This Perthshire bolt-hole straddles the line between comfort and style with ease
Photography Matt Brown
Words Judy Diamond
Saturday night, and Auchterarder is jumping. There are hundreds of people, mostly men but quite a few women too, thronging the main street, spilling out of takeaways and laughing together outside the pubs. There’s just one strange detail: every single one of them is wearing a kilt. It’s a sight to behold, much to the delight of a couple of Canadian tourists who snap away with their cameras. Who’d have thought this little corner of Perthshire would be so patriotic?
Alas, all is not what it seems. A shout goes up and the crowd hastily finish their beers, crumple up their chip wrappers and disappear down a side street. Minutes later, a dozen fully laden coaches emerge and ease past in convoy, making for the A9. As silence settles once more over the rooftops, a woman out walking her dog spots the bemused Canadians. “Pipe bands,” she tells them. “Big competition in Glasgow today. They always refuel here on their way back north.”
So, Auchterarder: famed gateway to the Highlands indeed. Of course, it’s not just the ample refreshments that make this such a brilliant stop-off. Linger for any time at all and you’ll find an abundance of Scottish charm in the crow-stepped gables, cute little cottages and speciality shops.
The surrounding countryside, dotted with castles and stately homes, is spectacular without being dauntingly wild. There’s even a famous neighbour in the shape of Gleneagles. And, increasingly, thanks to a surge in the amount of high-quality accommodation on offer, visitors are making the town their destination rather than simply passing through.
Our home for the next few nights, a terraced cottage called Auchterarder 30, is a fine example of this evolution. It feels less like a holiday rental and more like the welcoming home of a stylish and generous friend. We arrive to find fresh milk and a bottle of wine waiting in the fridge, excellent coffee for the French press, and fragrant, freshly cut flowers in a vase.
These thoughtful touches are evidence of owner Pat Renson’s approach: everything has been chosen to encourage you to relax and make yourself at home. Renson is an interior designer, and evidence of her skill is all around in the gleaming brass, plump cushions, thick wool curtains and polished finish. This is comfortable luxury with a hint of country, an artful blend of chic gloss and reliable tradition.
The house is not particularly big, but the layout maximises the space on both floors. Downstairs is an open-plan kitchen-living room, with a neat little dining room tucked away at the back, where glass doors open to a secluded patio and garden. The kitchen island, with its vintage leather bar stools, is a convenient spot for breakfast, and there’s all the equipment and appliances you could need if you fancied rustling up more than toast to start the day.
If downstairs feels like home, upstairs feels like a five-star hotel. Here, in the converted attic, is one large bedroom with an en-suite shower-room. There’s also a rather fabulous free-standing bath in one corner of the bedroom. These generous bathing facilities meant we got quite a surprise when, towards the end of our stay, we opened a previously unnoticed door off the kitchen and discovered yet another shower-room, its smart contemporary style very different to the more traditional looks of the one upstairs.
That first evening, having seen off the pipers, we lounge on the garden sofas under a canopy of fairylights, ice-cubes clinking in a G&T. It has been a long, hot summer’s day and is still warm enough that there’s no need to fire up the woodburner – which feels almost a shame: it must be equally magical to sit out here in autumn, I think to myself, with a warming glass of whisky and the scent of wood smoke in the air. I make a mental note to check availability for when the weather turns cooler.
Of course, this being Scotland, the drop in temperature comes sooner rather than later: the morning dawns grey and drizzly and the rain is soon beating down in earnest. There’ll no sitting outside tonight, woodburner or otherwise. But that’s fine – kicking back on a well-stuffed armchair in the golden lamp light of the living room is a back-up plan I’m more than happy with. All eventualities have been covered here, designed to leave you feeling pampered after a day’s exploring, then restored, ready for new adventures.