RUBBING his face with his hands as he paced slowly to and fro, Ian Rankin’s pallor was a little corpse-like as he embarked upon a late morning talk about his new Inspector Rebus novel. The scene of the crime was Aberfeldy Town Hall and Rankin was in good company as most of his audience were also nursing hangovers after seeing an eclectic line-up of bands there the night before.
We were all there for the Aberfeldy Festival, an annual event held each November celebrating music, literature, art and food. It was sponsored by Dewar’s, who as well as providing potentially deadly cocktails throughout the weekend, also hosted Rankin’s talk at the distiller’s World of Whisky on the edge of the Perthshire town. The rain outside was relentless but the plush red seats in Dewar’s mini-cinema were soothing and everyone came to life as Rankin discussed inspirations and irritations, from boozy leaving do’s with old-school coppers to the A9.
It is hard to escape the water of life in Aberfeldy, with another fine selection of malts where I am staying at the Schiehallion Hotel. Originally built in 1884, the C-listed hotel and bar re-opened in December 2012 after a major refurbishment.
WINING AND DINING
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in the bar, which has a large flatscreen TV in the middle of the room. After a night out you might not fancy a view of the numerous alcoholic beverages available during licensing hours while you enjoy a full Scottish or continental at the start of the day, but service is friendly and relaxed and the lunch and dinner menus offer a good range of dishes including around half a dozen cooked vegetarian options and plenty of steaks.
For an evening meal in a more cosy and historic location, try the hotel’s sister restaurant, The Croft, a few minutes’ walk along the main street in The Black Watch. Aberfeldy’s oldest pub has provided hospitality for more than a century. After a recent refurbishment The Croft has a more modern look with deep-red walls creating an almost Mediterranean atmosphere, a welcome illusion on a wet night. My starter of sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes and brie in a filo parcel (£4.55) keeps the continental European flavour going, and the meal is so tasty one of us is soon happily gnawing the bones of his lamb cutlets (£13.45). The crayfish, salmon and haddock pie (£11.95) is also delicious, but the portion is way too generous to finish.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
A double en suite costs from £79-£89 for two people bed and breakfast (£59-£69 single occupancy) so we’ll call it budget.
All 11 rooms are en suite, with complimentary wi-fi, flatscreen TV and a kettle for tea and coffee. The style is understated and modern and no two rooms are the same. Mine is comfortable, fairly spacious and light, with fresh white walls and pale wooden fixtures complementing brown carpet, cushions and bedspread. There is no view, sadly, and no bath – though the shower is pretty powerful, a great reviver.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
The Aberfeldy Festival in November is arguably the main attraction with a programme that grows every year. Festival organiser Ryan Hannigan, who also sings in alt-country band Star Wheel Press and seems to be permanently decked out head to toe in tweed, runs a printing concern which is one of many arty shops in town.
The Birks of Aberfeldy, which inspired Robert Burns’ poem of the same name, are a relatively easy, if occasionally steep walk away, and you don’t need to leave the main street to see beautiful views of the surrounding hills. The newly re-opened art deco Birks cinema hosts a range of events and films throughout the year and there are several great cafés.
A lot of attention has gone into the food, and while I don’t have room for dessert during my stay, if dinner at The Croft is any guide, I would be seriously tempted to do battle with the Chocolate Nemesis on the puddings menu next time.
A really comfortable, well-decorated hotel with friendly staff doing great food at a good price.
Schiehallion Hotel, 6 Dunkeld St, Aberfeldy PH15 2AF (Tel 01887 820421, firstname.lastname@example.org,