Weekend in Perthshire Scotland – Part 2

Weekend in Perthshire Scotland – Part 2

Ruined bridge outside Aberfeldy

Last week in – Part 1 – I spoke about what to do in Pitlochry, the theatre festival, Loch Faskally and the fish ladders.

After our mini tour of Pitlochry we washed, changed and went for a meal at – Drummond’s before walking to the theatre to see the first of our two shows. Drummond’s is located in a lovely setting next to the River Tummel. I’m vegetarian and always moan about the lack of vegetarian food on offer. I had the only veg option, a veggie lasagne and my husband had Scottish salmon. Both came with veggies. I would have liked a wider variety to choose from but what we had was good and the service was great.

Blair Castle Ballroom

On day two we only had a morning to spare as we only had to be back at 14.00pm for the matinee show. We took a drive out to see Blair Castle. It’s one of the better castles to visit in Scotland. Entrance was £9.50 each. We walked from room to room . . . to room to room . . . to room. I lost count of how many we passed through.

Each one had either been restored with original furniture or had mementos and souvenirs relating to the Dukes of Atholl, their families, historic visitors and the Atholl Highlanders who are the only private army in Europe.

The Atholl Highlanders were formed as a personal guard for Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. It was at Blair Castle that Victoria fell in love with Scotland and set about building her own castle not too far away – Balmoral Castle. The current royal family still love to escape to Scotland and it’s easy to see why.

Any castle visit takes longer than you think. Allow at least 3 hours to see the exhibits and wander around the gardens. Most castles have cafes so you can plan a lunch stop at a castle.  I can’t promise good food. You can even sleep over in certain castles.

Blair Castle

George Murray, the 10th Duke of Atholl placed Blair Castle into a trust to ensure it’s preservation. His successor the 11th Duke of Atholl was a born and bred South African. John Murray came out from South Africa to Scotland to inspect the guards every year. He was succeeded by his son, Bruce Murray this year (2012), so the 12th Duke of Atholl is also South African. Who knows how many people with royal blood lines live around the world?

McKays in Pitlochry

After the matinee we went to McKays for a meal. McKays is a hearty, down to earth place, done up in contemporary Scottish style. The waitrons, both male and female, wear kilts or tartan skirts. McKays food is reasonably priced and entertainment ranges from a live band to a Ceilidh  (pronounced cay-lee) evening, which is traditional Scottish dance and music. It’s a festive and popular place.

We shared a starter of fried mozarella and salsa. My husband had Shetland salmon with vegetables and said it was the best salmon he had ever eaten. I had a jacket potato with cheese and beans. With a bottle of wine, our meal came to around £35.

Blair Castle Hercules Garden
Big Old Yew in Fortingall

The next morning we had cooked oats for breakfast. My other half had a choice of kippers which came complete with the head, eyes teeth and tail or haddock. I had boiled eggs. The breakfasts at Dundarach were good and their service was excellent. I loved the tartan carpets and old wooden staircase in the foyer.

After brekka we decided to do a round road trip taking in the towns of Aberfeldy, Kenmore on Loch Tay and Fortingall. We passed a few ruined bridges and visited the oldest Yew tree in the world in Fortingall. This poor tree has had so many hardships. It should be much bigger but at least it is still growing and is still the original tree.

We drove back along the beautiful Loch Tay and stopped at Queens View, which is a view point taking in Loch Tummel and the Glencoe Mountains. It’s named after Queen Isabella, wife of Robert the Bruce, but some say it could be named after Queen Victoria.

If you have time you might want to consider doing a bit of cycling. We saw plenty cyclists out enjoying the local sights. We had our car so we took a slow drive back to Aberdeen via Royal Deeside area passing Balmoral Castle and driving through the pretty towns of Braemar, Ballater, Banchory and Crathes. Royal Deeside is the area adjacent to Perthshire. It is similar and just as beautiful. Read more about that road trip – here

Loch Tay outside Kenmore

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Weekend in Perthshire Scotland

Weekend in Perthshire Scotland

Travel in Perthshire Scotland in 2012

Dundarach Hotel

This blog is posted in two parts.

