Five Star Luxury, The Church Tower, Crieff, Perthshire

Our Scottish breaks to Avernish Lodge and Crosple Cottage in autumn last year were more rural in character and we wanted something a little different to shake off the January blues.

We know the the area around Crieff well, as we visit annually during December to enjoy the party nights at the Hydro.  The high street in Crieff always has a good feel to it so we thought Crieff would be a great place to base ourselves for our first break of 2019.

A quick five-star property search threw up the Church Tower. Sitting in a prominent location as you enter Crieff from the South we had driven past the former St Ninians Church place many times and had no idea there was such a unique and unusual property hiding in there for us to enjoy.

Featuring exposed stone, oak flooring, and arched windows, the property is quirky and full of character.  With spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding area, the three-bedroom apartment has a small sitting area at the top of the tower.  

The perfect place to watch the sunrise and the sunset with a coffee or glass of wine in hand. 

A small fan heater kept the tower warn and comfortable as we watched the ever-changing scene and views over to Loch Turret and Ben Chonzie.

St Ninians dates from the late 19th Century and was converted in the 1960’s into a Church of Scotland seminary retreat and training centre.  The Church Tower, opened in 2007, combines original features like exposed church walls and beams, with the comforts of modern living to provide a unique 5-star standard of holiday experience.

As one would expect in a Church Tower there are 4 flights of stairs up to the apartment front door. Once in the Tower, there is a further flight of stairs to the living room / kitchen area, and another flight to the very top of the tower.   A word of warning the apartment is not for those with limited mobility – if there ever was a case to travel lightly this was it!

You could also guarantee whatever you were looking for was on a different floor to where you were.  This, to be honest wasn’t a bad thing, as it helped burn off a few extra calories to allow us to enjoy the treats available in the high street,

On the first floor, there are 2 double rooms, both with en-suite wet-rooms with under-floor heating and a twin room, together with a large family bathroom.

All bedrooms are decorated to a high standard as are the bathrooms.  The en-suite wet rooms are also very quirky, with the open shower arrangement taking a little getting used to.  Bathrobes and toiletries are provided adding a nice luxurious touch to the stay.

From the first floor, you ascend the light-flooded Tower, with the steel staircase. The Tower has retained its originally features in the old stone walls and evangelistic windows, but the modern LED lighting certainly brings it into the 21st Century.   

Halfway up the Tower staircase, you enter the large open plan living area, with the balcony at one end and the dining area / kitchen at the other.

The, kitchen although small, was more than adequate, for us to rustle up some meals including some fantastic fresh seafood from Fish in Crieff.

The balcony enjoys impressive views over the Crieff hills and beyond, although given the time of year, we never managed to enjoy it to the full.

Off the living area is a snug and cosy tv room with 42″ wall-mounted TV, together with a comfy sofa.  This was a great place to chill out and relax after exploring the Perthshire countryside. We thought we’d try another box set this time round and we settled down to watch Season 1 of the The Vikings – have to say we’re already hooked and working our way through Season 2.

The apartment is unique and quirky and certainly worth a visit providing you can cope with all the stairs.

Centrally located in Crieff, The Church Tower is perfect for exploring the South Highlands of the Trossachs National Park and Perthshire countryside and we managed to fit in several walks, enjoying a spell of rather outstanding weather for the time of year.

Walkhighlands has the usual great coverage in this area and we took in a few of our old favourites including The Knock of Crieff, Lady Mary’s walk and Laggan Hill circular.

We also managed a few new ones nearby at St Fillans Viewpoint circular and the River Earn walk from Crieff to Muthill – although looks like some locals had recently visited!

We had visited Highland Safaris a few years back for a red deer experience and a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit again during winter. The weather on the day was simply incredible and perhaps the best day of the year so far, with blue skies and more than a ‘crisp’ in the air! You can read about our experience here.

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with this trip, not only were we staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff we had lined up a visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie.  

Cargill’s Leap and the Knockie circuit in Blairgowrie helped us walk off the calories from a very filling and tasty lunch.  You can read about this here along with our visit to Fish in Crieff.

Basing ourselves so close to the Crieff Town Centre was a master stroke with a butchers, fishmongers, chocolatier, deli, bakers and confectioner within easy walking distance from the apartment, it may however have been better for our waistline if we had been further away from the chocolatier! 

