Golf and more in Perthshire, Scotland's historic heartland
Scotland's heartland in Perthshire has something to offer everyone, especially the history-buff golfer, who will be dazzled by the historical attractions as well as golf courses such as Kenmore, Taymouth Castle and Aberfeldy Golf Club.
PERTHSHIRE, Scotland - When most golfers think of Scottish history, they tend to stop at Old Tom Morris, or perhaps even delve back to the 1450s, when the first written records of golf appeared.
But we golfers are short-changing Scotland, and ourselves, if we travel to the game's holy land without exploring at least a few of the country's historical and cultural attractions, many of which pre-date our beloved sport by thousands of years. Luckily, however, thanks to the plethora of both historical attractions and golf courses in Scotland, it is usually no problem at all to combine golf and history on a daily basis during your visit.
Arguably the best region for both golf and historical significance is the area referred to as the "historic heartland" - the district of Perthshire (or Perth and Kinross). Comprising features of both Scottish highlands and lowlands, Perthshire offers some of the most beautiful nature in all the British Isles. This is where Scots themselves come on holiday, while foreign tourists are clogging the streets - and fairways - of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews.
Scotland's historic heartland
The River Tay is Scotland's longest river, streaming out of the lower end of Perthshire's idyllic Loch Tay, and eventually flowing out past Dundee into the North Sea. Aside from being a headwater, Loch Tay has played a central role in commerce and culture for over 5,000 years. In fact, it is possibly quieter now than it was in the Iron Age, although the salmon and trout fishing, though still excellent, are probably not quite as good.
The foundations of over 20 crannogs - man-made, circular, island-like homes built on poles in the loch - have been discovered on Loch Tay alone, with many more uncovered in other lochs. The Scottish Crannog Centre, in the village of Kenmore on the lower end of the loch, features excavated artifacts from one of these prehistoric dwellings, along with a replica crannog and an expert staff who can answer any question about ancient life on the loch.
Within a few miles of Loch Tay, visitors will find the 400-year-old Castle Menzies, where Bonnie Prince Charlie found respite during his travels. Far more ancient is the Fortingall Yew, a 2,000 to 5,000-year-old tree in the village of Fortingall, overlooking the loch. This is the oldest tree in Europe and one of the oldest in the world.
Following the banks of the River Tay, visitors can tip a dram at Dewar's World of Whisky in Aberfeldy, where not only the famous blended whisky but also the small-batch, single-malt Aberfeldy whisky is distilled.
Keep on following the river until you run into Scone Palace, where the royal heads of Scotland were crowned until the country was subsumed into the United Kingdom.
Golf in Perthshire
Scotland's historic heartland boasts dozens of 9- and 18-hole courses. In the wee village of Kenmore alone, where the River Tay flows out of Loch Tay, there are two courses. The Kenmore Golf Course is a hilly parkland nine holer that butts up against a holiday cabin and camping park.
The far more majestic 18-hole Taymouth Castle Golf Course runs through the bucolic valley that is the grounds of the historic and picturesque Taymouth Castle. The entire back nine is dominated by postcard-worthy views of the castle, which, one day, might end up as a five-star hotel.
A few miles from Kenmore is the quaint town of Aberfeldy, where you'll find the Aberfeldy Golf Club. Founded in 1895 on the banks of the River Tay, Aberfeldy has enough quirks and charms to beguile even the best shot-maker.
Jogging north from the Tay, you will find the town of Pitlochry and the Pitlochry Golf Course. This parkland track winds up into the hills overlooking the town, over gorges, and back down to the clubhouse, offering up some of the best views of any course in the area.
Heading back south to re-join the Tay, Dunkeld and Birnam Golf Club dominates the scenery to this gateway region to the highlands. Here, elevation and wind make the course feel much longer than its 5,500-yard length.
Where to stay and eat
The Kenmore Hotel in Kenmore is actually within walking distance of the Taymouth Castle and Kenmore courses. This is Scotland's oldest inn, dating from 1572. The whitewashed façade is not much changed from the days when poet Robert Burns was so taken by the view from the nearby stone arch bridge over the River Tay that he wandered back inside and wrote a poem in pencil over the fireplace in what today is the hotel's Poet's Bar. The poem remains in its original place, covered by plexiglass.
Also in Kenmore is the Kenmore Club vacation timeshare resort, where guests can enjoy a range of activities along with views from their cottages of the loch and the snow-capped Ben Lawers (the 10th highest peak in the UK). Both guests and non-guests can enjoy a sumptuous meal overlooking the loch at the resort's Waterfront Restaurant or a pint at the pub. Across the street is another excellent restaurant, the Courtyard, located in the compound of what is being developed into another timeshare resort.
For an excellent traditional meal in a family-run inn that feels as if it has changed little from the 1930s, try the Black Watch Inn in Aberfeldy.
Chances are that no matter how much the preceding article has sparked the fascination of first-time foreign visitors to Scotland, they are still going to want to see the "big" attractions. One overlooked plus of Perthshire, though, is its central location. Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews are each approximately a two-hour drive from Kenmore (less from Aberfeldy, and even less from capital city Perth). Even Loch Ness is within reach for a day-trip.
August 18, 2008