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,
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.)