Loch Tay is the largest loch in Perthshire, and one of the deepest in Scotland. Its feels so “Highland” and tucked away, yet this picturesque loch and its surrounding villages are only an hour’s drive from Perth, either via Aberfeldy or through the stunningly beautiful Sma’ Glen. We set off on one of those Scottish summer days where the weather can’t make up its mind between sunny, rainy or misty so it throws in a bit of everything. Luckily we have a mix of indoor and outdoor activities to try.
And, because 2017 is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we’ll be sure to make contact with the past (up to 5,000 years’ worth!).
9.15am – Coffee at Kenmore Hotel
We arrive on the shores of Loch Tay at Kenmore, a pretty and popular village nestled in the eastern corner of the loch. We have a wander round, make a brief visit to the quaint post office/shop and the Mains of Taymouth country estate, then stroll to the Kenmore Hotel, Scotland’s oldest inn, for a coffee.
Even though we’ve arrived in the middle of a busy breakfast service, an obliging waiter finds time to bring us some coffee with shortbread. After that pleasant start to our day, we head down the hill to start our first adventure.
10.00am – Loch Tay Safari boat trip
At the pier just along from Kenmore Beach, we find the Loch Tay Safari boat Iolaire, a modern, custom-built cabin RIB. We’re greeted there by guide Norman and skipper Alex. After we get our life jackets on, we go on board and choose our seats – which are the most comfortable of any boat I’ve been on. After Norman gives us the safety brief, we set off along the north side of the loch, and he gives us some fascinating insights into the history, geography and folklore of the Loch Tay area.
There are binoculars and information sheets beside each seat, so we can look for wildlife, boats and other sights – including some lovely villages and settlements on the lochside.
After 15 minutes or so at a steady pace, Alex boosts the speed and we really zip along, which is brilliant fun. Norman then asks our daughter if she’d like to sit up front and wear a captain’s hat – and even steer the boat! She’s delighted and, throughout the whole trip, keeps asking if we can “go fast again”.
Halfway through, Alex stops the boat and Norman tells us the legend of the Kelpies, those watery creatures whose aim was to attract young people and take them to the bottom of the loch to devour them(!) He gives us a handful of oats each to scatter into the loch to stop them from getting too hungry…
Then we turn and head down the south side of the loch, past the marina where we’re going for lunch, and the famous Crannog Centre. It’s been a fantastic trip that anyone would love. We say goodbye to our friendly crew and drive round the loch to Taymouth Marina.
11.45am – Tour of Taymouth Marina
We arrive at Taymouth Marina a little early so that we can see round the premises before lunch. There’s been a marina here for some time but they’ve recently added 14 new berths, taking the total to 40. Visitors can hire kayaks, “Nessie” pedalos, paddle boards and canoes – or for the young (and young-at-heart), there is now a giant inflatable trampoline to jump on and fling yourself from into the loch.
But what we’re most interested in has to be seen to be believed. It’s the Hot Box, a 40-foot wide, glass-fronted sauna where you can relax while gazing at the stunning loch view. To cool yourself down afterwards, you can tip a bucket of cold water over yourself, or there is – wait for it – a slide right into the loch. Yes, that’s right, into the loch. We don’t have our wetsuits with us today, but we meet a crazy, fun-seeking family who kindly demonstrate the slide for your entertainment – check out the photo and videos of them below!
There is also a fire pit and fully stocked bar. You can hire the venue for a barbecue, picnic, party or drinks with friends and family, and immerse yourself in the experience. We’ll definitely be back!
12.00pm – Lunch at Taymouth Marina restaurant
Well, the fresh air and outdoor capers have given us a healthy appetite for lunch. I’d phoned the night before to book lunch at Taymouth Marina Restaurant, a bright airy space set on the stunning shores of the loch with full-length windows offering a great view of Drummond Hill.
Taymouth Marina Restaurant takes a pride in sourcing local / Scottish produce, including ice cream from Perthshire’s Stewart Tower Dairy.
We order mushroom and tarragon soup, which is intensely flavoursome, and a baked camembert which is oozy, delicious and accompanied by tasty tomato chutney. We follow with freshly baked pizzas which are fluffy, light and tasty. Our daughter samples the mango and passion fruit ice cream for pudding, which is even better than it sounds.
1.30pm – Crannog Centre
After lunch we don’t have far to go for our next visit – the Crannog Centre is right next door.
So what is, or rather was, a crannog? Crannogs were man-made or modified natural islands in the loch, with a wooden house built on top. Enormous logs were driven into the loch bed to form the “stilts” of the house and the beams of the pointed roof. Thick layers of thatch, and a huge fire pit inside, kept the inhabitants – up to 25 of them plus livestock! – cosy and dry.
