Camping Inspiration: A taste of Scandinavian hygge in the heart of Scotland
In days gone by, Comrie and Crieff were historic meeting places due to their location in the heart of rural Perthshire. The region was a hub for business and agriculture, as well as socialising. And today the area is still renowned for adventures and get-togethers in the great outdoors.
We drove the winding country roads in search of Comrie Croft, an award-winning campsite, just an hour from Edinburgh and Glasgow, that, in addition to traditional camping, offers Nordic katas and a farmstead hostel… not to mention walking paths, and excellent mountain-biking and bike trails.
The katas are perhaps their most novel camping experience, and if the term sounds a little vague, then simply think Scandinavian tipi or wigwam, each with their own locked front door and separate private toilet. At Comrie, katas are dispersed throughout the woodland, so each ‘household’ has its own space. An outdoor fire pit keeps the camping vibe alight, and inside the kata is like a TARDIS - each small structure feels vastly bigger on the inside.
As our children explored the woods with head torches lighting the way, our first priority was lighting the wood-burning stove at the centre of the tipi. After we’d mastered the heating we set about cooking, utilising the kata’s gas hob, chill box, a vat of drinking water and shelf of utensils and crockery. Meals can be eaten al fresco at each kata’s personal picnic table or inside at a simple dining table.
As the children’s bedtimes came and were rapidly ignored, marshmallows were toasted over the fire pit and the flames brought comfort in the darkness. The kata is an intimate space, admittedly not as intimate as a tent, but with one vast bedding area it works well for most family configurations, and you could potentially fit up to six adults if they were on excellent terms. Until the fires went out the stove blasted out heat, to the point that the extra duvets and blankets we’d lovingly packed were kicked aside, reassuringly surplus to requirements.
In the fresh light of day, campers and kata dwellers share the same washing-up stations and shower blocks, which were clean and functional. For supplies it’s possible to nip into Comrie Croft’s Farm Shop that stocks artisan bread and pastries from Wild Hearth Bakery, fresh meat from nearby Carroglen Farm, seasonal fruit and veg, and local Perthshire honey.
From Easter to the end of November the Tea Garden is open, dishing up filled rolls for breakfast, and a mix of home-made soups, fresh salads and sandwiches, lunchtime snacks, tea and coffee, and home baking. During the winter months, when the Tea Garden closes for the season, a local farmer in a silver Airstream caravan whips up bacon rolls and a range of coffees, so campers can emerge from a basic tent yet start the day with a frothy cappuccino.
After breakfast and a coffee hit, the next priority was family friendly activities. It’s relatively easy to get on your bike, as Comrie Croft offers cycle rental, a well-equipped bike shop, a workshop for repairs, coaching, and a range of trails of differing durations and intensity. As our tots still require stabilisers we discovered a mix of other quirky sights in the area.
The first offering is a crowd pleaser. Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre features a mix of native Scottish farm animals, wild creatures and exotic beasts for children to experience. An indoor hatchery allows little ones to meet their fluffy baby animal equivalent, such as chicks, lambs, rabbits and guinea pigs. Outside, the Scottish Wildcats were a highlight, and a mix of monkeys and meerkats caught the attention of the youngsters. Auchingarrich features two indoor play sheds, as well as miniature ride-on tractors, and a café. It’s a grand family day out and we spent several hours seeking out creatures great and small.
In contrast, an eerie spot with a grown-up focus, which worked strangely well with children, was the atmospheric Cultybraggan Camp. During World War 2 it housed some of the most zealous Nazi prisoners of war in the UK. Row upon row of Nissen huts remain, standing starch white in the Perthshire countryside. The close-knit, isolated rural location of Crieff and Comrie, meant that escape attempts were futile, as there was nowhere to escape to. While a POW camp isn’t a typical child’s day out, it’s immersive education for older children, and for little ones Cultybraggan offers ample space to run around or attempt sections of the overgrown assault course.
The children’s eyes widened at our very sanitised tales of prisons and prisoners, they gingerly peered inside the Nissen hut windows trying to innocently imagine life inside, and then there were the cartoons. The camp was recently gifted significant historic cartoons, drawn by a former inmate, depicting the lighter side of life in the camp. From building snowmen and engaging in snowball fights, to emptying the latrines, the cartoons capture a moment in time and are full of humour. They prove an engaging method to involve all ages in a challenging piece of history. I had no idea that such a camp existed in this genteel region of Scotland, it was a real eye opener, and an unexpected slice of history.
Another unusual destination that gets the grey cells working is Scotland’s oldest lending library, Innerpeffray. The short but scenic walk from the car park rewards visitors with a viewpoint of the Perthshire countryside, before guests enter the bookish buildings of the library itself. When we visited, Innerpeffray had a range of children’s books on display from the 18th and 19th Centuries. It was interesting to see how class-specific they were, but also worth noting that today’s children’s books seem to be as gender specific as they’ve always been. The library staff were notably helpful, taking our boys aside and talking them through an old yellowed volume of line-drawings of animals, leaving the adults free to explore more grown up texts. Innerpeffray was a relatively quick stop on the itinerary, but something a little different, and a handy rainy day activity.
If the sun’s splitting the sky then a winning outdoor option is embarking on Lady Mary’s Walk, a circular riverside walk that takes roughly up to two-and-a-half hours. It follows the River Earn through an avenue of mature trees, including oak, beech, lime and sweet chestnut and back along old drove roads where cattle once marched.
Finally, with exhausted children in tow, it was time to head back to our Nordic sanctuary at Comrie Croft. The region had offered up a varied and unexpected mix of tourist attractions, historic sights and visitor centres. An ideal stop for campers and glampers seeking outdoor adventures and a little food for thought.
Braincroft, by Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland PH7 4JZ
NEED TO DO
AUCHINGARRICH WILD CENTRE
01764 679 469
Talk to the animals at this Perthshire wildlife centre that features native animals and exotic breeds, as well as play barns for little ones.
Discover history, frozen in time, in this former POW camp.
01764 652 819
Explore Scotland’s first free public lending library in Scotland, situated near Crieff.
THE RED SQUIRREL CAFÉ
An informal lunch stop in Crieff with an indulgent range of Scottish gifts for sale too
Child-friendly Italian in Crieff
THE SQUARE BAR & KITCHEN
Crieff restaurant known for its food, and its gin!
NEED TO KNOW