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Loch Tay

Blair CastleStanding near the village of Blair Atholl, Blair Castle
(Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, +44 1796 481207, £6.95) is an impressive white-washed castle with turrets owned by the Duke of Atholl, who visits every May to check on his own private army, the Atholl Highlanders.  The Atholl Highlands are the only legal private army in the United Kingdom—the duke owes this privilege to the castle’s erstwhile visitor, Queen Victoria, who stayed here in 1844.  The original castle dates back from the 13th century, but to this day, almost none of the original structure remains, having been remodeled extensively through the years.  Thirty rooms are open for viewing to the public.  The entrance hall greets visitors with its imposing (and rather scary) collection of weaponry (accompanied by description for each) covering the wall.  The impressive dining hall gives guests a picture of antediluvian Highland luxury living, and the vast ballroom takes us back in time, when it was used to host many Highland gatherings and balls.

The grounds are free for all to explore, featuring a historic landscape, a walled garden and a red deer park.  The castle itself is near the River Garry.



PitlochryPitlochry has largely been a Victorian resort town ever since Queen Victoria visited it in the 1800s, and ever since, it has thrived on tourism.  Nowadays, it is also quite popular among people stopping over on the way to the Highlands, and a perfect for those exploring the rest of Central Scotland.  It tends to get crowded with coach tours, especially during the summer. Most visitors are attracted by the many nature treks that the landscape of the burgh affords on, being set against the Ben Vrackie mountain. It is also crowded with quite a few shops intended for tourists, so beware of those.  As a result, there are very few authentic stops in town.  They include Scotland’s smallest distillery, the Edradour Distillery (Village of Moulin, +44 1796 472095, £5) which is set in a village by the hills east of the burgh. It holds the distinction of being the last farm distillery in the county. 

You can also visit the “Theatre in the Hills”, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre (Port Na Craig, +44 1796 484626, price depends on the show) which hosts a variety of entertainment courtesy of the local repertoire company, among others, during the summer and winter.  It is set in a picturesque area by the River Tummel.  



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Dunmurray Lodge (72 Bonnethill Road, +44 1796 473624, £30-35).  In this bed and breakfast, even the standard room looks decidedly first class, with large comfortable beds tranquil lighting, and airy atmosphere.  Each room is tastefully decorated, nothing too extravagant, but simply lush things to ensure a good night’s sleep.  It is a picture-pretty bed and breakfast set in a Victorian guest house.

A hostel set in a former hotel, the Pitlochry Backpackers Hotel
(134 Atholl Road, +44 1796 470044, £40-45) has friendly staff, tiny but clean rooms.  The common rooms are also clean, and you are provided with the basic amenities that you should need.  Its downtown location is also convenient.

Green Park Hotel (Clunie Bridge Road, +44 1796 473248, £66-78).  West of Pitlochry, overlooking the Loch Faskally, this eco-friendly family-run hotel has long been established as having one of the most enviable locations for Pitlochry hotels.  Some may feel that the steady elderly clientele is a little off-putting, as well as the furnishings.  The staff members are very accommodating, making you feel right at home.

Craigatin House and Courtyard (165 Atholl Road, +44 1796 472478, £70-83).  The combination of Victorian town house structure with luxurious chic interiors makes this guest house one of the best accommodations among the many that dot the burgh.  Every room is spacious, and no detail is overlooked here.  There is no central free Wi-Fi, but internet is available in the main room.

Moulin Hotel (Moulin, +44 1796 472196, £75) has been in the business for years, and is considered one of the landmarks of the burgh itself.  It prides itself on traditional Scottish hospitality, and maintains the traditional look, which may bother people who are expecting boutique-style accommodations. 



Dunkeld CathedralGoing towards the Scottish Highlands from Perth on the A9, on the eastern side of the River Tay, Dunkeld is one of the most pleasant preserved towns in Perthshire, Its present layout follows the direction of the River Tay and is surrounded by gently rolling countryside. 

