Located in the heart of Highland Perthshire there lies the small market town of Crieff. And tucked away in a quiet secluded spot high above the main street is a piece of Victorian splendour that has stood the test of time. This is the gem that is Knock Castle Hotel & Spa.
The fairytale turreted castle lies in its own private three-and-a-half acre site reached down a tree-lined driveway which rears up to meet you in all its majesty between the forested canopy. Lit at night by green floodlighting, the gothic-looking structure could easily be part of a film set.
It really is awe-inspiring, and, if first impressions count, then this luxurious spa hotel needs no further introduction. This the type of place where you can dress up in your Sunday best and act out the part of Lord of the manor, or, alternatively, set yourself up in the bar and relax as the stress of everyday living rapidly dissolves.
Built in the 1800s the building was once the former home of shipping magnate Lady Macbrayne. It then had a spell as a nursing home before being bought up by a local family, the Hendersons. This establishment is kept firmly on track under the careful guidance of the energetic and award-winning chef patron, Jason Henderson, ably assisted by a select management team headed up by the general manager, Malcolm Copland – an extremely likeable and professional individual with a very definite finger on the pulse of this hotel at all times.
It’s not often that you’ll see a hotel’s GM rolling up his sleeves and gathering in a barrowful of logs for the open fire in reception. And that’s one of the key reasons why this hotel outperforms so many of its rivals regardless of rosettes and stars. All the staff get stuck in and simply do what needs to be done. It’s a hugely successful working relationship between management and employees. And therein lies the reason why some hotels fail and others succeed.
And so to my review of this hotel and its many facilities.
There’s plenty of private parking on site including an electric charging point and one for Teslas. Although the hotel is accessed by a dog-leg stone staircase, disabled access is also available via a separate entrance which leads to a lift, which will accommodate a wheelchair and attendant.
On entering into a part-panelled hallway featuring a beautiful marquetry floor, it was like stepping back in time. Brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling, a roaring log fire welcomed guests to the reception desk, along with the delicate notes emanating from the baby grand. All that was missing was a butler in a morning suit and I could have walked straight into an episode of Downton Abbey!
I’m going to put it out there right now – this is my kind of hotel. I quite deliberately eschew modern, or that other anomaly, ’boutique’ hotels. I don’t like places that are built from glass, stainless steel or use old wooden pallets for furniture. They don’t do it for me. I like comfort, warmth, and a touch of history. If I really wanted glass and stainless steel I’d pay a visit to my dentist!
At Knock Castle very little has changed over the years. Yes, the Henderson’s have a rolling programme of upgrades and ongoing modernisation, but not to the detriment of the overall ambience provided. It does give a nod to the 21st century, so you have free wifi, flat screen TV’s in the bedrooms, the swimming pool, gym and spa facilities, a cinema on the ground floor, but all these have been provided keeping in mind the overall aesthetics of the building. So the oak floors remain as does the mahogany panelling, decorative corniced ceilings, oil paintings galore and the jaw-dropping stained glass window on the central staircase.
There’s an old adage which sprang to mind while sitting in the bar overlooking the beauty and magnificence of the Strathearn Valley while I wrote this, which kind of sums up Knock. It’s “If it ain’t broke, don’t go trying to fix it.”
There’s a certain old-fashioned glamour to a place like this and it exudes a feeling of a different era – a time when life was much less frantic, less stressful and when people had the opportunity to take everything at a slower pace.
And its worth mentioning at this juncture that the staff are all quite exceptional. From Fiona in reception to David and Heather in the bars and dining room. They epitomise what professional, helpful, engaging and knowledgeable staff should be like, and are a credit to their employer.
So we were shown up to our room, which just happened to be the Drummond Suite on the first floor, and is located in part of the building’s turret. It was huge. Fitted out with pine furniture which had a warm patina of age, the room included a four-poster king size bed, a wardrobe unit which contained luxury bathrobes and slippers, a desk/dressing table with a mirror, two comfortable armchairs and a drinks table, bedside cabinets on which stood reading lamps appropriate in design for the room, along with bottled waters and glasses. In addition, there was tea/coffee making facilities with a selection of drinks and complimentary shortbread, as well as the flat screen television. There’s also a helpful information pack provided for guests in order that they can orient themselves with the area and all it offers to the tourist and visitor.
Now, a welcome and somewhat unexpected surprise was the bouquet of flowers provided for my wife, the bottle of Prosecco in a wine chiller and hand-made chocolates supplied by a local chocolatier. These are some of the extras which the hotel will gladly arrange on your behalf.
Our room had double aspect views of down the driveway and the woods with the second across the market town of Crieff. The room is that large you could easily relax here and simply enjoy your own company, but I don’t advise it. The bar has a splendid collection of gins!
