When you head up the charge at Perthshire’s leading* online magazine, there’s a bit of pressure when it comes to organising a team day out. We’re a disparate bunch here at Small City; Holly and I are office based in Perth, Anna works from her own web development company in Pitlochry, Gill's amazing food photography work has her all over the country and Rhona works from both her home and the office while juggling baby Freya, her family column and our advertising sales.
Getting all five of us round a table can sometimes prove tricky but quite apart from the basic logistics, there’s also the heightened expectation that comes with my ‘Nicki-Knows-Everyone’ status. Having known contacts at all the best providers of a Great Day Out in Perthshire does turn the suspense levels up somewhat!
That said, I’ve been dreaming of a wild day out on the river since I interviewed John Mason-Strang from Nae Limits back in December and with the Tay past the terror-inducing levels of winter I figured we could handle some white water rafting.
Picture the scene: the sun was shining, the river was at a good steady flow and we were all a little hyper at being let out for the day. We arrived at Nae Limits at Ballinluig where we were met by Maddie, our river guide for the day, and after signing a document to say we understood that severe injury or death was a possibility, we changed into wetsuits (that woman can look you up and down and know exactly what size you are!) and life jackets it was into the minibus for the 20 minute drive from Ballinluig to Aberfeldy.
With five of us suited and booted and raring to go, the noise levels in the mini bus seemed to increase in direct proportion with my nerves. As we fiddled with the go-pro (thanks to Kelly at Live Active for the loan!) and recalled the reckless adventures of our youth, I was beginning to feel a little too old for starting out at the adventure sports game!
Kiwi Maddie was as laid back as you’d expect from someone who spends her days in the great outdoors but there was no messing with the safety instructions. Making no attempt to sugar any pills we were told what to do if we fell in, if someone else fell in or if a current swept us away from the raft. How to hold the paddle, how to move your body in time and how to reserve your energy as you paddled for a couple of hours were all included in the first ten minutes pre-river which left us free to enjoy putting it all into practice as soon as we’d clambered aboard.
Maddie was great fun and felt very much part of our wee gang on the river, as did Nelly, our safety Kayak man! As we paddled down the Tay she pointed out the sights and sounds of the nearby Perthshire countryside, calling out to Nelly for answers she wasn't sure of. So knowledgeable was Maddie that when we discovered it was only her third week in the country we were gobsmacked into complete awe at the intensity of the training she'd obviously already had!
We may have been a self-contained raft of #TeamSmallCity women but there was a group of men running alongside us and it was only a matter of time before a serious splash-off started. Rhona and I were heading-up our raft and as we splashed like crazy, heads down and arms working overtime we were gleeful in the knowledge that we must were beating them hands down… What we didn’t know was that our teammates were lounging back, not a splash made, laughing at our efforts.
There was an option to get in for a swim which we all chickened out of although Rhona and I – proudly - did the balancing-walk-round-the-raft game. To be fair, Holly had slipped in the co-op the day before so was reluctant to attempt a raft edge… seriously, that was her excuse! Rhona also stood up going over the rapids which I’ll be honest, brought out the mother in me and I had to stop myself from telling her to sit down before she fell in.
The River Tay from Aberfeldy to Grandtully passes through some of Perthshire’s most stunning countryside and with the sun shining down we were treated to a spectacular view of riverbank wildlife, farm animals and any number of birds soaring overhead. It is a glorious way to wile away an hour and a half and with a good bit of paddling and a few white water rapids it was certainly more exciting than the usual drive in the car!
Nae Limits are one of Scotland’s best providers of adventure sports and with Perthshire as their playground they have built up an enviable reputation; you can tell from the minute you arrive that you’re in safe hands with quality kit, well-trained guides and a full briefing all there to put you at ease as you prepare for a fun day out on the river.
The thrill coming over the rapids was amazing; the spot we travelled down on the River Tay is the less wild of their two main routes – Nae Limits also paddle down the Tummel – but you still get a fair few rapids spinning the boat and bringing that rush of adrenalin as you’re thrown this way and that.
