James Square, Crieff, looking towards the Murray Fountain and the disused Drummond Arms Hotel in 2012
James Square in Crieff was once the fine centre of the town, a meeting and gathering place where folk could sit amidst nice flowers near the water fountain and catch their breath after scaling King Street with ropes. Today, it remains a fine centre. For still there are seats, still there are flowers, and all in all it is fairly pretty to look at and sit in. However, the Murray Fountain no longer skooshes, and the Drummond Arms Hotel, a grand structure that dominates the square, was closed and abandoned when I was there (2012). For me, these two things - the fountain and the hotel - take the edge off what could be a much better public space. But anyway, we are not here to moan. The Caledonian Bar is an okayish pub. Inside it is modern and feels bleak in a no-one's-home kind of way. I think the word I am striving for is soulless, for there is precious little inside to keep a man's interest while engaged in that difficult task of ale-supping. They do have real ale, and on the day of my visit it was 'Ossian Ale', a fine brew made not too far away in Perth.
The Tower is described as a Gastro Pub. It is housed in an imposing big white building, with a tower, that was probably a hotel once upon a time. When I first wandered in I was not in the finest of fettle. I had walked from Auchterarder, scaled King Street in Crieff with ropes, stuck my head in sundry pubs and coffee houses to ask complicated questions, and had a hot forehead. The thing is, you never truly know what a place is going to be like until you venture inside. I bought a half-pint of the Inveralmond Brewery's 'Thrappledouser' - brewed in nearby Perth - and took my ruined body to an outside garden to closely examine my ale, make notes, and mutter under my breath. I removed my rucksack, slotted myself into a stout wooden bench with views over all of Strathearn, took a tentative sip, and sighed the sigh of a man who had come home. The ale was in fine condition. There are some beer gardens that can at best be described as dire. The rear garden of The Tower is not one of those. It feels a bit like someone's garden. It's like you're sitting at the rear of a house with a wee woman. There is grass underfoot, trees where little birds flutter and fuss over food, and great views for miles and miles. It is so peaceful. So peaceful that I dragged myself back to the bar counter and bought a pint. Sitting in that garden with good local ale at hand was for me one of life's special moments. The Tower is without question the best pub in Crieff, and one reason why I would have no doubt about returning to that fine place.
The Tower, Gastro Pub, 81 East High Street, Crieff - exterior in 2012
The Caledonian Bar, 35 James Square, Crieff - interior in 2012
The Tower, 81 East High Street, Crieff - interior of bar in 2012
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