I’d mentioned to a number of people that I was spending the weekend in Kippen. Invariably the response was, “Ooh, I heard there’s a brilliant place to eat there,” so we set off for the small village outside Stirling, anticipating filling our bellies with delectables near to a warming coal fire.
When I booked into our accomodation for the next two nights, the Inn at Kippen, I found I was not far wrong with my predictions. But much as I enjoy those pastimes, even I require something to do other than just eat and drink. As it turns out, the location of the village, on a hill just off the A811 from Stirling, offered a varied programme of entertainment between face-stuffings.
The first lure was that oft-seen in the distance but never visited – by me at least – Wallace Monument. The tower is a wonderful landmark, standing proud over the scenic Campsie Fells, built in the 19th century as a tribute to the 13th-century hero. For full effect you have to climb the tower’s 246 steps, although the potentially overeaters-busting trip to the top is broken up by exhibits on four levels. I got a kick out of reading the story of how the monument was built and the harping of those contemporaries outraged by the massive cost overruns and architectural travesty of it. Not only does it commemorate “Braveheart” Wallace, it’s a monument to a sense of plus ca change when it comes to ambitious Scottish projects, stretching from the Edinburgh trams of the present through the Scottish Parliament to this place. It’s good to remember that nothing of value funded by the public purse was ever built without strife.
But once on top, you see that the vituperative Victorian fathers’ final decision to put it on the Abbey Craig was inspired. From there you can look out over where Wallace fought at the battle of Stirling Bridge, and it becomes apparent why the vast plain around the town was host to so many decisive meetings of rival armies down the centuries. Or so my history-loving companion said, as my gaze wandered over the hazy sunlit Ochils and the sky.
This oddity of the landscape means the area is bristling with places of historic interest. We chose to visit Doune Castle, which is impressive so far as late 14th-century courtyard castles go. More impressive was the ability of my history and, it turns out, Monty Python-loving companion to recite snatches of dialogue: “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” in a cod French accent. Such, I believe, is part and parcel of visiting Doune, where Monty Python and The Holy Grail was filmed.
We relied on the car to get to most places – and once in sleepy Kippen there’s little for entertainment beyond the place we stayed and the pub around the corner, the Cross Keys.
We did, however, avail ourselves of some pleasant local walks in search of the site of the fabled Kippen Vine, a giant grapevine whose rusty-hued produce became prized in a Victorian fad for table decoration. Sadly, we got just a little bit lost and missed it.
Consolation was at hand at the Inn, run by the genial Gordon Wright, where we repaired each evening, tired and ready for dinner. The first night we decided on a proper three-course meal. The history lover opted for the haunch of braised venison while I chose the most playful item on the menu, lime-scented duck with aubergine and coconut dhal.
All of it was tasty, but I’ve never had a better lentil stew, and my starter of butternut squash and Parmesan tart was a lightly crispy, savoury triumph – Gordon told us that the kitchen makes everything from scratch. And the prices – the most expensive dish is the £19 sirloin steak – made for incredibly good value. Plus, thanks to our host’s previous life as a whisky industry veteran, his wine list and bar is judiciously stocked with all sorts of rare and unusual tipples.
The coal fire kept us warm and the locals who came for a pint were friendly and engaging. For what turned out to be such a delightful place to stay for a weekend in Kippen, we didn’t really need to go that far at all.
• THE FACTS: The Inn at Kippen (Fore Road, Kippen, 01786 870500, www.theinnatkippen.co.uk), prices from £85 per room per night B&B. Starters for dinner range from £4 to £7. Main courses £10 to £19.
Admission to Wallace Monument (www.nationalwallacemonument.com) adults £7.75, seniors/students £6.25, children £4.75, packages available for families.
Doune Castle (www.historic-scot land.gov.uk) admission adults £5, children £3.