Aberfeldy

Aberfeldy is a lovely little Perthshire town. If you visit there, it is compulsory to go to the Watermill, a combined bookshop, art gallery and cafe. All are equally good. The current exhibition is late prints by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, in the centenary year of her birth, and is well worth seeing. I also learned that her father was a founder of the Carbeth huts community just outside Glasgow which is still going strong today. Every time we have visited the Watermill they have had a significant exhibition – it’s amazing for a place of its size. And yes, the food is good too. We had morning coffee then went for a walk before returning for lunch. The Watermill is an ideal mix of services from my point of view, and I hope it continues to be successful.

The Watermill, back and front:

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Our walk was the Birks of Aberfeldy, a circular path up and down a narrow gorge with waterfalls. The last time we visited here was in the harsh winter of 2009/10 and everything had frozen. Today was chilly and damp, but it was nice to see the falls in action.

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With that, our weekend away ended and it was back down the A9 to Glasgow and work tomorrow.

Glen Lyon

I’ve wanted to visit Glen Lyon for ages because I had heard it was really beautiful. Fortingall, where we stayed the weekend, is just at the mouth of Glen Lyon which didn’t disappoint when we explored it on Sunday. We drove from one end to the other and then climbed Meall Buidhe, the first time I’ve done a Munro in ages, and boy, did my legs feel it! However, the views almost made up for the discomfort.

The glen is dammed in several places, and the walk started by rising above one of the dams, at Loch an Daimh:

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The ascent is very boggy, but the summit ridge is easier (if you don’t count getting snowed on!)

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You could see Loch Rannoch and Schiehallion, which was probably the last Munro I climbed, come to think of it:

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After all that effort, we felt we were due a reward and stopped at the tearoom further down the glen for a cuppa and a cream scone. It was full so we had to sit outside where we were amused by the antics of the local chaffinch population, especially when our neighbours failed to finish their scones (weirdos, huh?)

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I think this one has been in the habit of over-indulging on many occasions. That’s one fat bird!

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Fortingall

What is the oldest living thing in Europe? Apparently, this yew tree which is estimated to be about 5000 years old:

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You can find it in the Perthshire village of Fortingall where we’ve just spent a couple of nights in this lovely hotel:

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The whole village has an air of Arts and Crafts with, very unusually for Scotland, several thatched cottages:

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Another claim to fame is that the village is supposedly the birthplace of Pontius Pilate, following a visit by his father to the Caledonians as an emissary from Emperor Augustus, but that seems to be no more than a myth. Still, it makes a good story!

Innerpeffray Library & the Knock of Crieff

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I’ve wanted to visit Innerpeffray Library for years. Last weekend, when we stayed in Perth, I planned to visit on our way home but overlooked the fact that the library is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays. This weekend, we decided to go before the notion left us again. This was the plan: arrive in Crieff in time for a pub lunch, quickly visit the library when they opened for the afternoon at 2pm, then go for a long walk to work off lunch.

We had lunch in the Caledonian Bar in the centre of Crieff: one fish and chips, one mushroom stroganoff and two halves of Speckled Hen. All very good and served efficiently and with a smile and a chat. We then arrived at Innerpeffray just after 2pm, but the short visit lasted almost two hours! It was absolutely fascinating. Innerpeffray is the oldest free public lending library in Scotland. It was founded in 1680 in the church next door by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie, but the dedicated library building “only” dates from 1762. This makes 2012 its 250th anniversary and so the books in the display cases date from around that time – a time when 75% of adults in Scotland could read and write, compared to only 53% in England. Why would that be? Because by 1750 almost every Scottish town of any size had a lending library. This obviously resonates today when so many public libraries are under threat.

The reason our visit took so long is that, unlike other historic libraries we have visited such as Pepys’ Library in Cambridge, you can actually handle the books, not just look at the displays. Lara, the Library Manager, and the two volunteers on duty were absolutely excellent and so friendly. They chatted to us to find out our interests and then quickly found books that they thought we would like, even though (anathema to my librarian’s soul!) they were not in classified order. We spent ages browsing and reading, sometimes with books nearly 400 years old. You can also view the borrowers’ register from 1747 until lending ceased in the 1960s, and lists of 18th century desiderata. I strongly recommend that you check the link above to find out more about the library and then visit it. It costs £5 per person – excellent value. The pictures below show internal and external views – the church can also be visited, but is not open till April.

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(Update 1: 29/04/12 – for a good post on Innerpeffray, see the Georgian Gentleman blog.)

(Update 2: 10/05/12 – another blog Echoes from the Vault about a visit by Rare Books Librarians.)

(Update 3: 26/08/13 – read about my second visit, when the chapel was open. Also, check out author Helen Grant’s blog – she often writes about Innerpeffray.)

