Crieff is a typical Scottish little resort town on the edge of the Highlands. It is also the second-largest town in the old county of Perthshire. As a kind of ‘traditional’ resort it is more or less in the same category of other Perthshire (or at least Highland-edge) places where tourism has a role to play: for example, Callander, Dunkeld, Pitlochry or, uhmm, Dunblane. Crieff is well-to-do, comfortable, not over-friendly but still attractive in a reserved sort of way.
Like these other little resorts or tourist-towns, this place has been catering for visitors practically since Scottish tourism was invented. Locally published ‘Millar’s Guide to Crieff – New and Revised Post-war Edition‘ is confident of the town’s position more than 60 years ago. Uncompromisingly, the guide starts by simply stating that ‘The town….is known all over the world as the Queen of Scottish Health Resorts. For well over a century it has been much resorted to by visitors because of the salubrity of its climate and the charming scenery on all sides.’ Yes, that’s how they spoke post-war, apparently.
Aside from its assumed pre-eminent position as the ‘Montpellier of Scotland‘ and other such smug claims of yesteryear, this town on the slopes of the Knock Hill also was, at least until the mid-eighteenth century, an important financial centre, of all things, because of its role as a ‘tryst’ or market and meeting place for cattle dealers. Cattle drovers in, uhmm, their droves, took their herds down from the north to sell them on at the end of summer. With all these tough Highland drovers in town, it must have been like the Wild West.
Looking north-west towards the Ben Chonzie and Glen Turret, above and beyond the houses of King Street. Incidentally, this town was also the birthplace of movie star Ewan McGregor.
Today the town still has an autumn festival called the Drovers’ Tryst. It’s only a matter of time before it puts up big signs that say ‘Crieff Welcomes Careful Drovers’ and sells t-shirts with ‘How’s my Droving? Phone this number….’ on them. However, I digress. Though you can find out a bit more about Scottish cattle-droving in the Crieff area here.
What to see in Crieff
I reckon the must see experience is the view from the top of the Knock Hill. I must say I bang on about this in a few places on this site. For a few minutes of moderately serious uphill work (park above the Crieff Hydro, of which more later) you can enjoy a glorious panorama out over Strathearn to the south, to the rolling slopes of the Ochils; while to the north and west, pictured below, the Highland hills should look magnificent in all seasons.
The main street is worth a stroll as there are still quite a lot of small businesses – good for hardware, outdoor gear, galleries – that sort of thing…oh, and sweeties, especially sweeties. There’s a magnificent old-fashioned sweetie shop called Gordon and Durward. You can smell it from up the street, so follow your nose. It’s been there a long time – there is even an advertisement for it in an ancient guidebook I found.
Glen Turret runs up into the hills behind the town. Going all the way up takes you to the dam of the Glenturret reservoir – starting point for a number of high level hill-walks. (Remind me to write the page, if you have a moment.) The lower part of the glen is the setting for the Glenturret Distillery, the oldest legal distillery in Scotland. Home of The Famous Grouse, it offers its visitors a good experience with whisky tours, tastings, a nifty audio-visual and a good restaurant.
Walks around Crieff
The town has lots of signposted walks in a network all around it. A leaflet might be available from the local information centre – it certainly used to be – but these days you can never be sure if a leaflet or even the information centre itself will still be available. Och, I’m sure in a touristy place like this it will be. My favourite walk is a forestry road signed for Auchingarroch, which runs west from its fairly high starting point and offers great views up Strathearn towards Comrie. Find it by driving west out of the town by the back road, south of the River Earn. Then follow signs for Balloch, left. Look for the green sign quite well up the hill. Park and walk. The start of the walk is also pictured above. It’s also in the walks leaflet. And there’s a picture taken on this walk here, showing Scotland’s autumn colours.
Where to stay
If you mention the town to native Scots, you often get a smile of recognition. ‘Ah, yes’, they say, ‘we used to go on holiday there’. Alternatively they say they went to school there as it has a posh private school, Morrison’s Academy. And, the chances are, if they went on holiday there, then they stayed at Crieff Hydro, the largest single employer in town. With its long-established popularity, its leisure options, additional lodges for self-catering and so on, it has a major economic impact on the town and is its largest single employer, apparently. That said, there are plenty of other places to stay, from expensive hotels to budget b & bs.
Crieff as a touring base
Yes, the town makes a good touring base. Perthshire is a good choice anyway as, if you look at the map of Scotland, you can work out a lot of circular driving routes through the parallel east-west running glens: by Loch Earn and back by Loch Tay; by Loch Tay and through Glen Lyon and so on. And on any touring, you’re sure to find yourself in Comrie, a few miles to the west. This small place is also worth a stroll along its noisy main street – nice deli – and there walks in Glen Lednock behind it as well. Also, from Crieff, a day in Perth is easy, or Edinburgh or Glasgow if you leave the car at Dunblane.
Crieff – in summary
We lived in Crieff for almost three years. It seemed to rain a lot. Then it snowed a lot. (Our time there coincided with unusually snowy winters.) But we had nice days too – and the best bit, looking back was the nearness of the hills – great countryside, only minutes away. Oh, and the red kites. Lots of kites. However, when a fellow-tourism professional heard I was moving there he sent a terse email. It simply asked ‘Are you old enough for Crieff?’ I replied, ‘Yes but not old enough for Comrie‘. It’s contradictory: mention the place and people have fond holiday memories, yet it also is associated with retirement – but maybe that’s just an aspect of its leisurely image. Oh, and in spite of the old guidebook’s claims for its dry climate, it definitely rains a lot there. (But not as much as in Killin.) At least, in comparison with the dry east coast.
Don’t miss: that view from the top of the Knock; also Drummond Castle Gardens in high summer. (Movie buffs may recognize it as a location of a fight scene in ‘Rob Roy‘ with Liam Neeson.) Crieff and autumn colour also go well together.
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