Whether you’re a resident of Scotland or a visitor in this beautiful country, venturing beyond the nation’s cities is always a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively). Scotland is a treasure chest of quaint towns and rolling landscapes, some of which are incredibly easy to access. I recently took a day trip to Dunkeld in Perthshire with two goals in mind: (1) eat at Aran Bakery and (2) go on a hike. I decided it would be useful to give you all the details for how to do these very same things yourself!
How to get to Dunkeld?
Dunkeld is located in Perth and Kinross, a region north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s actually one half of a dual-town community, with Dunkeld on the north bank of the River Tay and Birnam on the south bank. Dunkeld and Birnam are accessible by car, the drive being roughly an hour and half from Edinburgh.
However, if like me, you don’t have a car, both villages are easily accessible by bus and train. I opted for the train, which took about 2 hours from Edinburgh to Dunkeld and Birnam Station. The train station is located on the Birnam side of the River Tay. Getting to Aran Bakery involves a short 15 minute walk and a picturesque stroll over Dunkeld Bridge, which conveniently leads you to Dunkeld’s high street and the bakery’s location. Information about bus and train times can be found on the Traveline website.
A Quick History about Aran Bakery
The word “aran” means “bread” or “loaf” in Scottish Gaelic and is a fitting name for a bakery that makes incredible sourdough loaves. Flora Shedden, the bakery’s creator, was a semi-finalist on season 6 of The Great British Bake Off, where she was the youngest contestant to compete. Following the show and with the help of a little crowdfunding, she brought her talent to the masses by opening her first bakery in a 200 year-old building on the Dunkeld high street. The bakery aims to source as many local ingredients as possible and supports community initiatives. Flora released her first cookbook “Gatherings” in January 2017 and is on the brink of publishing her second book titled “Aran” (released on October 31, 2019) based on the sweet and savoury recipes used in the bakery itself. I’m definitely going to order my own copy as soon as I finish this post…
The Aran Bakery Experience
Given that the Dunkeld high street is so compact, you can’t miss Aran Bakery. The exterior is bright, clean, and inviting. Meanwhile, the interior is all of those things, but with the added allure of the fresh baked goods. The bakery is small, with seating space at the windows (6 seats total) and another 2 spots on an inner counter. Due to the size, most patrons come in for a take-away transaction, but if your timing is just right, you’ll be able to claim a highly coveted seat to enjoy your food indoors.
The selection of sweet and savoury treats changes regularly, but usually includes sandwiches, sausage rolls, cakes, and tarts. Bacon rolls are served in the mornings and seemingly sell out quickly, before noon! When I arrived just after noon, several sandwich varieties, salads, and black pudding sausage rolls were on the counter. Along with my co-eater, I shared 2 sandwiches: the pulled pork and apple sandwich on classic sourdough and the pea, falafel and mint sandwich on country sourdough. The sandwiches are of course made using the bakery’s own sourdough loaves, and the fillings are simple, but flavourful. I really enjoyed the combinations in each sandwich and the bread absolutely stole the show – so fresh with a soft fluffy crumb and a firm crust. Sandwich-making perfection.
Dessert was a must and the choice was tough. Brownies, fig tarts, Earl Gray honey almond cake, banana walnut date cake, gingerbread cake with icing, lemon poppyseed cake… it was certainly tricky. My friend claimed one of the last slices of apple cinnamon crumble cake and I opted for the pistachio loaf (I love pistachio desserts!). Both cakes were utterly delicious – fresh, moist, flavourful, not over-sweet… everything you want in a cake. I loved that the taste of pistachios really came through in the cake. I would most definitely eat it again and I wished I could have tried the rest of the sweet table!
I couldn’t leave without getting some take-home treats so I bought a honey and sunflower seed sourdough loaf and a triangle of olive foccacia bread. My bag smelled wonderful for the rest of the day! That night, I couldn’t help but dig into both and they were predictably fantastic. I especially loved that the honey sunflower loaf had a light but evident sweetness to it. I was perhaps even eating it straight on its own, no toppings needed… Safe to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all the food at Aran Bakery and really wish it was just a bit closer for me to try to seasonal cake flavours too (I bet the mince pies are divine!).
As we enjoyed our food, the flow of people in and out of the bakery was steady, so much that the stock of sandwiches, cakes, and breads disappeared rather quickly. By the time we left, around 1:15pm, nearly everything was gone! And when it’s all gone, it’s gone. The shop closes up for the day whenever the stock has disappeared. So to avoid disappointment, be sure to get there early and don’t delay with your choices!
A Hike in Dunkeld and Birnam
With bellies full of carbs, we set off on our afternoon hike. We first stopped into Dunkeld Cathedral, which is on the Dunkeld side of the bridge. The cathedral is located in a lush green park with riverside benches perfect for relaxing, soaking up the sun or even eating your take-away treats from Aran Bakery. Although the cathedral is small, the exhibit inside offers a history of the town through photos and descriptions.
I’m a lover of elevated and panoramic views so naturally, the idea of climbing up Birnam Hill appealed to me. This hike begins near the train station and meanders up the hill through wooded patches, eventually opening up to wider countryside views nearer to the top. If you follow the route clockwise, the path is less steep than the alternative direction. On the way down you can catch a good view of Birnam, Dunkeld, the River Tay, and Dunkeld Bridge. The hike is somewhat challenging if you power through it, but ideal for burning off the carb-fest that just took place at Aran Bakery. For more information about the hike route, visit the Walk Highlands website or the Dunkeld Tourism website.
A Delicious Day Trip
As you can see, visiting Dunkeld, Birnam Hill, and Aran Bakery makes for a great day trip. I highly recommend this easy excursion the next time you want a countryside getaway. The scenery is lovely, the food is memorable, and the prices are reasonable. Let me know if you follow in my footsteps! I’d love to know what the bakery serves up when you visit!
And if charming, independent, and exceptionally delicious bakeries get you excited, I encourage you to check out my posts about Leckerbaer and Juno in Copenhagen, Butter Brothers in Budapest, Himschoot Bakery in Ghent, and Chouconut in Brussels. Let’s keep on supporting the local businesses that bring us so much joy!
- closed on Mondays
- open from 9am until sell out
- get there early to avoid disappointment