Days Out from Perth – Crieff and Comrie
Guest Blog: Courtesy of www.perthcity.co.uk
For our second Day Out from Perth, we’ve chosen Crieff and Comrie, a bustling town and pretty village in the heart of the Strathearn area. Spring is in the air as we set off from Perth along the A85 to Crieff, about 18 miles away. 2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, so we’ll be sure to include some links to the past.
9.45am – MacRosty Park, Crieff
Our first stop is MacRosty Park, a beautiful tree-filled space just a short walk from the town centre. Named after its benefactor, James MacRosty, the park has been enjoyed by locals and tourists for over 100 years.
Among its features are a Victorian bandstand, the Turret Burn, woodland walks, a playpark, a café, a magic mirror and so much green space to scamper about in. This morning there are dogs aplenty enjoying a sniff of morning air (and a dook in the water!).
We climb the steps to the playpark (there’s also an accessible path) and have a zoom down the Flying Fox slide, a shimmy up the climbing-wall rock and a bounce on the trampolines. Later this morning, the park will be alive with kids running, jumping and sliding, and in the warmer months they’ll be running through the special play-sprinklers to the café for ice creams.
Feeling wide awake after our jaunt in the park, we drive a few minutes along the road to Glenturret Distillery, the oldest in Scotland. It’s home to the world-renowned and best-selling Famous Grouse blend and the Glenturret single malts.
We’re welcomed warmly by a member of staff on the front desk, and immediately offered a delicious hot toddy or apple and cinnamon juice. In the name of research (and as I’m not driving), I have to try both, of course!
We join a group of enthusiastic German tourists, and our happy tour group makes our way through the distillery, starting with the Barley Room and finishing with an insight into the blending process. Charlie, our guide, is an entertaining host, full of stories and happy to answer any questions. Our young daughter is the only kid on the tour, and she’s delighted when he asks her to demonstrate separating the grist by shaking the official wooden box.
It’s heartening to see how many old-fashioned methods are still used. Glenturret is the only distillery in Scotland still to use a hand-operated Mash Tun, for example. The tradition of the Glenturret cats is still very much alive, too, and we meet Glen, the gorgeous ginger tom, curled up asleep in a chair near the copper still. Given half a chance, that’s where I’d spend my mornings too.
After the tour we make our way to the distillery shop where Charlie offers us drams of the Famous Grouse blend and the peated Glenturret malt. It’s a tough life but I taste them both. The peated malt is surprisingly creamy and smooth, and, tasting the Famous Grouse it’s not hard to see why it’s Scotland’s best-selling blend. Responsibility for these tastes lies chiefly with Kirsteen Campbell, Glenturret’s master blender, whose nose is insured for £2 million! Thank you, Kirsteen, Charlie, and everyone at Glenturret – we had a fantastic visit.
11.30am – Crieff shops and galleries
Crieff has a lovely selection of independent shops and cafés, and some pretty galleries. We park up and immediately spot Wee Beasties, a lovely vintage shop in King Street. Vintage is my weakness, so we pop in and buy some bits and pieces. There’s also the charming Planet Soap across the road, selling handmade soaps, candles and bath bombs. We’ve booked lunch at Café Rhubarb but can’t resist popping in to Delivino, a wine café and delicatessen, for some delicious caramel shortbread on the way.
We stroll down the road to the Strathearn Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Crieff established in 1994. We’ve always loved this gallery, with its mix of stunning glass pieces, paintings, jewellery and sculpture. The gallery is busy and buzzing, as there’s a new exhibition of wildlife paintings by Georgina McMaster. We have a quick chat to the artist and browse the rest of the pieces to work up an appetite for lunch.
A friend has recommended Café Rhubarb in the centre of Crieff so we’d phoned earlier to make a booking with the friendly proprietor. Good thing, too, because it’s packed out by the time we get there. The sensible grown-ups order delicious lentil soup and crusty bread, and the wee one gets to take advantage of her age and have a toasted bagel topped with Nutella and banana, which comes with a side order of sweets and a cocktail umbrella. She’s pretty impressed. So are we – the service is friendly and welcoming, the ambience is relaxing and the food is comforting.
As if there hadn’t been enough chocolate already, we can’t resist popping into Gordon & Durward, an old-fashioned confectioner with a window full of multi-coloured sweeties in jars, Easter treats and tablet. The impeccably arranged hand-made chocolates in the glass cases are bought fresh from the Isle of Arran, and the tablet is made in-house. We all choose some treats and head for our last stop in Crieff.
