From island-hopping in a canoe, to scaling new heights while discovering dragons, Perthshire in Scotland has plenty of surprises...
“This could possibly be the best park EVER!” exclaimed my nine-year-old. High praise indeed from someone who considers himself an authority on what it takes to impress a child for an afternoon. The venue in question is The South Inch in Perth, 31 hectares of green parkland, a fantastic playpark inspired by nature and, luckily for us, adjoined to our holiday lodgings via an outside dining terrace. The visiting funfair was another added bonus for our stay and throughout the year you will also come across circuses and large special events such as fireworks and bonfire nights.
Our Scottish escape to the wilds of Perthshire had begun earlier that day on the 10.30am P&O Ferries sailing from Larne to Cairnryan. Living with three boisterous, adrenalin-junky, sports-mad, on-the-go boys (including the husband), I decided there must be some truth in the idiom, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em', and decided to swap my usual idea of a heavenly break away (relaxing by a pool somewhere that the temperature rarely falls below 30°C) for a completely different experience that would stand out from so many of our other summer holidays, creating some unique childhood memories along the way – just hopefully not 'remember when mum fell out of the canoe or down that mountain'. The beauty of travelling by sea and road is of course that all manner of necessary toys, equipment, clothes for all occasions (and weather) can be chucked in the boot of the car without a moment's thought to weight and questioning, 'Am I definitely going to wear it/use it?' Such a blessing when you still have a baby or toddler who seem to need to travel with more accessories than one of the Kardashians. The two-hour sailing ticked all the right travel boxes for our quality and comfort with plenty on board to keep the kids entertained. A movie in the children's playroom, a games arcade, free Wi-Fi, a bit of on-deck seal and ship spotting and the upgrade to the club lounge at just £12 per adult (pre-book price) is a brilliant buy offering unlimited complimentary drinks and snacks, exclusive lounge area and friendly waiter service for all-day dining. Relaxed and refreshed, we arrived at the port of Cairnryan raring to go and headed north.
The three-hour route to Perth is very straightforward (even a sat-nav addict like me can manage without it for this drive) and is also terrific for adding in some interesting pit-stops. You pass through the wonderful welcoming city of Glasgow – with some of the best shopping in the UK –and much more to keep visitors of all ages occupied from Kelvingrove Museum to the beautiful gardens at Bellahouston Park and its Rennie Macintosh inspired House for Art Lover. And also Stirling, with its impressive castle perched atop of the Castle Hill crag, Wallace Monument and winding Harry Potter style Hogsmeade streets. Our final destination, Perth has its own hidden treasures though, including our accommodation and an impressive selection of superb family-friendly restaurants we couldn't wait to try out.
The Scottish Tourist Board four-star rated Parklands Hotel has 15 beautifully furnished individually-styled rooms, three of which are large family rooms offering loads of space to comfortably accommodate the Egyptian-cotton dressed huge king-sized bed plus two singles. With smart TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, plenty of on-site parking, a generous and luxurious bathroom space, award-winning restaurant and perfect city-centre location next to the park – yet just a short stroll from shops and a multitude of fine eateries – it’s an ideal base for any family visit to Perthshire.
Unpacked and settled in, we had time for a stroll around the park before our 7.30pm dinner reservation at Paco’s Restaurant in Mill Street directly opposite Perth’s Concert Hall. Do not be deceived by the description of an ‘American-themed diner’, this is no run of the mill burgers and milkshakes joint – although both are available and extremely tasty. The restaurant’s own deli at the corner of the entrance is a clue that the menu inside offers a lot more to discerning customers, including homemade ice cream and a fabulous selection of Italian meats and cheeses. Think instead of a movie scene featuring a bustling New York brasserie with green and white checked tablecloths and waiters serving up the kind of fantastic food that the clash of cultures in the US has made its own, from spicy Mexican-inspired enchiladas to New Orleans’ Cajun-blackened salmon and delicious Italian pasta dishes. The children’s choices are also plentiful with a good selection of meats, fish, plenty of side veg and a marvellous mocktail list so the kids can take as much pleasure in ordering ‘something different to drink’ as mum and dad. What really stands out though is the décor, as every inch of space on the walls and ceiling is crammed full of historical knick-knacks – a pair of first ice-skates or golf bag – to model aeroplanes. We even found an original 1940’s jukebox outside the newly-opened Spanish Tapas bar upstairs. Several games of I-Spy occupied the evening so that, for a first time in a very long time, a family meal out didn’t end with some sort of screen showing cartoons while the adults finished eating. Paco’s certainly packs a winning punch when it comes to family dining in Perth, and its final big score from us came with the bill. Plenty of New York style but without the eye-watering price tag.