I loved it; we all did and as we pulled the raft up the bank at the end the idea that there had been any nerves was laughable. If Maddie had said 'let's go again; we'd all have jumped at the chance. I've caught the bug and I'm planning to book in for a day on the faster flowing Tummel later in the year - not too old to start the adventures after all it seems!
We were starving when we arrived back and although dinner was booked for eight we couldn’t resist coffees and cakes at Nae Limit’s Rivers Meet Café. The chatter was high - we were buzzing from the excitement - and changed into our #TeamSmallCity t-shirts we resembled a Hen Party more than a corporate day out. Thankfully Nae Limits offer both so we fitted in perfectly regardless.
Into the cars and just a short drive down the road brought us to East Haugh House, our accommodation for the night. It was big warm welcomes from Sophie and the team and a quick tour round before being shown up to our rooms. East Haugh has been owned by the McGown family since 1989, with dad Neil the chef patron. It was originally built as part of the Atholl Estate some 350 years ago and is a beautiful, 17th century turreted stone house boasting twelve individually designed bedrooms and a Victorian private gate lodge.
Our reason for booking, it has to be said, was largely down to the reputation East Haugh has gathered for their food. We’re a foodie bunch at Small City - we’d sleep in a cow shed if you promised us a slap up meal at the end of it! Thankfully, the rooms were far from barns and after I set the logs burning in my open fire and opened the fabulous gift usually reserved for Romantic Breaks (thanks Sophie!) I heard a very excited Rhona and Holly knocking at my door…
“I’ve got a four poster bed! Do you have a Jacuzzi? This is SO nice!”
Convinced we’d hit the Day Out Jackpot, I relaxed into a jacuzzi bath to wash away the river and soothe my tired limbs.
Dinner is informal and we met up for lots of artisan gin and tonics (research obvs!) and a bit of team chat before dinner.
The menu is outstanding. The restaurant is open to both residents and non-residents and I would highly recommend you head for East Haugh if you’re looking for a new venue for Sunday lunch or a cheeky night away. As the starters began arriving at the table I did have that greedy person’s twinge of food-envy; Anna’s goat cheese salad looked amazing. However, my chorizo and mushroom risotto was creamy and flavoursome and the plate was soon wiped clean thanks to the warm, homemade bread rolls on the table.
The chefs, led by Neil, are committed to using local produce wherever they can and the quality of the ingredients was there in every bite. As you’d expect, they are all locally sourced where possible and everything is freshly cooked to order.
I went with herb crusted cod, which fell away into soft, white flakes and as I glanced across the table I could see the delight on Rhona’s face as she was presented with an exact replica of the lamb dish Gill had photographed just a few months before. The few moments of silence that came as we tucked into the first delicous mouthfuls were eventually broken as we waved the empty wine bottle in the air and requested a second to wash down our mains.
Dessert came round and the cheese menu was so tempting I couldn't resist; Gill and Anna were drawn to the Chocolate Tart which gave way to the only bit of Team Work attempted when Rhona held a table lamp over the dessert as Gill snapped away with her old ‘car boot’ camera! We laughed until it hurt, chatted into the wee sma’ hours and I was given a warm and fuzzy reminder of why our wee online magazine has come as far as it has in only 20 short months. These women are amazing.
The comfort of the rooms began calling our names and I slipped into the happy contented sleep that comes from plenty of fresh Perthshire air and a belly full of good Scottish food.
As we headed back to Perth the next day, stuffed from a full Scottish breakfast (and fruit, and toast and cereal…) we all agreed that our 24 hours in Highland Perthshire had given us the refreshed, go-get-em feeling that usually comes from a week by a beach.
What are you waiting for - they're right on your doorstep?
Nae Limits on our Perthshire Attractions Directory>>>
East Haugh House Hotel and Restaurant on our Perthshire Accomodation Directory >>
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