So that’s it. Normality has resumed in a fatigued haze of awful 6am alarms, bleak breakfasts and caffeine-fuelled to do lists. But let’s just rewind right back to the start — of the new year at least — when time was slower and the only thing on my mind was where my next post-Christmas mince pie was coming from.
At the beginning of 2017, we escaped the festive bustle of family visits and too many meals with a weekend break to rural Perthshire. Our destination was Alyth, a small and still village hidden between Blairgowrie and Forfar. With the Sidlaw Hills to the south, Cairngorms to the north and thick woodland of Dunkeld in the west, it’s an ideal base for outdoor activities in the beautiful region of Perthshire.
But the nature attraction isn’t the only reason to visit this area of Scotland. Like all regions — the Highlands, Fife or the Borders — you can always discover hidden gems if you dare chip away at the guidebook stereotypes and delve a bit deeper. So here are four reasons you should run away to rural Perthshire for (at least!) a long weekend in 2017.
Crammed full of thick forest, white waterfalls and majestic mountains, Perthshire is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Although autumn will blow your socks off (and probably break your SD card) the remaining seasons are pretty spectacular too. We recently visited in winter, where the unusually mild weather welcomed us with thick fog and morning dew.
On the off chance that things cool down this year and we get a dump of snow, serious hillwalkers should bag the Cateran Trail or head to Schiehallion and Ben Lawers for the white stuff. But if you’re more of a weekend wanderer, the Alyth area boasts some beautiful short walks not too far from the town itself.
On the final day of our stay at Vanora’s Cottages, we drove north for fifteen minutes to reach Reekie Linn. Strolling along beside the river — the adjacent gorges deepening as we continued — we finally reached a tiny peninsula, ringed by trees with the waterfall dropping to the plunge pool below (which reaches a depth of 36 metres!) There are two vantage points, the last a bit further around the top of the gorge, where you can look directly back at the falls tumbling southwards. A pretty astounding wee spot.
Closer to the village, you can walk the Hill of Alyth or if you fancy exploring the wider region head to the Hermitage. This National Trust for Scotland site beside Dunkeld is stunning in any season; a forest full of paths with the tiny gem of Ossian’s Hall at its heart. Here’s the visitor information you’ll need, or why not read my blog from back in autumn?
When we visited the region at the start of 2017, we spent our long weekend in an EmbraceScotland property on the eastern edge of Perthshire. For two nights we stayed in Camlann, one of Vanora’s Cottages, which was situated a short walk off Alyth’s main street. After driving through pockets of thick fog, we arrived in the dark village square and were greeted by owner Clare, who took us past the shopfronts and up a narrow lane to Camlann.
Part of a storybook row of nineteenth-century cottages, stepping over the threshold was like stepping into our dream home. Traditional low ceilings, stone floors, a beautiful bedroom and French doors out to the garden… And that’s not even mentioning the fireplace! We spent our days reading in the living room, enjoying brunch with the morning light coming through the garden doors, and then we stocked up on logs at the local shop for the evenings we would predictably spend in front of the fire. Isn’t that everyone’s cottage dream?
I’d really recommend this place; it felt just like home (and I say that as someone who is notoriously bad at falling asleep in unfamiliar places!) A huge thanks to Clare at Vanora’s Cottages, the EmbraceScotland team and the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers (ASSC) for having us. Camlann starts from £280 for 7 nights.
In a village as small as Alyth, you may not think there’s much in the way of restaurants to tempt your tastebuds. But in our wanders through the quiet streets, we stumbled across an award-winning fish & chip shop, the local’s favourite inn, and finally — at the end of a country road — the Lands of Loyal Hotel.
The only way I can think to describe it is Tardis-like. The exterior is quietly grand — a traditional Scottish country house hotel — but the interior is just breathtaking. The hallway is completely clad in wood, a stag’s head looming over the fireplace, inspired by the RMS Mauritania. The dining room echoes that opulence with its vibrant ceiling and another log fire. If I was assured enough to get married or have a massive birthday party ‘just because’, the Lands of Loyal would be at the top of my list. Oh, plus I got the richest dark chocolate torte I’ve ever tasted in my life.
But if — like me — you’re a fan of classic Scottish fare but have completely overstayed your welcome in the Lands of Loyal Hotel then why not take a drive to Perth one evening? There you’ll find the quaint Café Tabou, which champions French cuisine using quintessential Scottish ingredients. Your waistline can thank me later.
Rest and relaxation
With the omnipresence of social media and the nigh-surgical addition of our mobile phones to the end of our arms, sometimes I’m guilty of forgetting to just switch off. But when you escape into the most rural parts of Scotland, the lack of phone signal physically forces you to live without Google Maps, Instagram or Messenger. And, for your own sanity, that can only be a good thing.
And so it was that we spent our few days in Alyth curled up by the fire, watching old films on a tiny TV and wandering the village streets with no destination whatsoever (when was the last time you explored without Google Maps? Trust me, you should try it sometime. You take so much more in when you’re not speed walking to the next waypoint!)
Whether you’re escaping the bustle of a busy job, fancy breathing some fresh air or simply want to explore somewhere new, give this corner of Perthshire a whirl. With good restaurants, leg-stretching hikes and cottage hideaways right on the doorstep, a short break here will subdue your stresses before the next slice of real life lands on your plate.
Tell me, where’s your favourite place in Perthshire?
P.S. Do you live near the Cateran Trail? You should get involved with this!