A FAVOURITE drive is past Rumbling Bridge, the Yetts O’Muckhart, Glendevon and then bursting into Glen Eagles. Even in snow you still get the feeling of the space and the splendour of the Scottish hills.
The four-star Knock Castle Hotel and Spa stands proudly on the Knock of Crieff (knock is Scots for hillock). Once owned by Lady Macbrayne, of the shipping family, this 19th-century hotel has been sympathetically upgraded and modernised through the years, but remains in keeping with the Castle’s grandiose history.
Arriving into a lovely 3.5-acre woodland setting, our first impressions were of genuinely cheery and helpful staff guiding us through the formalities of check-in and on to our impressive Drummond suite. The brochure says that from here we can “enjoy the breathtaking views of the Strathearn Valley”. We had to take their word for it as a dreich day of Scotch mist and sleet hid all. n
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR?
The hotel is perfectly situated for trips to Perth and Stirling, with Loch Earn and the walks of Strathearn on your doorstep. We enjoyed a three-mile stroll around the Knock and then down to the Crieff visitor centre. Auchingarrich Wildlife Park, Innerpeffray Library (the oldest public lending library in Scotland, 1680) and Earthquake House in Comrie (one of the oldest seismic observatories in Scotland, dating back to 1874) are also a short drive away.
WINING AND DINING
The Castle has two restaurants – there’s the à la carte Oak, which is fairly formal; and the recently built, and more intimate, Stag’s View rooftop eatery, where we ate and enjoyed spectacular views over Strathearn. (Note to self: must return in summer to sample a Pimm’s on the outside terrace.) A pre-dinner cocktail in the Stag’s Bar was a welcome prelude while we chose from three mouthwatering menus.
Chef and owner Jason Henderson was on hand to answer questions about the menu and was happy to accommodate guests’ preferences. Produce is sourced locally if possible.
My wife started with home-cured Scottish salmon with wholegrain mustard dressing, followed by roast Scottish lamb rump with carrot and parsnip rosti, braised red cabbage and red wine jus. I chose chicken and bacon terrine with smoked pheasant and duck pâté and vegetable chutney, followed by pan-seared fillet of beef on wholegrain mustard mash with truffle-scented root vegetables and mushroom and Dijon mustard sauce. The meal was exquisite.
My wife suggested we try Richebourg 1967 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as an accompaniment, but I had to disappoint her as the restaurant required 24 hours’ notice for this particular wine. Just as well, really, as the £940 price tag was a little out of my league. We settled for the excellent Rioja Reserve Marqués de Riscal at £35.
After an excellent night’s sleep, we rose from our king-size four-poster (didn’t bump into my wife once during the night), opened the drapes and there it was – the promised panorama over the Strathearn Valley, courtesy of another variety of our Scottish weather – blue skies and crispy clouds with snow-topped hills on the horizon. Our suite was a spacious, half-rounded room. The large bathroom boasted a large shower and an unashamedly luxurious sunken bath.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
Knock Castle is opulent – intimate with classical surroundings but with all mod-cons. Double rooms start at £145, including breakfast; spa treatments start at £25.
There is a vast array of Dermalogica beauty treatments available as well as the Egg relaxation capsule, which I sampled on arrival and left feeling soothed. There is a swimming pool and gym complex on site with spa bath, steam room and sauna. The concierge can arrange golf, fishing and other activities in some of the loveliest countryside.
It says four-star on the sign outside, but it’s definitely five-star on the inside.
• Knock Castle Hotel and Spa, Drummond Terrace, Crieff, Perthshire (01764 650088, www.knockcastle.com)