a corner to approach the City of Perth which sits on the banks of the River Tay.

Until the nineteenth century, Perth provided the lowest crossing point of the River Tay as it travels from Loch Tay in the distant west to the port of the City of Dundee to the east where it meets the sea. On the western side of Perth, the M90 tracks south to Edinburgh, with the A9 continuing north to Inverness. Across the river from Perth's City Centre, the A90, overlooked by Kinnoull Hill, speeds along the banks of the Tay towards Dundee and the coastal road to Montrose and Aberdeen, with the A85 heading immediately north to Blairgowrie and to Forfar and Kirriemuir in Angus.

For centuries a wealthy market town before it gained City status, Perth has certainly seen its fair share of drama. An infamous clan battle was fought here in the fourteenth century between Clan Chattan and Clan Kay on the North Inch by Royal Decree. n 1437, King James I of Scotland, staying at the Blackfriars Monastery, a Dominican Friary, was murdered by his uncle Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl. However, Atholl's ambitions were dashed by Queen Joan, who although wounded, escaped to Edinburgh Castle to be reunited with her son who succeeded his father as James II.

In 1559, following a sermon by the Reformer John Knox in St John's Kirk, the Scottish Reformation was launched but only after the religious houses of Greyfriars and Blackfriars were ransacked and destroyed by Knox's followers. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Perth was seized and occupied by Jacobite supporters during all three of the Jacobite Risings.

For visitors, modern Perth provides a busy hub of retail activity complemented by a vibrant cultural life. On the High Street and in St John's Shopping Centre can be found all of the major brands you might expect in an upmarket and affluent area. In the surrounding streets. Perth enjoys one of Scotland’s best selections of independent specialist shops, retailing an exciting range of designer label couture and street clothes, antiques and collectibles, art and crafts, home furnishings, fine china and glass, leather goods and jewellery, both antique and modern.

In the city centre stands the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Fair Maid's House, Perth's oldest surviving secular building, now a visitor and education centre where the planet earth can be viewed from space. In the Rhynd is Elcho Castle, one of Scotland's best preserved sixteenth century tower houses. Another intriguing visitor attraction is Stanley Mills established as a cotton mill in 1786.

On the western edge of the North Inch stands the Bell's Sports Centre. Enthusiasts for military history will want to explore the adjacent Balhousie Castle in Hay Street which in addition to housing the regimental museum of the Black Watch Regiment, provides a superb restaurant and coffee house.

Perth Theatre, a Victorian playhouse in the High Street, is currently closed for a £15million re-build. The Perth Museum & Art Gallery houses a remarkable collection of fine and applied art and natural history. In a former waterworks on Marshall Street is housed The Fergusson Gallery which consists of a collection of the works of the J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961), the renowned Scottish colourist, and his wife, the pioneering dance chorographer Margaret Morris.

Lovers of gardens should find their way over one of the bridges to the Branklyn Garden on Dundee Street, managed by the National Trust for Scotland. In the summer months this is a blaze of colour from its plantings of rhododendrons, herbaceous and peat-garden plants.

Seasonal out-of-door attractions in and around a suprisingly compact area encompass the monthly Farmers' Markets and race meetings at the Perth Racecourse, which adjoins the Scone Palace estate. For children (and adults, of course), there is the Perth Leisure Pool situated next door to Dewar’s Centre which offers curling, skating and bowling facilities.

No visit to Perth can be complete without a visit to Scone Palace on the northern side of the River Tay and in close proximity to Moot Hill and Scone Chapel, which occupies the remains of Scone Abbey. A replica of the Stone of Destiny, the legendary Jacob's Pillow, is displayed here. The “official” original (some say that it was replaced with a lump of red sandstone and removed for safekeeping by the Abbot of Scone when Edward I of England invaded in the late thirteenth century), was returned to Scotland in 1996 and is on show at Edinburgh Castle.

The Gothic-style Scone “palace”, so called for its Royal association, was begun around 1803 by the eighth Earl of Mansfield and has remained largely unaltered. In 1842, in the Long Gallery, Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort witnessed a demonstration of curling upon the polished wooden flooring, and afterwards Prince Albert agreed to become the first president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Although open to the public, Scone Palace remains the family home of Lord and Lady Stormont, son and daughter -in-law of the eighth Earl & Countess of Mansfield, and it is filled with fine Dresden and Sèvres porcelain, paintings, ceramics, clocks and furniture, acquired by this enormously influential sept of Clan Murray.

