There's a special atmosphere at The Kirkstyle Inn in Dunning, Perthshire. Step through the door and you are greeted by the scent of wood smoke and the warmth radiating from two fireplaces. Leather armchairs invite you to get cosy with a pint of the pub's house ale and order from the impressive menu. If you are staying the night the rooms have the wow factor with generous bathrooms and super king beds.
Dunning is a Perthshire village with a cosy layout of little squares that radiate a fine collection of cottages and period properties. It's around 10 miles from Perth and 5 miles from Auchterarder.
The Kirkstyle Inn rests within a charming square overlooking the 12th century St. Serf's Church. Look out the front windows of the inn and you will have a fine view of the church. The Inn consists of two separate buildings, side-by-side. One contains the 4 bedrooms and the other one is the bar and restaurant. The rear of the inn has a beer garden adjacent to Dunning Burn.
The separate building adjacent to the inn contains four rooms- two downstairs and two upstairs. I stayed in one of the ground floor rooms, which can be seen in my video tour:
The room is a perfect balance between modern comforts and antique styling. The bed would look at home in any 5-star city hotel and the Singer sewing machine table used for the tea and coffee tray is a nod to the heritage of the building. A retro-style radio, flat screen TV and vintage prints in frames adds to the look.
The bathroom is a showstopper with the huge shower cabinet, metro tiles, Edwardian style sink and toilet and gleaming chrome everywhere. It is the largest bathroom I can remember having in a room and this enhances the luxury feel. The shower produced a powerful rainfall that will be appreciated by cyclists and other active travellers.
I had an amazing sleep in this room. The bed was luxurious. Although the room is next to the road and there were passing vehicles during the day, there is no activity through the night. It was quiet and in the morning there was only birdsong and the gentle chimes of the clock tower of St.Serf's
Restaurant and Bar
This is simply a lovely place to be. Log fires, stone walls, leather armchairs, excellent menu and curiosities to look at. It is everything that you would want your dream country inn to be.
Crackling logs, wood scent and a warm, cosy feeling is what you get with these fireplaces. The bar and restaurant staff make sure they never go out; at one point a stack of logs on a wheeled supermarket basket were pulled inside. You can lose yourself staring at a fire, it is deeply relaxing.
I ordered a pint of Risky Kelt, the pub's own house ale. This was superb. It was light, smooth and easy to drink. By the way, Risky Kelt is an anagram of Kirkstyle, if you are wondering where the name comes from!
You can have your meal either in the restaurant or in the front bar area. The restaurant is a lovely, romantic space with low ceilings and plenty of stone walls. The bar area is cosy and has the fireplaces, so I chose it.
The menu changes regularly at the Kirkstyle. It features pub favourites like fish and chips, scampi and macaroni and restaurant dishes, like Scrabster cod with wilted greens, lyonnaise potatoes, caper and herb butter. It was an enticing and sophisticated menu.
My starter of hot smoked salmon salad was incredible. There was a generous amount of salmon that was moist and bursting with flavour. I could not get enough of it- the best salmon I have had in ages. It was served with a soft boiled egg that had a nice runny yolk, a corstini, capers and rocket. This combination of tastes and textures worked so well. A perfect dish.
For the main course I went for the beer battered fish and chips. It was a massive slab of fish. The batter was light, not too thin and not too thick. Inside, the fish was flaky and melt-in-the-mouth. The chips were crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.
I was almost too full to have dessert, but I was intrigued by the homemade donuts. The plate arrived with three different donuts. One with a filling of lemon curd. One resting on a berry compote. One smothered in chocolate sauce. They were crunchy on the outside with a light, doughy inside and served with vanilla ice cream. It was outstanding and was like getting three different desserts for the price of one.
All of the courses were served by professional, friendly and attentive staff.
There is a choice to have breakfast in your room or in the pub. I choose the pub so that I could sit next to the fire one last time. I actually did not expect it to be on in the morning, so it was really special to find it roaring away and a table set for me at an adjacent table.
Continental breakfast is included in the room price, or you can pay a bit extra to have the cooked breakfast. You make your choices on a menu card the night before and hand them in at the bar. I took the continental option. The yoghurt with the berry compote, warm croissants and ground coffee were a perfect start to my day.
It was all very high quality and tasty and I loved the little brown bag that the croissants arrived in. Sometimes the breakfast coffee in pubs is pretty average, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the coffee at the Kirkstyle was superb.
The main thing to see in the village is the Dupplin Cross. It's a 3m high stone cross that was the only thing to have survived from the palace of the King of the Picts, Constantine. The cross is inside St. Serf's church.
The church was not open during my visit, but I had a nice morning walk around the village. The walk took me past the Dunning Burn that flows next to some of the houses.
The Alexander Martin Fountain is a few steps from the Kirkstyle. A closer look reveals magnificent detail, like this salamander:
Just under a mile from the Kirkstyle is the fascinating Maggie Wall Witch Memorial. It looks like something from a horror film with a spooky scrawl stating 'Maggiewall burnt here 1657 as a witch.'
The funny thing is that no record exists of a person called Maggie Wall. There is also no record of who erected the monument and when it was completed. There are many theories, but the story of Maggie is largely a secret that has yet to be unlocked.
Outside St. Serf's there is an information board that points out these and other sites in the village.
How to get here
Dunning is around 10 miles from Perth. I travelled by train to Perth and followed a cycle route leaving the city centre that joined the B9112. Head to my blog on this cycle route to plan your journey.
Disclaimer - My accommodation and meals were provided for the purposes of this review. These views are my own and reflect my honest experience.
