A Scottish highland fling... with haggis to die for
Scotland’s highlands in the autumn are hard to beat, writes Paul Connolly. Particularly when the fireside at a foodie heaven awaits...
Along a lonely road meandering up a glen, we crunched over a carpet of acorns and beech nuts and wandered deeper into the mountains. As the tarmac gave way to rocky trail, the golden browns, and reds and yellows of the season covered the forested lower valley sides. Russet oak leaves floated to the ground and sycamore pods spun lazily earthwards in the still air.
On the mountains above, red deer and ptarmigan grazed and birds of prey soared.
Who needs New England in the fall when you can have Scotland in the autumn?
We were on the fringes of the Highlands, in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, to be precise, a 720 sq mile haven of some of the finest scenery in Europe.
The park is a land of contrasts; rolling lowland in the south and high mountains to the north, all sliced and diced by beautiful lochs, rivers and forests. It contains 21 Munros – mountains above 3,000ft – and our aim that morning was Beinn a'Chroin, a splendid peak which at 3,090 ft (947m) just sneaks into Munro classification.
Below us shimmered Lochs Voil and Doine. The former is a narrow 8km long loch, fed by the waters of the smaller Loch Doine. All around the scenery is stunning. At the town of Balquidder on its eastern shore, you can visit Old Kirk where you can find the grave of Rob Roy McGregor, the early 19th century outlaw made famous in Sir Walter Scott's novel (and, incidentally, played by Liam Neeson in Michael Caton-Jones 1995 movie Rob Roy).
You can, and we did, walk for hour upon marvellous hour in this region, and there are also cycle tracks galore of varying hue from tricky to easy to keep all ages exercised.
Our base was the wonderful Monachyle Mohr hotel, a foodie haven hidden away up a long lakeside track that follows the northern shoreline of Loch Voil.
Nestling between Voil and Doine, Mohr is a little piece of heaven in the Highlands. The Mohr brand comprises two hotels, a farm and a range of nearby food outlets, all with quality local produce at their heart.
Monachyle Mohr is a boutique hotel with renowned restaurant and 14 luxury rooms fashioned from an 18th century farmhouse and steadings. It's hard to overestimate its tranquil charm, attention to detail and the commitment to what's come to be known as 'slow food', which proudly showcases the taste and wholesomeness of local produce.
After a hard day bagging Munros, relax in in the little bar with a dram or a local stout, before moving to the restaurant for dinner by owner and award-winning chef Tom Lewis.
Expect goodies like 'Orkney hand-dived scallop, smoked roe puree, oyster leaf, lemon and tarragon' or 'Blairgowrie scotch beef, Balquidder chanterelles, parsley root, Russian kale, horseradish creme fraiche'.
There's haggis to die for, which also features on the mouth-watering breakfast menu.
Some of the produce comes from the farm which serves as the heart of Lewis' empire, which also includes a quality bakery and a fishmongers/restaurant both in nearby Callander. There is also a smaller hotel, called Mohr 84, just outside Balquidder.
The Trossachs and around has lots to do, but whisky lovers will enjoy The Famous Grouse Experience guided tour and attraction at historic Glenturret Distillery in Crieff which is surely whisky heaven for aficionados. This is not where Famous Grouse is distilled – it's a blend so it's made from several whiskies – but its malt is one of those used.
In a guided tour you'll see how Glenturret Highland Single Malt whisky is made, and also view a BAFTA-award winning interactive show. There are also tastings and pairings with food and a range of levels of tours right up to specialised ones for real whisky lovers.
Paul Connolly was a guest of Visit Scotland – see visitscotland.com for ideas, advice, accommodation and travel to and within Scotland.
For info on The Famous Grouse Experience, Crief, see thefamousgrouse.com
The writer was also a guest of Monachyle Mohr hotel – information available on tel: 01877 384 622 or see http://mhor.net
Information on Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park is available at lochlomond-trossachs.org