Last month, we had planned a weekend trip to Perthshire – one of the only things we’d actually planned in advance this year, which was a slight risk – and I was excited to explore more of this part of Scotland.
I’ve always enjoyed Perthshire – the shores of Kinloch Rannoch and the charming town of Pitlochry, one of my favourite small towns in Scotland – but I’d never really had the chance to discover some of the best parts of the county, and so with a full weekend on the cards I armed ourselves with a hefty itinerary of things to see and do. It would be slightly too early to experience the autumn colours in full, but it meant we’d get an end-of-summer treat in one of Scotland’s most picturesque areas, and I couldn’t wait.
We’d also treated ourselves, unusually, to a really nice hotel – the Crieff Hydro resort, which had offered some great “welcome back” packages back when tourism had re-opened in July. Things were a bit unusual in that swimming pools had only just re-opened with strict restrictions in Scotland, so you had to book slots and get changed in your room before traversing the entire hotel to the pool, and in the end we didn’t bother. Although we were staying in a place renowned for its activities and great facilities, we were more focused on exploring the local area.
It was going to be the perfect weekend! I’d even drafted a blog post title; the incredibly creative “A Perfect Weekend In Perthshire”. Maybe that was tempting fate, because it most certainly did NOT end up being A Perfect Weekend In Perthshire (although I have to say, I think I prefer the final post title).
We arrived after work on Friday, revelling in the fact it was a little over an hour’s drive to our destination, unlike so many weekend trips we take! I was pleased to see that the reception area was set up really well to deal with Covid restrictions, with staff wearing masks and only allowing one person up to the screens at one time. I’d love to be able to say that the rest of the stay made me feel this comfortable, but alas, it was all downhill from there.
More on that later – but first, we tried to book a table for dinner, and one for breakfast too. Unfortunately, the latest (yes, latest) time we could book for both days we were there was 7.30am. I hadn’t been prepared for that – nowhere had I seen anything to say we needed to book breakfast, let alone how to book it. For dinner that evening, the main restaurant was booked up too, but there was another one, she said, and I must have misheard her because I thought she was talking about the Terrace restaurant. “It’s a lot quieter and I actually prefer it in there,” she assured me. “Great, we’ll do that then.”
We headed up to our room, excited for our stay, and found ourselves in a very small but cosy, and crooked, room. Okay, I thought. A bit strange but after all, we’re not planning to spend all our time in the room. We were also given a load of disposable tea & coffee things (cups in plastic packaging; a plastic bag of tea, coffee and sugar) and our toiletries separately, which meant juggling them up the stairs (sure, we could have packed them into our suitcase at reception, but where’s the fun in that?). I’m not quite sure why they couldn’t have just put these in the room, or what the difference is between that and providing actual cups, though I suppose if anyone doesn’t want them, then they’re not wasting all that packaging.
Unpacked and showered, we headed downstairs to find that we didn’t have a table booked and the restaurant was full. He looked up our table number and informed us that we were actually booked into The Hub, a casual eatery on the other side of the hotel. My heart sank. It’s literally a glorified sports canteen that serves nothing but nachos, burgers and hot dogs. Kids loudly played table tennis and foosball. I was so mad that I almost walked out, but we conceded that everywhere in town was likely to be booked up, and besides, it had kind of been our own fault for not booking ahead.
Still, it wasn’t quite the start to a luxurious weekend that we’d been hoping for – although at least the view from our room was rather special.
Breakfast in the morning was much better – it’s likely that buffet breakfasts will be a thing of the past for a long time yet, but the whole counter was set up with screens and people serving the food behind. Things like fruit bowls and juice were served nonsensically in plastic cups (could they not just have served juice out of a jug?), but other than that I thought it was well set up, and there were also one-way systems to ensure people kept their distance. Strange though, considering their lackadaisical approach to absolutely everything else Covid-wise – but again, more on that later.
After filling our tummies with everything on offer, we were ready and energised to head out for the day. The weather was looking okay, and I’d planned a loop along Loch Earn, where we’d driven in July in temperamental weather, and then up around Loch Tay, somewhere I’d never been, before circling back around to Crieff via Dull and Aberfeldy.
