Travel: Crieff Hydro

This review could have been mercifully short – one word – then you could have got on with your Saturday and trudged to Ikea, shouted at the kids and dodged Strictly.

This review would have said: “Go.”

But I should explain myself and begin by telling you that the visit to Crieff Hydro didn’t get off to a seamless start.

Days before, Mother-in-Law arrived. Think SS Panzer division on manoeuvres. But with less tact.

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I rang the hotel to see if there would be an extra room and got bad news. There was no problem whatsoever.

Your first black mark, Crieff.

However, MiL can be useful. This is the woman who has stayed at Gleneagles. MiL is a good barometer of the finer things, and pronounced Crieff Hydro to be “a magical place”.

The hotel certainly has staying power. Family run for five generations, it opened in 1868 which, to put that in context, saw the birth of the babe who would become Scott of the Antarctic, and oor ain Charles Rennie Macintosh.

More recently, guests have included Dubya’s FBI retinue during the G8 – though I beg you, picture not men in shades with angular bulges in their budgie-smugglers around the pool. Just weeks ago, Miss World contestants turned up. In Lycra. Looks like I picked the wrong weekend.

Check-in time is, I confess, charged with anxiety because there are dozens of activities on offer – archery to Zumba. It reminds me of freshers’ week: “Shall I join the skydiving or potholing societies? The SWP or the OTC?”

But soon we’re on Criefftime (GMT, but slower), after realising we need to ask the experts.

“Horseriding?” “No, Dad.”

“Those crazy Segway thingies?” “No, Dad.”

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“A leisurely gin and tonic in the Winter Garden?” “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.”

Until finally: “Quad biking?” “Why didn’t you say that first?”

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Aside from every activity under the sun, the most remarkable thing about Crieff is that the hotel itself has a personality. She is pink and solid and scrubbed, like a favourite aunt who bounds between Farrow & Ball rooms on springy tartan carpets. When you arrive, she envelopes you in a bosomy hug that smells of soap.

Crieff’s greatest asset is her staff. There are 500 of them to cater for a full capacity of 1,000 guests: do the math. The staff are young, cheerful, personable and helpful. They like your kids – even when you don’t.

The hotel is for people who want to spend time with their children and those who’d rather not. Hence the kids’ club and six hours’ free childcare a day. Awkward-squad Ollie, 3, went quietly, came out beaming. Fickle Felix, 8, said: “I thought it was difficult to make friends, but it isn’t.” Laconic Luke, 9, pronounced it “Cool”.

Guests ranged from months-old babies to a 98-year-old woman.

The breakfasts are glorious: a sleepy-eyed, good-natured, self-service scrum. That said, I got a look from one yummy mummy which stated: “If you touch little Chlamydia’s poached egg, I will stick this fork up your ...” Whoa there, lady, there are 300 others.

High tea for the kids is like breakfast but turbocharged with chocolate cake and jelly.

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Dinner for the grown-ups is of a high standard – good Scottish fare cooked with flair.

For those of us on tight budgets, when you consider what’s included at no extra cost, Crieff represents extremely good value. Back-of-a-fag-packet calculations tell me the free six hours of childcare, dinner, breakfast, a family swim and gratis packed lunch and high tea for kids would be worth, in the real world, £160.

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Being a hotel veteran, MiL settled in quickly. She isn’t really a dragon. That skipped a generation. Which brings me to my wife. In journalism you have to play to people’s strengths, so I tasked Mrs Adamson with finding fault. The glitchfinder’s observations were:

The brasserie was too bright. There were no chicken goujons with the kids’ high tea. Wine was served first to the person who tasted it, instead of last. (Not the done thing, apparently).

If these sound petty, that’s because they are, but something has to be wrong in the pursuit of a balanced review.

So, in conclusion, Crieff Hydro is superlative; nooks and crannies for hide-and-seek, a place to do, just to be or both; a pure essence distilled purer down the decades; a continental-style grand hotel that would not appear out of place on the banks of the Italian Lakes or at Cannes.

Above all, she is a decompression chamber for the bends of 21st-century life.

THE FACTS Self-catering lodges in the hotel grounds start at £9.50 per person per night. Dinner, bed and breakfast winter breaks can be had for £49.50 per person per night. There are 60 activities on offer with prices ranging from 0p (giant chess) to £105 an hour (4x4 driving). Crieff Hydro Hotel, Crieff, Perthshire PH7 3LQ, tel: 01764 655555,

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