Perthshire is home to a very special guest house, Killiecrankie Hotel, writes Paul Wilson
Killiecrankie Hotel must be one of the most welcoming small guest houses in Scotland. And nestled in the heart of Highland Perthshire on the banks of the River Garry between Blair Atholl and Pitlochry, it’s the perfect base from which to explore some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
The whitewashed 1840s building, which was converted from a private home into a hotel in 1939, is set back from the road in four acres of well-kept gardens.
Owner Henrietta Fergusson was on hand to provide the warmest of welcomes as we arrived one cold winter’s evening and the cosy wood-panelled bar boasting 25 single malts reinforced the impression of easy informality, along with the resident dog, Beanie. There are ten rooms with en suite bathrooms, with thick curtains and large, comfortable beds. The Egyptian cotton sheets are turned down during dinner and hot water bottles and whisky miniatures are left on the bed – a nice touch, especially after a day spent in the great outdoors.
The conservatory bar is open for lunch and supper, but a stay at Killiecrankie would not be complete without savouring dinner in the hotel restaurant. Under the stewardship of head chef Mark Easton, the restaurant is fast gaining a reputation for fine dining, having been awarded three red stars by the AA since 2011.
Dinner is served in a sumptuous candlelit room with a roaring fire. The menu draws heavily on the wealth of local produce and the hotel’s abundant kitchen garden. A gravadlax and crayfish salad starter was followed by a delicious Perthshire lamb stuffed with red onion mousse wrapped in Parma ham. With a perfect white chocolate and Bailey’s parfait and a fine selection of local and Irish cheeses with port to finish, this was easily one of the best meals I have had in a Scottish hotel.
Each main course is expertly paired with its best match. Killiecrankie Hotel received a Notable Wine List award from the AA in 2009 and has been listed second in Scotland in a book called The Top 100 UK Restaurant Wine Lists. Genial manager Calum Robertson tells me he and Henrietta make the most of the quietest time of the year in January to revise their wine selections to complement the menus.
After a hearty locally sourced breakfast there is no shortage of places to explore. The obvious starting point is the Pass of Killiecrankie directly opposite the hotel. This steep gorge is where Jacobite forces loyal to King James VII clashed with William of Orange in 1689. According to legend, one soldier, Donald McBean, made a death-defying leap to safety across the River Garry to escape the battle, losing a shoe and his sword in the process. The hotel has adopted his feat as its logo and Beanie the dog was named in his honour. From here, Garry Bridge, a short walk away, provides the starting point for a stunning route along the river taking in Clunie power station and dam, a truly impressive piece of 1940s civil engineering. The dam holds back the waters of the River Tummel and discharges them into the artificial reservoir of Loch Faskally. The listed Clunie Memorial Arch stands in tribute to the “tunnel tigers” who died removing around 400,000 tonnes of rock to create the Clunie pipeline.
For a more energetic day’s exercise, nearby Schiehallion is one of Scotland’s best known and easiest Munros. The path is well marked and on a clear day the views from the summit are breathtaking. Perhaps most impressive of all is the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor ending abruptly at the peaks of Glencoe.
Of course, a stay in Highland Perthshire need not necessarily include yomps through the countryside, especially as there is so much else on offer. There is the small town of Blair Atholl where the Rivers Tilt and Garry meet, Blair Castle and the Falls of Bruar. Why not visit Scotland’s smallest distillery, Edradour, or make the short trip to Pitlochry, where the festival theatre boasts one of the largest ensemble of actors in the UK and attracts visitors all year round to enjoy up to six different productions a week?
It’s a also haven for anglers, with excellent salmon and trout fishing. And there can be few parts of the country with more to offer in terms of watersports than Loch Tay just a short distance away.
Killiecrankie Hotel is a perfect bolthole amid some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery. It’s the sort of place that understandably attracts repeat custom. Count me in.
• Killiecrankie Hotel (tel: 01796 473220, www.killiecrankiehotel.co.uk) is on the B8079 around three miles north of Pitlochry. An overnight stay for two, including dinner, starts from £240. Dogs are welcome, with two rooms available for them to stay with their owners for a £10 supplement.