Pitlochry, Scotland: Likable tourist town, famous for whisky and hill walking

Columnist visits Atholl Palace, Stirling Castle, Wallace Monument and Glasgow

Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rick Steves, an American author and television personality on European travel, describes Pitlochry, Scotland, as "a likable tourist town, famous for its whisky and its hill walking."

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Courtesy Of Don Harris
Courtesy Of Don Harris

My husband Don and I did not do any hill walking, but we did visit Bell's Blair Athol Distillery.

On our second day in Pitlochry, we wanted to find the theater where the evening's concert was to be held. Instead of immediately finding the theater, we found Atholl Palace and Museum.

We took photos of the Gate House. We saw a deer. We read a sign that read "Take Care Ducklings Crossing." We did not see the ducklings. The grounds of the palace are well groomed with fountains, tennis courts, a golf course and a number of theme gardens.

The palace is on top of a rocky outcrop. Actually, the Atholl Palace is not nor has ever been a palace. Atholl Palace is a hotel with conference facilities, restaurants, bars, rooms and a museum.

We toured the hotel's basement museum. The hotel's history began in 1873. The museum's theme is The Working Life and Life As A Guest. The hotel originally was built as a spa. In the early 1900s, visitors drove to the hotel to spend time relaxing in the baths, getting massages and other spa-like treatments. Queen Victoria also visited Pitlochry and described the town as one of the finest resorts in Europe.

After we enjoyed our lunch in the Atholl Palace restaurant, we walked to the Blair Athol Distillery. The stone buildings and grounds are quite tidy. Our guide was great. He explained how the whisky is made and how to properly sip whisky. He had a great sense of humor. The gal who joined us on the tour was a whisky sales representative who did not drink because she was allergic to alcohol.

The tour was enjoyable. Our guide taught us the history of whisky making. The stone buildings are quite old and kept in perfect condition. The buildings held barrels and barrels of whisky of different ages. The oldest whisky had aged 40 years. The 40 years whisky is extremely expensive.

We finally became serious about finding the Festival Theatre. We crossed over the river on the narrow pedestrian swinging bridge. A few fly fishers were casting their lines in the river. We easily found the Festival Theatre.

Late in the afternoon, we met our friends Alison and Laurence for dinner in the theatre's dining room. We enjoyed our three courses of starters, chicken and a variety of sweets. After dinner, we were entertained with the three musicians in the Gordon Gunn Band. The musicians played the piano, fiddle and guitar.

The next morning we checked out of the Wellwood House B&B and drove from Pitlochry to Stirling Castle. Don and I visited Stirling Castle some years ago. Just like Eilean Donan Castle, Stirling Castle has also changed. The rooms in the castle now have furnishings. We visited the Regimental Museum, the Chapel Royal, the Great Hall and the Great Kitchens.

Stirling Castle is one of Scotland's most important fortresses. The original 16th century walls were built to keep Mary, Queen of Scots safe from Henry VIII.

We visited the tapestry studio that was built for The Unicorn Tapestries that are being woven for the Stirling Castle's Palace Apartments. The project involves the recreation of seven 16th century tapestries entitled Hunt of the Unicorn. The original set hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The tapestries are a 12 years project.

From Stirling Castle, we drove across town to the (William) Wallace Monument. Don and I walked up the steep hill to the monument. This was our second visit to the William Wallace Monument and the interior of the monument had changed.

William Wallace was 6 feet, 6 inches tall. His sword is 5½ feet long and is on display on the first floor of the round tower. In the 14th century most men were only 5 feet tall. A recording speaks as Wallace who tells the listeners about his campaign for freedom and his victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. My husband considers William Wallace a hero.

From the first floor of the tower, we climbed the stairs to The Hall of Heroes that features other great Scotsmen. The third level provides information about the building of the monument. We climbed up to the roof of the monument where we were able to admire the views of Stirling. A powerful wind blew quite cold at that height. We walked up and down 246 stairs.

Alison drove from the Wallace Monument to the outskirts of Glasgow. We had reservations at the Best Western Gleddoch House Hotel. The hotel had a beautiful golf course. Golf probably began in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1457. Mary, Queen of the Scots (1542-87) also enjoyed the game. After seven centuries, golf continues to be extremely popular worldwide.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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