Anyone planning a trip will know that there's a real trend at the moment for staycations. As a word, I’m really not a fan - too American in its essence for my lilting Scottish tongue. As a concept, though, I’ve been an avid participant since my childhood. Two weeks squeezed into one caravan at Arbroath’s Red Lion Park was the highlight of many a school summer holiday for us. Until you’ve seen my mum and Auntie Christine in a Hula Hoop shakedown competition, you haven’t lived.
For me, spending time holidaying in Scotland has been an absolute joy since about 1977 – you don’t need to come up with a daft, new word to make it exciting or appealing. Granted, I’ve not balanced precariously on a table folded into a bed for a few years, but I have spent endless weekends right here in Perthshire, enjoying everything from talking retreats to sailing on lochs.
It was the sudden realisation that we hadn’t had one of these proper wee Perthshire breaks for over a year that sent RG and I running for the hills recently. We’ve had one of those crazy years, where everything seems to happen at once, and you never quite reach a stage where you can just sit and Be. We needed good old-fashioned, Perthshire R & R.
Staycation. As a word, I’m really not a fan - too American in its essence for my lilting, Scottish tongue. As a concept, though, I’ve been an avid participant since 1977.Enter Errichel. Set into the beautiful hillside just outside Aberfeldy, Errichel is one of those magical places that makes a two day mini-break feel like a month long retreat.
Owned for the past twenty years by Alistair and Iris Budge-Reid, there is a real sense of commitment, and a feeling of unwavering belief, running throughout this wonderfully unique farm diversification. Yes, it is multi award-winning. But it is also a far cry from the polished, prescriptive formula that you see all too often at the top end of accomodation providers.
Here, you know that you are stepping into a real person’s vision, and you can see the endless hours of hard work, and meticulous layers of passion that have gone into every wee nook and cranny, and every last decision that has been made. And it has certainly paid off - Errichel House is 4-star, two of the three self-catering cottages are 4 star, and the wonderful Croit na Greiene where we stayed is 5 star.
Run now by their daughter Rebecca and her husband Paul Newman, what was originally a farm is now home to an entire Highland Perthshire experience; an award-winning restaurant, 5-star rooms, beautiful cottages, a wee produce shop, guided farm walks, a flock of rare breed ducks and a large black pig called Malcolm. Oh yeah – and a couple of kids for good measure!
Their aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible which is why the working farm is still very much a part of the daily chores; they rear rare breed pigs and cattle for their own beef and pork, which Paul transforms into stunning two-rosette standard food – I’d go back go for the dinner alone! They also serve up freshly laid eggs from chickens, geese and a colourful brace of ducks that can be seen marching between garden and Duck Pond - Mallards, Indian Runners, Cayuga and Khaki Ducks now offering up their own mixed-breed offspring.
Alongside this they have fitted solar panels and installed a district heating biomass boiler to ensure that guests can enjoy abundant hot water and central heating without relying on non-renewable resources. Like I said; commitment to their beliefs in every last decision.
We were booked into one of their self-catering cottages, Croit na Greiene – which translates as House of Sun. The dining room became our chillout zone, with a comfy sofa, and an entire gable-end of floor-to-celiling glass opening out onto the farm, it gives unbroken, south-facing views across treetops and hillsides.
Much to my caffeine-loving delight, the kitchen came complete with a real coffee machine and a bag of freshly ground Glen Lyon coffee, which is roasted in small batches by an independent coffee business in the town.
A quick tour of the cottage, and our choice of four extremely comfortable looking bedrooms, and we ended up unpacking in downstairs ensuite (with a HUGE wetroom), which opened onto a small patio complete with log burner and endless views. Ten minutes after walking through the door and I was sitting in the fresh air of said patio, one of those local coffees in hand, and every last thought of work peeling away from me.
They also serve up freshly laid eggs from chickens, geese, and a colourful brace of ducks that can be seen marching between garden and Duck PondWe had booked in for dinner on the first night, and wandered up to the restaurant a little early in hope of enjoying a drink before we ate. The lounge-library is a rich, warm red, with slouching sofas and bookcases lined with fact, fiction and history. Throughout this room, and the cottage itself, there is an eclectic blend of Scottish and Far Eastern décor, an organic mix of the two sides to Iris and Alistair’s professional lives.
