Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pitlochry - Tartan City

I'm probably exaggerating, but from what I've seen Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands has a fair claim to be called Tartan City. This is a tourist town that sells the Highlands to you big time. That's not a criticism: I went there last June and liked the place, and wished that I'd had more time to look around it. And I dare say there are many other places that live off tourists, and plug clans and tartans and all the traditional regalia of Scotland for all they are worth. Good luck to them.

I went to Pitlochry rather on the spur of the moment. After seven years, the Xenon light bulb in Fiona's nearside headlight had finally blown. The handbook warned against a do-it-yourself fix. This was high-voltage stuff, apparently, and a skilled hand was needed. That meant a big bill, of course, but I shrugged my shoulders and looked up where the most convenient Volvo dealer might be. Ah, Perth. The dealer was called Strathmore. Right, I'd go there and see what they could do. If they had such a bulb in stock, and if I were lucky, I might get it dealt with while I waited.

It didn't turn out to be quite a while-you-wait experience, but it was same-day. I was fitted in. I arrived mid-morning. They'd order a bulb. It would be with them around 3.00pm. If I came back then, they would have it all done within the hour. Fair enough. The price? Oh, it might be £180. Dear me, rather more than I'd thought. But then, all high-grade technology is expensive. These Xenon bulbs incidentally have that very white, piercingly bright, light that dazzles other road users at night but illuminates the road ahead wonderfully well. On Fiona they swivel as one steers through bends, a complication that suggests a delicate set-up. It really was best to leave it to the dealer. I imagined a technician in a white, zip-up suit, wearing a helmet and breathing-apparatus, carefully inserting the new bulb with cotton gloves. Because naturally you mustn't get greasy finger-marks on bulbs like this, or even breathe on them!

While they were on the phone, ordering the new bulb, I chatted to a man in the customer waiting area. I had four hours to kill. Where could I go to have some lunch and pass the time? Was it worth driving north-west up the A9 to (say) Pitlochry?

Oh yes, he said. Definitely. He knew the place well, as he lived further on, near Aviemore, and frequently stopped at Pitlochry. It was rather a coach-destination, a stop on the Highland Trail so to speak, but then because of that it had plenty of choice in the way of places to eat, and of places to shop. That settled it. I'd have lunch there. And a mooch around the shops. And there might be time to drive into the nearby mountains on the way back to Perth.

Strathmore were located in the northern part of Perth, in Muirton, towards the outskirts of the city, and so I was soon in the countryside and heading towards the hills on the A9. I hadn't been in this part of Scotland much before. One of my friends in Scotland, Coline, took me to Aberfeldy and Dunkeld in 2015, but that was it. So I was keen to see more. Some famous names appeared on road signs. I saw mention of Birnam Wood, surely the same place referred to in Shakespeare's play MacBeth? As the A9 skirted the south edge of Dunkeld, there was suddenly a traditional Scottish Highlands railway station, Dunkeld & Birnam. I just had to stop and take a look.

It was on the main line north to Inverness. The train service wasn't super-frequent. Pitlochry (the next stop) got twelve trains a day, this station, Dunkeld & Birnam, got only nine. A bit sparse by Sussex standards. I wasn't surprised that I had the station to myself. 

Pitlochry was some miles further on, but I was soon there. The A9 has a reputation for silly speed limits and bad drivers, but I'd enjoyed using it on a sunny day like this. Turning off, I entered Pitlochry expecting to experience coaches galore, and a sea of tourists. It was certainly busy, but not overwhelmed by visitors and much less tacky than I'd anticipated. Where to park? I made for the station (always a good bet), and easily found a spot on the side of the station approach road. 

It was worth taking a look at the station itself. It was a more imposing place than Dunkeld & Birnam, just as well-maintained, and possessed a bookshop (not the only bookshop in town, incidentally). 

Immaculate! How nice to see this. This was the bookshop.

And this was the attractive Victorian iron fountain, featuring a carefully-painted heron.

Mind you, other 'beautifying' features of the station were less distinguished.