The next morning we were up bright and early with the feathered residents of the tree outside our window, and after a fabulous full Scottish breakfast were soon on our way to the chocolate-box picturesque village of Aberfeldy, coincidentally home to the award-winning Scottish Highland artisan chocolatier Iain Burnett whose gourmet chocolate shop outside the village is well worth stopping for. We had an action-packed itinerary planned with our friendly guide Mark from local activity company Beyond Adventure, who had promised us a day to remember. He certainly didn’t exaggerate.
With the youngest member of our clan aged just three, and the eldest (Nanny) a young-at-heart 72, I had been a little hesitant about the arranged canoeing and rock-climbing but Mark assured me that we were by no means the youngest, or oldest thrill seekers he had taken care of. By 11am we were all in canoes in the middle of Loch Tay in the neighbouring village of Kenmore, certainly not something we get the chance to do every day! The scenery is simply breathtaking and as we paddled out to Gull Island for a game of hide and seek, it was hard not to be in total awe of nature’s beauty – a feeling that would continue throughout the day.
Scottish comedian Billy Connolly once said, ‘In Scotland there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’ and although we did experience a few rain showers during our activities, we had been pre-warned to bring our wellies and a change of clothing and Mark keeps a well-stocked van of waterproofs for all ages and sizes. No rain stops play with Beyond Adventure! After their first much-enjoyed canoeing lesson, the next stop for my little thrill seekers was Weem Forest. We quickly devoured a delicious picnic lunch courtesy of Mark’s magic mini-van, then set off on a quest through the forest to find dragons!
Local legend tells in a Highland ballad of a demonic stranger imprisoning a girl deep within the Rock of Weem, where we were headed to attempt some rock climbing. There was no sign of the prisoner, but the boys loved the story along the winding path as Mark pointed out secret caves, pathways, hiding places, magnificent imposing trees and lots of interesting sights (including strange carvings and rocks shaped liked crocodiles) along the way. Both – yes even the three-year-old with some gentle help from Mark – managed the climb to the top and back came down the forest path like conquering heroes of Mount Everest. Our family mission for adventure, building up confidence and a creating a can-do attitude completed with ease, we headed back to Perth for a fabulous farewell dinner – Scottish style.
A ‘bothy’ is described as a basic shelter but the Bothy Restaurant in heart of Kinnoull Street hasn’t built its reputation as one of the city’s top dining spots by offering a basic menu. What you will discover is plenty of traditional Scottish fayre and locally sourced produce teamed with a warm friendly atmosphere, live piano and splendid service. The £4.95 children’s menu (main course plus ice cream) is unquestionably good value and high quality, while older diners will enjoy trying traditional Scottish favourites such as Perthshire venison, Ayrshire beef ribeye and Inverury rump of lamb or Stornoway black pudding. A fitting tribute to end our Scottish summer adventure.
As we headed back to catch our afternoon sailing home the following day, I asked my intrepid explorers what they had enjoyed the most. ‘I loved all of it…and I’m going to try more new things from now on’, from my eldest: Result! And ‘Me Spiderman climbing’, from the three-year-old. I have a feeling that the memories of this trip will linger long after others from summer ‘16 have quietly faded away.
Ni4kids travelled with P&O Ferries who offer up to seven sailings a day, no baggage restrictions and a journey time of just two hours, the Larne to Cairnryan route. With their current family offer now on, you can ‘Feed the Family for £20’, meaning even more convenience when travelling to Scotland this summer. P&O’s great value fares start from £74 each way from Larne to Cairnryan for a car and driver. For further information on all sailings and the latest P&O Ferries offers please visit POFerries.com or call Tel: 0800 130 0030.
For further information on accommodation visit theparklandshotel.com
For dining out visit pacos.co.uk & bothyperth.co.uk
Book activities at beyondadventure.co.uk