Pitlochry is one of Scotland’s best-loved towns, always lively and full of things to do. It has something for everyone and every taste, from its popular theatre to its Hydro Dam Visitor Centre, from its abundance of thriving shops, bars and restaurants to its walks and wild landscapes nearby. It’s easy to get to by train or car, so we head up the A9 from Perth on a sunny, blue-sky morning, the kind that makes you glad to be in Highland Perthshire.
And because 2017 is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we’ll be looking at some beautifully designed buildings and dipping into the past too.
9.45am – Hettie’s Tearoom
We arrive in Pitlochry and head for Hettie’s Tearoom for our first stop. Outside Hettie’s there are huge pots of brightly coloured flowers singing out against the zingy blue paint; inside the décor’s cheery too – hot pink and blue, with brightly coloured paintings, chandeliers and floral wallpaper.
We order from their tea menu (they have over 30 special blends): a smoky, aromatic Lapsang Souchong and a lively Morning Cuppa, with some enormous, delicious and warm scones (the best kind). After those treats, we’re ready to explore Pitlochry’s bustling streets.
10.30 – Pitlochry Shops
We go to the station first to visit the Pitlochry Railway Station bookshop, a wonderful store that has raised well over £100,000 for charity. Started in 2005 by a band of enthusiastic locals, it supports among its beneficiaries the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS), Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) and Highland Perthshire Shopmobility. The stock is entirely donated but the range and quality is superb – there’s a kids’ section, fiction, biographies, a Classics section, local books and lots more.
Every book is £1 unless otherwise labelled – we got a huge stack of treats for £7. If you haven’t been here already, you must!
Next we stroll up to MacNaughton’s of Pitlochry which is, quite simply, a Highland institution. Since the 1830s, it has been bedecking locals and visitors in tweed, kilts, country clothing and cosy winter knits. My husband needs some new kilt socks and he finds a great selection. There are also bags, sporrans, household items and gifts. The shop is popular with tourists, as you can imagine, and as we leave there’s an huge group of visitors having their photo taken outside the shop’s entrance.
We then spot the Highland Soap Company across the street. We’ve recently converted back to using bars of soap instead of the endless plastic bottles (doing our bit for the environment!) so we pop into the shop, whose products are made in their Lochaber workshop with an emphasis on locally fresh, natural ingredients and herbal therapy. It’s hard to choose from the delicious range but we go for Wild Scottish Raspberry and Scottish Honeysuckle soaps, and a Juniper Bath Melt.
Honest Thistle opened five years ago on Pitlochry’s main street, selling tasteful gifts, art and homewares from local and Scottish artists. The owner works alongside her West Highland Terrier Ruby, who sits in her bed in the shop looking very cute. Our particular favourites were some Westie placemats and charming street scenes made from reclaimed wood.
11.40am – Wild Space Visitor Centre (John Muir Trust)
The John Muir Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places. In the visitor centre we listen to audio recordings, look at some beautiful photos, watch their short but compelling film and find out lots of amazing facts.
One fact that amazed us was that, as well as all their protection, regeneration and conservation work, the Trust also clears away piles of banana skins from the summit of Ben Nevis every year (people throw them away, thinking they’ll biodegrade quickly, but it’s too cold!).
“We can build towns and cities, but we can’t build wildernesses…” is one of the lines in the short film. This place is well worth a visit and will make you think – and maybe pick up a membership form…
On such a beautiful day, it would be a crime not to have lunch outside, so we head from the main street to Mill Lane and take a table among the cascading hanging baskets at the award-winning Old Mill Inn. It’s been refurbished recently but retains its Scottish charm and friendliness. It also has some great live music – check out their upcoming acts here.
We’re glad we got a table early as it’s packed by the time we leave. Judging by the mix of accents all around us, this place attracts visitors from far and wide! We order a steak burger, kids’ cheeseburger and Greek salad. The service is friendly and efficient, the food fresh and very tasty.
After our lunch at the Inn, our wee daughter still miraculously has room for ice cream so we go to Cargills Café where there’s a huge cabinet of frozen delights from Perthshire’s Stewart Tower Dairy. She selects a Mint Choc Chip (good choice!) and we head along the road in the sunshine to visit a uniquely Scottish workshop and shop.
