Mix a demon barber, an historic cottage where a heinous murder was committed and a tree that petty criminals were tethered to, with genteel tea shops, streets adorned with hanging baskets and lined by quaint Victorian stone cottages and what do you get? Pitlochry – a town that could have come from the mind of David Lynch.
Pitlochry is an immaculate little town that must have first time visitors to the Highlands of Scotland drooling like a heilan’ coo when they set eyes on its ridiculously pretty streets.
It’s been a popular tourist town since Queen Victoria put it on the map in 1842 and the railway arrived in 1863. The main street is full of B&Bs, souvenir shops, tea shops, ice cream parlours, cafés and bar restaurants offering home made fare like steak & kidney pie and a pint for £7.95.
In most places these could seem quite cheesy, but for some reason in Pitlochry they feel right. The beguiling Victorian architecture certainly helps the cause, as does scenery consisting of green rolling hills, a salmon infested river and a couple of whiskey distilleries including Blair Athol, one of the oldest in Scotland.
If you need a stereotypical image of the Scottish Highlands for a shortbread tin, Pitlochry is your fellow.
We’ve only got an hour to explore the town and we’ve got two objectives to achieve. My nephew Liam wants to stock up on as much tablet as he can before we head to Glasgow and then onwards to Manchester where the sinful treasure is non-existent. I have a craving of a different sort. I crave a Scotch pie; a proper one, home-made and preferably sold in a wee butcher shop. None of that mass produced supermarket nonsense.
Pitlochry’s main street might be pretty as a picture but its shops are mainly filled with tourist fodder. Having grown up on a Scottish island I know exactly what I’m looking for and I know that my best chance of finding it lies in the streets away from the main drag.
The first side street we explore reveals a wonderful little curio. At first glance the spinster sitting at a first floor window looks real. A second glance shows that she’s part of a mural set in an authentic window frame. How do I know she’s a spinster? I just do.
The second street leads us to The Old Mill Inn whose wheel still scoops up pure Highland spring water. In the warm July sunshine, a pie and a pint is a tempting prospect at one of the inviting benches beside the trickling Moulin Burn (burn means stream in Scottish). But we’re on a mission and time is running out, we only pause for the briefest of appreciations at a delightful, sculpted iron flower seller near the mill.
Another surprise meets us at the next street; a cheesy, blood-stained figure taunts and threatens passers-bye outside a tiny, old fashioned barber shop named…Sweeney Tod (one D) Demon Barber. It elicits a groan followed by a laugh followed by an ‘AWWWW’ when we spot the cutest dog in the universe watching Pitlochry’s world go by from the demon barber’s window (he can’t be all bad if he’s got a dog like that).
However, eye-catching though dog and barbershop are, the sign on the building next to it is far more exciting. It reads ‘Macdonalds Brothers Butchers’ – the jackpot and then some.
Macdonalds is a bona-fide, old school family butcher shop selling locally farmed meats. And like the butchers of my youth it has its own pies…lots of them. Whilst Liam purchases what turns out to be the best tablet we tasted on our Highland tour, I hum and haw over the sea of scrummy golden pastry (ignoring the fact that this is a pie shop next to a demon barber), before settling on a Forfar bridie, a traditional Scotch pie and a real treat, a venison pie (only £1.38 each).
With 5 minutes remaining before our coach departs and a 10 minute walk between us and its location, we grab our Scottish booty and high-tail it along Atholl Road.
Pitlochry may be a picturesque pearl for visitors seeking a taste of bonnie Scotland but its also a peach of a pit stop for pastry junkies seeking an authentic taste of the Highlands’ most savoury pies.