Through a Highlands Narnia in a great pub: the Taybank, Dunkeld | Highlands Holidays

THEOne of Perthshire’s most photogenic villages, Dunkeld could easily have stepped out of the pages of a Beatrix Potter storybook – so it’s no surprise that the author spent many happy summers here. The 17th and 18th century whitewashed cottages, rebuilt after the Battle of Killycrankie in 1689, have been restored to Mrs Tiggy Winkle’s perfection by the National Trust for Scotland.

The main street is lined with cute cafes, delicatessens and galleries. Here Flora Shedden, the Bake Off semi-finalist Flora Shedden, opened her bright white bakery, Aran, along with a bijoux grocer, Lòn, around the corner. On the green banks of the River Tay is a romantic ruined 14th century cathedral.

What’s surprising is that, until now, there was nowhere cool to stay. Then Fraser Potter (no relation to Beatrix), a former polo player, turned to catering, returned home and took over the famous Taybank pub just as the pandemic hit.

The exterior of the Taybank Hotel
Taybank had a makeover during the lockdown.

Once owned by singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean (who wrote the Scottish anthem Caledonia) and famous for its lively folk sessions, the pub now has a modern interior to match its musical accolades. Potter spent the lockdown giving it a makeover, with the help of his friend Anna Lamotte from nearby Guardswell Farm, which supplies the pub with vegetables and offers off-the-grid cottages.

Another of the lockdown plans was to turn the car park into one of the best – and biggest – beer gardens in Scotland. Just over the road from the pub, it descends to the rushing river. Partly covered by a huge canvas awning, it has a wooden bar, a fireplace and (in summer) a pizza oven.

Dunkeld enchants walkers with spectacular Highland scenery on its doorstep. The village is at the southern end of the Atholl Estates, 226 square miles of moorland, mountain and woodland, with moorland and footpaths. A handful of routes leave from the Cally car park, three quarters of a mile outside the village. I like the Atholl Woods circuit, a seven-mile circular yomp, partly because it heads east into the hills away from the A9 – Dunkeld is also just off the north-south route from Perth to Thurso.

Following the wooden sign indicating 2¼ miles to Mill Dam, I set off on a bumpy forest track through new pine plantations interspersed with bushy rhododendrons. Passing through a metal gate I stop to read the large sign that says this is a regenerative farming area.

Signs at the start of the Atholl Woods trail
The start of the Atholl Woods trail

Cattle and sheep are moved every 24 hours to optimize grazing and pasture rest. Pushing vegetation back into the soil also helps recycle nutrients and sequester carbon. Cattle, the notice explains (with diagrams and pictures), improve the soil microbiome and increase biodiversity by providing a rich habitat for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

Gone are the days when walkers could carelessly walk the hills. Scottish estates, like everyone else, monitor their impact on the land. A more traditional parting shot at the bottom of the sign reminds you to keep dogs on a lead and to “be companions and close the gate.”

From here, the route meanders through shady oak forests, crossing a small bridge and passing a stone cottage before emerging into an open landscape of craggy waterfalls, the silence broken only by birdsong. Winding through another set of high metal gates to Glack Kennels, the track turns back into woodland and a gradual climb to Mill Dam, a reed pond with an old wooden boat.

There is a bench if you want to take a breather here and clear the water for wintering wildfowl (in season) or the more permanent duck population. Spotted a pair of black and white goldfinches and a heron in the distance. At the far end of the lake there is evidence of more local wildlife: beavers. The felled saplings and small trees with telltale tooth marks and trunks cut into pencil marks are evidence of the rodents’ enthusiastic shelter and barrier construction.

Woods near Glack, in Atholl Woods
Woods near Glack, in Atholl Woods

Beavers moved into the area in 2013 and are now a vital part of the wetland system. Atholl Estates has for many years been part of the Tayside Beaver Study Group, which has been monitoring their impact on wildlife and land use.

At the end of the lake the track forks: I follow the yellow arrow through the gates, signposted Atholl Woods Walk. The trail here is rougher, climbing over moorland and through an area of ​​managed forest before descending into a landscape of century-old beech trees.

As I descend, the landscape softens to fertile farmland. A sign at the bottom of a steep, uneven path points left to Polney Loch (two miles). The track now follows a grassy section with arrowheads on one of British General George Wade’s military roads. Built in the 18th century, this network of well-maintained paths connected a series of strategic Highland forts, designed to quell any Jacobite uprisings (Bonnie Prince Charlie might have escaped, but the government wanted to keep an eye on these unruly Highlanders).

Mill Dam and Rotmell Loch
Mill Dam and Rotmell Loch

The path, cut like a ledge into the hillside, crosses an ancient stone bridge before dipping back into the rhododendron-like forest, the trees drowning out the hum of distant traffic. Descending to the road, I have to hug the rim for a short section before reaching Polney Loch: the path skirts its shore and heads back into the woods for the last quarter mile stretch back to the car park.

Dappled light filters through the canopy of giant cedars and ancient firs. I’m momentarily tempted to slow down, sink to the ground, lean my back against one of those stout logs and swim in the stillness of the forest, but then the thought of the pub’s sheepskin-strewn bar, the roaring fire and a welcoming beer makes me fly towards the goal.

Google map of the route

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GPX track of the route

Start: The Taybank, Dunkeld

Distance: 7 miles

Time: 3-4 hours

Total ascent: 280 meters

Difficulty: easy

The beer garden

The interior of the Taybank pub.
Taybank’s atmosphere is artistic and welcoming

Taybank’s atmosphere is artistic, eclectic and welcoming. The original bar on the ground floor is cozy with an old-school log burner, rough wooden floor, chairs strewn with sheepskin, guitars on the wall and a piano in the corner. Tables with glowing tea lights spill out onto an outdoor terrace. It’s dog friendly and there’s regular live music – it’s hard to find a box that Taybank doesn’t tick.

The first floor restaurant overlooks the river and serves great pub food: Isle of Mull cheddar soufflé with mustard mayonnaise or venison burgers with apple wood smoked cheese and bacon. I have the special, a huge plate of Skye langoustines dripping in garlic butter, washed down with a glass of natural orange wine.

The rooms

Scandi-chic left back meets Scottish Highland hygge) in mid-century designed rooms. Potter did the woodwork himself (wooden headboards with books on baking and Munros).

There are five stylish electronics-free rooms – the top floor has a lute on the wall, more sheepskins, a polished concrete bathroom with a circular bath, double monsoon shower and Laura Thomas toiletries. There’s a bed in a cupboard for the snorer – or you could squeeze in a kid or two. Breakfast is delivered in a vacuum to be enjoyed in bed or, if it’s sunny, by the river.
Next to B&B £170thetaybank.co.uk

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