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Footloose in Scotland

Callander a Gateway to Trossachs Mountains

October 04, 1987|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers

CALLANDER, Scotland — Casual students of Britain's history have always assumed that Rome's legions got only as far as Hadrian's Wall stretching across northern England.

This assumption is proved false by the number of Roman entrenchments and fort sites in and around this delightful Georgian town that is gateway to the gentle Trossachs Mountains, as well as to Scotland's Highlands.

Indeed, historians believe that Pontius Pilate was born about 50 miles north of here during the 30-year Roman period, a stay cut short by onslaughts from the ferocious Picts, who painted their faces like "pictures" and generally made life miserable for their Latin invaders.

Callander and the Trossachs had later brushes with Scotland's history and colorful characters. It was home turf for Rob Roy MacGregor, the Highlands' Robin Hood, and Sir Walter Scott's poem "The Lady of the Lake" was inspired by nearby Loch Katrine.

The loch's Ellen's Isle, named for Scott's lady, was used by the MacGregors to hide cattle that they rustled from medieval days until the 18th Century. And the wife of Britain's eminent 19th-Century author and critic, John Ruskin, slipped from the window of their cottage just outside town and took off with an English painter, never to grace poor John's hearth again.

Such carryings-on and picaresque behavior seem oddly out of place on the doorstep of one of Scotland's loveliest small towns.

Here to there: British Caledonian flies nonstop to London with its own shuttle on to Edinburgh; British Airways as well. Both will get you to Glasgow; also Air Canada and Northwest. From either city the drive to Callander is about one hour.

How long/how much? Give the town and excursions into the Trossachs a couple of days. Even with the dollar's weakness against the pound, food and lodging costs are moderate.

A few fast facts: The pound sterling was recently worth $1.63 and has been climbing for months. Arrive between April and November for best weather, rain always hovering between possibility and certainty in Scotland. Walk anywhere in town, rent a bike from the tourist office, or best yet, a rental car for the countryside.

Getting settled in: Bridgend House (Bridgend; $65 double B&B, $32 without private bath) is a 17th-Century private home just over the bridge from Callander, a short walk. Tudor facade, handsome bedrooms with contemporary four-posters and sparkling bright linens, some with ceiling beams. Bill and Pauline Thomson are the friendliest of innkeepers, the pub a venue for residents. Several cozy lounges, dining room mentioned later.

Dalgair House (Main Street; same price, full Brit breakfast as above) names its rooms for nearby lochs, most of moderate size but spotless and bright. This is another family-owned place, discounts for the second night, even more for weekly stays. The stone-backed bar has gorgeous deep-leather chairs, notable restaurant also mentioned below.

Dundarroch (Brig O'Turk, five minutes from town; $59 B&B) is the private home of a doctor and his wife, few rooms but absolute solitude, with rivers, lochs and mountains practically right on the property. Watch deer and pheasant feeding on the front lawn from the breakfast room window, take a short stroll to Brig O'Turk for a look at the bridge used in the classic film "The Thirty-Nine Steps." Breakfast only, but The Byre restaurant and pub on the same property is owned and managed by the family.

Regional food and drink: This is salmon country, so order it as you would the lowliest seafood in other parts of the world. Scotland also abounds in venison, pheasant, grouse and other game, while that shaggy, longhorn and lovable-looking Highland beef cattle looks and tastes even better as a fillet.

Scots have learned what their cousins below the border have never seemed to master: how to make great breads. Delicious scones are only the beginning, after which have a go at the oatcakes, breakfast-roll baps, shortbread, tea cakes and a seemingly endless variety of other good things that can be done with fresh dough. With rich butter, clotted cream or the incomparable orange marmalade.

Moderate-cost dining: Your best bet for meals is in a hotel or other lodging's dining room, most other places leaning toward light fare, some unlicensed to offer the country's fine ales, lagers and malts.

Bridgend House has an a la carte menu heavy with such local favorites as homemade pate, smoked salmon and trout for starters, halibut, haddock, lamb chops, rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, eight choices of steaks. Everything is first-rate, the dining room with a beautiful view of the garden and Trossachs beyond.

Dalgair House loads its four-course, $20 menu with the likes of grilled mushrooms stuffed with bacon and Cheddar, hotchpotch soup, lamb glazed with heather honey, pheasant in a rich game sauce. Good service, friendly atmosphere.

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