After looking round the fascinating land-based exhibition, we cross a wooden bridge to the crannog. It’s a painstakingly reconstructed replica based on the remains of a crannog found further up the loch at Oakbank. (There were at least 18 in this loch alone.)
Our guide, Rich, dressed in traditional clothing, is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He tells us what life was like for the people who lived here. Far from being poor peasants scraping out a living, they were wealthy, skilled farmers who had a varied diet, well-made clothing and all the latest tools.
Rich passes round a replica axe and shows us examples of crops the farmers grew. As he’s talking, some little swallows swoop in and out of the doorway and flit up to the roof, cheeping along with his commentary. We then leave the crannog and go back on land to watch Rich demonstrating wood-turning, stone-drilling, flour-milling, drop-spinning and – everyone’s favourite – fire-making! I wouldn’t fancy the pressure of making fire in front of an expectant audience but he is unfazed, quickly rotating the stick, waiting for the plumes of smoke, then feeding wood shavings into the embers to create the miraculous flame.
After that, we all get to try our hand at the various skills. We make some flour and turn some wood (it’s hard work!) before heading off to our next destination.
Upcoming events at the Crannog include ‘The Celts are Coming’ on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th August. This is the Centre’s first living history extravaganza, which will be brimming with fascinating and unique activities for all ages, featuring artisans showcasing prehistoric crafts. There’s also the Summer Harvest Festival on Sunday 27th August. Not to be missed!
3.00pm – The Fortingall Yew and Fortingall Church
The Fortingall Yew has been on our must-see list for years, and today we’re getting the chance to meet it (thanks, Perth City Centre!). We drive north from the loch to the pretty Arts & Crafts village of Fortingall and find the tree in the churchyard.
But what’s so special about it? Well, it’s the oldest tree in Europe, and possibly the oldest in the world, at a truly staggering 5,000 years old. That means it has predated Stone Age Man, Bronze Age Man, the Picts, the Scots, Romans, the Christians and many, many more.
It stands quietly in Fortingall Churchyard, surrounded by a wall and gates. But it is possible to reach up to its branches (gently, of course). It is a truly special moment to see and touch this ancient wonder.
After that mystical encounter we pop in for a look at the lovely little church, which is open to the public, and we have a stroll round the village, admiring its thatched cottages and chocolate-box-pretty gardens.
3.15pm – Fortingall Hotel
We reckon it must be time for a coffee break (I know, it’s a tough life!) so we head next door to the Fortingall Hotel, another beautiful Arts & Crafts building that’s been hosting weary travellers for many years. We’re greeted warmly and shown into a comfortable lounge that has a cosy log fire. We order coffee, hot chocolate and shortbread – all delicious and served on fine china.
After almost falling asleep in the soft, plush fireside chairs, we decide it’s time to head home but, on our way out, we spot a leaflet for the Fortingall Art summer exhibition. We can’t resist a bit of art, so we stop off at Molteno Hall on our way out of the village.
4.00pm – Fortingall Art, Molteno Hall
Fortingall Art is an annual summer exhibition of the work of over 30 local artists, featuring painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, jewellery and furniture, and the popular Schools Mini Art Competition. It’s held in Molteno Hall, an elegant and unique Arts & Crafts building that was gifted to the community by a local resident in tribute to his late wife.
There are some beautiful pieces here, and we’re impressed by the variety of styles and the number of artists involved. We’d highly recommend you come to see this before it closes on Sunday 6th August 2017, and why not come up next year too, to see 2018’s exhibition?
4.30pm – heading home
We’ve had another wonderful Day Out From Perth and have been impressed by the quality of visitor attractions and the warm welcome that we’ve experienced in the Loch Tay area. It’s a fascinating part of the world to visit, and whether you want outdoor thrills and spills, historical insights or tasty food and drink, you’ll be delighted with your day out here.
Other things to do in the are:
- Bolfracks Garden – Three-acre garden overlooking the Tay Valley
- Croft Moraig – standing stone circle
- Dalerb – a pretty lochside picnic spot
- Drummond Hill walk – gentle trails and lovely loch views
- Highland Safaris Land Rover Safaris, Red Deer Centre and café / shop – enjoy roving through the hills and glens in style, or getting a tasty bite to eat
- Karelia House – craft and coffee shop
- Mains of Taymouth riding stables, golf course, eating places and shop/deli.
Places to stay in Perth
If you’d like to do a great Day Out from Perth to the Loch Tay area, 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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