Crieff was once called 'The Montpellier of Scotland'. What?
Crieff, a traditional resort town that has attracted visitors for generations. It's right on the edge of the Highlands, so it's a good touring base too.
Crieff is a typical Scottish little resort town on the edge of the Highlands. It is also the second-largest town in the old county of Perthshire. As a kind of 'traditional' resort it is more or less in the same category of other Perthshire (or at least Highland-edge) places where tourism has a role to play: for example, Callander, Dunkeld, Pitlochry or perhaps Dunblane. Crieff is well-to-do, comfortable but still attractive in a reserved sort of way.
Like these other little resorts or tourist-towns, Crieff has been catering for visitors practically since Scottish tourism was invented. Locally published ‘Millar’s Guide to Crieff – New and Revised Post-war Edition‘ is confident of the town’s position more than 60 years ago. Uncompromisingly, the guide starts by simply stating that
Yes, that’s how they spoke post-war, apparently.
Crieff and cattle (or coos)
Aside from its assumed pre-eminent position as the ‘Montpellier of Scotland‘ and other such smug claims of yesteryear, this town on the slopes of the Knock Hill also was, at least until the mid-eighteenth century, an important financial centre, of all things, because of its role as a ‘tryst’ or market and meeting place for cattle dealers. Cattle drovers in, uhmm, their droves, took their herds down from the north to sell them on at the end of summer. With all these tough Highland drovers in town, it must have been like the Wild West.
(Pictured here) Crieff in late winter, where you can see its location just below the Highlands.
(Pictured here) Looking over the houses of King Street, on the edge of Crieff, and up to Ben Chonzie and Glen Turret. Gosh, it’s not still winter, is it?
Today the town still has an autumn festival called the Drovers’ Tryst. It’s only a matter of time before it puts up big signs that say ‘Crieff Welcomes Careful Drovers’ and sells t-shirts with ‘How’s my Droving? Phone this number….’ on them. However, I digress. Though you can find out a bit more about Scottish cattle-droving in the Crieff area here.
What to see in Crieff
I reckon the must see experience is the view from the top of the Knock Hill. I must say I bang on about this in a few places on this site. For a few minutes of moderately serious uphill work (park above the Crieff Hydro, of which more later) you can enjoy a glorious panorama out over Strathearn to the south, to the rolling slopes of the Ochils; while to the north and west, pictured below, the Highland hills should look magnificent in all seasons.
(Pictured here) Looking north into the Highlands: Glen Turret from Crieff’s Knock Hill. I see it's autumn again.
The main street is worth a stroll as there are still quite a lot of small businesses – good for hardware, outdoor gear, art galleries – that sort of thing…oh, and ice cream and sweeties, especially sweeties. There’s a magnificent old-fashioned sweetie shop called Gordon and Durward. You can smell it from up the street, so follow your nose. It’s been there since 1925 – there is even an advertisement for it in an ancient guidebook I found. (It was the same one in which Crieff was called 'The Montpellier of the North'.) By the way - and I'll mention it here just as a kind of pub quiz fact: this town was also the birthplace of movie star Ewan McGregor. Ho-hum.
Glen Turret runs up into the hills behind the town. Going all the way up takes you to the dam of the Glenturret reservoir – starting point for a number of high level hill-walks. (Remind me to write the page, if you have a moment.) The lower part of the glen is the setting for the Glenturret Distillery, the oldest legal distillery in Scotland. Home of The Famous Grouse, it offers its visitors a good experience with whisky tours, tastings, a nifty audio-visual and a good restaurant.
(Pictured here) Walks near Crieff. The town is in the background. It’s spring (hurrah) – the bracken is almost uncurled, the gorse is out and there are some new leaves. And so they jolly well should be - it's half-way through May. Sorry about all the winter and autumn pictures though. It’s just what I associate with Crieff.
Walks around Crieff
The town has lots of signposted walks in a network all around it. A leaflet might be available from the local information centre – it certainly used to be – but these days you can never be sure if a leaflet or even the information centre itself will still be available. Och, I’m sure in a touristy place like this it will be. My favourite walk is a forestry road signed for Auchingarroch, which runs west from its fairly high starting point and offers great views up Strathearn towards Comrie. Find it by driving south out of the town (A822) - just after you cross the River Earn, turn right (west) by the back road (Strowan Road). Then - after a bit, take a left - follow signs for Balloch. Look for the green sign quite well up the hill. Park and walk. The start of the walk is also pictured above.
Where to stay
If you mention the town to native Scots, you often get a smile of recognition. ‘Ah, yes’, they say, ‘we used to go on holiday there’. Alternatively they say they went to school there as it has a posh private school, Morrison’s Academy. And, the chances are, if they went on holiday there, then they stayed at Crieff Hydro, the largest single employer in town. With its long-established popularity, its leisure options, additional lodges for self-catering and so on, it has a major economic impact on the town. That said, there are plenty of other places to stay, from expensive hotels to budget B&Bs.
Crieff as a touring base
Yes, the town makes a very good touring base. Perthshire is a good choice anyway as, if you look at the map of Scotland, you can work out a lot of circular driving routes through the parallel east-west running glens: by Loch Earn and back by Loch Tay; by Loch Tay and through Glen Lyon and so on. And on any touring, you’re sure to find yourself in Comrie, a few miles to the west. This small place is also worth a stroll along its noisy main street – nice deli – and there walks in Glen Lednock behind it as well. Also, from Crieff, a day in Perth is easy, or Edinburgh or Glasgow if you leave the car at Dunblane.
(Below) The preposterously ornate gardens of Drummond Castle, near Crieff.
Crieff – in summary
We lived in Crieff for almost three years. It seemed to rain a lot. Then it snowed a lot. (Our time there coincided with unusually snowy winters.) But we had nice days too – and the best bit, looking back was the nearness of the hills – great countryside, only minutes away. Oh, and the red kites. Lots of kites. However, when a fellow-tourism professional heard I was moving there he sent a terse email. It simply asked ‘Are you old enough for Crieff?’ I replied, ‘Yes but not old enough for Comrie‘. It’s contradictory: mention the place and people have fond holiday memories, yet it also is associated with retirement – but maybe that’s just an aspect of its leisurely image. Oh, and in spite of the old guidebook’s claims for its dry climate, it definitely rains a lot there. (But not as much as in Killin.) At least, in comparison with the dry east coast.
Don’t miss: that view from the top of the Knock; also Drummond Castle Gardens in high summer. Crieff and autumn colour also go well together. See the autumn link below.