Well… at least we managed to do ONE of them.
We arrived at St. Fillans pretty quickly, and decided not to do the walk there for several reasons: we wanted to prioritise the other two as we’d be coming back this way tomorrow, and, naturally, it looked like it might rain as soon as we were half way up. We’d hope for a better day tomorrow and head on to give us more time for the day’s exploring.
Loch Earn was stretched out under mostly blue skies and looking at the photos now, you wouldn’t think there was much threat of rain (you can see it in the distance though!). I took a wander along the shorefront instead, taking in the views.
From St. Fillans, we enjoyed the gorgeous drive along the length of Loch Earn, albeit behind a learner moped driver through roadworks, and after a gorgeous drive through Glen Ogle, eventually arrived in Killin, which we had visited a couple of months before but hadn’t even realised it was right on the edge of Loch Tay.
I was fully expecting the road along Loch Tay to be even better, especially when we started rising above the loch – but there were no views over the water whatsoever until near the end, and there was nowhere to stop to take photos of the view anyway. But that’s okay – it was a view to enjoy regardless of whether we could capture it through a lens.
We arrived in the little village of Kenmore and decided to stop for a mooch around – and unexpectedly stumbled across one of our new favourite villages in Scotland!
What it lacks in size, it makes up for in absolute unequivocal charm.
Plus, the Kenmore Hotel is reportedly the oldest inn in Scotland, running as a tavern since 1502. As if that’s not enough of a reason to stay there (it’s on my list, that’s for sure!), Rabbie Burns even stayed there and was so taken by Kenmore that he wrote a poem about it, in pencil, which you can still read on the fireplace! And if THAT wasn’t cool enough, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent some of their honeymoon in the hotel.
If you fancy something more upmarket, the Taymouth Castle hotel is nearby, and although we went to the gate, we didn’t venture down to the castle as it seemed quite a way.
Still, as we will blatantly be going back to Kenmore, that’s something we will need to check out next time. You can also do boat trips on the loch, and just up the road the other side of the loch, the Scottish Crannog Centre is perched over the water inviting people to learn about the iron age inhabitants that lived there thousands of years ago.
I’ve been finding out about several open-air museums about past lives in Scotland – the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore (which is supposed to be brilliant), the Blackhouse village on Lewis & Harris, and also the Glencoe Folk Museum.
The Scottish Crannog Centre is very unique though as it’s set in a round house (crannog) on the water, and portrays a unique way of living unlike the other museums which are about crofters. It’ll definitely be one for our next visit.
Instead, it was off to our second failed hike of the day, deep in the beautiful Glen Lyon.
Glen Lyon is very off the beaten track, and was described by Sir Walter Scott in one of his poems as “the longest, loneliest, loveliest glen in Scotland”. Other than the single track road cutting through the scenery and the odd farmhouse, there is virtually nothing here – and that, of course, is largely its charm.
We were here partly for the scenic drive, but I wanted to stop off to try and find the hike to Fionn’s Rock. If you hadn’t noticed, I linked to WalkHighlands for both the other walks, but this walk isn’t even on there as there is only a rough route across farmland, and so with limited information online and no signal once we were there, I wasn’t really sure where the starting point was. I had screenshotted some information, but clearly not enough – because we couldn’t find it anywhere!
It looks like there are two routes you can take, the most popular (I use the word “popular” liberally here) being a long walk from the Bridge Of Balgie. The one I was looking for, however, is nestled amongst the group of houses we had driven through, and it was only once we were back home in the world of unlimited wifi that I managed to find exactly where it was.
Not my proudest moment. Never mind – the drive was spectacular, and once again it’s given us somewhere to go back to! Plus, maybe when we go back, we’ll be able to experience the Glen Lyon Tearoom, which would be a lovely post-hike treat.
Second fail of the day out of the way, we headed back through the glorious glen and on towards Aberfeldy, but not before a quick stop at a sign that had caught our eye – the Fortingall Yew Tree.
This was an unexpected success of the day, because the Fortingall Yew is believed to be one of the oldest living things on earth. Signs in the churchyard claim that it’s 5,000 years old, although online sources say it’s likely to be closer to 2,000-3,000. This would make it younger than a 5,000-year-old tree in Wales, but also there are much older trees in California. Either way, it’s pretty cool!
