A day out to the popular Highland town of Aberfeldy is a regular treat for me and my family. However, because there’s so much to do in the town and surrounding area, there are still lots of fun-filled and interesting things that we haven’t done yet. So we’re excited to see what’s in store.
And because 2017 is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we’ll make sure that we delve into the past, too.
We hop in the car on a fresh summer morning and head up the A9 for the 32 miles to Aberfeldy, which sits by a curve in the upper reaches of the fast-flowing River Tay.
9.45am – Birks of Aberfeldy
We couldn’t do a day in Aberfeldy without visiting the famous Birks of Aberfeldy, popularised in a song by our national poet, Robert Burns. As it’s a fresh summer morning we make it our first stop.
We start from the upper car park and cross a wooden bridge, where we’re immediately struck by the fragrance of wild garlic. We love picking this delicious pungent herb to put into soup or pesto, but today we just inhale deeply (although our wee daughter isn’t very impressed) and stroll up the path that winds past the rushing Moness Burn.
It’s easy to see why Burns was drawn to this place. The roaring waterfalls, combined with the leafy beeches and birks, wild flowers and abundant wildlife, is a heady combination. There’s a statue of Burns in a beautiful glade of dappled sunlight, sitting on a stone seat contemplating his next lines.
After about half an hour we reckon it’s time for a coffee. Then, to our delight, we spot a little red squirrel on the path, bushy tail curled up his back, just minding his own business. He scampers off into the undergrowth as we turn and head for the town centre.
10.30am – Habitat Café
One of the cafés we haven’t yet been to is the Habitat Café. We’ve been missing out! From the friendly greeting as we walk in the door, to the delicious treats on offer, this is definitely a welcoming place. And dogs are included in that welcome, which is, in our opinion, A Very Good Thing.
We order coffees, scones and an orange-and-almond cake, which are brought promptly and enjoyed enthusiastically. And – a nice touch – chilled water and four glasses are on each of the rustic wood tables.
In 2013, Habitat Café won a “Best Espresso” award and in 2014, a “Best Overall Experience” foodie award. They’re also known for their ethical and fair-trade sourcing, so there’s a lot to like about this place.
11.15am – Aberfeldy Watermill & Homer homewares
Our daughter is desperate to go to “the nice bookshop” so we head for the famed Watermill: a bookshop, gallery, café and design-led homeware store, on three floors of a converted oatmeal mill.
The Watermill was opened in 2005 by Michael Palin, and was awarded UK Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009. There are regular events, too – a few days before our visit, Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith had visited to do a book talk and signing. There’s a lovely mix in the shop of books, gifts, music and, of course, the kids’ section, a dedicated room off the main shop where you can sit with your little ones and browse the selection. We pick three titles – including our new family favourite, “Wee Granny’s Magic Bag” – and head up to the gallery.
Today the exhibition is the Royal College of Art Centenary Print Portfolio and New Acquisitions. And opening on Saturday 8th July is new work by renowned Danish-Scottish ceramic artist and Watermill regular Lotte Glob.
Homer, the homewares shop, is next door. There are rugs, blankets, cushions, lamps, dinnerware, candles, gardening accessories, gifts, and lots more, many with a Scottish or Scandi flavour. And just around the corner on the High Street is the Homer Showroom selling new and vintage furniture, lighting and more rugs. I can never go to this shop without buying something, and today is no different. I come out armed with some beautiful candles and we stroll up the road for lunch.
12.15 – Three Lemons restaurant
This new restaurant, Three Lemons, has opened in what used to be Haggarts, a traditional outfitter for country gents. It’s great to see that some of the old glass- and wood partitions have been kept as a reminder of its heritage. The restaurant is decorated in white and dark grey and adorned with vintage bottles, black-and-white-photos and cool light fittings.
We order a very tasty trio of meals: veggie burger, beef burger and fish goujons, all of which arrive promptly on wooden boards, topped with fresh salad and accompanied by ceramic pots of fries.
After lunch we’ve just got time to squeeze in a bit more culture.
1.30pm – Aberfeldy Gallery
We’ve always loved this gallery and were sad to see it was closed last time we were in Aberfeldy a month or so ago. But we’re happy to see that it’s now open under new ownership. The new collection of pieces has been curated thoughtfully, combining paintings, fine wooden furniture, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery.
Owners Adam and Anna Seward live locally in Aberfeldy and are both passionate about the arts. They have a longstanding connection with Aberfeldy Gallery as Anna’s grandparents ran it originally.
