Travel: Pitlochry

Pink rhododendrons at the Explorers' Garden. Picture: Shana Young

Pink rhododendrons at the Explorers' Garden. Picture: Shana Young

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Golf, gardens and great scenery – the pretty Perthshire town has it all, says Pamela Moffat

Sitting outside our weekend but’n’ben admiring the view to the distant hills beyond is a welcome start to our family weekend away. Child and dog are rolling carefree on the grass while the sun shines brightly.

Upper Balghulan, one of two cottages on the Pitlochry Golf Estate. Picture: Contributed

Upper Balghulan, one of two cottages on the Pitlochry Golf Estate. Picture: Contributed

The thwack of club on ball locates us adjacent to the 18th tee at Pitlochry Golf Club. Upper Balghulan is one of two cottages on Pitlochry Golf Estate and you don’t even need to be able play golf to stay here, which is just as well as we’re definitely more pitch’n’putt than royal and ancient. There’s a pitch’n’putt in Pitlochry and golf lessons are available at the course so the cottage is in the perfect spot for duffers through to pros.

Dramatic scenery surrounds us and Corbett Ben Vrackie towers beyond the course. Neighbouring hill Craigower would offer a less strenuous climb but we’re content to enjoy the views from the deck while sipping a glass of red.

The exterior of our but’n’ben may resemble Moirlanich Longhouse but the interior is as far removed from the rural lifestyle of the 19th century as is possible. Packed with home comforts – and then some – there are all the mod cons, including free wi-fi, and essentials ranging from dog bowls to dishwasher tablets, though surprisingly no toiletries. The layout comprises of sitting room with dining table, kitchen, utility room, bathroom and the bedrooms – a double and a twin – which would rival any luxury hotel.

The red roofed clubhouse is a short walk away down the edge of the fairway, and though it’s not essential to run like the pheasants that populate the neighbouring field we do, and find it highly entertaining. The Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant serves a varied and reasonably priced menu so there’s a perfect excuse to eat out and absolutely no need to self-cater.

It’s not much further downhill into Pitlochry but the road is steep enough to create an uphill struggle on the return journey so more often than not we take the car.

Keen to explore the surrounding area we drive to Queen’s View on the shores of Loch Tummel. Legend has it that the view was originally named after Queen Isabel, wife of Robert the Bruce, but it was made famous after a visit by Queen Victoria in 1866. It’s a spectacular vista, certainly fit for a queen and our princess approves, snapping busily on her camera.

Heading back towards Pitlochry we park up and enjoy a walk to the Linn of Tummel waterfalls where the River Garry meets the Tay. The Garry offers a great playground for our water-loving dog and we take numerous photos from the pretty white cobbled shore.

Nearby Killiecrankie, where on 27 July, 1689 a soldier escaped the Jacobite rebellion by jumping the river, creating the tale of the Soldier’s Leap, is another stop on the tourist trail. The visitor centre is packed with information and a great place to take kids; the displays using toy soldiers are captivating for the whole family. There’s a tricky quiz to keep children entertained en route to the Leap which proves frustratingly difficult and we can relate to the screams that emanate from a group of cliff jumpers.

Back in Pitlochry itself, we visit the fish ladder that allows salmon to travel upstream during the breeding season.

Also on the banks of the River Tummel, hidden behind the theatre, is the Explorers’ Garden which celebrates Scotland’s plant hunters. We always find that guided tours offer the best insight into attractions as they seem to be delivered by enthusiastic people with a genuine passion for their subject and our garden guide Gordon is no exception. Many common garden plants were introduced to Scotland following their initial discovery by collectors who voyaged around the world in the 18th century, often facing serious challenges and even risking death in order to find new specimens and Gordon brings their adventures to life. The gardens are just coming into bloom and we are impressed with the David Douglas pavilion which provides an exhibition space and restful spot to take in plant specimens from Nepal, Japan and China.

There’s also some impressive drystane dyking and we’re even lucky enough to see a pair of red squirrels; that must score us bonus points on Scotland’s Big 5 checklist. We depart armed with plants from the nursery, and full of inspiration for our own patch.

As we leave Upper Balughan we devise a cunning plan to return when terrible winter weather is forecast. With any luck we’ll get snowed-in and then we can light the wood-burning stove and hibernate until spring.

Pitlochry Golf Estate Cottages, Golf Course Road, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5QY, tel: 01796 472334, www.pitlochrygolfestate.co.uk

Upper Balghulan costs from £596 per week.

Explorers’ Garden, Port-Na-Craig, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5DR, tel: 01796 484600, www.explorersgarden.com/home The garden is open until 2 November, 10am to 5pm, last entry: 4:30pm, £4 per person or £9 for a family ticket.

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