Dunkeld Cathedral interiorIts biggest pride is the charming party-ruined Dunkeld Cathedral (+44 1350 727688), with only the fourteenth century choir and the roofless eighteenth century nave still remaining.  The choir, which was restored in the 1600s, now houses the parish church.  The ruined cathedral is beautifully situated on the east side of the River Tay, amidst gentle gardens.

Just cross the Telford Bridge and you will reach Dunkeld’s sister village of Birnam.  It owes its popularity to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where you can have a tranquil afternoon exploring the woodlands and the tiny park dedicated to author Beatrix Potter, who spent her childhood taking holidays here.



This postcard-pretty village filled with thatched cottages situated at the entrance of Glen Lyon, the longest enclosed glen in the country, is home to possibly the oldest living thing in all of Europe, the Fortingall Yew.  It is estimated to be about five thousand years old, and lives in an enclosed village churchyard.  Village legend claims that the village is the birthplace of Pontius Pilate.

If you choose Fortingall as your base for your trip around Central Scotland, you can do no wrong with Fortingall Hotel (+44 1887 830367, £80), a charming and traditional country hotel with great views that depend on which room you book.  The rooms are less than traditional, and great for their modern comfort.


Iron Age Crannog, Loch TayLoch Tay is a fourteen-mile long body of fresh water, with thick forests and majestic mountains flanking it, the most imposing of which is Ben Lawers, which is one of the highest peaks in all of Britain, and the tallest in Perthshire. 

At the northern banks of Loch Tay stands the village of Kenmore, which is a good base for exploring the surrounding woodlands of the loch.  While in Kenmore, you should treat yourself to a visit to one of Britain’s best heritage museums, the Scottish Crannog Centre (£6.50).  The museum celebrates the Iron-age heritage of the region, when dwellers lived on crannogs, which are houses on stilts over the Loch Tay.  A crannog is reconstructed to give visitors a better look into how it was back then, more than two thousand years ago, even furnishing the dwelling place with archeological digs.

Spend at least a night at Kenmore Hotel (The Square, +44 1887 830205), which prides itself on being Scotland oldest accommodation.  Though at some parts of the hotel, the age certainly shows, there is a lot to love here, including its cozy fireplace.  You will do better eating out, though, as the food in the hotel is simply average at best.


Perth and the River TayDespite losing much of its royal significance early on, Perth (pop  45 000) thrives on, and is still one of Scotland’s prettiest towns, blessed with both well-preserved remnants of history and recent development.  The “Fair City” (thanks to Sir Walter Scott’s 1828 novel “The Fair Maid of Perth”) was once the capital of Scotland; the existence of the Stone of Destiny in nearby Scone Abbey gave it an even more considerable position among Scottish royal burghs.  The seventeenth century was not kind to the town, though, but it managed to survive, and by eighteenth century, it managed to grow because of its local whisky industry.  Nowadays, its variety of dignified architectural treasures, galleries that celebrate its heritage, and the parklands that surround it, make Perth a worthwhile day trip destination from nearby cities Edinburgh and Glasgow.

'Le Voile Persan' J.D.  Furgusson  Fergusson Gallery (Marshall Place, +44 1738 783425, free).  Set in a Victorian sandstone water tower (formerly the Perth Waterworks), the Fergusson Gallery is home to an extensive collection of J.D. Fergusson’s art works.  J.D. Fergusson was one of the most important and most influential Scottish colourists, famous for seamlessly combining influences from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to create a voice that’s all his own.  The collection of the gallery not only includes his oil pieces, but also notebooks of his drafts and sketches, as well as sculpture. 

Aside from celebrating Fergusson’s legacy, the gallery also fuses in his love story with partner Margaret Morris, who was a renowned figure in modern dance.  The gallery has collections of their correspondences to weave in a romantic narrative transcending different art media. 

None of the original structure of the church consecrated in the twelfth century still stands, but St John’s Kirk
(St John’s Place, +44 8452 255121, donation £1 welcome) remains the oldest structure in Perth, with the medieval streets planned around it.  The oldest part of the church, the choir, was built in the 15th century.  The rest of the present structure has been rebuilt many times, including the interiors, which were ransacked after the Reformation of Scotland.  The church itself played a huge role in this pivotal point in the country’s religious history.  It was where John Knox gave the influential speech that would spark riots across the town and the country, and would eventually change the predominant faith of the country. 

