So, you’ve found yourself in Glasgow for the music or Edinburgh for the architecture (writes Andy Hayes). You’ve hit the festivals, you’ve seen the tawdry kilt shops, and you’ve had real ale and haggis. What do you do with those last couple of extra days before the flight home?
The Scottish Highlands are great, but skip the day tour to Loch Ness (the statistics are not in your favour to see Nessie, I’m afraid).
I’d suggest you check out Pitlochry, an adorable little town often called the ‘gateway to the Highlands'. It is less than two hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow by train, and from the station you’ll find yourself steps from loads of great stuff to do.
I’ve been to Pitlochry three times now, mostly because I like the walks and hikes, and I’ve yet to do any trail twice (apart from the small bit to get out of town). Stop by the tourist office on the high street and pay a pound for the colourful walking map - each route is in a different colour, and the trails are marked with the same colour: it really is Highlands walking for dummies.
It’s hard to pick my favourite walk; the Falls of Bruar are lovely (and you’ll cross one of those wonderful stone bridges on the way); Craigower also has some very nice sweeping views. Ooh, and don’t miss the Pass of Killiecrankie - the story behind a man jumping across the pass is cool, and from the pass there is a stunning photo shot of the nearby railway line.
You don’t need to be super fit to enjoy these trails; the map I mentioned indicates the difficulty, length, and average time to complete.
Classic village high street
Pitlochry is the perfect little village, sitting in a valley surrounded by forests and hills. The high street seems to be right out of a postcard, with boutique shops, pubs, tea shops, B&Bs (and of course a hostel and a bank to round out the picture).
Once you’ve picked up some souvenirs and possibly even some hiking gear (though honestly the shops don’t have the best deals), why not perk up your sprits with a round of tea and scones? Victoria’s Coffee Shop is a bustling stop, just across from the tourist office, but my top choice is Biba across the street. The staff always seem to be smiling and you always get a healthy portion of jam and cream - that could be why all the customers are smiling too.
After dark, if you fancy some culture, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre is a popular one both with locals in the region and tourists. Start or follow it up with a round in The Old Mill Inn; they have a roaring fireplace and the best bangers and mash in town.
Some attractions further afield
There are a few other great attractions near Pitlochry that you can drive to or just walk! A few personal recommendations:
- Edradour: this is Scotland’s smallest distillery, and you can be forgiven for thinking this is just another random house along the path. Be sure to sample a wee dram to fortify you for the walk home (or buy a bottle if you’re a long way from home).
- House of Bruar: this is about ten miles out of Pitlochry, but for the shoppers visiting, it is a must. Clothes, art, and food - the high quality stuff, not the cheap junk.
- Atholl Palace: this mansion-turned-hotel is beautiful and well worth the countryside stroll to and from.
If you do need a bus, you can catch them all from the high street – though be sure to check out schedule times before you go, as in this area service is sometimes infrequent.
When to go
Pitlochry has in my opinion the most amazing autumnal colours - endless forests in bloom, and if you take a walk to the reservoir and go from there, you’ll catch the best of it. Though as you may know, it is a full-time job just to find the right dates for when the colours change.
This is a busy time though because of the city’s Enchanted Forest festival, a night-time light and sound show in the forest. It is quite cool, though I didn’t make it last year and apparently it was a disappointment. Regardless, Pitlochry is still worth your time.
About the author
Andy Hayes is a UK-based travel journalist, published author, and tourism industry entrepreneur. When not exploring the backroads of Europe, he’ll be found catching a flight to a new, exciting destination abroad.