The Observatory, Pitlochry

The Observatory, Pitlochry

Unique self-catering accommodation in Highland Perthshire
Activities
There is enough to do within five minutes walk of The Observatory to fill a week. In each case below, I have indicated the length of the initial walk, and the overall duration. Circumnavigating Loch...
Facilities
Standing in nearly two acres of private wooded land, the Observatory is so well hidden that many locals don't know of its existence. The land runs on one side to the loch, on another to...
Directions
Getting To The Observatory The postcode is PH16 5AP. There are two maps here and detailed intstructions.   From the south Turn off the A9 when Pitlochry is signposted. The road brings you under the...

Prices

Usual price in July and August is £870 a week.

June, September and Easter weeks are £680 per week. April, May and October is £600 per week, except for school holiday weeks not covered above, which are £650

All other weeks are £580.

Prices include the use of central heating oil and linen for six people. Linen for further guests is charged at £15 per person. Low season prices at a rate of £120 per night (subject to a £350 minimum let – or £380 on holiday weekends) are also available.

Christmas and Hogmany lets are also sometimes available.

Letting weeks usually run from 4 pm Saturday afternoon until 10 am Saturday morning, although we will be more flexible when we can. We will also consider weekend lets and midweek (Monday to Friday) lets.

Please phone, or preferably email, for details of availability. In all instances a deposit of £100 is payable to secure a let, or £200 for high-season weeks. The balance should be paid two weeks prior to the commencement of the let. Lets may be canceled no more than six weeks before they commence. The deposit is only refundable if the period in question can be re let. For cancellations less that six weeks prior to commencement, the balance is still payable, but will be refunded if the period in question can be re let. The owners retain the right to cancel any let due to unforeseen circumstances, in which case a full refund will be given. The owners also retain the right to stop any let commencing, or terminating any let during its course should they, or their agents, have good reason to fear for the safety of the building.

Transit Of Venus
Transit Of Venus
      The transit of venus is among the most important astronomical phenomena, as the article below, reproduced with permission from The Sunday Times...
Read More
Pitlochry High Street in 1966
Pitlochry High Street in 1966
https://youtu.be/4_cEebAlirk In 1966 the Corries made this video, I think for W Gordon Smith's Hoot'nanny program on BBC Scotland. It is one of a series...
Read More
Pitlochry Gazetteer entry from 1895
Pitlochry Gazetteer entry from 1895
From the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (New Edition) edited by Francis H Groom and published in 1895 by William McKenzie of London This is a...
Read More
Sir Robert Watson-Watt
Sir Robert Watson-Watt
There are numerous figures of whom it is said that Britain and her allies would have lost World War Two but for their contribution –...
Read More
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes – a brief life
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes – a brief life
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes will forever be remembered as the first director of the Women’s Air Auxiliary Force (WAFF) – the female support organisation...
Read More
George Forbes – a brief biography
George Forbes – a brief biography
George Forbes was an outstanding product of Victorian academia and industry whose contribution to electrical engineering benefits us to this day. He was also a...
Read More

Facilities

Standing in nearly two acres of private wooded land, the Observatory is so well hidden that many locals don’t know of its existence. The land runs on one side to the loch, on another to grounds suitable for sport and games. Nevertheless, it is only a two minute walk to the pubs and restaurants in Pitlochry, as well as the main-line railway station.

The Observatory is a timber building with a huge (6 meter by 15 meters/20 feet by 50 feet) living area; sun lounge with west-facing views over the loch; kitchen; bathroom; and three twin/double bedrooms. Two of these open on to the main room, the other is beyond the kitchen. There are two sofa beds in the main living area. The house sleeps eight comfortably. It has a wood-burning stove, central heating, wi-fi, dishwasher, washing machine, tumble dryer, a selection of children’s’ toys, a large selection of books, a television and a telescope. It can be used in comfort all year round.

The Observatory is a family home and we use it for much of the year.  We rent it out at other times.  We want you to feel at home and have a relaxing time and hope that in so-doing you will respect the building, its contents and furnishings.