The bathroom, well this is something altogether different, successfully blending the new with the old. It has a slate-effect tiled floor, married to a blond stone wall tile. The washbasin is set into a dark granite worktop which provides ample space for even the highest maintenance individual who carries around enough makeup to last a year. Apparently, I am told this is because one never knows what ‘might just be needed’. There’s a double size shower cubicle, and then the piece de resistance – the sunken bath reached by a four-step slate stair.
There is also evidence in the bathroom of the hotel’s green credentials. Rather than have them supply towels every day, help them lower their carbon footprint and simply hang them up to dry when you’re finished. Don’t expect all those wee mini bottles of freebie toiletries either. The bathrooms are fitted out with good quality handsoap, moisturiser shampoo and shower gel. I commend them for having done something about wastage.
In our case, the room was too hot, but of course, this is subjective. I’m a hardy highlander from way up north and more used to temperatures where you find mushers and sled dogs. It was an easy fix, turn the thermostat down and open a window. Job done!
Here you’ll find one of the bars. And this is more than just a bar, it’s akin to a gentleman’s club. Oversized leather armchairs and settees, tartan carpeting, a wooden ceiling, oak-shuttered floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden carved mouldings and architraves, stained glass and Tiffany-style lamps. This bar is refined, comfortable, reeking of olde-world charm and unadorned with kitsch. To some extent, it’s understated in its styling and all the better for it. And did I mention they have a gin menu? Yes, that’s right, a selection of drinks, made with various gins, different tonics, and fruit/vegetable adornments. What a formula for success.
The bar has twin serving hatches with the second opening into another lounge. This one more modern and used as a bar meal venue, or for those who pop in for a snack/afternoon tea or coffee and cake. There’s a mix of lounge seating, settees and tables in an open plan setting enveloped by a muted green and cream colour palette with plenty of windows allowing natural light to flood in.
In the hallway, just outside the bar, tucked away in an alcove underneath the curving grand staircase, there’s a baby grand piano. If you’re lucky, you might just be staying on an evening when an in-house pianist is playing. Now call me old fashioned if you like, but I think there’s nothing better than relaxing in a comfortable Chesterfield a malt in-hand, listening to the ivories being tickled by a gifted individual – sheer unadulterated bliss.
Further along the hallway, passing the glass display cabinets full of awards the hotel has won, you’ll arrive at the reception desk. On cold days you may just care to linger awhile – in front of the open log fire. You might also take a little time out to admire the plethora of artwork adorning the walls, much of it for sale. The hotel has an open-house attitude and invited several artists and photographers from around Scotland to use a wall in the hotel to display their artwork. This means it’s a fairly eclectic mix overall, and while the more modern/abstract material isn’t to my personal taste, I still appreciate that art is a very subjective topic and what I dislike many others will seek to find. It’s just that against the backdrop of such a grand old lady as Knock Castle, some of it jarred with me as just not ‘fitting in’.
A little further along you’ll find the lift to the ground and upper floors. The cinema, which was being renovated at the time of my visit is at ground level as are all the treatment rooms for the spa side of the business. There is a mix of both single and double bed treatment rooms, a hydro pool, changing rooms and a waiting area. This level also contains a small gift shop which sells the Dermalogica range of treatments as well as the hand soap and bathroom toiletries used in the rooms.
POOL AND GYMNASIUM
Using the disabled access side door, you’ll want to remember the code for the keypad in order to get back in. Using this door is the simplest method of accessing the pool/gym/sauna complex which is located outside the hotel. At the time of our visit, it was empty and we had the place to ourselves. It was pleasantly warm, had a mix of beds on which to relax out of the pool or spa.
The changing rooms for the ladies section have undergone a total rebuild, while the gents is next on the list of things for Jason ‘to do’. The gym has a large complement of professional kit, comprising treadmills, bikes, multi-gyms, kettlebells, free weights and gym balls, and all with a view across the Perthshire hills. If however, you are like me, and a visit to the gym is no different to root canal treatment without the benefits of an anaesthetic, then it’s nice to look at – for the views!
So basically that’s you had the ground floor tour and a wee insight into the bedroom. That night we fell asleep to the hooting of an owl and awoke to the call of a pheasant looking for its mate. It really doesn’t get much better.
Knock Castle is opulent, yet has an understated old school luxury to it. Everyone is treated the same regardless of status. It’s a bit like visiting a well-loved grandfather, you just know when you arrive you’ll be warmly welcomed with genuine affection in a setting that still harkens back to those timeless days of when service actually meant something.
For more information on the hotel and special deals available, visit their website at Knock Castle Hotel & Spa
Review carried out: February 2019.