1.15pm – Heathergems
Heathergems is a unique and imaginative range of Scottish jewellery and giftware, made in Pitlochry from natural heather stems. Heathergems are the only manufacturers of this unique product anywhere in the world.
To make this unique product, the heather stalks are picked, stripped, dyed then compressed into colourful blocks, then shaped and lacquered, ready for jewellery and other precious items, which are sold in their large shop and around the world.
There are glass walls in the workshop where we can glimpse the jeweller at work as well as the machinery, including the wonderfully named “Tilghman Wheelabrator” which is used to dye the stems.
1.45pm – Explorers Garden
We fancy a fresh-air stroll in the sunshine now, so we head for Explorers Garden, surely one of Pitlochry’s best-kept secrets. We’ve been to Pitlochry Festival Theatre many times but never to this lovely spot, which is next door and owned by the theatre. Managed by one staff member and a team of volunteers, this six-acre oasis of plants and trees celebrates Scotland’s intrepid plant hunters, including David Douglas, who started his career as a gardener’s boy at Scone Palace, and went on to introduce the world to the legendary Douglas Fir.
The garden is divided into continents and regions of the world, and there are markers throughout with information about these amazing plant collectors who often risked their lives to bring back botanical specimens.
There’s a beautiful curved wooden pavilion tucked away in the trees; you can stand on its balcony overlooking the rushing burn far below and feel as though you’re a hundred miles from any town. There’s also a lovely photographic exhibition inside the pavilion.
Further down the slope we see a charming pagoda with a stunning mosaic floor, then we descend even further into the “Himalayas” before climbing back up to “Japan”.
Even if you’re not particularly green-fingered or a keen gardener, you’ll love this special outdoor space. Come here for a walk, to relax and think, or to buy plants in their little nursery. Explorers Garden is open until the 30th October. Entry is £4 per person or £9 for a family card (and free for RHS members).
You may have heard of the Atholl Palace Hotel, maybe even been to a wedding or party there, but did you know it has a quirky little museum in the basement, next to its Lavender Spa and swimming pool? It’s an exhibition about the hotel’s past, from its beginnings as a “hydropathic” hotel and spa in 1878 to the present day.
We head to the hotel and start with coffee in the lounge, a grand, high-ceilinged and comfortable space – and a great spot to people-watch as the staff and guests come and go.
Then it’s off to the basement for the museum, where we find out some fascinating information – did you know that the hotel’s architect also designed Kinnoull Primary School in Perth? Or that this was the first hotel in the world to have its building recreated in Minecraft blocks as an educational tool for a museum?
We explore the recreated “doctor’s rooms” complete with scary-looking dental instruments, then the bakery and the staff quarters where you can dress up as a servant (sorry, we must’ve forgotten to take photos of that!). There’s also a pool table, a fascinating film about the hotel’s history and lots of photos and memories.
4.15pm – Home time
When we’ve finished larking about in Victorian clothing, it’s time to head for home. We’ve had another fantastic Day Out From Perth, and there are still so many things to do in Pitlochry that we promise ourselves another visit very soon.
Other things to do
Here are all the other attractions that you’ll love to visit in Pitlochry:
- Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre – see our article from February 2017 when we visited just before its opening;
- Enchanted Forest – a spectacular annual show in nearby Faskally Wood; this year it runs from 28th September to 29th October;
- Edradour Distillery and Blair Athol Distillery;
- Pitlochry Golf Course;
- Pitlochry Festival Theatre – where you can see six shows a week in summer/early autumn, and this winter season includes Singin’ In The Rain;
- Fonab Castle Hotel – for fine dining and luxury spa treatments;
- Moulin Hotel and Brewery;
- Pitlochry Highland Games – this year they’re on the 9th of September;
- Nae Limits adventure centre at nearby Ballinluig.
Places to stay in Perth
If you’d like to do a great Day Out from Perth to Pitlochry, 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
Stay in touch
And check out our other Days Out From Perth – you’re sure to find something fantastic to do!