Held annually in the grounds are the Scottish Game Fair, the Central Scotland International Horse Trials, and a series of energetic tournaments organised by the Perth & Dundee Polo Club. Scone Palace is also a popular venue for antique fairs and weddings.

From Perth, either from the town or from the south over a bridge from the M90, there is the option of joining the A93 and travelling north to Blairgowrie and Rattray, passing the world's largest beech hedge on the Marquis of Lansdowne's Meiklour estate, or on the A90 heading east to Inchture, Invergowrie and Dundee. A diversion to the Scottish Antiques and Arts Centre at Abernyte is recommended.

At Blairgowrie and Rattray, which straddle the Ericht River, is the Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum. From the road can be seen Craighall Castle, the dramatically situated ancestral fortress of the Rattray Clan. To the west of Blairgowrie is Ardblair Castle, seat of the Blair Oliphant family and setting for the annual Blairgowrie Highland Games in early September. Nearby is Newton Castle, home of the Chief of Clan Macpherson. At the Spittal of Glenshee is the ancient gathering ground of Clan MacThomas, a member of Clan Chattan.

Skiing commenced at Glenshee in 1957 when Dundee Ski Club built its first ski tow. The Glenshee Chairlift Company was formed in the 1960s, and although seasonal climate change has impacted dramatically on the snow falls ever since, the sport still flourishes between January and April.

Travelling west on the A85 from Perth, the road leads through Methven to Crieff, Comrie and Lochearn. Crieff is the principle town of Strathearn and remains a popular holiday resort. Situated in 900 acres, Crieff Hydro, one of Scotland's most celebrated health spas, dates from 1868.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the town was one of Scotland's most important cattle “trysts”, and the Crieff Visitor Centre features a Highland Drovers exhibition. Outside of the town, is the Glenturret Distillery, home of the Famous Grouse Experience. Also in the vicinity are the glorious gardens of historic Drummond Castle and MacRosty Park, with its specimen trees and children's play areas.

Next stop is Comrie, which lies astride a geological fault line. Tremors are unlikely but all the same the “Shaky Toun”, as it is sometimes known, boasts an Earthquake House housing record from 1597. All around these hamlets is superb walking country, a notable excursion being from Lednock to the Deil's Cauldron with its thrilling waterfall. Loch Earn, and Lochearnhead village, where Pertshire spills into Stirlingshire, are superb destinations for angling and water sports enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, from Perth the A9 heads north past Dunkeld, Pitlochrie and Blair Atholl towards Inverness, bi-passing the Perthshire Visitor Centre at Bankfoot. Turn off to visit the small towns of Stanley and Murthly. On one side, the Kinnaird esate, home of the Ward family, provides luxurious bed and breakfast accommodation, and on the other side, Balathie House, once home to a branch of the Robertson family, is today a fine country house hotel.

Murthly Castle on the west side of Birnam Hill, featured prominently in William Shakespeare's Macbeth and once a Royal Hunting Lodge, is today owned by the Steuart Fotheringham family. In close proximity is the little village of Birnam, beloved as a holiday escape by the childrens' writer Beatrix Potter.

Dominating the town of Dunkeld is Dunkeld Cathedral which allegedly once contained the relics of St Columba, and there is a castle museum housed within the grounds. The Hermitage accessed on the western side of the A9, is a delightful pleasure garden maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. Created by successive dukes of Atholl as a tribute to the mythical blind poet Ossian, it contains the legendary man's cave and a hall of mirrors.

At Ballinluig, the A827 leads to Aberfeldy, a busy market town which features the Dewar's World of Whisky Visitor Centre. The bridge over the Tay here was built in the eighteenth century by General Wade as part of his strategy to police the turbulent Highland clans. The Birks of Aberfeldy, celebrated by the poet Robert Burns, consists of a gorge designated a Site of Specific Scientific Interest and which provides a challenging scenic walk. At the mouth of Glen Lyon is the village of Fortingall, once a Roman settlement and although Germany makes a similar claim, is alleged by the 16th century chonicler Raphael Holinshed to be the birthplace of Pontius Pilate whose father, it is claimed was serving with the Roman Legions.

