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May 2021

Highland Coat of Arms

Here is right on the river and, thanks to some vocal locals, is now part of the  Cairngorms National Park. This is the River Tilt on its way, via the Garry, to the Tummel before that tumbles into the Tay and all the way to Dundee.

That's quite a complicated setup, confluence-wise, and this pair have got one eye on the increasingly ferocious flow. Two days of torrential, or as they call it here 'typical', rain means there's a danger of losing one's lodgings although, let's face it, they're someone else's lodgings, really.

  Parc Royale (Invertilt Road)

It might be part of the River Tilt Caravan Park so the French connection isn't exactly clear. The lodges at the bottom, however, have a ridiculously scenic riverside setting and they're themed on Gallic names.

They might as well have gone with the Gaelic since àite-tàimh is just as unpronounceable as lieu de repos, eh?

A bungalow below some caravans was necessary since the Bridge of Tilt Hotel refused to return any calls for a reservation.

That's a joke, of course, but the redevelopment seems to have stalled during you-know-what leaving just the Atholl Arms Hotel as a rather pricier provider of bed and board.

That picture, incidentally, is currently claiming first prize in the 'Most use of the word Atholl in a photograph' category in the Countryfile Calendar competition.

  Atholl Arms Hotel

Current restrictions mean there's no posh nosh in the Baronial Dining Room with just a temporary marquee round the back.

We've just been pipped to the last table by an older couple who, at best, will share a starter, swerve the puds and wash down what little they do have with some water from the tap, probably.

That's a shame for their takings but just bad preparation on this pair's part and the punishment is having to slink off just as it starts to rain, again.

Atholl, literallyish, 'New Ireland' suggests some distant connection with their Celtic cousins. The Duke of Atholl, however, is a more recent invention or should that now be the Duke O'Atholl?

The family pad is  Blair Castle but the current incumbent, Duke #12, lives in South Africa leaving the upkeep to a charitable trust.

They'll let the pair of you in and around for a trio of brown  Walter Scotts with a garden-only option if paying toffs to look at their furniture doesn't particularly appeal.

Don't think, however, you can try and snuck in for free up the long driveway. The Atholl Highlanders will be straight down on you, kilts flapping and bayonets brandished.

Yes, Europe's only legal private army are billeted here although their role is purely ceremonial with not an awful lot of bodyguarding required, these days.

Away from the soldiers, they're a friendly bunch and this lady is happy to smile from behind a wall but is a little tight-lipped as to what else to see and do.

Away from the Atholl Arms Hotel, the action is centred on a  visitor centre-museum combo and a café-cum-takeaway with tables by the river.

Don't think you can walk all of that off by the watercourse afterwards as access is limited and you'll be rudely interrupted by the Highland Main Line and a 125[1] on its way to Inverness.

You'll soon be diverted back to the back of the Atholl Arms where there's a lot of your traditional stone on show and a real sense of where the real Scottish Highlands just about start, really.

[1] Or whatever it is they're calling them, these days.

You thought the House of Darrach was bonkers? You've not seen nothing yet!

Just off a random junction on the  A9, the address of the House of Bruar is given as 'by' Blair Atholl but the vast car park in the middle of nowhere couldn't be any more out of place if it was, well, in the middle of nowhere[1].

Here be the 'Harrod™s of the Highlands' with  Scottish Country Clothing, gifts and an art gallery with options to nosh before stockpiling pies in the food hall.

Mark Birkbeck made his fortune from high-street fashion before funding the largest collection of cashmere clothing anywhere in the UK. That fact even draws them in from abroad, that and the fancy fishing gear, but a word of warning...

This 11-acre site is best described as 'high-end' and it's no  Edinburgh Woolie Mill™ where three, out-of-season, short-sleeved 'checkies' might see you with change from a £20 on a good day.

[1] When it's said the 'middle of nowhere', you can use this as the start of a short but steep walk to the  Falls of Bruar. If not, it is simply very convenient should it decide to rain, again.

Meanwhile, back in Blair Atholl and back over the railway line, there's one final highlight to be had before heading home or to the House or Bruar, again.

A bygone contraption that still grinds the grain for the  Watermill Tea Rooms' fantastic array of bread, savouries and pastries.

They can accommodate outside where their overly tame chickens will invade the table to send the crumbs, the coffee and the feathers flying. The owner's sister is extremely apologetic and offers to clean up but what she's really thinking is 'Bloody townies!', probably.

An older, English toff in tweeds is disappointed to find there's no wholemeal flour for sale. He'll have to drive 'all the way' back later in the week, like it's their fault they couldn't reopen until yesterday and the water's too low to send the wheel in motion.

The water's too low? Based on the evidence of the last 48 hours, there'll soon be enough crusty sourdough to rebuild the Bridge of Tilt Hotel.