Crieff is the second largest town in Perthshire, after Perth itself. It is wrapped around the slopes of the Knock of Crieff as they descend to meet the River Earn in its valley to the south-west. The High Street tends to follow the line of the hillside with intersecting roads either rising or descending from it.
Crieff was already well established as a town by the time the River Earn was bridged here in about 1690. The following year it became the site of Scotland's first public lending library. The town's growth and wealth stemmed directly from its excellent communication links both to the Highlands and the Lowlands. By 1700 vast herds of highland cattle from across northern and western Scotland were driven along the traditional drove roads to the trysts, or cattle markets, at Crieff. Each year up to 30,000 cattle arrived on foot for sale in the town, and Crieff gained a reputation for wildness as Highland drovers far from home enjoyed the fruits of their efforts after the sales.
There were setbacks in 1716 and 1745 when successive generations of Jacobites attacked Crieff (see our Historical Timeline) but despite this the 1700s saw continued growth in the wealth and the size of the town.
In 1775, Glenturret Distillery in Glen Turret, a little to the north of the town, was licensed. The distillery now markets itself as The Famous Grouse Experience and is the most visited distillery in Scotland. Glenturret advertises itself as "Scotland's oldest distillery", taking the word "legal" for granted: there were certainly stills in the Highlands before 1775, though it is doubtful many had quite such a pleasing product or quite such a beautiful location.
By the 1770s cattle increasingly tended to head to markets in Falkirk rather than Crieff, leaving Crieff to reinvent itself as a resort. It became popular with the rich and famous of the day, who wanted to take advantage of the town's attractive scenery and south facing slopes.
The railway arrived in Crieff in 1857. By this time Morrison's Academy, which promotes itself as the leading independent school in Perthshire, had been set up in the town. Today the school occupies an attractive site a little uphill from the High Street.
Further uphill still is the Crieff Hydro. With over 900 acres, 213 rooms, 54 self catering units, 13 function rooms, 5 places to eat, Scotland's largest childcare facility, and 60 activities including two golf courses and two swimming pools, the Crieff Hydro feels like a small town in its own right. It offers extremely good hotel and self catering accommodation and high levels of customer service.
Today's Crieff is a far cry from the frontier town it was in the days of the cattle drovers. Modern visitors find a bustling and prosperous town offering a wide variety of accommodation, shopping and other facilities: plus its long standing advantage of a central location equally well placed for highland and lowland destinations.