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A birthday to remember

Turning 65 on Sunday was a positive feeling: age brings a sense of being comfortable inside your own skin. Without being complacent, there is no longer pressure to conform to other people's expectations or to pretend to like things that you don't. Above all, it feels OK to love things that other people are baffled by.

The surprise feature of my birthday was a mystery overnight trip which Keir had arranged. I was allowed to drive, and once I was told to head north on the A9 I hoped it would be a Highland experience. And it was! The Atholl Palace Hotel dominates the skyline, with Ben Vrackie as its backdrop. And this was the surprise location for the whole family to gather, including all three granddaughters. After some bubbly and a really splendid dinner, most of us slept very soundly.


Image courtesy of http://www.spabreak.co.uk/

Next morning was not merely a chance to enjoy the swimming pool but also to explore the hotel and its history. After the arrival of the railway in 1863, the Athole Hydopathic Company was formed to commissioned a spa and health retreat. Queen Victoria's doctor Sir James Clark had already declared Pitlochry "perhaps the healthiest place in the kingdom" and the Victorian enthusiasm for "taking the waters" and for temperance made it seem a promising enterprise. Architect Andrew Heiton junior created a fine Scots baronial hotel for 200 guests, with Turkish baths in both wings. His architecture was better than his control of costs, however, and the intitial estimate of £40,000 had climbed to £100,000 by the time it finally opened on 7 June, 1878.

The Highland Lawn Tennis Championship began here in 1896, and continues to be held annually. In both wars, the hotel was home to schools: during the first, girls from Queen Margaret's School in Scarborough, including Winifred Holtby, moved in after being bombed, and remained in the hotel for the rest of the war. Postwar developments were carried out by Sir Henry Lunn of the Alpine Sports Club and his brother. Garages were built for car-borne tourists and the architect of the splendid Art Deco building for chauffeurs was still a final-year student at the Glasgow School of Art when his design was chosen. During World War 2, the hotel was again home to evacuee pupils from England, this time boys from the Leys School in Cambridge.

I learned all this and more from a splendid 20-minute video that is shown continuously in the Museum: few hotels can have as much reason to devote part of its property to its own history, architecture and wartime stories.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 26, 2013 6:33 PM.

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