Places of Interest, Pitlochry

By James Irvine Robertson

F

or most of its history Pitlochry was no more than a cluster of farming townships like hundreds of others in Atholl. Under the ownership of the Butter family, government supporters who prospered after the '45 and are one of the tiny handful of old lairds who have managed to preserve their estates up to the present, they dozed peacefully away under the shadow of the local metropolis Moulin with its inn and the parish church. This lay up the hill on the junction of the road north - which then kept above the boggy plain - and the route across to Strathardle. Then General Wade built his highway across the haughland and the little clachans at the new junction of his road from Dunkeld to Dalnacardoch overtook Moulin which has spent the last three hundred years as a tranquil backwater.

Wade's road was a great improvement on what it replaced but was still little better than the most primitive farm track today. The campaigning season was summer and so it did not matter too much what happened to the road in winter. The duke of Atholl once took sixteen hours to cover the distance from his castle at Blair to his mansion house at Dunkeld in his sedan chair.

By the early nineteenth century stage coaches were regularly plying the newly macadamised road north and Pitlochry was one of the most accessible places to capitalise on the new, royally patronised, interest in the Highlands. The aristocracy tramped the heather in search of deer or grouse. The new bourgeoisie holidayed in Fishers Hotel which was soon joined by other establishments built to cater for the demand. The deep breathing of pure Highland air, an excellent medical service, fishing, invigorating walks, and the Hydro soon gained the town a reputation as a health resort. It was already thriving when the railway arrived in 1863.

Pitlochry has kept pace with the times. Thousands come from all over the world to make this one of the most important stops on the Highland Trail. The Festival Theatre is a centre for cultural activities. Housed in the curling rink above the main street is Heartland FM, a radio station run by volunteers which broadcasts to the straths of Highland Perthshire. It is a fine example of the spirit of community that still exists in Atholl. Few radio stations manage to thread their signal through these hills and so the natives began their own. Broadcasting as much speech as music, it is the notice board for the straths.