Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why I love Crieff

Crieff in Perthshire, about an hour north of where we live, is one of my favourite places. I’ve mentioned this several times and Velcro of Four Legged Furry Penguins tends to express amazement at my choice.

I think her point of view may be different from mine because – as I understand it – it’s not her home town but she went to (high) school there. I assume she boarded at the well-known school half-way up the hill (famous, or at least I know about it, for having Ewan McGregor as a pupil). I know various people who went to that school and were happy. However, I myself wouldn’t have liked boarding school. Indeed I wasn’t a great fan of school at all.

Crieff to me, however, means holidays.

The town itself is perfectly inoffensive; indeed, quite nice, in my opinion. It’s small, quiet and built on the side of a hill. It has one main street with shops – mainly family-owned shoe shops and sweet shops and card shops and so on, together with the usual bakers and butchers.

There’s a wonderful pictures-and-objects shop, the Strathearn Gallery, which has paintings and glass and pottery and little bits of sculpture, many of them hugely desirable and mainly quite expensive (but only because they're beautifully made). We always visit it when we’re in Crieff and have bought the odd thing.

But mainly Crieff is just a big village, with some pretty houses and some less pretty ones. The local building material is pink sandstone, and many people have nice gardens or windowboxes. Bits of the town are more down-at-heel, I suppose, just like in many towns and cities - all towns and cities, in fact. Crieff wouldn’t win a competition for the prettiest small town in Scotland and it’s not on the sea shore or a lochside, but it’s far from being unattractive. And it’s set in lovely, lovely, lovely countryside, with views from many of its steep streets over the valley to hills and fields.

However, when I say “Crieff” I really mean “Crieff Hydro”. This is a big hotel at the top of the town where my family has been going on holiday since I was three. We holidayed there every summer from then till I was eleven, and that was for all time as far as I was concerned.

It was paradise. You go in the front doors into a big hall. Wide corridors stretch to left and right, and in front of you is a further foyer which leads into the ballroom. At least, it’s a ballroom in the evenings – when there’s Scottish country dancing three times a week – and during the day it’s a big space to sit round or, if you’re a child, to run about in. This leads into the Winter Garden, which is a huge conservatory with refreshments. We used to have cokes with ice cream floating in them as special treats – the height of sophistication in post-war Britain. The Hydro, like everywhere in Crieff, is built into the hillside, so although you come in on ground level at the front, the Winter Garden at the back is one high story up, so the views over the garden below and the distant hills are fantastic. Burgeoning in spring, lush in summer, bright with autumn colours in October and in the winter, sometimes crystalled with frost or flocculent with snow.

The Hydro is in some ways very different now – far more luxurious, with many more facilities – but even when I was a little girl it seemed like a palace. There was a swimming pool, for example, and several years in succession we had rooms on the swimming pool corridor, so that my brother and I could wake up in the morning, race along the corridor in our swimsuits and, if we were lucky, be the first people to leap into the glassy water and smash it into ripples. Wonderful. There was also tennis (not that my family played it), badminton, table tennis, billiards, a children’s playroom, a children’s playground, a special children’s dining room complete with rather alarming Nanny in a nanny outfit. There were all the grounds to play in. And there was the Knock.

All these things (apart from the forceful Nanny) are still there, only more so – a better pool, more tennis courts (which we now play on) and so on. But the Knock (from a Gaelic word “cnoc” meaning “hill”) is always the same. It’s the hill upwards from the Hydro and of course we always have to climb it. It’s not very big – you can do it in 20 minutes or so – but because even the bottom of it is at the top of a high-up town, the view from the summit is wonderful. On a good day, you can see for miles, all over the hills and valleys of Perthshire. And in summer, blueberries, or as we call them in Scotland blaeberries, grow wild among the heather. I’ve never seen them anywhere else and they were always an extra treat when we were children. Coke floats and wild blaeberries – how unlike home!
When I was twelve, we had our first holiday abroad: in France. And, apart from one occasion when we visited briefly, the next time I was there was for our honeymoon, when I was twenty-three. But then, ever since the children were old enough to appreciate it, we’ve gone every few years as a family. Nowadays we stay in a lodge in the grounds, which is the only way we can afford it because we take the offspring, often their beloveds and sometimes my parents, but we can still use the Hydro and all its facilities. We (variously) swim, play tennis, badminton and squash (all fairly badly), walk, climb the Knock, drink coffee (and some of the party eat doughnuts) in the Winter Garden, go down into Crieff to buy fudge and postcards and to visit the Strathearn Gallery, drive to the stunning Sma’ Glen - which is a lot bigger than it looks in these photos! -

visit Drummond Castle and its fascinatingly topiaried gardens,

and generally have a wonderful holiday – all an hour’s drive away from home.
There, Velcro. Now do you understand why we love Crieff?
(I apologise for the tininess of some of these photos, but I took the little ones from the internet and no doubt have done something silly or chosen unsuitable photos or something.)


