blog - hooray! There's a good possibility I'll be re-visiting some of the pubs and/or festivals that I've been to during the last 12 months but hopefully I'll come at them from a different (geographical) direction or at least for a different reason. This year for the Braco Festival I'd looked at the public transport timetables and decided that the most interesting option was get the train to Gleneagles and then walk the 8 miles or so to Braco via the Perthshire town of Blackford.
View Blackford in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Gleneagles (10:10)
Quite a few people left the train at Gleneagles Station - a mixture of golfers, shoppers and an up-market Hen Party, but no-one seemed to want to walk up to the busy A9 dual carriageway (there were a lot of courtesy mini-buses about but I didn't manage to blag my way onto any). I needed to cross the A9 but instead of trying to dodge 4 lanes of 70-mph traffic I decided to walk a few hundred yards to the Gleneagles-Glendevon flyover. Just up from the north side of the flyover I found an open gate into the Gleneagles Golf Course and the maze of paved golf cart paths. Taking meticulous care to observe golf etiquette (I dread to think what the green fees are at Gleneagles) I walked along the 3rd hole of PGA Centenary Course, crossed the fairway at the 4th and found the marked path to Blackford at the left side of 4th green. The well trodden path took me past a number of farms and out to the minor road into Blackford just before the huge Highland Spring Water bottling complex.
Also made in Blackford is a beverage with slightly more alcohol content than pure H2O, malt whisky crafted in the small, independently owned Tullibardine Distillery, which even today seemed to be busy with deliveries and tours.
Attached to the Distillery is the Tullibardine Visitor Centre where the different types of tours can be booked and there's also a shop & café housed under its flowing lines.
They weren't running a 12noon tour (and I wasn't going to wait around for the next one) so I had to content myself with having a look around the shop. I'm not really that big a whisky fan so I wasn't going to buy a expensive malt without a fair amount of research, but it was good to also see bottles of Thistly Cross Cider available and a well stocked display of Tullibardine 1488 Whisky Ale and other Tullibardine-branded Ales (Strong, Traditional & Blonde) - all brewed by TSA. The 1488 Whisky Ale is matured in Single Malt Tullibardine casks and isn't bad at all, but I'd have to say that I don't think the beer and the whisky complement each other to the extent as, for example, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil & Highland Park do in the different variants of Ola Dubh. Of the other Tullibardine beers the Blonde Ale is probably the best - quite sweet and fruity and just a hint of whisky in the after-taste.
The Vistor Centre is part of the new Eaglesgate Retail Village with a Baxters food/soup shop & gift hall and also some clothing/fashion shops. It always seems pretty busy whenever I've stopped and I guess the distillery tours helps bring in the coach parties.
Outwith this new centre on the main street in Blackford is the well-maintained Blackford Hotel.
I entered through the side entrance on the left and into the Bothy Bar and found a fairly small, modern, but still quite homely bar (and completely spotless), with a centrally located pool table.
A single hand-pull was dispensing Inveralmond Thrappledouser (there were also a number of Orkney & Houston pump-clips dotted about) so I ordered this and the soup-of-the-day. It's a nice bar with a St Johnstone FC signed shirt & crest, a large Bells whisky mirror (not a Tullibardine one!), juke box, fire & hearth, and a very confusing double mirror in one corner of the room. There was also a more formal lounge/dining room at the front of the hotel. The carrot soup was absolutely fine and set me up for the next stage of my walk to Braco.
I'd noticed a path sign-posting Braco Road just before the Hotel so I took this and walked over a small burn to the main Glasgow to Aberdeen railway line. This was one of those Stop-Look-Listen and then open-the-gate-and-walk-over-the-railway-as-fast-as-possible-in-case-you-get-hit-by-a-train-doing-100mph crossings - I've never liked these!
The path then rose to give great views of Blackford, the Strathallan glen and the Ochil Hils.
Thereafter I followed a single track road for some distance towards Braco. It's a fairly decent walk with some panoramic views, lots of game birds flying low (Grouse & Ptarmigan, still present in numbers even after the 'Glorious' 12th) and the surprisingly large (and very busy) Trout Fishery at Orchil Loch.
Just before Braco I came to the site of the Roman Ardoch Fort, which I've had a look around before. Not a lot seems to change here (which I guess is good) but at least this gave me a chance to take a better picture.
Braco Village Hall was hosting the Real Ale and Music Festival and looking pretty much the same as last year, although the doorman seemed to have shrunk somewhat.
As always the organisers had everything setup in good time and it was great to chat some people I'd met before and some new folk who were helping out. There were 10 hand-pulls available with TinPot Brewery providing a Raspberry Cider (of unknown abv, but it was pretty lethal), a 'standard' Stout, Gold Pot 70/-, 80/- Pot, Marmalade Pot and 2-off Ardoch Fort, as well as Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack, Williams Brothers Birds and the Bees and Tryst Carronade. I think there were more TinPot beers than last time due to some issues with the trade/retail pricing of some of the other beers.
The specially brewed Ardoch Fort was excellent - golden, quite bitter, but refreshing with a great citra hop aroma and taste - not quite a Fyne Ales Jarl but not bad at all.
They try to have some young kids playing music in the early afternoon (before the main bands in the evening), but a lot of the parents had been delayed by an accident on the road from Glasgow to Stirling, so instead there was only a single wee lad playing guitar - he was great.
The way the bus times had worked out this year meant that I had to get the early bus back to Dunblane - a real pain. However this did give me the chance to drop into the Dunblane Hotel before the train arrived.
The bar didn't have any hand-pulls so I headed into the fairly busy lounge where
Deuchars, Schiehallion, and TSA Gold Bullion were available. The bar area was busy with regulars chatting away and waiting for the football results, but it wasn't a problem getting served and I chose the TSA Gold Bullion since I hadn't tried it before.
I didn't stay in the lounge but instead headed out to the riverside beer garden - this really is quite excellent - lots of nice green foliage and the sound of running water from the Allan.
However I couldn't say the same for my TSA Gold Bullion - it was terrible. Yeasty, thin (wishy-washy would be the term) and in need of some decent conditioning so rather than struggle with it, I poured most of it into a nearby flower-bed! If only the lovely Ardoch Fort that I'd had at the Braco Festival had been available.
Bus: Braco to Dunblane (Stagecoach 47, 15:27)
Train: Dunblane to Glasgow Queen Street