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Travel: Blairgowrie in Perthshire

Blairgowrie, Scotland. Picture: Getty

Blairgowrie, Scotland. Picture: Getty

  • by GARETH ROSE
 

Why fly away for winter warmth when you can enjoy the gentle, balmy microclimate of Blairgowrie?

As the nights draw in and the prospect of winter sun grows ever more attractive, to where does your mind wander? A white sandy beach somewhere in the Maldives might appeal.

Then again, what about Blairgowrie, in Perthshire?

It may sound like a pitch that is going to take some selling, but the locals are adamant about the benefits of their balmy microclimate.

“It’s always sunny here,” the receptionist assured us, as we checked in to the charming Altamount House hotel.

And, sure enough, an unpromising morning had developed into a sunny day. As we drove up Perth Road, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. By the time we had reached our double room on the top floor of this historic building, it had broken through and flooded the room in a warming glow.

The 19th-century country house is in a secluded spot and there were trees as far as you could see from our window.

It is quiet and relaxed, but far from monastic, and any moment of silence is soon broken by the shrill call of the resident peahen that struts around the ample lawns. There are two peacocks too, one an albino, whose tail, when fanned out, looks like a lace tablecloth.

There are 19 rooms in the original house which is bright with modern decor, although there are a few quaint touches. Our bed, cushions and lampshades were all bright purple, but the wooden furniture, patterned wallpaper and bathroom were more traditional.

However, the country house, which was built in 1800, is only part of the story. This is a place in the midst of a busy expansion project, albeit one that has not moved as quickly as the owners would have liked.

It’s a story the owner, Robert Macintosh, is more than happy to tell in the bar as we start our evening with a gin and tonic. He is a man with more life stories than a travelling circus and he spins his yarns with the leisurely warmth of a genial host.

From East Anglia initially, he moved here in 2004 and has done much of the renovation work himself.

After drinks he took us for a tour of the grounds and a glimpse of what this seemingly unassuming country house has to offer. To one side there are wooden chalets. More impressive is the row of five lodges and five cottages, all newly built. The lodges sleep eight and the cottages four, with both set up for self-catering.

With Rosemount and Lansdowne championship golf courses on the doorstep, and a total of 106 golf courses within 35 minutes of the hotel – according to our host – it is popular with golfing parties, as well as shooting and fishing groups, with three nearby rivers offering opportunities to catch salmon and trout.

Mr Macintosh’s latest project is a permanent marquee for weddings. He has also tried to give something back to the neighbourhood by creating a community garden that produces fruit and vegetables for the restaurant, while also being a sensory garden for people with mental health problems and soldiers returning from the front line.

But this is glorious Perthshire and sensory experiences are not limited to the hotel grounds. Just beyond the town itself, there is a network of walks past rivers, and farms, along muddy tracks and country roads.

With this being the microclimate of Blairgowrie, the sun was beating down as we walked for seven miles before our will weakened and we stumbled into a country pub for lunch.

With our bellies full and the skip sapped from the our stride, we opted to make the return journey by bus.

It was back to Altamount House for dinner and the reassuring sight of the owners sitting down to eat at a table across the room from us.

Sure enough, we were in for a hearty treat, starting with a ham hock terrine. My main was a sirloin steak accompanied by a peppercorn sauce, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. My partner had a steak pie with creamy mash and root vegetables. Then, loosening our waistbands, we made room for dessert − a rich chocolate torte for me, and a mango sorbet for my partner.

It was a refreshing way to cool down in one of Scotland’s sunnier spots.

Fly to a tropical resort for a winter break? Why splash out? You just need to know where the Scottish sun shines.

THE FACTS

To get to Blairgowrie from Edinburgh, drive over the Forth Road Bridge, up the M90 and then follow the A93. Just under 60 miles, it can be done in less than an hour and a half. A double room at the Altamount House Hotel (Rosemount, Coupar Angus Road, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, 01250 873512, {www.altamount house.co.uk|www.altamount house.co.uk|www.altamount house.co.uk} starts at £60.

 

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