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Pitlochry – The Gateway to Scotland’s Highlands
Located in Highland Perthshire, Pitlochry has been a popular tourist destination ever since Queen Victoria marvelled at the area’s stunning natural beauty in 1842. The arrival of the railway in 1863 made it easy for everyone else to experience the mountains, forests, lochs and rivers and to this day visitors flock here to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, angling and boating. As well as a wide range of Scottish cultural gems to enjoy such as whisky distilleries, the town also offers lovely accommodation options, ranging from quaint B&Bs to a hotel set in a magnificent castle!
Exploring the Town Centre
A short walk from the mainline railway station on Station Road is Atholl Road, the town’s high street. Numerous hotels can be found here as well as Pitlochry VisitScotland iCentre with useful tourist information. There’s also a great selection of independent shops and restaurants; Macnaughtons of Pitlochry, one of Scotland’s oldest shops, is ideal for gifts with its range of souvenirs and traditional Scottish clothing. While walking along the road, it’s easy to spot buildings with attractive turrets, or bartizans as they are also known. These buildings are examples of the Scottish Baronial architecture style that was fashionable during the Gothic revival in the 19th-century; its aim was to incorporate elements of tower houses, French châteaux and medieval castles. West Moulin Road and Bonnethill Road offer more shops and nearby towns Dunkeld and Blair Atholl are also great shopping destinations; the House of Bruar in Blair Atholl is regarded as one of the best independent clothing shops in Scotland.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Explorers’ Garden
Pitlochry Festival Theatre on Port-Na-Craig Road is a popular attraction. Opened in 1951, it is affectionately known as the ‘Theatre in the Hills’ thanks to the enviable position it occupies on a wooded hillside near the River Tummel. Throughout the year, it hosts a wide range of productions and workshops, providing an important focal point for the local community and the on-site restaurant, which offers pre-theatre dining, is a great place to meet likeminded individuals. Another nearby sight is the Explorers’ Garden, a must-see for those with green fingers. Open from April to November, it aims to celebrate the work of Scottish plant hunters who introduced amazing specimens into Scotland from all over the world. Dog Tooth Violets, Primulas and Anemones are just some of the attractive flowers on display and it’s even possible to buy seeds here too. Still on this side of the river, Fonab Castle Hotel offers a touch of modern luxury in a stunning historic building.
Sampling the Whisky
Of course, the Scottish Highlands is famed for its whisky heritage and Pitlochry is home to two notable distilleries. A short walk from Atholl Road with its comfy hotels, beyond the quaint Holy Trinity Church, is Blair Atoll Distillery on Perth Road. Originally founded in 1798, it has seen several owners and extended periods of closure during its long history. Finally, it was saved from dereliction by current owners Arthur Bell and Sons, with the distillery being rebuilt before reopening in 1949. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength: its main product is a 12-year-old single malt which is used in Bells Whisky, Britain’s best-selling blended Scotch. Tours ending with a wee dram are available throughout most of the year. In contrast, a pleasant hike through the stunning countryside just outside the town is Edradour Distillery which claims to be Scotland’s smallest traditional distillery. It offers tours between April and October and features a well-stocked shop.
Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder
A short walk from the shops and hotels in the town centre is Pitlochry Dam. Built in 1951, it stretches across the River Tummel and provides an important source of hydro-electric power for Scotland. Since the river also happens to be rich in salmon, it was necessary to provide a way for the fish to swim past the dam and so an ingenious fish ladder was built. It consists of 34 separate pools, one of which provides an underwater viewing area through which visitors can watch the leaping salmon; generally the months of July to September are the best time to see them in action. There’s also a visitor centre which is free to enter and features interactive displays and videos explaining the environmental benefits of the dam and also offers a café. Standing on the top of the dam offers stunning views of the flowing river and great photo opportunities.
The Beautiful Outdoors
Pitlochry Golf Club on the aptly named Golf Course Road offers an 18-hole round of golf at a very reasonable price. Those interested in hiking will want to conquer Ben Vrackie, a mountain literally on the town’s doorstep. It takes a couple of hours to reach the summit at a leisurely pace and can be a little steep in parts. However, the views at the top are truly breath-taking and well worth the effort. Speaking of views, Queen’s View, named after Queen Victoria and around 7 miles from the town centre, offers another magnificent spot to enjoy the landscape. There’s a car park here, so those wishing to avoid walking can instead enjoy a leisurely breakfast in their hotel, take a scenic drive along the country lanes before enjoying the views over the Loch Tummel and the Perthshire Highlands. A 30-minute drive from there, 16th-century Castle Menzies, the ancestral seat of Clan Menzies, is a popular attraction.