After a quick refreshment in the splendid café at Crieff Hydro, we went off for a shorter walk than planned. I found it hard to believe I had never been there before, but certainly have the Hydro marked down as a suitable place for a future weekend away.

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From the Hydro, we walked up to the Knock, a view-point above the hotel. It was dusk when we returned and the sky was lovely.

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As we walked back down through the hotel grounds, we got stuck behind a group of 10-12 young women, all beautifully dressed for a night out. The only trouble was, their shoes were so high that they were hirpling along like a gaggle of old grannies (hope that’s not too ageist), holding onto each other and the railings. They were happy to joke though – I offered to lend one my walking boots to get down the hill, and when we finally strode past them, another asked for a lift. Two of the more footsure can just be seen in this picture.

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I hope they had a lovely evening. And that they’re not crippled by the time they are 40. (Suppresses memory of 18-year-old self attempting a country walk in four-inch platforms.)

Kinnoull Hill

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As a post-script to our holiday, before we left for home this morning we spent an hour walking in Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park. The 222m hill rises over Perth just behind our hotel and from the ruined Kinnoull Tower, an 18th century folly, you can look down on the Tay and the road below.

Perth by night: where to stay and where to eat

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For our long weekend in Perth we chose the Sunbank House Hotel, as shown above. It’s across the river from the centre but it only takes a few minutes to walk in – always essential for us because we don’t want to have to drive to dinner. The Sunbank is number one on Trip Advisor for Perth and we certainly found it very comfortable, and enjoyed our breakfasts too. The staff member who welcomed us was extremely friendly and helpful and gave us lots of tips about what to do and where to eat, so we felt really at home. At £304 for four nights we thought this was good value for the standard.

We were astonished at how quiet Perth was when we went out to eat on Friday night. In Glasgow, the place is usually heaving. However, we soon discovered that everyone was inside all the restaurants we had been recommended! Walking slightly further out from the centre we went into Tabla which we discovered when we got back was number two on Trip Advisor, so we chose well. It’s an Indian, but because the owners are from South India, the menu was not just standard curries. We shared a dosa and some lentil patties to start, then had paneer tikka and a mixed vegetable dish with rice, a garlic nan and a couple of pints of Cobra. It was delicious and all freshly made – you have to wait about 20 minutes for the dosa because they make the pancake from scratch. Coming from Glasgow, we consider ourselves curry connoisseurs and this was up there with the best. Highly recommended and all for just under £50.

Almost next door to Tabla is a Thai restaurant, the Mae-Ping. It looked interesting and, like Tabla, well occupied but not full so we thought we’d have a good chance of getting in and would try it on Saturday evening. This decision was affirmed by Trip Advisor (9 in Perth) and our friend in the hotel who said it was owned by people from Thailand and therefore more authentic than the other Thai restaurant in town. Again, we were happy with our choice though wouldn’t put it in the same rank as Tabla. We had mixed vegetarian starters, some of which were a bit heavy on the batter, then I had a vegetarian red curry and John had a duck dish. Both were meant to be hot but seemed quite mild to us, though they were delicious. Again, the bill came to under £50 and this included a bottle of wine and jasmine tea, which we thought was a real bargain.

One of the restaurants we were recommended and couldn’t get into on Friday was Sante, so we made a reservation for Sunday night. It’s number 3 on Trip Advisor and I’m told the rib-eye steak was delicious (whisper it, “better than the Chip”). I had the vegetarian assiette, mixed vegetable tapas, which was nice but unexciting compared to other places I’ve had tapas, so I wouldn’t rate this place as highly as the others we have visited, or not for vegetarians at least. For two courses, wine and coffee we paid just over £60, so a little more expensive too. But the olives on arrival and the complimentary bread and oil were nice touches.

On Monday, our final evening, we had rather over-eaten at lunchtime and decided to go out a bit later just for one course. We went to Breizh, another of the restaurants that were very full on Friday. Its owners are from Brittany and it specialises in crepes, or galettes. We each had one and, being easily influenced, followed the suggestion on the menu to pair them with imported Breton cider, and very pleased with it we were too. With a couple of coffees, this came to £31, so our cheapest dinner, but a lot less (deliberately) to eat.

Overall, we have been very impressed with the range and standard of the restaurants in Perth, but if I had to choose my favourite, it would definitely be Tabla.

To finish, here are a few shots of Perth by night – the riverside, St John’s Church, the Salutation Hotel and the Concert Hall:

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Tomorrow, it’s back home, then back to work on Wednesday after a lovely break.

Blairgowrie: Cargill’s Leap and the Knockie

Today, it was sunny and bright again – perfect for walking. We decided to head for Blairgowrie because we liked the sound of Cargill’s Leap and the Knockie, a circular walk along the River Ericht, through rolling farmland and over the Knockie, a local viewpoint. In the 19th century, the mils here employed 1600 people – now some are derelict and others have been converted into apartments like the ones below. We also saw kayaks, Highland cattle and lots of trees.

