With its rolling hills, snaking rivers and ancient forests, Perthshire boasts some of the most scenic countryside to be found anywhere in Scotland – or in fact the world. It is also home to an impressive array of wildlife, including iconic birds of prey and a fairly recently established colony of beavers.
As the gateway to the Highlands, its central location makes it a great base for exploring further afield, with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness all within a couple of hours by car. So it’s not surprising the area attracts nature lovers, outdoors enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies alike.
We stayed in Kenmore, which is an ideal spot if you want to take advantage of all the region has to offer. The picturesque village stands at the northern end of the magnificent Loch Tay, at the point where it flows into the River Tay. The settlement today looks much as it did when it was laid out in the 18th century by the third Earl of Breadalbane, retaining many original buildings and an old stone bridge built in 1774.
At the heart of the village is the Square, which is home to what is thought to be Scotland’s oldest inn. The Kenmore Hotel carries a date of 1572 as well as a more recent inscription – a poem written directly onto one of its walls by national bard Robert Burns during a visit in 1787.
The eastern end of the Square is dominated by the elaborate stone gateway leading to the estate of Taymouth Castle, which was built in the early 1800s on the site of the earlier Balloch Castle.
Archaeological remains scattered around the loch reveal a rich history of human habitation stretching back 9,000 years, including the remnants of buildings abandoned during the Clearances.
The breathtaking landscape may look much as it did when our ancient ancestors lived along the loch’s edge, but thankfully our accommodation was firmly rooted in the 21st century. We stayed at a high-spec three-bedroom property called Ben Vorlich, part of the same stable as the Kenmore Hotel and just a stone’s throw away.
With an outdoor hot-tub and delightful views of the river and the attractive arched bridge that straddles it, Ben Vorlich certainly lives up to its five-star billing and the Kenmore Luxury Lodges brand. It is ideally located to explore the surroundings while also allowing access to the various restaurants and bars at the historical inn.
There are great walks to enjoy right from the front door. We took a long ramble from Aberfeldy, passing fishermen casting for salmon along the way and evidence of recent beaver activity – the best chance of spotting the animals themselves is at dawn or dusk.
In the past few decades the remains of several Iron Age roundhouses that stood on stilts in the water have been unearthed around the loch. If you want a taste of life 2,500 years ago it’s worth visiting the Scottish Crannog Centre, which is housed inside a reconstruction of the ancient dwelling. Our offspring particularly enjoyed learning primitive woodwork skills and how to make fire.
Not far away is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes nature reserve, which is home to a whole host of native species. There you have the chance to spot everything from ospreys to beavers and red squirrels.
But you don’t have to leave Kenmore to have fun as there are lots of activities on and around the loch itself, such as sailing, canoeing, water-skiing, jet-biking and fishing. And there is white-water rafting available at nearby Aberfeldy.
This year, for the first time, cruises will be operating on the loch during the summer season, while golf and horse riding are available at the Mains of Taymouth estate.
The lodges have all mod cons and everything you need to relax and spoil yourself after a day’s adventuring. And if you can’t be bothered cooking you can choose to dine in the Grill Room or the less formal Boar’s Head bar at Kenmore Hotel. Both have an outside terrace where you can eat al fresco in good weather. There is also the Poet’s Bar if it’s only liquid refreshment you need.
We ate in the Grill Room, which offers a varied menu, with plenty of fresh local produce on offer and even children’s options. The staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful.
Perhaps the Macdonald in our party should have felt uncomfortable being so close to the seat of the Campbell clan at Taymouth Castle, but that just wasn’t possible at Ben Vorlich. Our two young children asked if we could stay for ever – and keep the local ducks as pets.
Fact box: Kenmore Luxury Lodges, The Square, Kenmore, Perthshire PH15 2NU, 01887 830205, www.kenmoreluxurylodges.co.uk; Prices start from £695 a week for a one-bedroom property.