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GETTING TO THE HI GHLANDS From Edinburgh, you can catch a train to Glasgow Queen Street and then hop on the direct service to Oban, which will stop at Rannoch, a journey of just under four hours.

NATURAL HIGHS AT DUNALASTAIR HOTEL SUITES The Highlands are in their full flush of autumnal beauty: greenery gives way to shades of chartreuse, vermillion and auburn, lochs glitter, mountain tops are speckled with snow. We zip through the Trossachs on our way to the wee yet charming village of Rannoch, eyes agog as spectacular natural vistas zip past us. When we arrive at the station, monarch stags have gathered by the ‘Perth and Kinross’ sign and signs of civilisation soon give way to more of the unadulterated great outdoors. Our driver Andy – a friendly, knowledgeable chap from Highland Travel, with a thirst for local history – proves an indispensable resource: for example, we’d had a vague plan to circumnavigate the loch on foot, until we learn it’s about 15km long and a little too deep for casual wild swimming. Disasters averted. Set between the Cairngorms and the western whisky isles, this is a somewhat overlooked corner of the Highlands; but, who hasn’t fantasised about escaping to an untouched beauty spot, to befriend its fauna and meditate on life? So, here we are at Dunalastair Hotel Suites to see why one would pick this part of Perthshire. The hotel is a relatively recent development in Rannoch, one of just two in the area (plus a few loch-side timeshares). It’s the more modern, where a few traditional touches (a flash of handsome tweed, antler chandelier, stained-glass windows) rub elbows with chic velvets, grey and cream decor in rooms, monochrome artwork, tactile fabrics and high-spec fixtures. Our suite is more of an apartment, with a separate bedroom and small dining area; our kitchenette has a microwave, fridge and other useful kit; the lounge has a large Smart TV and a Google Home device (which, to my amusement, refuses to recognise my voice until I try a rubbish Scottish accent); and the bathroom has a sizeable glass-walled shower. Views extend to the loch and the rolling verdure beyond. Impressively, the stay also has a large decked courtyard, ideal for weddings or gatherings, and the hotel can direct you to horse riding or point you in the direction of hiking routes. This is somewhere you could hole up in for a week. But, nature calls (so to speak) and our driver has arrived to take us on a bespoke tour into the wild. Our tour starts with an auspicious aspect of the loch (as seen from one of the time share’s panoramic balconies). It’s a beauty: deep and sparkling and always changing. ‘It’s a different view every day.’ Andy tells us, and one can only imagine the wonderland in winter. Around this body of water, from which a sunken fort pokes its turret, Rannoch’s community flows. From then, our morning is spent chasing scenes of equal loveliness. We stop to see the Outlander film set, see the point of the ‘first determination of Newton’s universal gravitational constant’, and hear tales of the area’s mad bastards and warring tribes of old. Amid the peace and stillness, where guinea fowl strut, deer skip and streams babble, it’s hard to believe this was once a hotbed of beheadings, Jacobite battles and pillaging. We take to a magic stone circle with dowsing sticks, sceptical until they start spinning around like something possessed, even pointing to us as our names are called. There’s a yew tree that’s grown since before the stone age, rocks that naturally look like frogs, horses paddocks and other timorous beasties. And, Andy has a story for each stop. Now, it would be rude to visit the Highlands and not toast its fair face with a drop of the strong stuff. So, next up it’s off to Aberfeldy distillery (also home to Dewar’s blended whisky) for a tour of its impressively vast and sustainable operation, and a peep at JK Rowling’s estate, just across the road. To follow, we prop up the bar at Pitlochry’s Blair Athol distillery, where we clock up the drams recommended by the friendly staff and leave with a 16-year-old Lagavulin and 12-year Royal Lochnagar. We’re a little too late to visit the well-renowned Edradour distillery, but, well, by this time we’re also quite merry. Back at the hotel, we’ve worked up an appetite. The large and elegantly dressed lounge and Edina’s restaurant are on the first

floor – the latter was once the village pub, and in the former we start with – ahem – more local drams (oh dear). Then follows a meal that showcases the well-stocked larder of the Highlands: rich smoked salmon, game pie with locally acquired rabbit, venison and duck, flavourful tender lamb, ice-cream churned within spoon-reaching distance. On our last night, ‘tired’ from our whirlwind distillery tour, we order room-service burgers, each filled with excellent Scottish beef and cheddar. Breakfasts include full Scottishes with haggis and black pudding and a selection of dense yet delicious rolls, packed with slabs of Lorne sausage, a tattie scone and egg, and the like. Staff will pack picnic lunches for your day trips, too. Because it’s likely you’ll use the hotel as a base from which to spend the day breathing in some very fresh air. Look closely and you’ll see stories woven into the fabric of the landscape; settle in a hilly copse and you can watch the view subtly shift as eagles soar overhead; and talk to the locals and you’ll find the good-natured joviality (with some light ribbing) that the Scots do so well. Our writer was hosted by Dunalastair Hotel Suites, 1 The Square, Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry PH16 5PW. To book or for more information visit: www.dunalastairhotel.com. Bespoke tours and transfers were provided by Highland Travel: www.highland-travel.co.uk

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