On the road to Kenmore on the banks of Loch Tay, the road swings past Menzies Castle, hereditary home of the Clan Menzies and which is open to the public. The opening of the salmon season is celebrated annually in January at Kenmore which sits at the gates of Taymouth Castle, the magnificent ancestral seat of the Campbells of Breadalbane. It was here in 1842 that Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert stayed as guests of the Marquess of Breadalbane. Nowadays there is an 18-hole golf course in the grounds which is open to membership.

Both Queen Victoria and her husband were enchanted by the glorious scenery on all sides and returning to Scotland two years later to stay as guests of Lord Glenlyon at Blair Castle, decided that they had to have a home of their own in the Scottish Highlands. Within six years they had purchased the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire.

Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the Queen set off on a picnic with her personal ghillie John Brown and the Royal party settled to enjoy the breathtaking view of Loch Tummel with the distant Glencoe hills in the far distance. This spot, which features on the road north, is known as The Queen's View.

The earls and dukes of Atholl descend from a Flemish nobleman who came to Scotland in the twelfth century and, for his services, was granted extensive lands by David I of Scotland. He married into the old line of the Mormaers of Moray from whom the family name of Murray originates. Freskin's descendants consistently supported the Royal House of Stewart and are still in possession of the same lands, even though one of their number, Lord George Murray, younger son of the first Duke of Atholl, played a prominent part in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. It is a classic example of a family backing both sides in a conflict.

In the nineteenth century, the picturesque town of Pitlochry became a popular holiday resort. In 1947, a dam was built here as part of the Tummel Hydro Electric Power Scheme and since then a fish ladder has been introduced, a popular visitor attraction.

There are also two distilleries to be found here – The Blair Atholl Distillery and Edradour, which is Scotland's smallest. Both provide visitor centres and manufacture distinctive single malts.

The innovative Pitlochry Festival Theatre was opened in 1851 by John Stewart, and the current building at Port-na-Craig opened its doors in 1981. On its doorstep are Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion, the latter's summit claiming to be at the very centre of Scotland. Overlooking Loch Faskally is the award winning Fonab Castle, a baronial tower house built by Lieutenant-Colonel George Glas Sandeman in 1892, and splendidly refurbished as a luxury hotel.

On 27th July 1689, a great battle was fought at Killiecrankie by the army of William of Orange against the Jacobite-supporting Scottish clans. Although the Jacobites won, their leader John Graham of Claverhouse was killed in action. It is recorded that the night before the batle, a haunting red glow appeared over the landscape as a warning of doom.

Gleaming white within the trees on the slopes of the Grampian mountains can be seen the Murray stronghold of Blair Castle. Built in the thirteenth century, it was the last castle in Britain to come under siege.

Over four days in August it is home to The Blair Castle International Horse Trials, with the annual Glenfiddich Fiddling Championships, held here in October. It is also the official headquarters of the Keepers of the Quaich, formed within the Scotch Whisky Industry.

Nearby is the House of Bruar, opened in 1995, and which provides a luxurious retail, antiques and restaurant experience for thousands of visitors every year.

Where to stay
Atholl Arms Hotel
Blair Atholl
Cosy, old style hostelry situated close to the
entrance gates of
Blair Castle.
Tel: +44 (0)1790 481 205

Ballathie House Hotel
An elegant country house on the River Tay. An ideal retreat for
anglers and hillwalkers.
Tel: +44 (0)1250 883 268

Cairn Lodge Hotel
Part of the Aurora Collecton Hotel group and the interior decoration is stylish and modern.
Centrally located.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 662 634

Crieff Hydro
A substantial resort
located on a hillside
with lots of family
things to do. There are five restaurants.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 655 555

Fonab Castle
A luxuriously renovated Victorian tower house ovelooking Loch Faskaly. Literally next door to the Pitlochry Theatre.
Tel: 01796 470 140

The Gleneagles Hotel
One of Scotland’s finest holiday spas with many outdoor activities on hand. With three championship golf courses
Tel: +44 (0)1764 662 23

near Kinbuck
Recently acquired by tennis superstar Andy Murray, has been
extensively re-furbished and modernised.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 822 125