 

Transit Of Venus
Transit Of Venus
      The transit of venus is among the most important astronomical phenomena, as the article below, reproduced with permission from The Sunday Times...
Read More
Pitlochry High Street in 1966
Pitlochry High Street in 1966
https://youtu.be/4_cEebAlirk In 1966 the Corries made this video, I think for W Gordon Smith's Hoot'nanny program on BBC Scotland. It is one of a series...
Read More
Pitlochry Gazetteer entry from 1895
Pitlochry Gazetteer entry from 1895
From the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (New Edition) edited by Francis H Groom and published in 1895 by William McKenzie of London This is a...
Read More
Sir Robert Watson-Watt
Sir Robert Watson-Watt
There are numerous figures of whom it is said that Britain and her allies would have lost World War Two but for their contribution –...
Read More
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes – a brief life
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes – a brief life
Dame Kathryn Jane Trefusis Forbes will forever be remembered as the first director of the Women’s Air Auxiliary Force (WAFF) – the female support organisation...
Read More
George Forbes – a brief biography
George Forbes – a brief biography
George Forbes was an outstanding product of Victorian academia and industry whose contribution to electrical engineering benefits us to this day. He was also a...
Read More

Directions

Getting To The Observatory

The postcode is PH16 5AP. There are two maps here and detailed intstructions.

 

From the south

Turn off the A9 when Pitlochry is signposted. The road brings you under the A9, under the railway and, on to Atholl Road – Pitlochry’s main street. Carry on up the Atholl Road past Fisher’s Hotel. Take the next left after McNaughton’s kiltmakers into Rie-Achen Road.

From the north

Turn off the A9 when Pitlochry is signposted. Turn right into Rie-Achen Road just after you have entered the village – signposted to The Fish Ladder.

From Rie-Achen Road

Almost immediately having turned off Atholl Road the road forces you to enter a car park or turn sharply to the right. Turn right and follow the road under a railway bridge to an amusement arcade, follow the road around to the left which slopes upwards. At the top of the hill you emerge to see a low stone building  on your left and the bungalow Glengarry on your right. Turn right, directly in front of the bungalow on an unmade track. This leads to a five bar gate, clearly marked The Observatory.

 

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If arriving by train

There is one direct train to and from London and Pitlochry each day, as well as a sleeper service to and from London every night except Saturdays. There are services from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen approximatly every two hours. Once at Pitlochry, from the platform opposite the station building (on to which north-bound trains alight) walk towards the signal box and onto the new tarmac track. Don’t cross the bridge. Walk straight ahead until you join Armoury Road which is tarmacced. Cross Armoury Road on to the track in front of the bungalow, Glengarry. From station to front door on foot takes about two minutes, a torch is advisable after dark

 

The Observatory’s caretaker

Kirsteen Scott 07709549978

The Observatory’s mail address

The Observatory, Armoury Road, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5AP Telephone + 44 (0) 1796 474072

Please note, Kirsteen Scott does not deal with bookings. To arrange these please contact Tim Dawson – email tim@timdawsn.demon.co.uk or 07984 165251

Transit Of Venus

      The transit of venus is among the most important astronomical phenomena, as the article below, reproduced with permission from The Sunday Times June 06, 2004, explains. The choice of Forbes to play such an important role in the observations of 1874 give some idea of the regard …

Pitlochry High Street in 1966

In 1966 the Corries made this video, I think for W Gordon Smith’s Hoot’nanny program on BBC Scotland. It is one of a series made for that program in which folk singers intoned in locations related to their ballads. Some have suggested that these were a forerunner of the ‘pop …

Pitlochry Gazetteer entry from 1895

From the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (New Edition) edited by Francis H Groom and published in 1895 by William McKenzie of London This is a direct reproduction of the entry on Pitlochry, from this most remarkable six-volume reference on Scotland – possibly the most comprehensive and useful guide to Scotland …

Sir Robert Watson-Watt

There are numerous figures of whom it is said that Britain and her allies would have lost World War Two but for their contribution – Sir Robert Watson-Watt among them. Which of these was the most significant is hard to tell, but Watston-Watt’s pioneering role in the development of radar, …