Sadly, people took to lopping bits off the tree, and now the whole thing has been enclosed for protection, though it was long before tourists that people were beginning to destroy it. One of my favourite facts about it is that it began as a male tree, however recently it’s been discovered that one of the branches has become female, which begs the question which toilet does JK Rowling think it should use?? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one! But who knew trees could be male or female in the first place? Not I!)
Fortingall is a cute little hamlet too, and I took a wander around the lovely houses (one was for sale if anybody wants in?) and found this great sign before we left.
We also made a quick pit stop at Castle Menzies to check it out.
Our next stop?
The best road sign in Scotland, of course!
Dull is far from dull, as (apart from the fact it clearly has a sense of humour) it’s home to the Red Deer Centre and Highland Safaris. I was keen to check out the deer centre as it’s absolutely free to visit and view the deer from the platform. We even got to see their resident owl!
We ended up having a late lunch in their café, which turned out to be a great choice. Lovely food, really reasonable prices and very friendly service from everyone we spoke to. I had a chicken and cheese sandwich with the most delicious chilli jam.
From there, we were off to our final stop for the day, and you won’t believe this but we finally managed to do one of our walks!!
We didn’t explore the town of Aberfeldy itself, which may turn out to be an oversight, but we went straight to the Birks of Aberfeldy, a series of waterfalls through some woodland paths.
The Birks Of Aberfeldy were made famous by Robert “Rabbie” Burns, Scotland’s most renowned poet (don’t tell Sir Walter Scott!).
We decided to take the left hand trail – the whole walk is a loop – but we weren’t sure which was the best way to go. We soon passed several small waterfalls, and although they didn’t amount to much, it was a really pleasant walk, and thankfully the weather had held out for it. I did, of course, pose next to Rabbie himself.
…and then we hit the stairs. We began to climb, and climb more, and then some more, and then, infuriatingly, several more. Every time we thought we must be near the top, it just kept on going again, until we wondered if it was even worth carrying on. We kept convincing ourselves that it wasn’t worth turning back now anyway, but geez, it was a struggle considering this is supposed to be an easy walk! (And testament to how unfit we’ve let ourselves get, too!)
Anyway, THANKFULLY – it was 100% worth it for the piece de resistance: the upper falls.
I waited for the person on the bridge to leave before taking more photos, but I actually prefer this one as it gives some perspective as to just how big the waterfall is! Really beautiful.
Crossing the bridge (after yet more stairs, of course) marks the turning point of the walk, and from there it was a breeze back to the car park (with no more stairs).
So if you’re wondering whether to go left or right at the start, I’d probably say left is probably best, as you’ve got all the small waterfalls leading up to a crescendo and then an easy walk back for the home run. But if you’d rather go down miles of stairs than up them, then take the right hand path. It’ll be steep, but without a million stairs!
In the end, we had a really, really good day, and from Aberfeldy we took the road south back to Crieff, which felt otherworldly with the way the hills were formed.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got a fun little story to tell about how bad the hotel was.
I’d been really giving it the benefit of the doubt, but one thing that really struck me as odd was that they’d decided that Covid was a bit inconvenient to the comfort of their guests, and therefore masks were “optional”. This included in restaurants, where government guidelines state that you should wear masks while you’re walking around.
Still, I guessed it would be okay, because people weren’t able to visit in large groups anyway. The government guidelines stated at the time that there must be a maximum of 8 people across 3 households per group indoors.
So I started to feel a little uncomfortable at dinner when we noticed a group of around 15 people spread across several tables, all walking around to chat to each other, literally none of them wearing masks. Again, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt at this point, because they were inside a segregated area.
But imagine my shock when another group of 15 people walked in and were seated right next to us. Not a single one of them wearing masks. Sounding like they were on a work trip, so 15 different households. And clearly none of them were from Scotland, so why should they give a damn if they bring Covid here?
Imagine my ANGER when, at 3am, we were woken up by a stag do of at least 10 lads SCREAMING at each other in the corridor, drunk off their tits and hanging off each other (I know this because after five solid minutes of hollering, I had to go out and tell them to shut the hell up).
