A Scottish adventure outdoors and indoors
ANDY CRONSHAW explores the charms of Pitlochry while staying at the wonderful Killiecrankie House Hotel
THERE’S a feeling as you head north on the A9 towards Pitlochry that adventure beckons.
The scenery becomes ever more dramatic, the leaves seemingly ever greener, the trees ever bigger and the mountains ever more imposing.
This is the world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, where the sun can scorch by day but the night can freeze you to the bone, even during the summer.
Just near to the tranquil surrounds of Killiecrankie House Hotel is a path that leads down to the steep, rocky banks of the River Garry.
Near to the bottom of the path is a viewing point for ‘Soldier’s Leap’.
As legend has it, there, in 1689, when a Jacobite force overwhelmed William II’s supporters at the battle of Killiecrankie, a soldier escaped his attackers by leaping across a rock to the other side of the river.
It’s the sort of romantic, dashing tale for which the scenery of Pitlochry is made.
The site is on the doorstep of our wonderful accommodation at Killiecrankie House.
It’s run with effortless charm by owner Henrietta Fergusson, who presides over the building’s tasteful interior, fine-dining kitchen and beautifully manicured gardens.
The gardens are a thing of wonder, with breathtaking views of Ben Vrackie. There are rolling lawns of championship golf standard, huge trees, and flower beds that tantalise the senses.
Further investigations reveal a kitchen garden bursting with produce, much of which gets sent inside for the shipshape cooking of headchef Mark Easton. Once inside the dining room there is a comforting but gentrified atmosphere, making you feel as if you were the guest of a rather posh but relaxed Scottish relative.
The cooking is high-end but it’s fine dining without fiddle.
Highlights were a ragout of wild mushrooms with tagliatelle and a chive cream sauce, and a grilled fillet of cod with crayfish and a petit pois risotto.
The standout dish, however, was a roast supreme of chicken served with shallot and brie mousse, rosti potato, creamed broccoli and sautéed wild mushrooms.
To balance a plate where there’s so much going on is a fine art and here the chef had managed it with aplomb.
And to match the fine food there’s a state-of-theart wine list which is fun and by no means prohibitively expensive. In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve come across at a smaller hotel such as this one. With a mix of fish and chicken on the table we opted for an excellent Rioja blanca from Tejada with discreet oak and a very reasonable price tag.
Invigorated by our hearty meal we headed out for the great outdoors the next day in the summer sun. There’s plenty of options for thrill seekers and those looking for gentler pastimes.
Great country houses and castles populate the landscapes in a way that makes Americans drool. There’s Blair Atholl, residence of the Duke of Atholl, and Scone Palace, residence of the Earl of Mansfield to name but two. And birders and wildlife lovers will find no end of pleasures in among the hills. There’s a glut of mountain bike trails in these parts – remembering that Scotland poses no restrictions on cyclists who wish to ride mountain footpaths.
For a couple and a three-and-a-half-year-old child a scenic bike ride was a great option so we headed into Pitlochry to the very friendly Escape Route bike shop to pick up a couple of mountain bikes and a trailer for the nipper.
Furnished with a map we headed over to the nearby Tay Forest trails which offer well-surfaced routes in among the trees and around a large pond which is an offshoot of Loch Faskally.
It was here that we were greeted by the astonishing sight of water lily pads covering almost the entirety of the watery expanse. Feeling as if we had stepped into a real-life Monet, we sat down to eat our lunch, buoyed by the surroundings which were the finest backdrop for a cheese and onion butty I can remember.
On our return, it was time to sample a cream tea in Pitlochry’s picture postcard high street.
Next time I’ll make time to visit one of the many distilleries dotted about, including Blair Athol or Edradour – the smallest but one of the most picturesque in Scotland.