There were also a few great restaurants to eat in nearby and we had some pretty tasty food at the Tower Gastro Pub and Craobh.  Although we never managed to visit during our stay The Lounge also deserves a mention for another excellent menu to choose from – one to visit again in December.

John Burke, the owner, has really created a unique place to stay and has respectfully kept the character of the Church and cleverly added modern and unique elements for his visitors to enjoy.   

This was a really great trip and certainly on our radar to visit again in the future, although we’ve already got an eye on John’s newest property Dun Aluinn an exclusive use venue situated in Aberfeldy Perthshire, Scotland. 

Just waiting for an invite to visit!

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit; however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to John Burke / Dun Aluinn Estate 2018 for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.

Winter Wonderland, Highland Safaris, Perthshire

Staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff meant we had another opportunity to visit our friends at Highland Safaris in Perthshire.

We visited Highland Safaris a few years back for a red deer experience and a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to do so again during winter. The weather on the day was simply incredible and perhaps the best day of the year so far, with blue skies and more than a ‘crisp’ in the air!

Before setting out on our Winter Safari we had a pit stop and some lunch at the onsite café.  The team there were first class, pleasant and genuinely engaging managing to serve up some wholesome paninis and baked potatoes in plenty of time – so much so that we had time for a coffee and some rather tasty home baking.

We set off with Jim in our land rover just around 1pm. He was so passionate about what he did for a living and the area he worked in – such a lucky person!   Similar to our last trip with the Highland Safaris team, it wouldn’t be fair to tell their stories, but they were informative and interesting covering legends and folklore, the Schiehallion mountain and the history of the clans.

An exciting and ‘icy’ climb through the mountain tracks saw us at almost 2,500ft up Tairneachan.  Stopping off a few times for some scenic shots and some to simply look, the weather was perfect for us, but very very cold!

The trip really opened our eyes as to how the mountains of scotland can be so incredible, but very dangerous at the same time if you don’t wrap up well and have the correct equipment. We were lucky to be in a fully equipped land rover, with expert guides on hand to keep us safe.

With temperatures dropping significantly every 1,000 ft the 20 mins stopover in a mountain bothy with some tea, coffee, Kenmore Shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky was perfectly timed.

Highland Safaris recently celebrated twenty five years of success which has seen it grow its business from one Land Rover taking small groups up into the hills, to its present level as one of Scotland’s premier five star rated visitor attractions, enabling visitors from home and abroad to successfully engage with Scotland’s wildlife, history and heritage.

We didn’t manage to visit the Red Deer Centre again this time round but would highly recommend it if you’ve haven’t been. The visit starts off with passionate, and informative talk about wild red deer which was good fun interactive and interesting and ends with an opportunity to hand feed the Centre’s herd of tame Red Deer.   During our visit last time we also got to meet the Centre’s Barn Owl who was keen to show us her flying skills; overall, we had a great time learning the secrets of this majestic bird.

One thing is for certain our two trips to Highland Safaris have been anything but ‘dull’!

This was our second trip and it certainly wont be our last, we hope to visit at some point in the future in either spring or summer to see how the scenery has changed.  Overall a fab day out and we’re also looking forward to trying their Loch Tay Safari .

Other Information: This was a sponsored / discounted visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you also to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection. 

Scottish Seafood, Good for the ‘Sole’, Little’s Restaurant, Perthshire

We had a bit of a religious theme going on with our last trip staying at The Church Tower, in Crieff and then a wee visit to Little’s Restaurant in the former Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie. 

Look out for our Church Tower blog coming soon, but first up Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff.

Willie Little is well known in the area and has a wealth of experience in the catering industry with Little’s being the latest in a line of popular restaurants he has owned and run in Angus and Perthshire over the years.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Willie during our visit and what an interesting and infectious character he is with some amazing and wonderful stories about the church transformation, floorboards, dry rot, his plans for the future, how the renovation came in a ‘little’ over budget and of course his passion for seafood.  

The full story of the church transformation can be found here

Willie is so passionate about fish it’s no surprise his menus feature traditional as well as some more unusual dishes. Willie also has a love for seasonal Scottish fish and seafood and has a passion for sharing this with his customers both at the shop and the restaurant. 

He spends his mornings at his fish shop in Crieff and then travels onto Blairgowrie in the afternoon to cook in the evenings in the restaurant.  Thinking up his daily specials whilst driving from Crieff to Blairgowrie his restaurant team  must be on their toes to spring into action for his customers arriving for lunch.

