The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and Dundee)
Armed with charm
A Black Watch armoury in Pitlochry became an acclaimed restaurant and is now an impressive family home and holiday let. Jack McKeown takes a journey through its history
The Old Armoury’s owner, David Dickson, points at a corner of his dining room.
“If you rip away that wood panelling there are bullet marks in the wall,” he explains.
“The soldiers used to sit over there” (he gestures towards the living room) “and shoot at targets on the wall. As with darts you’d get marks in the wall where people missed. Only in this case it was bullets instead of darts...”
The Old Armoury was built for The Black Watch around 1900 and was used by the historic Scottish regiment in the First World War.
When the army outgrew the modest armoury it became a restaurant, which saw a sizeable extension added.
David, 57, and his wife Aileen, 56, bought the property five years ago.
They applied for a change of use back to residential and rolled up their sleeves to turn it into a home.
“We were both working in Glasgow and travelling up on Friday evenings to spend the weekend renovating the place,” David says.
“A lot of the time staying here was like indoor camping – we stripped the house right back to the bones.”
When David and Aileen were made redundant within a few months of one another they packed up their stuff and moved in full-time.
The couple annexed one end of the house, creating a one-bedroom holiday cottage which David says has been successfully let almost from the get-go and has five stars on Trip Advisor.
The main house has four bedrooms, living room, sitting room, dining room,
kitchen, garden room and two bathrooms.
The garden room was added around 10 years ago as a restaurant extension and draws in plenty of sunshine. French doors open on to decking.
Signs of the building’s storied past are everywhere.
The living room has a section off it that would once have been the restaurant bar: David was keen to keep this in place but Aileen overruled him.
Metal bars cover a hallway window, which used to lead into the armoury’s weapons room.
The main house is divided from the holiday let by a partition wall containing a deep bookcase.
“There was originally a doorway there but I didn’t want guests having a door that didn’t open so I put up a wall,” David explains. “If the new owner wants to reinstate it as one big house it would be easy to do.”
David did much of the renovation work himself. “I didn’t know all that much about DIY when I started but you pick things up a piece at a time,” he continues. “When I got stuck on something I’d call in a professional.”
The house needed plenty of work. After stripping the old commercial facilities away and fitting the trappings of a modern home the couple still had to tackle the garden.
“It was all hard-standing,” David remembers. “The whole lot was carpark.”
Today it’s a mixture of lawn, patio, timber decking, parking and rockeries. There’s an ornamental stone well with its own gargoyle, “Jimmy,” and another gargoyle peers down from one of the Old Armoury’s walls.
David says renovating the house from scratch was a daunting but rewarding experience.
“The great thing is it’s a blank canvas,” he reckons. “You’re free to make changes.
“I’d taken out the old commercial kitchen and measured up for new units. I was on the verge of ordering them when I thought: this isn’t where I want the kitchen. It would be much better in the next room. So we put it there instead.”
One of the Old Armoury’s strongest suits is its location. It sits just 100 metres from Pitlochry rail station and less than two minutes’ walk from the town’s main street.
Despite this proximity to the heart of the Highland Perthshire town, the house feels as if it’s deep in the countryside.
It’s surrounded by woodland, while Loch Faskally and Pitlochry Dam are very close at hand.
“Being round the corner from the station is great,” David says.
“We have people coming up from all over the UK and Europe to stay in the holiday cottage.
“They love just getting off the train and walking round the corner with their luggage. It also makes Britain incredibly accessible for us. We can walk out of our front door and hop on the sleeper to London.”
Once they’ve sold the Old Armoury David and Aileen plan to travel.
“Our kids are grown up so we’ve no ties, we own a great campervan and the world is our oyster,” Aileen says.
“I don’t know where we’ll go first – maybe Spain or France – but it will be a great adventure.”