Michael Alexander enjoys a short break at Mains of Taymouth Country Estate in Highland Perthshire where he embarks upon a horse riding lesson and enjoys the food, accommodation and un-seasonally glorious weather.
Leaving aside the times that I rode on the donkeys at the St Andrews Lammas Market as a child, I’d only ridden a horse once – and that was 15 years ago whilst embarking on a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip through the Belize jungles of Central America.
On that occasion, after 10 days canoeing and camping in the wilds, a Spanish woman called Sandie led a group of adventurers I was with through the undergrowth on horseback to explore the ruins of Mayan temples and experience at first hand the balmy adventures of tropical life.
Fast forward 15 years, and as I made my return to the saddle, it was a very different adventure I was about to embark upon as I prepared to mount a horse called Bailey at the Mains of Taymouth Riding Stables at Kenmore in Highland Perthshire.
The hour long riding session for my family and I had been arranged by Mains of Taymouth Country Estate to give a flavour of the tourism activities on offer in the Kenmore area.
And a wonderful experience it was too!
Arriving at the riding stables, sited on the edge of Kenmore near Loch Tay, we were met by the friendly riding school staff led by Christa.
As we filled in the mandatory accident avoidance liability forms, we were kitted out with helmets and taken down to the all-weather outdoor riding school area to be introduced to the ponies.
My six-year-old daughter, who had been pony trekking in Fife a couple of times, was delighted when she discovered her Shetland Pony was called Lucy – the same name as one of her best friends at school.
My 10-year-old son made his acquaintance with a similar sized friendly pony called Angel whilst I was introduced to my horse, Bailey, and shown how to climb aboard. So far so good!
Meanwhile, my wife’s horse, Star, seemed a bit more temperamental and it took a few attempts to get it to wait at the mounting block.
But before long we were led off by our two instructors, taking in a beautiful stretch of path along the bank of the River Tay known as The Gallops where we were able to admire the beautiful countryside.
Bailey was a largely well behaved beast. Only occasionally did he attempt to deviate from the path to munch on some apparently delicious fresh beech tree leaves.
The temperatures weren’t of Belizian proportions, and there certainly weren’t any Howler monkeys swinging from the trees above!
But it was a lovely sunny morning as we trekked along the river bank, even taking turns at having our horses trot, which was no mean feat for a novice like me. The views were stunning, and the instructors explained that depending on age and experience, riders can explore tracks throughout the area.
We were all smiles as the session ended. The children, particularly the youngest, were delighted to be presented with ‘I rode at Taymouth stables’ rosettes and even my son, who’d never ridden before, said he’d really enjoyed it.
But our visit to Taymouth wasn’t over yet.
Making the most of the weather, our hosts at Taymouth Estate had recommended we have a go at playing Mains of Taymouth Golf Course –“Perthshire’s finest nine-hole golf course” on the estate.
Issued with golf clubs and motorised buggies which can be hired at reception, we set out in blazing sunshine to have a go at what turned out to be an awful scoring game. But that didn’t detract from the amazing setting with the quality, mildly undulating layout providing an excellent venue amidst magnificent scenery.
Mains of Taymouth offers a selection of luxury self-catering cottages, lodges and houses whilst retaining the atmosphere of a country retreat.
Our accommodation for one night was Number 1, The Gallops, which offered peaceful, luxurious and very well-equipped ground floor accommodation with patio doors opening out onto a landscaped grass area. For a longer stay, the self-catering facilities would have been ideal for spending a bit of chill-out time. They were also dog friendly.the purposes of our stay, we had a meal booked at The Courtyard Restaurant on the estate.
It was a lovely place to enjoy a meal with a friendly atmosphere and great service – and best of all, a succulent steak cooked to perfection.
The staff couldn’t have been more accommodating either; with my wife requesting veggie fajitas instead of the chicken version, while the children’s faces lit up at the prospect of a very generously proportioned pizza each followed by chocolate fudge cake and ice cream!
The Courtyard also features an outside decking area for eating and drinking which tends to get very busy in good weather through the day.
An adjoining gift shop also sold a selection of high quality clothing, kitchenware, toys and cards as well as prints by local artists, whilst grocery provisions on sale were handy for anyone staying in the self-catering lodges.
Taymouth Estate is ideally placed for visiting the wider Highland Perthshire area such as Schiehallion, the Scottish Crannog Centre and Fortingall, home of the famous Yew tree.
Our short break coincided with a remarkably warm spell of weather which saw many people taking to the shimmering waters of Loch Tay for a paddle or simply sitting enjoying a snack and enjoying the view of the still snow-capped peaks at the Loch Tay Boathouse and Café.
*Kenmore Riding Stables – Group lesson (max 5 riders) is £25 per rider for an hour
Private lesson for 30 mins is £25 or 45 mins for £35
An hour ride is £35 (from 13 years) or £30 (12 years and under). Min age to ride is 4 years and weight restrictions apply.
For general information about Taymouth Estate visit www.taymouth.co.uk