We arrived for afternoon lunch and were given a very warm welcome by Helen who invited us in to marvel at the unique surroundings.  The renovation is stunning and full of character; built in 1885 it became the headquarters in 1917 of the Labour Corps and around 20,000 men of all ages and ranks passed through in the following two years. Built from Pictfield Quarry stone to seat 440 people, the church was completed and consecrated in 1887.

As Helen showed us to our table, we couldn’t miss the unique and impressive central stained-glass window.  Erected in 1922, the window, we are told, is the only memorial in Britain to the 7,000 officers and men of the Labour Corp who gave their lives in WW1.

Our attention was eventually drawn away from the stained-glass window by an equally impressive fish menu and specials blackboard with many traditional and unusual fish and seafood pairings / combinations to choose from.  Decisions, decisions!

Our starters were a selection of seafood tasters including mussels with bacon, crispy squid rings, prawn mayonnaise and smoked salmon along with an impressive dish of hand-dived Orkney king scallops and black pudding.  A very tasty start to our lunch and the first restaurant we can truly say we really enjoyed the squid – very moreish!

Mains were just as impressive with a delicious fillet of sea bass, with rosti potato, smoked bacon, and cabbage and Fish of the Day.   Willies passion is to encourage his customers to try types of fish they may not have tried before.  On the menu for us was Megrim a flatfish similar in flavour to Dover sole. From the same family as turbot and brill, it has softer flesh and thin skin that can be easily crisped during cooking.  

Served with toasted almonds, sauté potatoes, and nut-brown butter, the Megrim was fab and very filling – a word of warning if you think you’ve finished, flip it over and you’ve got plenty more to work through.  So much so, the space normally left for desserts was easily breached.

Willie sources all his fish and seafood from trusted suppliers in places like Peterhead and Kinlochbervie knowing all the fishermen and the divers direct. What we found interesting was that he knew where everything in his restaurant and fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, comes from.

Through his fishmongers, Fish in Crieff, Willie has access to the freshest fish that Scottish waters has to offer coming daily from Scrabster Market in the North of Scotland, from market to plate within 12 hours. 

Staying at The Church Tower only a few 100 metres along from his shop in Crieff, Willie was pleased to arrange for us to visit and try some of the fresh produce on offer. 

We had hoped to catch Willie in his shop, but he was long gone on his daily journey to Blairgowrie by the time we arrived at the shop around 9am.  Suspect he had another busy day ahead of him.

Not to worry as we received another warm welcome from Shaun who was hard at work filleting some Red Fish at his work counter when we arrived.  Very knowledgeable and engaging Shaun showed us around the shop answering our questions and giving advice on how to prepare and cook the different types of fish and seafood. 

The shop has everything you would expect and much more and the people and visitors to Crieff are so lucky to have this on their doorstep.  We left with fresh mussels, red fish, scallops and some cod fillet.  Red Fish isn’t the most attractive fish, so we’ll save you from the before pictures, but the fillets and finished dish was a little more pleasing on the eye. 

Back at the Church Tower we set about trying to create dishes that might not be too far out of place on Willies specials board, including Thai Chilli and Coconut Mussels, Red Fish with Sweet Potato and Thai Chilli and Coconut Cod Fillet. 

We might need to work on our presentation, but even if we do say so ourselves, the dishes were fab.  Nothing to do with the skills of the amateur chefs, but instead simply down to the freshness of the ingredients!

The Riverside Methodist Church in Rattray and Blairgowrie was clearly a focus for the community and War efforts in years gone by and it’s a pleasure to see that it has become so once again.  With a warm and welcoming atmosphere Willie has created a unique venue, in a prime location, serving outstanding cuisine which perfectly showcases Scotland’s amazing seafood. 

Fish in Crieff is equally as impressive and is the type of shop that we wish every high street would have, providing everyone with the opportunity to prepare dishes with the same ingredients as Willie and other top chefs serve up to their customers.

We really can’t recommend Little’s Restaurant and Fish in Crieff highly enough and we’ll definitely be returning when we’re visiting Perthshire again.

Other Information: Thank you to Littles Restaurant / Fish in Crieff for providing a few pictures for our social media feeds / blog.  This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you also to Clare Graham from www.advantagepr.co.uk for the connection.