This incredible underground world can be found on the Union Canal, right next to Falkirk High train station. It's a tunnel with a special atmosphere thanks to the lighting, the cave-like structure and a fascinating history that includes Burke and Hare.
If you cycle around 25 miles along the Union Canal from Edinburgh you will arrive at the Falkirk Tunnel. Or you can take a train to Falkirk High and from the south platform it is just a five minute walk.
What's it like to visit?
This is so much more than just a tunnel. It feels like a cave with the rough natural stone interior that was blasted out by navvies around 200 years ago. There is a hint of Bond villain lair- you can almost imagine patrol boats with armed guards cruising by. The walls glisten with trickling water and a hole in the roof has a continuous stream pouring through it.
The canal was meant to be an overland route, but the owner of Callendar House, William Forbes, said it would ruin his view so successfully campaigned to have it diverted under Prospect Hill. Construction of the tunnel took place between 1818 and 1822.
It is 630 meters long and can be a challenge to cycle through as the towpath is cobbled, slippery, has puddles and is only 5 feet wide. Pushing your bike through it can give you more time to appreciate the unique environment of the tunnel.
When the tunnel first opened there was such a thing as passenger canal boats. Some people were afraid to travel through the tunnel so horse transport was provided so that they could get off the boat and meet it at the other end.
I can understand why they did not want to go through the tunnel. Moving from daylight and pleasant countryside into a dark cave-like structure is disconcerting. Although the lighting is much improved today it still feels dark and the roof is low. Plus there is a spooky association with Burke and Hare, the murderers who stalked people in early-1800s Edinburgh, killed them and sold them to the anatomy school. The two men had moved from Ireland to Scotland to work on the canal and the construction of the tunnel.
The tunnel really is worth a visit. I just loved the stark contrast between the bright and bucolic surroundings at the mouth of the tunnel and the mysterious, dark world that you step into. It's not one of Scotland's most obvious attractions, but you will not be disappointed if you put this on your itinerary.
Containing some of the oldest and tallest trees in Britain, Dawyck Botanic Garden is a peaceful place of woodland walks, waterfalls and wonderment. Here you will find the mighty Douglas fir, grown from seeds collected by David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who gave the tree its name. The gardens are 8 miles from Pebbles in the Scottish Borders.
One way of reaching Dawyck is from Biggar:
1. Take a train to Addiewell and then cycle 20 miles to Biggar. My Cycling to Biggar blog has full details of the route.
2. Take the 5 mile disused railway path from Biggar to Broughton. My blog has full details of this route.
3. Cycle the final 5 miles from Broughton to Dawyck along quiet country roads with breathtaking scenery, which I will describe below:
This happens quite a lot when exploring Scotland by bike. I find a new road that takes my breath away and I have to put it on the list of my most favourite ever. This short stretch between Broughton and Dawyck is on that list. My dreams about cycling in Scotland will feature this road. It is a perfect combination of quiet roads and outstanding scenery.
The B712 is the most obvious and direct road to take between Broughton and Dawyck, but to experience the incredible scenery of this area take the single-track roads to the north of the B712. It's a non-stop rolling panorama of a valley of hills with the mighty River Tweed flowing through it.
I could cycle this road all day long. Every single second my eyes were being treated to the most lovely vistas. It was Scotland at its very best. Come here and cycle this road or, at least, travel it on Google Maps and you will be smiling.
Dawyck is nestled within this glorious valley. It is a regional garden of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the focus is trees, in particular the Douglas fir. It is also home to the world's first reserve for mosses and lichens. Azaleas, rhododendrons, snowdrops, bluebells and blue poppies can also be seen here.
It is the extensive network of paths, through woods and alongside a burn with little waterfalls and bridges that makes Dawyck such a pleasure to explore.
My favourite part of the garden was the small clearing with a Douglas fir and Grand fir alongside each other. The Grand fir is the tallest tree in the garden, over 50 metres high and a trunk with a diameter of 1.6m. You can walk right up to these trees and marvel at their scale. I put my hand on the bark- it was very rough and textured. I felt privileged to be able to feel trees of this significance, trees that have been here for over 150 years.
Their size is incredible, but the trees are remarkable in other ways. The Douglas Fir smells like strawberries in hot weather and if you crush the needles of a Grand Fir they smell of tangerines! I didn't try this for myself, but if you do please let me know if this is as wonderful as it sounds.
David Douglas, born in Scone, near Perth, was one of the greatest plant hunters. He took 8 months to travel from Scotland to the Columbia River in America where he discovered these trees and brought back the seeds to Dawyck. He faced many challenges during his expedition including his canoe overturning. He was only 35 when he died in Hawaii, falling into a trap to catch bullocks.
The garden is 65-acres and there is much to explore using the numerous paths that twist and wind through the site. The gardens are actually in the grounds of Dawyck House and you will catch glimpses of this private home. It explains the many grand staircases, topped with chunky urns, that you will come across.
Dawyck is a place to lose yourself in and enjoy being enveloped by thick woods, ferns and beautiful flowers. Make use of your nose here and inhale pine, fern, flowers, grass and moss.
Of course, there is a cafe, so you can get some sustenance here or you might prefer to bring a picnic and find a bench in your favourite part of the garden.
There is an entry fee for the gardens. Current prices and opening times are on the Dawyck website.
There are many outstanding gardens to visit in Scotland. Here's a couple of suggestions to inspire you- Drummond Castle, near Crieff and Inveresk Lodge, near Musselburgh.
The Scottish Borders
The gardens are in the Borders region of Scotland. For ideas of more places to visit in this region visit my Borders page.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.