“I remember every stone, every tree, the scent of heather, the music sweetest mortal can hear, the murmuring of the wind through the fir trees… Oh it was always beautiful, home sweet home.” Beatrix Potter on Dunkeld & Birnam.
Like Beatrix Potter, who holidayed extensively in the region and was inspired to concoct some of her most famous characters here, Highland Perthshire has my heart. Rolling hills, ancient forests, idyllic riverbanks, quaint villages, sweet wee shops. Just a few reasons why you should visit the gateway to the Highlands – and all just a hop, skip and jump (or an hour or so drive) from the Scottish capital. The recent addition of the delectable Aran Bakery makes the area a must-visit and destination for foodies and cake aficionados alike.
Brainchild of local Flora Shedden, the artisan bakery was transformed from a derelict 200-year-old building – once lemonade factory, dentist and newsagent (though I’m not sure in what order!) – in the heart of Dunkeld. Typically selling out before 11 a.m, I’m sure they’ve more than achieved their aim of breathing new life into the high street. The bakery works closely with other businesses and producers nearby, with all ingredients sourced as locally as possible: from wholemeal flour via nearby Aberfeldy Mill, eggs from a farm two miles away, organic veg from The Field – a community project less than a mile away – and fruit from Dunkeld Community Orchard, just over the famous bridge.
And that’s all before I talk to you about the bakes – and the shop itself! Flora first shot to fame following her appearance on The Great British Bake Off three years ago, but there’s so much more to this baker than a certain pastel-decorated tent. I started following her blog years ago and was delighted when she released her first book, Gatherings, last year. The flavour combinations, the styling, the stories she tells with food – perfection. Aran Bakery sees this vision spring from the pages. Think adventurous bakes with a focus on seasonality, like praline chocolate tarts topped with edible flowers and rhubarb, white chocolate and ginger cheesecake. All in a bright, light, rustic setting: white surfaces, exposed bricks, pendant lights, fresh flowers (or white pumpkins in Autumn!) and a mint front door. I was ready to move in! Plus the open plan kitchen set-up means you can watch the talented bakers in action.
Our first visit, not long after Aran bakery opened its doors last Autumn (I’ve transitioned into these pics now!), was on the most glorious of sunny days; we enjoyed our coffee and cardamom cake on the banks of the Tay, before a walk by the Cathedral and then over the bridge to Birnam. Fast forward to the end of March and we couldn’t resist another visit to sample Aran’s Easter treats: orange and cranberry hot cross buns, Earl Grey, honey and almond cake and brioche fruit wheels. Almost too pretty to eat but even more delicious than they looked. Luckily for us, perhaps paradoxically, it was a dreich day – meaning the bakery was relatively quiet and we actually got a seat, along with the remaining treats! The team told us some things (like their famous sausage rolls) had sold out but the selection was still delicious. My tip would be to get there as early as you can to avoid potential disappointment! The sandwiches were some of the best I’ve ever had – plus make sure you get some takeaway treats or you will have a case of extreme food regret.
No food regret for us (as my Instagram is testament to that!): we left with a box of treats to enjoy later and popped into the lovely local vintage shop before visiting the Beatrix Potter exhibition in Birnam and my favourite book shop, the Birnam Reader (vintage books + coffee and cake = heaven). Lastly, we drove to the nearby Loch of the Lowes nature reserve where we were lucky enough to spot two osprey and lots of beautiful birds, although sadly no red squirrels. All in all, it was a dream day out during our brief Easter staycation.
Aran Bakery, Dunkeld can be found on Atholl St. – there is plenty of parking nearby, as well as stunning local walks. Not to be missed!