They have an annual theatre festival in the village of Pitlochry in Perthshire, Scotland. My husband and I decided to take a long weekend, see a few shows and explore Perthshire. The Scottish countryside is renowned for it’s beauty. It’s a combination of mountains and forests with streams and rivers that feed into their salmon filled lochs. The natural environment is a big part of the attraction to Scotland, but that’s not all. There are castles aplenty, scenic drives, walks, museums, views, craft shops, whisky and beer tastings and stone circles to see and do. But just hanging around a pretty town like Pitlochry, enjoying local produce and listening Scottish accents was also on our agenda. Apparently Scottish and Irish accents are the ones we most love to listen to.

Old Mill Inn Pitlochry

The – Pitlochry Festival Theatre – began in 1951 and the show was initially housed in a tent. Today they have a proper theatre which is located right next to the Tummel River. It has large windows with views of the river and you can relax in their cafe with a glass of wine and a snack, or have a three course meal before a show.

Try to avoid visiting July and August when the Scottish schools are on holiday and the town is heaving with humans. The theatre has a group of actors who mix and match roles in their various productions. We chose to see – 39 Steps – and – Communicating Doors. My husband booked our tickets on-line. Tickets were £28 each.

Queens View – Loch Tummel and Glencoe Mountains

We had lots of time to get from Aberdeen to Pitlochry as we weren’t traveling far, so we set our Tom Tom to shortest route as opposed to fastest route. That way we could take in a few little villages en route. Visit Scotland – have brown road signs that clearly show the local – scenic drives, which is handy if you want to see more than a highway. The trip from Aberdeen to Pitlochry took around 2 and 1/2 hours. We booked a Chevy Spark on-line with – Enterprise Rent a Car. The car cost £55 incl VAT for 3 days. On this occasion my husband skipped the £10 per day insurance. We travelled about 250 – 300 miles and petrol bill for the weekend was £30. The Tom Tom was our own.

Hydro Electric scheme at Loch Faskally

We checked into – Dundarach Hotel – in Pitlochry just after lunch. There was time in hand to go walkabout and collect our tickets before we got ready for the theatre. The Dundarach Hotel cost £100 per night for two of us. We normally would go for cheaper accommodation but there wasn’t much available. This is a popular event and advance booking to get bargains is a prerequisite. You can try – Late RoomsBooking.com, Farm Stay UK, Scottish Independant HostelsHostelling Scotland – for links to accommodation.

Pitlochry Fish Ladder

At the Pitlochry Theatre Festival ticket office we discovered that, not one, but two cast members had been hospitalised. Gasp. They cancelled one of our evening shows but juggled a matinee performance of – Little Shop of Horrors – for us instead. We thought we would book a meal at the in-house restaurant but also discovered the restaurant was booked up a year in advance, so that took care of that idea.

What to do and see in Pitlochry? It’s very, very touristy. Lots of tour buses pass through and hoardes of people with back packs, bum bags and cameras roam the streets. Pitlochry is free of mega development and retains a quaint old village charm. Lovely old granite stone cottages line the streets and it’s all postcard pretty. Walking around the village and then relaxing with a cup of tea with a slice of local cake is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Try – Hetties Tearoom.

Inside Pitlochry theatre
Dundarach Hotel

The canny Scots use their natural geology to their advantage and have created hydro electric schemes all over the country. There is one such scheme at Loch Faskally.  And that’s not all, to preserve their salmon numbers, they have incorporated a ‘fish ladder‘ so salmon can swim upstream to spawn. We visited Loch Faskally and saw the hydro electric scheme. The mechanics are interesting and the loch has not been spoiled with an ugly industrial building but rather a subtle arrangement in keeping with the local area. The fish ladder is more a sort of tunnel beneath some steps that the fish can swim through. They have a viewing area where you can watch and count the salmon as they swim past but they were shy when we tried to see them.

You can take in a – whiskey tasting – and tour at the home of Bells at – Blair Atholl Distillery.  A basic tour costs around £6. Moulin Inn have a brewerey where you can see a local micro brewer make – Braveheart Ale. The tour is free and I am told you get a complimentary bottle of ale after the tour.