But who am I to pass comment? The next objective after parking was a spot of lunch. The chap I spoke to at Strathmores had been right. There were plenty of inviting eating-places. I selected Mortons, got a window table, and had a yummy chili con carne, washed down by coffee in a turquoise cup and saucer. I'd lunch here again.

I couldn't stay overlong in the town, because while lunching I'd studied the map and had worked out a route back to Perth that began with the A924 and took me through the local mountains to the east. But I got a flavour of the place.

One shop above all others drew me - an establishment called Macnaughtons. It was a big smart shop devoted to Highland (or at least Scottish) clothing. Its offerings were clearly fashionable and upmarket. And doubtless expensive, I thought. But I just had to go in and take a look around. You know how it is.

Gosh. Tartan designs everywhere. Truly, this was Tartan City.

Look at this - a cute micro-mini for a teenage girl (and definitely not for me!):

There was stuff for the men, too. Plenty of it. What about a tartan tie for the man in your life?

Or shoes with tartan uppers?

It wasn't all Strictly Tartan. There were other kinds of design, too.

I love shops like this. Or indeed any kind of emporium that sells a good range of appealing goods. Macnaughtons was a most attractive place.

Of course they had some Highland props to create the right atmosphere, such as this reproduction of an early nineteenth-century painting called The Macnab by Sir Henry Raeburn. This is the original I saw in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow in 2010:

And here's me at Macnaughtons in Pitlochry with the reproduction:

Such things do get you into a buying mood. Despite facing a bill for £180 on Fiona later that afternoon, I had become eager to get myself a souvenir of Pitlochry. I cast around for something I might really want.

Ah, what was this now? Cardigans. All wool, all British, cream with flecks, cable knit, with traditional 'half-football' buttons. The Aran way of knitting was Irish in origin, but nevertheless I felt that these cardigans looked satisfyingly 'Scottish' and would make a perfect souvenir of a pleasant day out in the Highlands. But how much? Oh, only £55! Well, let's try one on! Large or Medium? I settled on Large. It was taking a risk that, with time, the cardigan would look baggy and shapeless; but on the other hand the sleeves on Medium didn't look quite right on me. I considered the matter at length in front of the mirror, taking reference pictures as I did so. (All these shots show the Large size)

Convinced, I made the purchase. Now it was time to go, if I were serious about about my mountain tour. I felt I'd not seen all that Pitlochry had to show, but I had to get back to the Volvo dealer on time. So it was eastwards up the hilly A924, over the pass, down into Glen Brerachan, then along Strathardle, joining the A93 north of Blairgowrie, and then following the A93 south west to Perth. I arrived at the dealer's precisely at 3.00pm.

Pleasingly, the bill was only £139.84. £40 less than than the estimate. Well, that mostly paid for my new cardigan!

Back at the caravan that evening, I emptied the bag and examined the cardigan in detail.

Hmm. Definitely the genuine article, but no clue at all where it was made, although there had been a card in the shop that stated 'Made in UK'.

Presumably that meant in a factory somewhere in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. I hoped it had been Scotland, and from a Highland sheep called Angus or Morag. It may have had only vague provenance, but one thing the cardigan did indisputably possess was a faint but lovely smell of lanolin. This seemed to connect me to the sheep who had provided the wool. I liked that very much.

The cardigan was very comfortable indeed. Some people can't wear wool, finding it unbearably scratchy. I'm pretty tolerant of that, and in the ensuing days I wore my new cardigan often. And now, even weeks later, my love of it hasn't abated. It's cool enough for sunshine, warm enough to fend off chilly breezes. I wear it unbuttoned mostly, but as autumn advances that will change.

This style of cardigan has never gone out of fashion. Like all woollen garments, it can hug the body, and can be flattering. Well, I thought it looked good in this shot, typical of many, of myself wearing it:

£55 well-spent, I'd say.

As for Pitlochry, I'll be back.

1 comment:

  1. Good timing Lucy, Scotland seems to be full right now!


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