1.30pm – Crieff Visitor Centre
Those of you who grew up in Perth may remember the Caithness Glass Factory at the edge of the city, where you could go to watch the glass-blowers making the famous paperweights from what looked like bright orange melted toffee. You can now see them at work at the Crieff Visitor Centre, and shop for classic pieces in their outlet store.
There’s also an antiques shop, a large busy café and a store selling local and Scottish products. Finally we pop into a compact but interesting exhibition about the 18th Century Highland Drovers, who walked long distances with their cattle through the Highlands to market towns.
2.15pm – Walk to Deil’s Cauldron, Comrie
It’s time for some fresh air, so we drive the seven miles to Comrie and park in the pretty village. Comrie regularly wins prizes for its floral displays, and although spring has only just arrived there are some pretty arrangements on show, including heather-filled window boxes on many of the houses.
The Deil’s Cauldron is a waterfall rushing from a rocky gorge. We opt to see the Wee Cauldron only, rather than the longer walk to the main Cauldron, and it’s a pleasant 20-minute amble to get there through an avenue of beech trees, many covered in soft green moss. We hear the Cauldron before we see it, due to the force at which it spills out over the rocks below. There’s a fenced path down to a viewing platform where we stand and breathe in the lovely fresh air. Time now to head back to the village for some refreshments!
3.00pm – House of Tartan, Comrie
Before we go for a cup of tea, we spot the House of Tartan in Comrie’s main street. The sign above the door says they’re home to the world’s first tartan database, so we have to find out more.
We’re greeted inside by Morag, who explains that, 20 years ago, the House of Tartan logged all existing tartans in a huge database and, since then, many more have been added. Customers can create and name their own tartan, and add it to the official list. If you’re a fan of a certain wildly popular TV series filmed in Scotland, you can now buy Outlander tartan too. There’s also a display of MacBeanies, sportswear made in Scotland that can be worn as a scarf, bandana, scrunchie, balaclava or beanie. We can’t resist picking out one in our family name.
3.15pm – Royal Hotel, Comrie
After all those tartan antics, it’s time for a visit to the Royal Hotel. We haven’t been to this family-owned hotel for a few years, and are delighted to find out it’s still comfortable, tastefully decorated and welcoming. In the lounge bar we have a pot of tea and some chocolate brownies, and relax while Django, a friendly dog who’s in with his owner, wanders over to say hello.
4.00pm – Cultybraggan Camp, near Comrie
After our tea, there’s time for one more stop, and it’s a visitor attraction like no other.
Cultybraggan Camp is the last remaining World War II high-security POW camp in the UK. Consisting of 80 Nissen huts, the camp has been recognised by Historic Scotland as having international significance. The community of Comrie acquired Cultybraggan Camp in 2007, from the army, to ensure that it survived intact. Comrie Development Trust now manages the camp.
Cultybraggan’s most famous prisoner was Heinrich Steinmeyer. Heinrich was moved by the unexpectedly kind way he was treated both at the camp and by people from the Comrie area. He also felt welcomed by other communities in Scotland, when he stayed to work after the war. He visited Comrie over the years and, on his death, left a gift of £384,000 to be used to benefit older people in Comrie.
It’s a strange place to walk around. On the one hand, the camp is surrounded by fields, trees and hills, beautifully lit in the spring sunshine. There’s an area of allotments and a welcoming information centre. Businesses, such as the Strathearn Cheese Company, even rent a few of the huts.
On the other hand, it’s eerie and atmospheric, as we wander around the long-since abandoned huts, many of which are almost cartoonish and quaint with their little pink curtains. There’s an old rifle range and assault course (now a community orchard). There are also photos and stories of soldiers marched through the streets of Comrie to be imprisoned a long way from home.
There are tours on the first Sunday of each month from May to October, starting at 11am then every half-hour until 3pm. We did a self-guided walk-around after picking up a tour leaflet from the visitor centre.
4.45pm – Head home
It’s time to head home to Perth. We’ve had a fantastic day out, finding new places and revisiting old favourites. We’ve enjoyed friendly service, delicious treats and fascinating visitor attractions. Crieff and Comrie are a great double act.
While you’re in the area…
There are lots more attractions to check out while you’re exploring the beautiful Strathearn area:
- Auchengarrich Wildlife Centre
- Campbell’s Bakery, Comrie
- Crieff Hydro, for adventure sports, swimming, spa afternoons and delicious food
- Comrie Croft mountain biking
- Comrie Skatepark
- Crieff Highland Gathering, Sunday 20th August 2017
- Drummond Castle Gardens (open from 1st May)
- The Earthquake House, Comrie
- Hansen’s Kitchen deli and café
- Innerpeffray Library (we hope to cover this in a future day out)
- J L Gill, traditional high-street grocer and whisky seller, Crieff
- The Knock hill walk