  1. Sounds idyllic! Obviously your experience of the place differs vastly from Velcro's! When I read Knock I wondered if it had the same meaning as the Irish word "cnoc." Reading on, I found that it did! Lovely description---I felt that I was there. And that my opinion of the place would be more like yours than Velcro's. Maybe she needs a holiday there....

  2. Me, I want to go to the
    Hydro too!

  3. I need to go there too! It sounds so wonderful, & the photos are so green & lush, & lovely.

  4. Anonymous10:18 pm

    The Hydro sounds like Another World to me! I've never heard of anything like it, let alone stayed anywhere like that! A nanny in the dining room!! It's all very intriguing and the village looks positively beautiful to me :)

  5. What a shame the forceful nanny is no longer sounds like she would make it the perfect location for a family holiday!

    Yum...Scottish delicious!

    It looks beautiful, and I think it is not very far from where my ancestors hail from. Maybe one day I'll visit!

  6. Very picturesque. Putting it on my list of holiday destinations for when I win the lottery.

  7. Stop it at once, Isabelle. I want to come back - NOW! Just when I thought I was settling back at home. Beautiful place.
    In Australia, the term f.... b.... can be one of affection would you believe. Haven't we in the south come a long way from the original English. I can't help but wonder why there have been such changes. I'd best do some research I think.

  8. I could write a completely different post on Crieff - the small town mentality that had the occupants complaining if they saw the pupils of that school on the hill being a little boisterous, eating in public, or even wearing something that was brightly coloured at the weekend; the boredom - there is absolutely nothing to do in Crieff (not allowed to go to the Hydro really), no cinema nothing. And no bookshops. Best we had was a RS McColls.

    But above all - the Knock. There were parties up there at the end of the school year. If you went and were caught you got expelled.

    And so on....
    (and no Molly I couldn't holiday there. I've been back for a day to see how much it had changed and that was enough)

  9. I've never stayed at a place like that. There's a very famous one in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. It would be lovely to try it just once, and soak up the atmosphere. The village of Crieff sounds delightful.

  10. Oh dear, Velcro. Well, at least we've both had our say.

    There used to be a rather good second-hand bookshop along the main street to the left as you come down from the Hydro. Maybe it didn't open till after you left school - and it's gone now. But we've spent many hours browsing there and always came away with something. But I can see your point about there being no major attractions for teenagers.

  11. The Hydro looks rather lovely :) I drove through Crieff on Friday evening and I really love the high street, just as you say, all those locally-owned shops and the general lack of dull chains... so extremely rare these days!

  12. It sounds perfect for a holiday. I love Scotland, and have been to many places, but never there. It is on the "to do" list as of now! When we were children, my parents always planned touring holidays, and I used to dream of going somewhere and staying there for a week. And what do I do now??? I zap all over the place. Maybe I need to reconsider my holiday options! I love the photos! And I love walking, so it sounds perfect.

  13. I think I am living in the wrong country.

    If I can, as i have been advised, swim in Loch Lomond, then I'm set to emigrate.

  14. Did you drive down Ferntower Road past that school to the High Street? There wasn't a second hand bookshop when i was there. There was a newsagents on the left hand side of the High Street up past what used to the Bradford & Bingley Building Society, and that had a large selection of books namely Stephen King, James Herbert and assorted bodice-rippers.

  15. When you next go back could you ask one of the locals what the real name for Ghostie's is? It is a lane that runs down to the High Street from Millar Street and was said to be haunted

    1. It's real name is water wynd

  16. Wow, I am so very jealous!

  17. Fifi, Loch Lomond would be extremely cold, even in summer! I wouldn't advise it. It makes me shiver even to think about it, though it's pretty.This is Scotland. Quite northern, though I suppose northern sounds warm to you.

    Velcro, we never drive down Ferntower Street - we walk. Exercise, you know. Especially going back up!

    When you got to the main street, you went left and the bookshop was along on the right hand side, in what used to be a cinema many years ago. The shop had a few antique-type things as well - fairly unvaluable ones - and a some remaindered books as well as lots of secondhand ones in categories. It was great, except that of course we always bought too many books.

    Never heard of Ghostie's - will investigate next time - mind you, don't know when that will be.

  18. I think you live in a beautiful part of the world. Hope to get there someday.

  19. What do they say...familiarity breeds contempt? This might be the case in Velco's part, but bad memories of a place can also turn one against it. For the rest of us who have never been to Crieff (and in my case, not even to Europe!), going by Isabelle's photos, it looks like a tourist's delight!

  20. The lane between Miller Street and High Street is generally referred to as Water Wynd . In days gone past the Alligan Burn floweddoewn the hill beside the lane .