Travel: The long and winding road to St Fillans

Lochn Earn, Perthshire. Picture: Stephen Meese
Lochn Earn, Perthshire. Picture: Stephen Meese
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I’m not quite sure how a copy of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ended up in my CD collection, but it seemed like the perfect soundtrack for the drive to the Four Seasons Hotel in St Fillans on the banks of Loch Earn.

One of the hotel’s claims to fame is that the Fab Four stayed in the chalets on the hill behind the Four Seasons for two nights in 1964 while they were on tour. Climbing up the steep slope, I spotted a blue plaque on the outside of chalet numbers one and six, proclaiming that “The Beatles stayed here”.

Inside, chalet six – at the top of the drive – was festooned with Beatles memorabilia, including a poster of the iconic Abbey Road album cover.

The chalet itself provided a cosy setting for a short break; the double bedroom took up one end of the building, with a single bedroom and a modern bathroom at the other end. The view of Loch Earn from the main bedroom was gorgeous and, while lying in bed listening to the rain battering off the roof, I couldn’t help but wonder if the peaceful setting had given John Lennon or Paul McCartney any inspiration for their legendary songbook.

“Late on Monday night, with rain dripping off floodlit trees, inverted in a plurality of puddles, four travel-weary tourists from Liverpool arrive at the Four Seasons Hotel, St Fillans,” recounted the Strathearn Herald newspaper on the Saturday following The Beatles’ arrival at Loch Earn on Monday, 24 October, 1964 following their show at the ABC Cinema in Edinburgh.

“They were staying for only two nights, but a reception committee waited to usher them and their retinue straight into the dining room to partake of early morning nourishment. The Beatles enjoyed four juicy steaks after a ‘hard day’s night’ at their show in Edinburgh.”

And who am I to argue with The Beatles? Juicy steaks were high on my hit list too as I dined in both the hotel’s Tarken bistro and the Meall Reamhar restaurant.

Steak in the bistro came in the form of a rib eye – served with the traditional tomato, mushroom and chips – which lived up to expectations, following a starter of Comrie haggis, which avoided the usual pitfall of being over-seasoned with black pepper.

Yet it was the fillet steak in the restaurant that really blew me away; flavoursome and tender Scottish meat at its best. I was especially pleased to see that the chef didn’t go overboard with the salt.

While the food got top marks, the wine list at the Four Seasons is also worthy of special mention. Hotel owner Andrew Low’s love of Bordeaux really shone through, with Château Lynch-Bages and Château Potensac jumping out at me, along with a couple of exciting bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin from Burgundy.

With such lovely food on offer, building up an appetite for dinner was important and Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre just outside Comrie provided the ideal location to stretch my legs. Maxine and Andrew Scott have an interesting mix of British animals – such as chickens, ducks and goats – along with more exotic specimens, like marmosets, meerkats and wallabies.

Walking up the hill behind the main farm, I was treated to a fly-past by a red kite, probably from the reintroduction site to the south at Doune. Comrie Croft, an activity centre on the other side of the village, has also been home to nesting ospreys for the best part of a decade.

Back to food and Andrew’s soup and sandwiches at Auchingarrich are well worth a try, as are the snacks and cakes on offer at Tullybannocher garden centre near Comrie, a simple cafe styled like an American diner, with macaroni cheese – or should that be “mac and cheese”? – and burgers and fries in baskets. Tullybannocher also boasts some of the biggest scones I’ve ever seen, which are baked as giant rounds and then sliced to order into portions, perhaps my best find on this magical mystery tour of the central highlands.

THE FACTS Dinner, bed and breakfast in The Four Seasons Hotel’s chalets start from £83 per person, per night, tel: 01764 685333, www.thefourseasonshotel.co.uk; for more details about Auchingarrich wildlife centre, see www.auchingarrich.co.uk