At breakfast in the morning (which we were forced to take at 7.30am, remember?), I was fuming. We had got into the very tiny lift, where clearly if someone is in the lift, you do not get in, and a mask-less couple got in with us, turned to us, and started talking to us! Half a metre from my face!
And yet, like I said, breakfast is set up with social distancing measures, one way systems, screens everywhere. Well, what’s the bloody point? If you’re not going to adhere to ANYTHING else, why bother with half-hearted measures?
I try not to be negative about anywhere publicly, and God knows I know that businesses are struggling to adjust to ever-changing regulations and an unprecedented situation. But this is a major hotel in Scotland, and here’s the worst part: I complained when we checked out, because I wanted to give them the chance to apologise and/or explain their decisions, and I was told, AND I QUOTE, “it’s only government guidelines, it’s not law so we don’t have to follow it.”
And you’re damn right I’ve left them a scathing review on TripAdvisor. I was left bitterly disappointed as it’s very rare we treat ourselves to a nice hotel, and this has put me off booking any more, especially in the current conditions. Still, it’ll save me money in the long run because we all know I’m a budget type of gal anyway! I mean, if I want to be woken up at 3am by drunk people, I might as well be staying in a hostel for £15 a night anyway, right?!
Rant is over, but don’t worry – I’ve got more fails coming up, and thankfully they’re more fun than a hotel not giving a hoot about whether their guests die!
Our itinerary for the day involved a quick mooch around a nearby town that we had passed through, Muthill, the walk at St. Fillans, followed by a drive around the Trossachs to some of the many lochs we’ve never been to.
Here’s what we probably should have done: stayed in Perthshire, driven along the south side of Loch Tay, and visited the Scottish Crannog Centre. There would have been a lot of repeats from the day before, but ultimately we would have achieved more.
Because it literally. Rained. All. Day.
Which meant the walk at St. Fillans was out, and our views of any lochs amounted to this:
Anyway, at least Muthill didn’t disappoint. This wee town had piqued our interest as we drove through because every house was covered in flowers and it all felt rather delightful.
So that’s Muthill. Not much to say except it’s REALLY CUTE.
There’s also an old church ruin which caught our eye, so we took a wander around that. It’s preserved by Historic Scotland but it’s free to enter.
Unfortunately, the rest of the day was a bit of a bust.
We did make a few fun stops, including the kirkyard where famous Scottish outlaw Rob Roy may or may not be buried, but in what would have undoubtedly been one of the highlights of the drive with apparently sweeping views over a loch and forests… well, there were no views.
As this post is supposed to be about Perthshire, it’s possibly good that I don’t have much to write about the Trossachs. However, one place I did want to find was the Loch Voil Lookout. I knew it wasn’t the weather for it, but I wanted to try, dammit.
Here’s what I was aiming for:
And here, in an ultimate Instagram vs reality fail, is what we found:
You’re absolutely right – the loch is NOT supposed to be there. This is as close as I dared to venture without wellies! Hahahaha.
It is at that point that we decided to give up with the day’s endeavours and spend the rest of the afternoon in Callander, a gorgeous little town on the edge of the Trossachs which we regularly seem to stop in but never actually explore (we normally swap drivers there). So we made this our excuse to finally have a wander around, and it was lovely, albeit wet. I’ll probably write some more about Callander at some point.
However, I will end this post with a couple of lovely photos from last weekend, when we took a walk around another part of Perthshire.
This is the Hermitage, a few miles north of Perth and just south of Pitlochry. In case you hadn’t gathered from the photos, this is by far one of the most beautiful places in Scotland when autumn hits.
I feel like despite our fails and our grievances, we did mostly have a good weekend, and it’s given us a ton of places we want to go back to. Kenmore, Loch Tay, Glen Lyon… and hell, maybe one day we’ll even get to do that lovely walk at St. Fillans.
Perthshire really is lovely, and often overlooked as it’s not quite in a national park and isn’t surrounded by mountains (though I’ll tell you Glen Lyon was a surprise!), but truthfully, it’s fast becoming one of my favourite counties in Scotland.
Like this post? Pin it to read later!