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Pitlochry--Historic, Spirited Village and Resort in Scotland

June 21, 1987|J. HERBERT SILVERMAN | Silverman is a Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., free-lance writer

PITLOCHRY, Scotland — When Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender to the crown of England, marched north with his Highland supporters to final defeat at Culloden in 1746, it was the last pitched battle ever fought in Britain.

Pitlochry, where he and his troops rested, was a poor farming hamlet then, barely subsisting on its main crops of flax and barley.

But 100 years later, in 1846, Queen Victoria visited here and her physician, Sir James Clarke, was so taken with the climate that he advised his wealthier London patients to "take the waters," which they did with alacrity, firmly establishing the village as a popular Victorian spa and resort.

Pitlochry still attracts the English as well as the Scots by the score to its wooded mountainsides, the lovely Loch of Faskally created by damming the River Tummel, its salmon streams and intricate system of fish ladders for spawning.

Carefully Preserved Village

A growing number of tourists, many of them Americans, are visiting, intrigued by the small village that has carefully preserved its Highland heritage and its 19th-Century Victorian ambiance.

Since 1825 Pitlochry has been home to the smallest distillery in Scotland, operated by a staff of four. And although it has been making malt whisky since its founding in the early 19th Century, the Edradour has kept a profile so low that it was virtually invisible.

Last year its current owner, a major British whisky maker, the House of Campbell, decided that the romantic traditions that surrounded the solid whitewashed buildings with their centuries-old slate roofs were worthy of wider recognition.

Accordingly, an old grain store was converted into a reception area and the wooden bridge across the Edradour River was restored to its earlier glory. Tours led by young lassies dressed in the tartans of the Campbell Clan guide whisky aficionados around the gleaming white distillery with its bright red doors just steps from the torrential mountain stream.

A gift shop sells local handicrafts, bottles of the single malt whisky and even whisky-flavored marmalade. Each tour refreshes visitors by offering them a dram of the Edradour on departure.

Their chief, auburn-haired Barbara Sadler, clad in her "morning" tartan, recalls the grandeur of the past. "This was the stronghold of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl whose castle at nearby Blair, about a mile from here, controlled the approaches to the central Highlands.

Ancient Place Names

"It is tempting to guess that the name derives from Edred dobhar, a stream belonging to an early Scots king, Edred, or perhaps eader a' dobhar, 'between the streams' in Gaelic, although it is always risky to speculate about ancient place names."

The guide recalls an ancient Gaelic proverb that runs: "A stag from the hill, a hazel switch from the wood and a fish from the river are the right of every man."

"Perhaps," she adds, "there might be added, 'a dram from one's own still.' "

Clansmen used the pure water of the Edradour "burn" or spring to baptize the newly born of the fierce tribes who lived and fought in the wilds of the rugged Highlands.

Therefore, putting those waters to a more earthly use, the Highlanders produced uisge beathe, Gaelic for "water of life," more simply known today as Scotch whisky.

Steel and Horn

The Edradour is not the only cottage industry here to revive the Scottish past but another has reached across the sea.

Baxter Wilson, whose workshop is just off Atholl Street in the village, has become a master in manufacturing skean dhus. These are the dirks or daggers considered an essential part of every Scotsman's wardrobe when he dons his clan tartan and kilt.

Their blades are made of Sheffield steel topped with handles of stag horn and are as much in demand with the Scots as shillelaghs are with the Irish. "Some experts can tell from which area the horn comes," says Wilson, the third generation of his family to make these artifacts.

Tourists have found secondary uses for these lethal weapons, and Wilson has obligingly adapted them for use as steak knives, carving sets and cheese slicers.

Not only does Baxter's shop do a thriving trade in these weapons, each etched with the name of the maker, but he also produces deerskin drawstring purses with stag horn locking pieces, pony "brasses" and stag horn corkscrews, all of which have become popular with British tourists and now with Americans.

The latter have become repeat mail-order customers for these instant "heirlooms" from Scotland.

And because the more things change, the more they remain the same, Blair Castle has become Scotland's most visited private home museum, although it no longer serves to defend the central Highlands. Instead, its 32 rooms have been restored, displaying collections of family paintings, arms, china, lace and other treasures amassed by the myriad earls and dukes who resided here.

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The Pine Trees is a country hotel dating to 1892. Once a country mansion, it has been converted into a charming guest house with an excellent dining room and such conveniences as color TV and telephones. About $36 for bed, bath and breakfast.

Atholl Palace, another landmark, stands in solitary splendor in a natural amphitheater of soaring hills amid 48 acres of wooded parkland.

Pitlochry is easily accessible from the Perth/Inverness Road (A9) or Britrail's Inverness Highland Line. The Edradour Distillery is off the Moulin Road on a well-paved country road (A924).

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