Portrait of Thomas DuncanNortheast of Perth you will find one of the oldest museums in the United Kingdom, the Perth Museum
(78 George Street, +44 1738 632488, free).  It dates back from the founding of the Antiquarian Society of Perth in the 18th century.  The structure, as it stands now, was built opened in 1935.  The glass dome, upon entering the gallery, greets visitors and ensures one that this is a museum proud not just of its extensive permanent collection, but also of the structure that holds it. 

Its permanent collection illustrates the town’s history, and includes a collection of antiquity from the town’s parish church, St John’s Kirk, a geological display illustrating Perthshire’s diverse geology, and even the economic and social history of the town.  Occasionally, it hosts several temporary exhibitions as well.

Black Watch Castle and MuseumThe historic Balhousie Castle located beside the North Inch in Perth houses the Black Watch Museum
(Hay Street, +44 1738 638152, £4), which honors the legacy of one of Scotland’s most important regiment.  In seven rooms inside the castle, you will find the history of the regiment, the battles it fought from the time it was formed in the 18th century, to its years in the Second World War.  The displays in the rooms are arranged in a neatly organized and chronological order for accessibility. 

The Balhousie Castle itself is no longer what it once was.  Almost none of its original structure remains, when it was rebuilt in the nineteenth century, after it suffered neglect.

Owing much of its iconic status to the novel by Sir Walter Scott, Fair Maid’s House is the oldest existing house in Perth.  Located in the erstwhile industrial suburb of Curfew Row, the house still contains authentic medieval parts, but has been restored in the nineteenth century.  In 2010-2011, there is a plan to turn the house into an exhibition centre for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Scone PalaceScone (pronounced ‘skoon’) was the erstwhile capital of Pictavia, and it was on the site where the present Scone Palace
(north of Perth, +44 1738 552300, £9) stands that many of Scotland’s royalty were crowned, starting with Kenneth MacAlpine, who began this tradition by bringing the Stone of Destiny to the former capital (it is now in the Edinburgh Castle). 

Scone Palace, which can be reached from Perth on the A93, only holds the memory of kings being crowned, but it does not bear any physical evidence of this.  It is, however, one of the most beautiful historic mansions in Scotland, a Georgian mansion now owned and settled in by the Earl and Countess of Mansfield.  This make the interiors seem grand yet still friendly.  The grounds feature a maze that is made in the pattern of the family crest.

Pitcullen Guest House
(17 Pitcullen Crescent, +44 1738 626506, £30) is situated in a residential area that is ten minutes away from the centre, and five minutes by car to the Scone Palace.  It has attracted many loyal guests, because of its homey atmosphere, clean and comfortable bedrooms, the friendly service, and the excellent Scottish breakfast. 

Clunie Guest House (12 Pitcullen Crescent, +44 1738 623625, £30-35).  Another Pitcullen Crescent guest house is this charming B&B, with only seven cozy rooms, all en-suite.  It is also a non-smoking establishment, perfect for families with children.  Make sure to ask for rooms at the back end of the house, because noise from the traffic can permeate in the front area, especially at night.

Parklands Hotel
(2 St. Leonard’s Bank, +44 1738 622451, £49.50-£64.50) is well-situated near the railway station, and provides great views of the South Inch Park.  It is central to the town without being too immersed in the inevitable chaos of the city centre.  It is consistently one of the most awarded hotels in the area, and it is easy to see why.  The hotel manages to combine the antiquated quality of the house while at the same time providing modern comfort to the guests, with modern furnishings and free Wi-Fi access.  The rooms, though well-equipped, vary greatly in size, which may surprise (and sometimes irritate) guests.

Kinnaird Guest House (5 Marshall Place, +44 1738 628021, £65).  This simple guest house which has Georgian elements in its structure has six en-suite rooms available.  Everything is designed for your comfort here, including the extra touches in the superior rooms.