One, two, three…147.
There are plenty of surrounding sheep to count at the new Shepherds’ Huts on the 145,000 acre Atholl Estate.
This luxury glamping accommodation consists of Lapwing (dusty blue) and Curlew (russet red). They’re 20 metres apart, and surrounded by fields of muscled Beltex, who glare back when you look at them, as if they’re challenging you to dare fall asleep.
Beyond the fields, the huts overlook Highland Perthshire’s lush Tulliemet Valley and Strathtay.
Atholl Estates commissioned these properties and they were hand-crafted in a Cumbrian workshop before being positioned to take advantage of a perfectly secluded spot.
Budget or boutique
Boutique. They both have their own toilet and shower room, and a kitchen, with a butler’s sink, fridge, oven and hob, as well as king-size cabin beds with storage space underneath. It’s probably glamping, though maybe there’s a tier more upmarket - extravaglamping?
The charming interiors have been designed by Jane Bonsor, the creative director of Korla, a company that specialises in printed fabrics. We’re staying in Curlew, which is cream with salmon accents. Most of the crockery is blue-edged enamel, retro-camping style. Towels, bedding, and a hamper full of Blair Castle biscuits and tea are thrown in. We don’t need to use the underfloor heating or wood burning stove, but we imagine it’d be snug here on a dreich day.
Outside, there’s a fire pit and two wooden loungers, with tartan blankets to sling round your shoulders. They’re in the process of setting up hammocks too.
Wining and dining
En-route to the shepherd hut, we collected supplies from Dunkeld, which has loads of great food shops, including bakery Aran. You’re also seven miles from Pitlochry. The team at Atholl Estates can organise the delivery of a picnic hamper to your hut from Ballintaggart Farm. It’s £65 for two, and we had two giant sandwiches with venison salami and chutney, sausage rolls, a tin of Perello olives, Rapscallion soda, brownies, and a punnet of strawberries.
Worth getting out of bed for
A visit to Blair Castle and Gardens - a 15 minute drive from the huts - is essential, and free if you’re staying at the Shepherd Huts (usually £15 for adults, £9 for children, with other concessions available). I couldn’t tell you who the current duke is (well, I can, it’s Bruce, who lives in South Africa), but you don’t have to absorb all the history of the family and the Atholl Highlanders. Just look at the incredible stuff, from the 1st Duke’s state bed, topped by ostrich plumes, to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s gloves. There’s Tilt, the family’s favourite pet stag, now stuffed in the hallway alongside a ceiling-height tribute to various weaponry. The castle is a patchwork of centuries, with Chippendales, ornate plasterwork, portraits (including one of previous visitor Queen Victoria’s favourite dachshund) and original damask wallpaper.
The grounds include the nine-acre walled Hercules Garden, as well as a sculpture walk.
Other estate activities include the new European beaver walks, which are £200 for up to six people. We met our guide, David, in Dunkeld’s Cally Car Park, and followed his four-wheel drive in convoy to the loch, where there’s a small community of these native creatures. Unfortunately, we didn't spot any, but it didn’t matter, as David is hugely knowledgeable.
We started out as ignoramuses, who thought that beavers eat fish. It turns out they prefer vegetation and bark, and groom each other in their underground lodges, using their comb-like paws.
David pointed out the changes they make to their surrounding environment, which makes them a keystone (and sometimes contentious) species. By this loch, they’ve created a lodge, dams, canals, and chewed on trees, including silver birch, leaving their stumps pointed. There was evidence of these elusive rodents all around, but no sign of Justin Beaver himself.
I was one of the first to stay in Curlew, so there are no previous comments. If there had been a guestbook, I would’ve written, “You don’t need to count sheep to relax at the Shepherds’ Huts”.
Prices start from £360 for a short stay of three nights in low season, see www.atholl-estates.co.uk