Next week in – Part 2 – I deal with Blair Castle, Loch Tay, Loch Tummel and the towns of Kenmore and Portingall.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Highland Games – Part 2

Highland Games – Part 2

To read Part 1 of this feature in last week’s post – click here.

Craft stall

I love pipe bands and can listen to them forever. Lucky for me they had pipe bands from various regions competing so I got to do just that. I wondered what criteria the judges would look for in a pipe band. We noticed that around 30% of the band members were ladies. Good on them. The drummers manage to do amazing flicks and twirls with their drum sticks.

What does a Scot wear under his kilt?

Then we moved on to watch the big strapping blokes heaving and hurling heavy things about. The UK is painful in enforcing pathetic health and safety measures but here we stood watching hammers and logs being flung about right in front of us. And no one was injured. 

The heavy sports seem to be a big attraction and are sponsored by Glenfiddich. Turns out tossing the caber is more than flinging a big log. The men have to ensure it flips and lands facing toward 12 o’clock. 

I noticed one of the senior competitors was Polish but he wore a kilt. Perhaps he has links going back to Scotland or maybe he wore a kilt from the area he is living. Read about – clan kilts.

Pipe band

The lassies danced the Highland Fling in their outfits while a piper played music. Between that piper, pipe bands, individual pipe players competing and the rest of the pipers practicing for their turn, there were a lot of pipes playing. But like I said, I love pipes and just as well.

Toward the end of the day came the Tug o’war. Local teams of eight per side geared up to battle it out. I wasn’t expecting to find it nerve racking. Boxing, yes that could be stressful to watch but Tug o’ war? Hardly? 

Pipe band

Actually yes! Two of the teams were evenly matched in terms of strength and they hung in. And hung in. We were watching for signs of fatigue or for someone to slip but these guys just held on. Finally one side managed to get the upper hand and won. My nerves were shot and I needed a break.

Then the rain came down and the competitors in traditional clothing put on these cape coats that look like the sort of thing Sherlock Holmes would wear. I think they might be called Inverness Coats. Come to think of it, a lot of the outfits looked a bit Sherlock Holmes. This is the sort of occasion one can wear a Deerstalker style hat and not look out of place.

Tug o’war

I wanted to see the massed pipe band finale but we had been hanging around for a good few hours and we were cold and wet. We can tick Highland Games off our list of things to do. I wouldn’t mind visiting a country show along the lines of the Keith Country Show

It’s an occasion for farmers to show off their animals but tractor racing and sheep races could be fun to watch. Who knows? I might be writing about that next.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Highland Games

Highland Games

Highland Games in 2012

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to watch Highland Games. Scotland has many descendants living across the globe.

Making Arbroath smokies
Lassies being judged on their Highland Fling

Consider that 4.8 million Americans, 4.7 million Canadians, 800 000 people in England and even 250 000 people living in Russia consider themselves of Scottish heritage. And as many as 20% of all New Zealanders and Australians have links back to Scotland. Read more here.

There are Caledonian Societies and pipe bands all over the world keeping the traditions and customs of Scotland alive. Since I’m in Scotland for a while it made sense to go see what Scots get up to in their motherland. There are Highland games events all over Scotland – Highland Games. They have been happening for over 1000 years. Clan chiefs would rival each other with the fastest and strongest men. The dancers and pipers provided entertainment.

The most famous games are at Braemar, which Queen Elizabeth apparently always attends, and everyone flocks to see her – Queen Elizabeth and Braemar.

King Malcolm began the royal association with the games but Queen Victoria made them famous when she and Prince Albert first came to Balmoral in 1848 and started attending the games.

We went to our local Aberdeen Highland Games this last weekend Sunday 17th June 2012. The UK has had a cool wet summer so far this year. However as Scotland located in the north it’s almost always cooler than it is in the in the south. Add to that a fog that builds up at sea in the north east of Scotland called – “The Haar”.  This means Aberdeen has it’s very own micro climate. What I’m saying is – this is one time you should wear a raincoat and Wellington boots. 

