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Inside Aberfeldy

This small market town on the River Tay has been inspiring visitors
ever since the days of Robert Burns.


Come to Aberfeldy for the day and you risk staying for several more. This sturdy little Perthshire town stands on the south bank of the River Tay, a few miles into its long journey from the mountains to the North Sea at Dundee. The official visitors' guide describes Aberfeldy's location as "the geographic heart of Scotland... less than two hours from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and the West Coast." The main tourist season may be short, but Aberfeldy's prime position keeps the town lively for 12 months of the year and it's a thriving community in its own right. No matter when you arrive, you'll find the shops open and the cafés busy with local residents and visitors alike.

VisitScotland's information centre in the main square stays open all year, too. The tourist office is not always my first port of call in a new place, but for once I broke with tradition -- and met Gilbert Price. Every information centre should have a Gilbert: local, knowledgeable and delighted to share his enthusiasm for his native heath. On hearing of my interest in Aberfeldy's story, he delved into a book written in the 1950s and presented gems of information for my consideration, as a jeweller might show his best diamonds to an important client.

Names, dates, events, anecdotes -- all tumbled into my notebook until Aberfeldy began to resemble the answer to a riddle: what do Robert Burns, the Black Watch, General Wade, John Dewar, Sir Robert Menzies and Michael Palin have in common?

General Wade built a bridge over the River Tay here in 1733. Before that, there was a ferry crossing but no Aberfeldy. There were several small communities on the north side of the river, where south-facing slopes caught the sunlight and were more hospitable for growing crops. Visitors arriving today in search of their ancestors are surprised when Gilbert sends them across the river to the old graveyards of Weem and the other north-bank villages. The earliest gravestone in Aberfeldy's cemetery is less than 200 years old, he told me.

The view upriver from Wade's Bridge is stunning at any season, with the 3,000-foot peak of Ben Lawers prominent (and often snow-clad) in the distance -- not too distant for a day's exploration if you're staying a while.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2014 issue of Scottish Life.

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