The Four Seasons
St Fillans
A small and engaging hotel in a spectacular setting. The Beatles stayed here in 1964
Tel: +44 (0)1764 885 333

Fortingall Hotel
near Aberfeldy
Close to Loch Tay, there is a large range of outdoor activities on offer. Fine dining and log fires during winter months.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 367

The Green Hotel Golf & Leisure Resort
A golf and leisure resort, there are 5,000 acres to explore with five restaurants and bars.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 367

Dalmunzie Castle
Spital of Glenshee
A castelated laird's
mansion in the foothills of Glenshee. The
restaurant enjoys a
“Notable Wine List”
Tel: +44 (0)1250 885 224

Murrayshall Hotel
Surrounded by two 18-hole golf courses, this secluded mansion house is only a short distance from the City of Perth.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 561 171

Where to visit
Blair Castle
Blair Atholl
Ancestral home of the dukes and earls of Atholl. It is also the headquarters of Britain's only private army.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 481 207

Scone Palace
Ancestral home of the earls of Mansfield, the house is filled with
treasures collected from France and the Empire.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 552 300

Scottish Crannog
Loch Tay
An authentic re-creation of a Celtic loch-dwelling and now a 5-Star
Visitor Centre.
Tel: +44 (0)188 830 583

Castle Menzies
The home of the chiefs of Clan Menzies, and ghosts of the past
occasionally make themselves known to visitors.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 820 982

The Black Watch Castle & Museum
Balhousie Castle, Perth
A home base for the 300 year history of Scotland's most renowned
Highland regiment.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 636 152

The Famous Grouse Experience
One of Scotland's
most renowned and
oldest distilleries.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 656 565

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Throughout the year
this theatre company
presents a lively
programme of events
Tel: +44 (0)1796 484 626

The Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder
Part of the Pitlochry Dam to allow the
migration of thousands of Atlantic salmon.

Dewar's World of Whisky
Distilling at its best.
Visitors are given the full tour and provided with
a sample to enjoy.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 583

The Hermitage
This attractive woodland walk, owned by the
National Trust for
Scotland, leads through large Douglas firs.

The House of Bruar
by Blair Atholl
This prestigious complex of retailing, food hall, restaurant and antiques is situated just off
the A9.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 483 236

Beatrix Potter Exhibition
The childrens' writer Beatrix Potter enjoyed summer holidays and found inspiration here.
Tel: +44 (0)1350 727 674

Where to Eat

Restaurant Andrew Fairlie @ Gleneagles
With two Michelin stars, this is a sumptuous
setting for dining that will linger in the memory.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 694 267

The North Port Restaurant
City centre eatery serving up contemporary cuisine in an histroic setting. Poplar with locals.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 580 867

63 Tay Street
Imaginative dishes from one of Scotland's finest restaurants situated in city centre and on the banks of the River Tay.
Tel: +44 (0)1250 883 268

Killiecrankie Hotel
Family run hotel with
superb restaurant and bar, serving a four course table d'hote menu.
Tel: +44 (0)1796 473 220

The Apron Stage
Only 18 seats but well worth booking in
advance if you can.
A touch of France in the rural heart of Perthshire.
Tel: +44 (0)1739 828 888

Jon and Fernando's Restaurant
Set in an old cottage, the surroundings are warm and intimate.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 662 442

Pig' Halle Brasserie & Restaurant
Once again France comes to Scotland,
this time with a
Parisian taste.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 248 784

The Roost Restaurant
Kintillo, Bridge of Earn
A corner restaurant a bit off the beaten track but much applauded for its menu. All is home made using local ingredients.
Tel: +44 (0)1738 812 111

Fern Cottage
Restaurant & Teahouse
A charming stone built cottage, this hostelry is popular with locals
Tel: +44 (0)1796 473 840

The Laird's House
A cafe/restaurant and shop, this is an ideal place to take the kids as there is a play corner available all day.
Tel: +44 (0)1250 872 292

Tormaukin Inn
The dark beams and huge fireplace add to the ambiance. Great home made produce
Tel: +44 (0)1259 781 252

Barley Bree
A converted coaching inn at the centre of a busy village. The rustic, but classical cooking utilises local ingredients.
Tel: +44 (0)1764 681 451