The Old Manse of Blair Review – The Old Manse of Blair is a smart country house in rural Perthshire, but it’s very family friendly. The new restaurant may have a former Gleneagles chef as Head Chef, but it features two children’s menus. One for wee ones, featuring spiral pork and herb sausage and Aberdeen Angus sliders. And an ‘Inbetweeners’ menu for 8-12 year olds.
You see the owners, the MacDonalds, have children of their own, and they know what’s it like when your kid is too old for the children’s menu, but too young for the adult menu. This makes the Old Manse a stylish location for a family meal or celebration, and a beautiful hotel for a short break.
Check-In – The Old Manse of Blair Review
After sweeping up the long driveway the ivy-clad manse is an elegant destination. It felt like arriving at a slightly grand relative’s house as there’s no formal check-in desk. Anne, the owner, was in the restaurant. She personally showed us to our room and told us about the house, the artworks, the history (the census records are hung up on the wall of the bar) and then fixed us a drink – great start!
Our Room – The Old Manse of Blair Review
We were in the spacious Georgian suite, with doors leading straight out into the grounds. The suite is beautifully decorated in dark greens and grey, with art by Scottish artist Peter Nardini on the walls. As parents, you can choose to have the kids’ pull-up beds in the bedroom with you, and enjoy the living room and its open fire once the kids are asleep. Or the kids can use the living room as their own bedroom. We went for the first option, so that we could make the most of the smart living room.
Board games and DVDs are provided, but a children’s library and a large box of lego can also be whipped out to entertain youngsters. As it was a gorgeous hot day, we explored the gardens and met the horses grazing in the fields.
Each room is different so browse the website or phone and have a chat with Anne about what you’re looking for.
Food & Drink – The Old Manse of Blair Review
The new Orangery restaurant is open for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Read sample menus here. Foodies can also opt to join Jonathan at the Chef’s Table in the Kitchen – perhaps one for a childfree escape!
The food is notably good. After being presented with tiny amuse bouches (including pancakes with nutella and raspberries for the kids), I started with hand-dived roasted Orkney scallop with slow cooked pig cheek, sea vegetables, lemongrass and fennel cream. My main was a slow cooked feather blade of Scotch beef with potato gnocchi and spring greens. The meat just flaked away, it was excellent. The salted chocolate and caramel ganache with popcorn looked and tasted beautiful.
The kids’ menu also delivered. Mr Tot Snr devoured Angus’ Aberdeen Angus Sliders. And Junior inhaled the Flat Iron Steak. Dessert delivered quite a healthy option of strawberry jelly with fresh strawberries and cream, and a tiny but delightful chocolate brownie. This children’s menu was an elegant offering for youngsters, and simultaneously suited their palettes. Two courses for wee ones cost £8.96, for those aged 8-12 it’s £12.95.
Breakfast was also notably good for children. Whilst adults could dine on smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, or a buffet including crowdie and charcuterie, the kids grabbed Innocent smoothies, babybel cheeses and graze snacks, alongside their usual cereal and sausages.
The art definitely deserves a mention. Each piece has been hand selected, commissioned, or even handmade, by Anne. She can tell you the story behind every creation. From her mirrors created from grouse feathers, to the dining table handcrafted from a 200 year old oak that fell at Blair Castle, there’s a quirkiness and individuality here. Also look out for several paintings by Gerard Burns whose work features in the Scottish Parliament.
A smart drawing room/lounge allows guests to chill out with a paper, enjoy an aperitif, or settle down for after dinner drinks. A dining room (featuring that 200 year old oak table) is available for meetings, afternoon tea or group/family bookings.
Even though this hotel is seemingly set in the middle of nowhere there’s lots on the doorstep. The hotel is situated within the Cairngorms National Park for a start. Drive three minutes west to reach the Falls of Bruar and hit the shops at the House of Bruar. Robert Burns penned the poem Patriotism at the falls in 1787: we walked ten minutes to see the waterfall and it was worth it. Older kids may fancy canyoning here – look at the pic above to spot tiny jumpers! For older children or couples, it’s worth noting that it’s possible to walk directly from the hotel to the falls and this takes about an hour.
Next door to the hotel is Blair Castle itself. A few minutes drive east is Blair Atholl. We stopped here at a water mill that contains a small café for a fly cup. Pitlochry is close by, so this is a good base if you fancy the Enchanted Forest illuminations in October. Pitlochry is a lovely wee town for shopping and dining. We also went for a riverside walk at Killiecrankie and talked the kids through Soldier’s Leap – the point where a solider leapt across the surging river to escape the victorious Jacobites – the kids loved this story.
The Old Manse of Blair works as a luxury escape for families, it’s perfect for a family meal/celebration and it would make an excellent childfree escape for a romantic night away.
We drove directly from Aberdeen to the manse, which took just over two hours. A train station serves Blair Atholl so public transport is feasible, but I’d recommend private transport for sight-seeing. For other family friendly activities in Perthshire click here, including Active Kids Perth, the Scottish Crannog Centre, Highland Safari Red Deer and Barn Owl experience, consider Birnam and the Birnam Oak or explore Crieff as there’s lots to do there.