We were looking for a place to stay while we explored the Trossachs. Poppies Hotel, at the north end of the town, seemed to fit the bill.
It was, the collective wisdom of TripAdvisor assured us, the No 1 hotel in town and lots of people were saying nice things about its restaurant too.
We’d also lucked out with the weather. It was one of those days when Scotland was boasting it was as hot as the Med. Not a leaf stirred in the whole of the Queen Elizabeth Forest. Not a ripple on Loch Katrine. Such clear blue skies above Ben A’an that it would have felt wrong to climb it. A day for sitting out on the lawn in front of the hotel and doing nothing more strenuous than eating and drinking.
Poppies’ owner John Martin has worked in the hospitality industry all over Scotland, including as general manager of Rusacks in St Andrews. But in 2004 he and his wife Susan wanted to buy their own place. They worked out that Callander, which had plenty of B&Bs, wasn’t oversupplied with hotels. Its centrality as a touring base (the reason we’d picked it), passing trade on the A84 and manageable size were other pluses.
On the one-day heatwave on which we visited, there was another advantage. No, John said, it wasn’t at all a problem if we wanted to eat dinner outside. So out came the three courses as we sat, warmed to an altogether un-Scottish degree by the July sun, congratulating ourselves on our good fortune.
The late Alastair Reid wrote a poem, called “Scotland”, about just such a radiant day in St Andrews (maybe when John was working there). In it, he comments on what a beautiful day it is to a passing woman. “Her brow grew bleak,” he wrote, “her ancestors raged in their graves / As she spoke with their ancient misery / “We’ll pay for it! We’ll pay for it! We’ll pay for it!”
Sure enough, the next day we drove home through a monsoon, with flash-flooded roads and thunderclouds lit by lightning all the way home.
Budget or boutique?
Nine bedrooms says boutique, but £150 for dinner, bed and breakfast for two in high season says budget.
Exactly what you’d expect from an unpretentious three-star hotel, with fairly anodyne bedroom furniture, ultra-comfortable bed and a bath/shower in all rooms (two of which cater for customers who want to bring their dogs). Clean enough to pass the “check the underside of the Venetian blind” test they all do on Four In A Bed.
Worth getting out of bed for
Plenty. If you’re not feeling particularly active, let the steam engine of the Sir Walter Scott take you across Loch Katrine, £13 for an hour’s cruise and £15 for two. (Here’s a thought: why not book one of the jazz night trips it runs as part of the Callander Jazz & Blues Festival on the first weekend in October which John helped to set up in 2006?) If you are active, you’ll know all about the Route 7 (Glasgow-Inverness) cycle path, which is being constantly improved, and the Rob Roy Way (Drymen to Pitlochry, see excellent website www.robroyway.com), both of which pass through the town.
Wining and dining
All Scottish-sourced produce if not always local (though the Balquhidder venison is near enough). The medallions of fillet of beef in café au lait sauce were somewhat small and clearly from the narrow end of the fillet “tail”. Good, competent cooking from starters (smoked haddock, cod and Mull cheddar fishcake) to dessert (a fine sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream). Impressive range of drinks (especially whisky, see below) for small bar.
The bar’s the star at Poppies: hand-crafted from 300-year-old oak, it’s got 150 malts behind it, from Aberfeldy to Tullibardine (not quite an A-Z but near enough), with prices from £3.75 for a 10-year-old Aberlour to £45 (still under cost price) for a Glen Grant 1952. Various whisky trails (local, 21 year old etc) are also on offer. Cheery Tim Cockburn paintings in their natural, boozy setting.
Friendly hotel, good breakfasts, on a main road. Only on a very hot night when you have to open the double-glazed windows is traffic noise a niggle. Then again, how many nights like that do we ever get?
• January price for dinner bed and breakfast is £110, Poppies Hotel & Restaurant, Leny Road, Callander, Perthshire, FK17 8AL (01877 330329, www.poppieshotel.com)