We Visit

Callander

An entry point to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the town of Callender yields unexpected cultural, culinary and countryside treasures.

Beneath the wooded crags and the imposing snowy bulk of Ben Ledi, Callander’s compact scale, neat main thoroughfare and modest sandstone buildings suggest workaday solidity. This apparent ‘ordinariness’ helped the town’s casting as the fictional setting for the BBC’s popular 1960s TV drama Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

As an entry point to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, it’s easy to simply whizz through the town. But more careful consideration yields unexpected cultural, culinary and countryside treasures. Modern Callander dates from the 1730s. Conceived by the Duke of Perth as Scotland’s first planned town, it later became the vogue for Victorian trippers, driven by the advent of railway and leisure and lured by the romantic writings of Sir Walter Scott.

In 1791, Callander’s parish minister wrote: “The Trossachs are visited by persons of taste, desirous of seeing nature in her rudest and most unpolished state.” Today’s visitors share similar aspirations; whether hunters of tweeds and trinkets, relaxing view-seekers or more hardcore outdoors enthusiasts.

Coffee and planning are essential to any successful trip. The well-stocked tourist office on Main Street just off Ancaster Square, is conveniently close to the Burgh Coffeehouse which evangelises ‘naked espresso’ – hand roasted and direct drip. The refreshingly clean caffeine hit fuelled our appetite for discovery and the Callander Heritage Trail provided an easy half hour pedestrian overview of the town around the River Teith.

It quickly becomes clear that Callander has no shortage of B&Bs or purveyors of soup, sandwiches and scones. There are, however, some stand-outs. Mhor Bread on Main Street by the Meadows combines a signature craft bakery with a quirky café. Its display is art itself: glossy spiced tea breads nestle against sourdough pyramids; melon-sized meringues and countless ‘dainties’ jostle for space with more hearty oatcakes and bannocks.

Lunch in or out might tempt you to a jaw-defeating pie; meaty delights include steak, venison or haggis alongside that classic Scottish vegetarian filling – macaroni! Alternatively a cut-to-order hunk of rustic sandwich from a four foot long sourdough bloomer trumps standard packed lunches.

A browse along the strip of sometimes eccentric or endearingly old-fashioned shops might see you attracted by a quarter of hard-boilings from a sweetie emporium or drawn into the self-styled ‘Bazaar of the Bizarre’ to contemplate an eclectic range of ‘Victorian mourning items, taxidermy, macabre anatomical and medical antiques’.

Reaching the opposite end of Main Street from the Meadows, pink-washed buildings lead to the equally rose-tinted Roman Camp Hotel. This 17th century former hunting lodge on the river with its peacocks, turrets and blazing fires offers a cross between Downton Abbey and Cluedo – a dramatic backdrop for an indulgent grand afternoon tea (pre-booking required). Not just one but two laden cake stands bring an outrageous array of up to 20 savoury and sweet morsels – per person! Luckily it’s a place where time stands still and sofas are comfy.

If beer is more your thing, or you need to work off all that cake, then it is an easy 20 minute stroll to the Lade Inn at Kilmahog. From the Meadows take the cycle way towards Strathyre and turn right at the car park. Offering three house casks; Way-Lade (3.5%), Lade-back (4.5%) and Lade-Out (5.5%), they also host the Scottish real ale shop with more than 200 beers and ciders from Shetland to the Borders. Hearty pub grub, beer garden, traditional folk music at the weekends and a warm welcome for dogs and children make this a place where you can easily stay longer than planned – take a torch for the walk back.

Callander is a sleepy town of an evening. A popular dinner choice is the Callander Meadows restaurant run by Nick and Susannah Parks in their Georgian Townhouse. Having both trained at Gleneagles they showcase local ingredients with a deft but delicate touch. A generous whole plaice is perfectly pan-fried with lemon and hazelnut browned butter, while an airy blue cheese panna cotta is anchored by earthy beetroot and glazed pecans.

More informally riffing on the Scottish fish supper, Mhor Fish along the main road offers non-traditional choices such as battered Wester Ross salmon and hake or salt and pepper squid for takeaway or sit in. Proper twice-cooked beef fat chips could easily be a guilty treat at any time of the day – and how many chippies offer a whisky shelf?

Fine days call for for a trip out and Callander has spectacular scenery on its doorstep. Following in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott, Loch Katrine with its steamship cruises and lochside walks is only a 20 minute drive along the Aberfoyle road.

En route, sustenance worthy of a stop can be found at the Byre Inn at Brig o’ Turk with its pub menu, micro brews and artisan chocolate-making courses or the Venachar Lochside, where shellfish, local cheeses and Women’s Institute-worthy baking are complemented by views to die for at the water’s edge. Nature and nourishment are truly in happy harmony in the Trossachs.

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