Countryside pursuits beckon Alistair Grant during a short break to East Haugh House
East Haugh House lies just off the A9 on the approach to Pitlochry. Homely and welcoming, its emphasis is firmly on shooting, stalking and fishing – the Holy Trinity for which much of Perthshire’s rural landscape has become well known. Each of its 12 rooms is named after salmon fishing flies, while its website boasts of easy access to nearby Highland estates.
Of course, there’s more to this part of Scotland than traipsing around moors, rifle in hand – though admittedly it does that extremely well. Perthshire is a hot spot for hillwalkers, hikers and strollers, boasting stunning countryside, sweeping views and a variety of charming towns and villages.
Fearful of the consequences of being allowed near a gun, we opted to explore our surroundings on foot and by car. East Haugh House provided an indulgent base. Greeted by a chilled glass of prosecco on arrival, we stayed in one of the hotel’s three four-poster bedrooms. Tastefully decorated, the spacious bathroom came complete with Jacuzzi bath and a shower so powerful it sometimes felt a bit like it was beating you up.
Aside from countryside pursuits, East Haugh’s great draw is its food. Chef-patron Neil McGown’s menu is rich and varied, offering everything from pan-seared venison liver to grilled loin of hake. Highlights come thick and fast: don’t miss the seared scallops with Stornaway black pudding, or the chocolate brownie served with pistachio ice-cream. Elsewhere, the vanilla poached pear and berry fruit compote was a delicious finale to our final night.
The service was fantastic throughout our stay: knowledgable, polite and speedy. The bar offers a bit more atmosphere than the restaurant, so if you have the choice always plump for the former. The menu’s the same in both.
Our inevitable overindulgence gave our walking plans a certain urgency. Luckily, Pitlochry is the perfect starting point, and the Pitlochry Paths Network offered a tempting link between the Victorian town and Killiecrankie, Moulin and Strathtay.
We chose to loop round the banks of Loch Faskally, setting off from the Garry Bridge car park. This took us over the River Tummel and up past Clunie Arch, a monument to the workers killed constructing the massive pipeline that feeds water into the nearby power station. Hydro power brought jobs and electricity to rural Perthshire during the middle of the last century, and its presence is still strongly felt. A stroll over Pitlochry dam, completed in 1951, provides an eye-opening glimpse of the vast ambition behind these schemes.
From Clunie Arch, we walked back towards the A9, before swerving left and over the arched footbridge that crosses Loch Tummel. This peaceful stroll along the loch and into the woods is packed with stunning scenery, but it’s very much a leisurely wander – if you’re after something a bit more meaty head for higher ground.
The next day, we got in the car and drove nine miles north to the House of Bruar, a high-end temple of tweed plonked further up the A9. Boasting Britain’s largest cashmere hall, this is Scottish countryside living as imagined by the Middletons – tasteful, decadent and firmly out of our price range. Among the treats on offer are shooting jackets fashioned from your chosen tweed: a must for any self-respecting gentleman.
The cafe is expensive but undeniably lovely, and comes complete with a Victorian-style courtyard conservatory dotted with cherry blossom trees. Behind it, the majestic Bruar Falls – once admired by Rabbie Burns himself – leap and dance past rocks and ornamental bridges. More importantly, the steep climb allows you to pretend you’re working off all that cake.
Pitlochry itself has much to commend it – from its imposing dam to the surprising range of cafes and restaurants that throng its high street. There’s lots to see and do, whatever the weather. Visiting during the week in April, we unfortunately missed a chance to catch a show at the well-regarded Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which had just launched its new season.
Back in the hotel, the cosy bar was open late both nights we were there and was always packed with guests, many of them no doubt discussing that day’s catch. On our second and last night, we overheard two American ladies discussing a recent trip to Ireland. Scotland was great, they said, but it just didn’t compare to the Emerald Isle. With treasures like this on our doorstep, I respectfully disagree.
• Rooms at East Haugh House Hotel & Restaurant start at £80 for bed and breakfast, or £130 for dinner, bed and breakfast. Some weekends may have a minimum of a two night stay. For details, see www.easthaugh.co.uk, or call 01796 473121 to book.