WHEN four weary visitors from Liverpool arrived at The Four Seasons hotel on the banks of Loch Earn late on October 19, 1964, they were, by all accounts, looking forward to a decent kip.
They’d had a Hard Day’s Night and there were to be plenty more of those in store during the coming weeks and months as their popularity continued an upward trajectory towards world domination.
Following in their footsteps to the Perthshire beauty spot some 50 or so years later was, I confess, a ridiculously exciting prospect.
I hadn’t been aware of The Beatles’ link to St Fillans. A little research soon confirmed that the Fab Four had indeed stayed at the hotel after a gig that same night in Edinburgh (at the ABC Cinemas) and ahead of another show the following evening in Dundee (the Caird Hall).
To be more precise, they had stayed in two of the hotel’s six chalets — which is just where we were heading on a brief family weekend break.
What I didn’t know at this point was which of the six — or whether we might be booked into one of them or not.
What is it about following in the footsteps of celebrity that appeals so much to us? Don’t ask me. Don’t judge, either. All I know was that a lifetime of listening to their music and lapping up the legend had left me as giddy as a schoolgirl at, well, a Beatles concert.
It’s a Long and Winding Road that leads you to The Four Seasons hotel after a welcome escape from the A9 before Perth. Or rather it feels that way after the monotony of the trunk road and its many overhead average speed cameras. It’s a real pleasure to take in the beauty of Perthshire’s rolling countryside. Stopping off in the pretty market town of Crieff, with its historic drovers’ convergence point history and distinctive character, we took in some interesting shops including Gordon & Durward, a traditional sweetie shop that offers a blast of nostalgia for one generation and the prospect of a mighty sugar high for another.
Nostalgia was the name of the game in nearby Comrie, scene of many a happy family holiday with grandparents now long gone. Little seemed to have changed since those carefree childhood jaunts. Noticeable was the healthy smattering of small, independent shops, inviting bakeries and funky little cafes. Not for Comrie the identikit appearance of the typical High Street. Along with some rather nice Empire biscuits, takeaway from this visit was a greater appreciation of the apparent value of a thoughtfully applied conservation area status.
A few miles further on, we found Loch Earn, St Fillans and the Four Seasons. Directed towards Chalet 6, located on the highest patch of land behind the hotel proper, it was soon clear that we were in for a room with a stunning view. But what was that circular blue sign attached to the front of the chalet?
Closer inspection revealed the words:
Day Trippers we might have been, but this Magical Mystery Tour was Getting Better all the time. “Here Comes the Sun”, I observed as the grey clouds gave way to a bright blue sky, setting off that beautiful loch view to best effect. The Beatles references were lost on my children but that wasn’t going to stop me and there was plenty of time to set the record straight. The aptly named Four Seasons hotel had already witnessed rain and glorious sunshine within minutes of our arrival, creating an ever-changing backdrop for the dominant loch we were now overlooking.
My wife asked whether I was tired after the long drive. “I Feel Fine,” I replied, before stepping inside the cosy chalet and and making a mental note to drop the Fab Four references for a while and do something useful instead. I sought out the kettle after taking in the impressively proportioned kingsize bed and the wonderful view from the front window.
Overlapping bunk beds made the best use of the space through the back of the en-suite chalet. I don’t know how it plays out in other families but my children are always thrilled with the prospect of bunk beds. So far, so good. The decor was, pleasingly, Beatles themed with framed posters taking in various stages of the band’s career from loveable suited and booted early days’ mop tops through to the iconic Abbey Road album artwork.
Inside the hotel proper my eye was immediately caught by an inviting looking room just to the left of the front entrance with a definite Far Eastern feel to it. The well-travelled owner, it turns out, has brought back all sorts of interesting nick-nacks and curios from treks abroad. These liberally adorn cosy corners around the place. It’s nice to see a hotel with a bit of character — an emerging theme of the day given our earlier stop-offs in Crieff and Comrie.
It apparently began life in the early 1800s as the home of the manager of the local lime kilns. Thereafter it served as a schoolmaster’s house before conversion into a small hotel. In addition to the chalets, it has 12 rooms, several boasting loch views and a couple with four-poster beds, if that’s your cup of tea.
We were ready for more than tea so it was time to check out the restaurant.
For those who enjoy relaxed, informal dining, the Tarken is the place to go, dishes ranging from chicken caesar salad and Angus beef burgers to ribeye steaks and beer-battered fish.
We opted for the Meall Reamhar restaurant where the seared, hand-dived Hebridean scallops, wild mushroom risotto and carpaccio of venison did not disappoint. Nor did that loch-side view, emphasising once again the fantastic location the hotel enjoys.
The children were delighted to see some comic book annuals amongst a thoughtfully laid out library for guests’ reading pleasure. It’s amazing how the Beano can take the edge off a voracious young appetite long enough to avoid any awkward queries while the chefs work their magic. Child-friendly options, including soup, burgers and bangers, ensured a long, happy silence as everyone tucked in. Pleasant staff were on hand to help out without falling into the trap of being over-attentive.
The staff proved themselves later that night when we rang down to enquire about some extra blankets for the bunk beds. They were at the door within ten minutes and all was well. It was a case of We Can Work It Out, I thought to myself (deciding not to bore the rest of the family any further with my Beatles-related twaddle).
While there are Munros to be bagged, plenty of local routes to be walked, cycled or driven and watersports possibilities nearby, the tranquil setting of The Four Seasons hotel also lends itself to relaxing and doing, well, nothing very much at all. Perhaps picking up a random book by a Paperback Writer or deciding to chill out and Let It Be.
To my delight, I later discovered that our chalet had been the one shared by John and Paul (Ringo and George got one further down the slope). The Strathearn Herald from that time records that the fabs had enjoyed “juicy steaks” before heading for bed and sleeping, perhaps not surprisingly, “long after sunrise”.
John and Paul were up first the next day, strolling along the shores of Loch Earn and attempting to entice a local dog into the loch to fetch a stick. The dog wasn’t playing ball. We learn that the band’s main song-writing partners enjoyed lunch in the dining room while George and Ringo opted for breakfast in bed.
It was reported that several car loads of teenager and students followed the band back to The Four Seasons from their Dundee gig that night, only to be sent on their way by police.
The quartet were later whisked away in their limo for their next gig in Glasgow, leaving a handful of autograph hunters disappointed.
Not citing its source, the paper went on to conclude: “The Beatles like this part of the countryside and found the peace and quiet of St. Fillans a pleasant change. Paul wistfully wished he had a cottage there but realised it was out of the question. The Beatles need a lot of sleep on their tours and the quiet of St. Fillans is the place to get it.”
Despite rising property prices since then, it’s probably fair to say Sir Paul’s wistful wish is one that could quite easily be realised these days. His love affair with Scotland is, after all, well documented.
The Four Seasons boasts a very healthy return visit rate — the best kind of recommendation. If you too are a fan of the fabs, you’ll be delighted to learn it offers a Beatles-related package.
Would I go back? When I’m Sixty-Four? Hopefully, long before then.
Need to Know
The Four Seasons Hotel
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