George Forbes – a brief biography

George Forbes was an outstanding product of Victorian academia and industry whose contribution to electrical engineering benefits us to this day. He was also a gifted astronomer and led the British party to observe the Transit of Venus from Hawaii in 1874. He wrote and lectured widely about astronomy for …

The story

Picture thought to have been taken by F Henderson in 1929

The story of The Observatory

The Observatory was built in about 1906 by Professor George Forbes, an outstanding scientist, inventor and engineer. He was a former Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson’s University, Glasgow (the forerunner of the University of Strathclyde), a pioneer of hydro-electric power, an electrical engineer and an astronomer. The author of many books, he supervised the first attempts to generate electricity from the power of Niagara Falls. In 1874 Forbes led a British expedition to Hawaii to observe the transit of Venus. He returned to Scotland via Peking and St Petersburg, crossing the Gobi Desert and Siberia in 1875 when he was just 25, and such journeys were almost unheard of.

As Professor of Natural Philosophy he invented the carbon brush, a vital component of dynamos to this day. It was one of many inventions – another was range-finding binocular and he developed a gunsight that was used by the Royal Navy during World War One.

It was his interest in astronomy that led him to Pitlochry. Even in the early years of this century, light pollution in many areas made it harder to see the stars. Forbes had holidayed in the Perthshire town with his parents and knew that once one was a few hundred yards from the main street, the dark of the highlands is all-embracing. The local landowners, the Butters, allowed him to use a knoll of land that stood above the river Tummel.

There he built a simple wooden structure, which he liked to call ‘The Shed’, with a large area that he could use as a study and living quarters downstairs and a platform observatory on the roof. He moved his library of 4,000 books in and lived out most the rest of his days there – watching the stars and writing a dozen more books – some scholarly and others intended to introduce young people to the delights of astronomy. The picture above, which is from the St Andrews’ University Archive, shows Forbes at home in The Shed. The bookshelves are long gone, likewise the late Victorian furniture, but the building is recognisably the same.

Forbes’ reasons for choosing the spot are clear today. His ‘Shed’ is on a steeply banked hillock. Since Forbes’ time, the river has been dammed and now a wide expanse of loch stands before the house – it is used to generate electricity by a means that still utilises the technology Forbes helped to develop. Beyond the loch, looking due west, is an uninterrupted view of Cammoch Hill and Meall a’Charra.

And although Pitlochry has grown considerably since then, the Observatory is still remarkably secluded. The railway line forms the western boundary for most of the centre of the town. Because the Observatory is on the other side of the tracks, there has been very little development around it.

When Forbes died in 1936 his priceless books became part of the library at St Andrews University, of which his father, James Forbes, had been vice chancellor. But he was by no means the only remarkable resident the Observatory has known.

Forbes willed his house to his niece, Dame Katherine Jane Trefusis-Forbes. During World War One she served as a member of Women’s Volunteer Reserve. As Britain re-armed again towards the end of the 1930s she was picked out to help develop the women’s armed forces. And when the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was established in 1939, she was appointed its first director, with the rank Air Chief Commander. In this role she undertook tours of duty in North America and the Far East.

During this time the Observatory was used to provide holiday respite for senior British army officers. Some locals believe that Field Marshall Montgomery was among the war-time residents but no conclusive proof of this has yet been found.

At the end of the war Dame Katherine happily retired to a more peaceful life in Pitlochry, and initiated a programme of substantial improvements. Two bedrooms were added to the original structure, mains plumbing was installed and a proper kitchen created. She even had built an additional room in which her maid could stay – it stood where the ‘new’ bedroom is now.

Trefusis-Forbes remained unmarried until she was 67 when she accepted the proposal of Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, the Brechin-born inventor of radar. The couple lived out their last years together at The Observatory until they died in the mid-1970s.

The Observatory stood unused for several years but was eventually purchased in 1980 by Ann Stewart.

A native of Pitlochry, she knew of the Observatory’s existence only because her father had installed its plumbing. She and her partner, the architect Michael Willis, undertook a programme of restoration and further modernisation whilst retaining the essential character of the property. This included the installation of a wood-burning stove, central heating and substantial insulation. After enjoying the Observatory for 18 years, she sold it to me in the late 1990s.