We have a chat with Anna’s parents who are managing the gallery today and, as my husband’s very-late-birthday gift, we buy a beautiful landscape painting by a Newburgh-based artist.
After all our indoor treats, it’s time to get back to nature again and we head to the Red Deer Centre a few miles from the town.
2.00pm – Red Deer Centre
When we arrive we’re greeted by our kilted guide, Colin, who takes our group to an airy wooden cabin where he fills us in on the lives, loves and quirks of the Scottish red deer. There are surprising facts in his talk – but I won’t give anything away – and we get to handle discarded antlers and strips of old antler flesh (mmm!). Then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for – Colin calls the deer and they come loping up to the fence, sniffing out the cups of feed we’re all clutching. We stick out our hands and they munch the pellets, moving along the line rapidly to see who has any more. They’re surprisingly gentle, even the young stag whose velvety antlers are already impressive.
After the feed, we come back to the cabin and Colin introduces Ossian, a beautiful barn owl who’s been born and bred in captivity. On his command she swoops from his gauntlet and flies noiselessly past us to a perch at the other end of the hall. We’re all captivated! We hear some great owl stories and facts too.
It’s been a fascinating experience and, at just over one hour, it’s easy to fit in to a day out. On our way out we have a quick stop at the playpark then head to our last stop of the day.
3.30pm – Castle Menzies
Castle Menzies is an impressive 16th-century castle nestling between the hills near Weem, just outside Aberfeldy. Somewhere between a classic “castle with battlements” and a mansion house, it was the seat of the Chiefs of Clan Menzies for over 500 years and was involved in much of the turbulent history of the Highlands. During the second Jacobite rising the Castle first hosted both Bonnie Prince Charlie, who rested on his way to Culloden in 1746 and then, just four days later, the Duke of Cumberland, son of the British Monarch and commander of the Government forces.
As we enter the castle, the manager, who’s on reception today, greets us and starts to regale us with tales of the castle and the name Menzies (most likely of Norman origin).
This castle was restored from a ruin in the 20th century by the Menzies Clan Society. It’s not a “fancy” castle but we like that – you can see in the stone walls all the changes that have happened through the years, and it has a rugged charm. Not to mention numerous staircases, nooks and crannies and wooden steps, and a host of fascinating objects and stories – all great fun for inquisitive minds.
We finish off our lovely day in Aberfeldy with tea, marble cake and some friendly service in the castle tearoom.
After that it’s back home to Perth with great memories of our new discoveries in this charming Highland town, and plenty of ideas for next time.
Other things to do in the area
- Aberfeldy Putting Green – a great community-run project
- Birks Cinema – beautifully restored Art Deco cinema (with café), showing films in English and Gaelic
- Bolfracks Garden – Three-acre garden overlooking the Tay Valley
- Delight Deli – for fresh fruit and veg, cheeses and meats, breads, wines and more
- Dewar’s Distillery – founded in 1898 and home to the world-famous whisky
- Highland Safaris Land Rover Safaris – enjoy roving through the hills and glens in style
- Karelia House – craft and coffee shop
- Perdie & Boo – handmade tweed clothing for kids and dogs
- The Plaice In The Square – popular fish and chip shop
- R. Doig & Sons – antiques and men’s clothing
- Spirit of Wood – for wooden furniture, soft furnishings and gifts
- Splash outdoor centre – for rafting, canyoning, abseiling and more
Victoria Park – spacious park with picnic tables, award-winning playpark and skate park
Wee Adventures – fun-filled adventures specially designed for kids and families
Places to stay in Perth
If you’d like to do a great Day Out from Perth to Aberfeldy, here’s a list of fantastic accommodation in the heart of Perth where you can stay, before and/or afterwards:
- Atholl Place Self-Catering Townhouse
- Achnacarry Guest House
- Alexander Residence
- Almond Villa Guesthouse
- Auld Manse Guest House
- Auld Manse Self Catering Apartment
- Balvaird Apartment at Scone Palace
- Best Western Queens Hotel
- The Fitzroy Bed & Breakfast
- Grampian Hotel
- Hazeldene Guest House
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel
- Mercure Hotel
- Murrayshall Hotel & Golf Courses
- No 9 The Guest House Perth
- The Parklands Hotel
- Premier Inn Hotel
- The Royal George Hotel
- Salutation Hotel
- Sunbank House Hotel
- The Townhouse
- Woodlea Guest House
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