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We started and finished at Cargill’s Bistro, first for morning coffee then, two hours later, for lunch. The soup and sandwich deal was so big that we had to go for another walk in the afternoon to work off some of the calories. Well, maybe we shouldn’t have chosen chips over salad! It was all very enjoyable anyway.

We knew nothing about the Ardblair Trail other than what we read on an information board in town. It took us on a circle through woods round the outskirts of Blairgowrie and was ok, but nothing like as interesting as the morning walk. It tired us out though – with that, and the big lunch, we are wondering if we can drag ourselves out for dinner tonight. This is definitely not a normal Marsh position!

Birnam Hill and Dunkeld

Today was lovely and bright and perfect for a walk. We climbed Birnam Hill, a circuit of about 5 miles and around 1300 feet of ascent. If you’ve heard of Birnam, you’ve probably read or seen Macbeth! Not that there’s much of Birnam Wood left these days, what with the railway and the A9 both cutting through it.

Going clockwise on the walk, the slope is relatively gentle with good, broad paths until the final ascent which is steep (with steps to help) and muddy. The views at the top, over to Highland Perthshire, are fantastic, especially on such a clear day.

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The way down is steeper and muddier, but I’m glad we went that way so that we didn’t miss the views back down to Birnam and Dunkeld. I think I look quite intrepid here!

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Beatrix Potter spent several holidays in Birnam and wrote her first picture letter here, which later became The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and there is now a museum and garden dedicated to her. I’m not too sure what some of these bunny rabbits in the garden are up to!

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After a good lunch in the Birnam Inn, we strolled over the Tay to Dunkeld and spent the afternoon exploring the cathedral and wandering by the river with its Thomas Telford-designed bridge. Many of the houses in the town are owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

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After that, it was back to the hotel to prepare for dinner with our appetites restored. I do find that fresh air makes me very hungry!

The pleasures of Perth

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Perth is a beautiful and ancient city on the banks of the River Tay. It’s a great base for a long weekend and we spent today exploring it. The highlight for me was the Fergusson Gallery dedicated to both JD Fergusson, one of the Scottish Colourists, and his partner Margaret Morris, the pioneer of modern dance. Not only were the exhibitions interesting and well presented, the building was fascinating too – it was formerly (19C) Perth’s waterworks.

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A final point about the galleries – the ladies on duty this morning had to be two of the most friendly and helpful attendants we’ve encountered. Hope someone in Perth and Kinross council is listening!

We had coffee in the cafe of McEwen’s, described to us as the Harrods of Perth. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it was bigger than it looks in the picture, being spread over several buildings, and had a lovely homewares department.

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After a wander round town and a visit to the Farmers’ Market (bought some scrummy chilli oatcakes) we had lunch in the cafe at Perth Concert Hall, a modern, light and airy building. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the riverside path from which you get glimpses of Scone Palace on the other side of the river. One disadvantage of going away so early in the year is that many places, including the palace, aren’t open yet.

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The ducks on the river seemed particularly playful today and John got some good pictures of them.

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After that, it was back across the river to our hotel, of which more in another post.

Perthshire Open Studios, 3-11 September 2011

I had never heard of Perthshire Open Studios until this year when we received an invitation from one of the participants, but it has been going for 4 years. It’s a lovely idea – just as it sounds, local artists open up their studios to visitors – and the website and brochure are really well produced. You can search for specific artists or type of art or you can follow one of six colour-coded routes.

Christine Ironside, an old friend from Glasgow who moved to Mid Tullybannocher near Comrie a few years ago, is number 69 on the Plum Route. The drive over was lovely, once we left the A9. The B827 from Braco to Comrie rises along the side of a beautiful valley and the hills looked amazing – what a place to live. Christine’s instructions were to park at the Tullybannocher Cafe so we thought it was only polite to have lunch there:

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It was well worth a stop with the best display of home-baking I’ve seen for a long time. John succumbed to a slice of Victoria sponge but I stopped after my mezzaluna, a sort of folded flatbread which was absolutely delicious.

It was great to see Christine and her partner, Bas, again and good to see the studio busy with lots of people flitting in and out – a couple of cyclists were on their eighth studio – and many paintings already marked with red dots. The studio is in the former byre of the cottage which is surrounded by a large garden with the River Earn running just below it.

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I always have fantasies about living in a place like this but the city girl in me wins out every time!

Anyway, we stayed so long we didn’t have time to visit anywhere else. Did we buy a painting? Yes, we did – time for a rehang at home!

The last open studios event we went to was in the Briggait in Glasgow where there are many artists working under the same roof, so this was quite different. The combination of art and nature in Perthshire is irresistible and there are still several days to take advantage of it. Perhaps another time we’ll manage to visit more than one artist.