Once the summer residence of the 7th Duke of Atholl, Dunkeld House has now established itself as the latest location on the set-jetting map, says Agnes Stamp.
Growing up in Scotland in the 1990s, I clearly remember the powerful effect Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart (historically dubious, but what a score) had when it hit the screens in the autumn of 1995. The face of Scottish tourism changed almost overnight — a world apart was suddenly distantly related to a clan or Mary, Queen of Scots — and nationalist ardour soared. The impact of which we continue to feel 25 years later.
The latest production to draw in the set-jetting crowd to bonnie Scotland is Outlander. Based on the novel series by Diana Gabaldon, Netflix’s binge-worthy series features everything you could want: period costume, political intrigue, time travel, romance and of course, Scotland’s prettiest locations.
Of all the counties, none is more typical of the bucolic beauty of Scotland’s vast natural landscape than Perthshire. Sir Walter Scott considered it ‘the finest portion of the Northern Kingdom’ and he wasn’t wrong, for here lies the village of Dunkeld, inland from Perth, situated on the banks of the silvery Tay.
Set within its own secluded 280-acre woodland estate, Dunkeld House, built at the turn of the century by the 7th Duke of Atholl, retains all the elegance of its heritage and commands silver screen appeal. Indeed, it is this ‘Big Tree Country’ — abundant with European larches (the most beautiful of conifers), towering Douglas Firs and a Giant Redwood from the first batch imported into the UK — that doubled as the North Carolina wilderness in Season 4 of Outlander. Across the river, the gnarly Birnam Oak and its neighbour the Birnam Sycamore are thought to be the sole surviving trees of the great forest celebrated in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the famous Birnam Wood.
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In 1979, Country Life noted that, ‘the stories of the Dunkeld larches have become garbled over the years, but whatever the origins of the family’s interest in the tree, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Dukes of Atholl clearly became besotted with larches and planted them in their thousands.’ Indeed, by the late 18th century, John, the 4th Duke, had in his care about 27 million and today, you can see the Parent Larch, planted as a seedling 250 years ago, just to the west of Dunkeld Cathedral, still standing tall.
Dunkeld House Hotel offers 100 rooms of accommodation across its category C Listed original building, recently refurbished extension and pet-friendly stand-alone sanctuaries. The freshly renovated suites overlook the river Tay, and are pleasingly scant on Scottish trad, instead opting for clean lines and soft autumnal tones. Suite guests also enjoy organic and sustainable toiletries provided by The Highland Soap Company.
For those that insist on travelling with their canine companions, two traditionally decorated annexes on the estate — General Wades and The Fisherman’s Cottage — offer dog-friendly accommodation.
Eating and drinking
Meals are taken in the hotel’s restaurant and in true Scottish style, the menu is rich with locally-sourced game, salmon, and vegetables. A nice touch is the new Kitchen Garden on the estate — formerly two under-used tennis courts — providing the kitchen with seasonal vegetables and pretty edible flowers.
Afternoon tea is taken in the conservatory overlooking the river.
On the advice of the manager, we also explored the village of Dunkeld — there is a direct path parallel with the Tay that will allow you to amble from the hotel into the village at your leisure. We discovered a fantastic Scottish tapas restaurant which is a treasure trove of culinary delights. Bake Off star, Flora Shedden’s artisanal baked goods can also be found at Aran Bakery on the high street.
How they’ll keep you busy
Perthshire is famed for its unrivalled sporting opportunities and at Dunkeld, there’s plenty to keep outdoor enthusiasts occupied with fishing, clay-pigeon shooting, quad-biking, cycling, golf and Land Rover experiences all on offer.
The hermitage woodland walk is a must, which will lead ramblers to the magnificent Ossian’s Hall (above), an 18th century hermitage overlooking the spectacular Black Linn Falls.
The spa is compact, and offers a restorative range of treatments using organic ishga products. There’s also a 55ft heated indoor pool with hot tub, steam room, sauna and a gym.
What else to do while you’re there
Across the Tay from Dunkeld is Birnam, where annual Highland Games are held on the last Saturday in August (the 200th Birnam Highland games were held this year). Expect extraordinary displays of strength in the Putting The Stone and Tossing The Caber events, as well as energetic Highland dancing, stirring piping, the Kiltie Dash and the World Championship Haggis Eating Competition.
Who is it for?
Only 90 minutes from Glasgow, Perthshire is often considered the gateway to the Highlands. Dunkeld House Hotel is dog-friendly, child-friendly and would suit families or couples looking for a rural retreat with a little magical, old-fashioned Scottish charm.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
Partial to a Gershwin number, we (and our well-behaved dog) enjoyed the resident pianist, Jeno Danyi, tinkle the ivories in the bar after dinner.
The one thing we’d change
This is an extremely popular wedding destination, which is wonderful if you’re part of the wedding party, but can be a little loud for the other non-revelling residents.
Rooms at Dunkeld House from £152 a night — call 01350 727771 or book direct at www.dunkeldhousehotel.co.uk