Hammer throwers

So what happens? We arrived at Hazelhead Park and paid £6 each to go in. We were given a program with the events of the day which included bagpipe music events for various age groups, Highland Fling dancing for various age groups and athletic activities. Heavy athletics include events like stone throwing, hammer throwing and caber tossing. Light athletics are 100m, high jump and that sort of thing. And of course the tug o’war.

Tossing the caber

We went walk-about first. They had an amusement fair as well as various stalls selling food and crafts. We had been to the Outsider Music Festival some years ago and had an idea of what Scottish food stalls have on offer at public events. Sadly hot oats with cream and berries was not available nor were Stovies, not that a vegetarian like myself can eat Stovies, but it is nice when local food is on offer. What they did have were – Arbroath smokies – which are local smoked fish.

My husband decided to try a steak roll with Aberdeen Angus steak. We approached the vendor but no – the signage was designed to fool us – they didn’t actually sell – Aberdeen Angus. So we ended up having hot chips and a cup of tea.

Part 2 and the final of this piece is out next week – on this link.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Scotland road trip Aberdeen to Edinburgh – Part 4

Scotland road trip Aberdeen to Edinburgh – Part 4

Part 1 – of this series covers a walking tour of Aberdeen city and shopping. Part 2 –  is about the highland tourist route and driving. Last week in – Part 3 – I spoke about our road trip via Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms National Park to Edinburgh.  

Royal Mile Edinburgh

After a French style breakfast we hit the ground running. We had one day to see all of Edinburgh on foot. The must-sees I planned for us (grouped together by location) are: –

  • Start walking down the Royal Mile plus museums along the way such as The People’s Museum.
Scottish Parliament
  • Holyrood Palace, Scottish parliament and Dynamic Earth Centre at the bottom of Royal Mile.
  • .

  • Elephant house on George IV Bridge where Harry Potter was written for a quick bite, Greyfriars Kirk, and down Candlemakers Row to Grassmarket area.
  • Edinburgh Castle and down to Princes Street Gardens.
Holyrood Palace
  • Finally Charlotte Square, a UNESCO site and we wandered back along Princes, George and Rose Street. We had a late lunch at Henderson’s, a vegetarian restaurant in Hanover street.
Greyfriars Kirk

We never made the Dynamic Earth centre but we still squeezed in a visit to Real Foods in Broughton Street for a health food shop-up. By now I was tired. We headed back past the theatre area to our hotel in Pilrig Street. It was a long day yet somehow my friend still

 mustered up more energy to go for a run up Calton Hill. I have walked it before and highly recommend it for breathtaking views across the city. I was just too tired to join him.

Elephant House where Harry Potter was written

I thought I had lost him as he took forever to return but he did eventually, and after a quick shower and a change of clothes we went back into town and ended up at Q Bar for supper. The food was OK but they had great music blaring out and we ended up having far too much fun before walking back to the hotel and sleeping like the dead. A meal out for two with two glasses of wine and a tip costs around £40.

The next day wasn’t even half a day as my friend flew out at 11.05am and had to be at Edinburgh Airport with time in hand. The lengthy queues at the check-in counter meant he grabbed a coffee and sandwich and the next thing he was gone!

Candlemakers Row

Much as I enjoyed Edinburgh, my favourite city in Scotland is still Glasgow, which we sadly never got to see. Edinburgh is

predictable and pretty. Glasgow is sassy. I love, love the vibrant and loud art and music scene in Glasgow. The architecture is full of Charles Rennie Macintosh art deco influences. There is a disproportionate amount of fun going on in Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

Glasgow also has far more shopping options. And the best bit? The extra, ultra friendly Glaswegians. No need to fear asking directions from a Glaswegian, they love to chat and help. Only thing is, I can’t understand a word they say. They have the thickest, broadest accent called Glaswegian patter which is incomprehensible to most English speakers. I love listening to them anyway.

Although Scotland is part of the United Kingdom they have their own parliament, their own currency and their school and work holidays are not the same as those in England. It’s cheaper to hire a car from Scotland than from England. We’ve used Enterprise Car Hire so many times and have been happy with their service. Just make sure you triple check the car for chips and chinks coz if they find any when you return the car, you are liable for them.

Princes Street Gardens

For more on Scotland visit – here.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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