It was to be an early break from work this year, a short and hopefully relaxing stay in Crieff in an extremely well-appointed self-catering apartment(* see end) close to the centre of this Perthshire town. The plan for my only real self-powered outing was to hire a bike for a cycle through Comrie to St Fillans at the head of Loch Earn. I found the phone number for what seemed to be the only cycle hire shop in Crieff, RS Finnie Cycles, however when I rang in the morning I found out that the shop was closed and the owner had retired - not a great start to the journey! Rather than try and hike to the only other cycle hire facility a couple miles out of Crieff, I decided that the best alternative would be to walk to Comrie on the back roads and catch the bus back to Crieff.
View Crieff in a larger map
I headed out of town on the Muthill road and took a sharp right just after the bridge over the River Earn. The road passed by some holiday homes and playing fields and then gently rose to give great views of Crieff and the 'Knock of Crieff' hill which overlooks the town (the ascent of this is well worth another hour's walk from Crieff town centre).
The road was fairly wide (though no pavement/path), but the traffic very sparse indeed, although there was the occasional piece of road-kill, in particular a number of Grouse. In fact during the entire walk I saw far more sheep than humans, with the occasional tiny wee lamb also visible (very early in the year this year).
Almost 2 hours after leaving Crieff I came into Comrie past this circle of Standing Stones (only 1 left upright) - The Court Knoll (or Judgement Mound) - an ancient burial cist.
I then turned in towards Comrie town centre, re-crossed the River Earn and at the junction of the main A85 road came across the impressive Royal Hotel (the restaurant food is meant to be very good) with the Royal Bar slightly tucked away up at the top of the building.
I'd hoped for a real ale here (according to the Tayside CAMRA web-pages), but although there were 3 hand-pulls on the bar, none had anything on (which seemed to be the norm following my question to the barman), so I had to choose between kegged Bass or Boddingtons and went for the former. It was OK and certainly quenched my thirst (and was in the correct glass), but I was somewhat disappointed at the barn-like nature of the place and the attitude of the barman - maybe it was just the sweat pouring off me! It was good, however, to see the exposed stone walls, the pool table, dart board and juke box, so I'm assuming the place gets pretty busy at weekends.
Comrie was famous for the number of earthquakes which occurred in the 19th Century (due to the proximity of the Highland Fault Line) and is still one of the most geologically active places in Britain and so is known as the Shakey Toon, a fact that some of the shops most definitely draw on.
Also on the High Street is a deli called Hansen's Kitchen. As well as a fabulous Macaroni Cheese Pie they also have a very wide selection of bottled Scottish Ale (and a just launched Beer Club) with bottles from less seldom seen breweries such as Isle of Skye, Oban Bay and Valhalla (I took one of each) - nice to see.
At the far end of the High Street is the Comrie Hotel, and I thought I could just manage a quick beer before the bus came.
The main restaurant was being re-developed, but the bar area was still open and the staff were more than welcoming in allowing me to sit at the bar and use the hotel WiFi (what a great difference in attitude compared to the Royal). Although there was a hand-pull on the bar there was nothing on (again), so I thought I was going to have to make do with a Belhaven Best. However in the nick of time I spied a number of more interesting bottles and just caught the barmaid before she started to pour the Best. I had a Wychwood Wychcraft (also available were Marston's EPA & Strong Ale and Ringwood 49er) significantly better than a Best (does that compute ?). There seemed to be a great beer garden out the back of the bar with stunning views of the hills, but I didn't have time for more than a glimpse of the outside.
I then caught the Stagecoach 15 bus back to Crieff - it was the 'Gold' Bus and the leather seats made it probably the most comfortable mode of public transport I've ever been on!
When I alighted at Crieff I had a look around the town itself and after a fruitless search for real ale in the Caledonian Bar I found a pint of Inveralmond Ossian in the bar of the Crieff Hotel - a most welcoming sight. The bar was a modern place (more choice in coffee than beer), with the barman quite willing to chat about the name of the beer and the lack of cycle shops in Crieff.
Amazingly enough there is also a more than decent off-license in Crieff, Ellies Cellar (great name!).
In here I found bottles of Nøgne Ø, German Hefeweissen & Kellerbier, 2 versions of Harviestoun Ola-Dubh (from 12 & 18 year casks) and much more - another great choice. With 2 great beer shops in the area it seems that there is obviously a demand for interesting beer, but for some reason there is little real ale or even bottled ale in the pubs. Perhaps this changes somewhat in the summertime, but it may be that it's more indicative of a change in drinking habits, away from the pub. But again this will depend on the area - certain pubs will still be a haven for decent real ale, but unfortunately not around Crieff way.
*The apartment was The Grouse Apartment, highly recommended. There was even a bottle of Inveralmond Lia Fail in the fridge waiting for me - never had that before !