The attractive village of Blackford stands immediately to the north of the main A9 road some 15 miles north-east of Stirling and 20 miles south-west of Perth. It is a place that is very easy to overlook, as you have to make a conscious decision to turn off the dual carriageway and onto the B8081, which runs through the centre of the village.
We've said similar things in similar circumstances in other parts of Scotland, but while you could pass Blackford in little less than a minute by staying on the A9, you'd have missed somewhere well worth visiting. Blackford is a village with lots of character, with an interesting story to tell, and with some unexpected attractions for the visitor. In particular, it is home to Tullibardine Distillery at the south-western end of the village, while overlooking Blackford from its hilltop location just to the north-east is the ruined Blackford Old Parish Church.
Blackford stands on the southern side of Strathallan, the broad valley of the Allan Water, where it begins to climb towards the Ochil Hills to the south. The strategic importance of the area was recognised by the Romans, who built a line of lookouts and defensive positions a few miles to the north along the Gask Ridge, and forts to support them, most notably at Ardoch, four miles west of Blackford. Three smaller Roman camps have been found much closer to Blackford itself, presumably built as marching camps by legions en route along what has been an important line of communication using a nearby ford over the Allan Water for at least two thousand years.
Blackford's location at the foot of the Ochils has also driven its development in another way over the past thousand years. The area is well know for springs which produce particularly pure water, filtered by the geology of the hills rising to the south. The value of this was first recognised when a brewery was established here in the 1100s. The quality of the beer produced was so renowned that in 1488 King James IV asked the brewery to supply the beer for his coronation. A distillery opened in the 1790s (a legal distillery: the area was probably also very popular with illegal distillers who operated throughout Scotland at the time). Another brewery opened in the village in 1830, though the distillery went out of business in 1837.
In 1574 a church was built on a hill immediately to the north-east of the village, and in 1617 an Act of Parliament redesignated the old Parish of Strageath as the Parish of Blackford. By the 1850s what is now known as Blackford Old Parish Church was simply not large enough to accommodate all those wishing to worship here. As a result it was replaced by the current Parish Church, which stands within the village.
The railway arrived in 1849, with a station built at the east end of the village. To the west of Blackford the railway engineers diverted the route of the Allan Water for a distance of nearly four miles. It seems this was a cheaper option than building multiple rail bridges over the old meanders of the river. A second station opened in 1851, at Carsbreck Loch, just under two miles west of Blackford. This was intended to allow the loch to be used for curling matches, and it is said that this station was used on just 25 occasions before it eventually closed in 1935. Blackford Station is also long gone, though the railway continues to pass immediately to the north of the village.
The long established main road through Blackford, Stirling Street, had the disadvantage of a hump backed bridge at either end. In the 1860s a new, much broader, street was laid out immediately to the north. This allowed traffic to flow more freely, and, as Moray Street, continues to form the village's main street. A more modern bypass arrived in the late 1970s with the building of the dual carriageway A9 to the south-east of the village.
Blackford's longest established brewery closed in 1912. In 1947 it was purchased with a view to conversion into a distillery. The first spirit emerged from Tullibardine Distillery's stills in 1949. The larger brewery, built on a site to the north of Moray Street, seems to have survived into the 1970s, and its maltings then continued in use for some years. There are suggestions that as early as 1896, part of this brewery was in use as "an aerated water factory". If so then it was an early precursor of what was to become a major industry in Blackford. "Highland Spring" established a plant to bottle the local spring water here in 1979. Highland Spring now operates from much larger and more modern premises at the east end of Blackford, and has become arguably the best known supplier of bottled water to the UK market.