Thyme Restaurant at Errichel is the domain of Paul, who, as chef patron, carries the sustainable ethos upon which Errichel has been built, through his menus and onto the plates of eager diners. Paul has had an enviable career as an international chef – in fact, he and Becky met in the industry – and has worked in some of most prestigious hospitality destinations in the world. I'm assured this one now, is his favourite to date.
The roundhouse restaurant was designed by Alastair in the style of a traditional horse gin. It is so well done, it feels like an original part of the house - only the large windows designed to soak up that spectacular view give it away. The food brings together Paul’s love of international flavours, and Scotland’s best quality ingredients, to give a simple yet stunning menu full of unusual taste combinations. The menu changes weekly to reflect the availability of the area’s produce, although regulars will notice seasonal variations on enduring favourites, and a couple of signature dishes from Paul’s long career.
Three courses each, and from the arrival of freshly baked rolls and lavender seasoned butter, we knew this was going to be special. Roy had Pauls own beetroot cured Wester Ross Scottish Salmon which was so soft and delicate it melted immediatley in the mouth. I had the fried gnocchi with seasonal veg, a new take on an old favourite for me, that set my expectations for my main course to high!
Main courses of cod – for me - and buffalo steak for Roy, were cooked to perfection and served with seasonal vegetables. When was the last time a restaurant served you neep and cauliflower as a side? I honestly can't remember enjoying a side of veg so honest in its flavour.
I finished with a delicious, almondy frangipane – so good I was overcome with food love, and forgot to note what Roy had even had – and more of that piping hot, local coffee. Of course, it would hav ebeen rude not to return to the library for a nightcap, and we were so delicioulsy sated, I though I might just fall asleep there.
If I’m being honest, I could have written 1000 words on the cooked breakfast alone! If I’m being honest, I could have written 1000 words on the restaurant alone – hell, I could have written 1000 words on the cooked breakfast that Paul served up himself the next morning. Warm pastries, own recipe sausages, golden yellow yolked eggs… and more of that coffee! The jam and marmaldes are, of course, handmade by Paul and we bought three jars from their wee shop when we checked out the next day.
Bellies full, we were set for one of Becky’s guided farm walks. Becky is warm and generous with her time, brimming with local knowledge and excited about sharing news of their sites of archaeological interest. Joined by the family dog, Pepper, we proceeded to hike over the hill, listening to the fascinating tale of how a British girl raised in Hong Kong came to be living on a farm in Aberfeldy.
She is fun company, and has clearly embraced her country life with passion. Her knowledge of shielings, hut circles and ancient field systems may be new-found but it in no way felt learned by rote for the purposes of leading a walk. There was a real depth to her talk, and a sense of responsibility that acknowledged how incredibly fortunate she feels for her family to have been blessed with such a significant legacy. We stopped at the top for homebaking and a flask of coffee, breathing in the air and soaking up the vista, filling ourselves to the brim with highland Perthshire.
Walk over, Becky encouraged us to get out and see a bit of the area, telling tales of marvellous homemade cakes at a Post Office in Glen Lyon and Keltneyburn Smiddy that specialises in upcycled art on the way. We were sold – and in a glorious afternoon driving through the hills, we purchased both cake and a great piece of art, making our trip down Scotland's longest, loneliest and loveliest glen a bit pricier (and even more worthwhile!) than we'd expected.
Always ones for high octane adventure, we took a wee detour on the road back to visit the UK’s oldest tree – The Fortingall Yew - and had a wander round the graveyard while we were there.
I don’t know if it was walking in the fresh Scottish air, watching the night fall over the Aberfeldy hills, or scoffing down proper food prepared with care and love, that brought me my deep and contented sleep that night, but when I woke I hadn’t felt so rested in months.
I don’t know if it was walking in the fresh Scottish air or watching the night fall over the Aberfeldy hills that brought me my deep and contented sleep that night, but when I woke I hadn’t felt so rested in months.We left Errichel the next morning, laden with jam, marmalade, award-winning Scottish Biltong, and lots of warm wishes. Go into town, they said, enjoy Aberfeldy! And so we did. Walked up the Birks O’ Aberfeldy, grabbing lunch and a movie in The Birks Cinema, and picking up yet more cakes in the Breadalbane Bakery, we breathed in a wee bit more highland staycation time before driving 40 short minutes back to our own front door.
Nicki was gifted a two-night stay and dinner on the first night, to experience Aberfeldy and Errichel for the purposes of this article.