The Observatory Pitlockry Scotland
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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.




My thoughts…………


I fell in love at first sight with The Observatory when I visited it in early 1998.  I came to write an article and ended up buying the place.  For me it conjured up Swallows and Amazons and the simple wooden summerhouses on Sweden's Baltic archipelago that I had visited in my youth. Initially I tried to persuade equally enthusiastic friends to share the cost.  When the complications of doing this became evident, I resolved to go it alone and to let the house out so that: the purchase was economically tenable; and, to provide funds to maintain and upgrade the house.


To date, I have invested far more in the house than I have received in rentals.  These have paid for: the substantial refurbishing of the house; the installation of an oil boiler and additional radiators; the complete rebuilding of the conservatory; a new washing machine and, the re-gritting of the drive.  In the last year, I have: repainted the floor, replaced curtains, replaced the armchairs, reupholstered the sofas, replaced the back door and regritted the drive.  Further improvements are planned during the course of this year, not least dealing with the front door.


The Observatory has a fascinating story.  There is a short history and copies of some original documents elsewhere in this folder.


If you experience any difficulties, or have any accidents that damage the property or its fittings please let us know immediately so that we can ensure that they are dealt with before the property is next used.


Should you have any problems while staying at The Observatory, please contact, in the first instance, its caretaker Kirsteen Scott.  Her address is: 44 East Moulin Road, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5ET.  Her phone numbers are: 01796 474220 and 077696 25051.


If you need to contact me for any reason, please do so on 07050 165653, or email me on


I hope that you have an enjoyable stay.




Fire precautions


As you are staying in a wooden house, in a woodland area, please take extra care to avoid fires.  You can do this by:



There are two fire extinguishes.  The one in the kitchen is for electrical fires.  The one in the conservatory is for non-electrical fires.




You may be in the country, but Pitlochry is a busy area and security is important.


You should shut and lock all the doors and windows whenever you leave the house.  It is also a good idea to shut the five-bar gate each time you leave the house.  Clearly, it will not stop a determined neer’do well, but it does discourage people from casually wandering on to the land.


On arrival you will find all the windows locked.  Most guests find it unnecessary to open the windows – ventilation tends to be well-provided for by the doors and even on hot days, the house is kept cool by the surrounding trees.


If you do want to open any windows, the keys are kept beside the central heating controls, immediately on the right as you enter the main room.  Should you open them, it is vital that windows are locked whenever the house is left unattended.


Do not try to use the alarm system.  It will be deactivated for your arrival and reactivated when you leave.


The double doors overlooking the Loch should always be locked when the building is going to be left empty, even for a few minutes.


The proprietors cannot accept responsibility for loss or damage to your property while you stay at The Observatory.

Heating The Observatory


The Observatory is well insulated and easy to heat.  I have spent many happy Christmas and Hogmanays here and have known the outside temperature to drop as low as –12 degrees centigrade.  It remains cosy within.


A system of oil-fired central heating warms the entire building to a comfortable level.  The system also heats a hot water tank that will fill one very generous bath, or two shallower ones.


When the weather requires it, you should find the heating on when you arrive.  Thereafter, the heating is programmed to come on at the following times: 6.20 am to 8.30 am and 4.30 to 10.30 pm.  If you need central heating outside these times please use the ‘advance’ control.  Please do not leave the heating on when you don’t need it.


Guests are encouraged to supplement heating in the main room with the wood burning stove.  It is not strictly needed, but makes a lovely centrepiece.  See the separate instruction elsewhere in this folder.


Please do not attempt to use the Rayburn unless you have already made arrangements to do so.  It does work, but takes several hours to become fully operational and requires a lot of cleaning.


Using the woodburning stove


The stove is a potential fire hazard in a wooden house, so please follow these instructions carefully.


The stove is designed to create an attractive centrepiece when open.  When maximum heat is required the doors should be closed and the air vents opened.  It will then radiate heat in the manner of a giant, very hot, radiator.  It can become much too hot to touch, so keep small children at a distance.


Light the stove as you would a normal fire (full instructions below, in case you are unfamiliar).  Feel free to use wood, but do not use coal – it is very hard to light and far more difficult to clean up.


Make four or five newspaper sticks by opening up entire newspapers at the centre pages, rolling them tightly and then tying them in one or two knots.  Scrunch up three or four newspaper pages into balls and place these in the empty stove.


Make a thin taper of paper and light it with a match.  Use this to light the newspaper balls at several points.  Once they are ablaze, place the newspaper sticks on top to the burning pile.  Once these have caught, place one or two logs on top of them.  Smaller pieces of wood obviously light more easily, but even the largest logs should light from paper if they are dry.  Close the front of the stove (the oven gloves are the easiest way to do this) and ensure that the two horizontal air slots are open.  Within ten minutes the fire should be roaring.  Open the front and insert the mesh fireguard.


Put on more logs one at a time.  Filling the fire too full creates the risk of logs falling out and sends more heat up the (insulated) chimney rather than heating the room.


Although not really necessary, some prefer to use firelighters.  These are available from the supermarket in Pitlochry.


Do not tamper with the damper (this is operated by the lever at the back of the stove where it connects to the fule).  It should always remain open.


Doors closed and vent open is the maximum burning position and consumes a lot of wood.  The stove should not be left like this once the fire is burning.


Nothing should be left within three feet of the stove when lit – particularly drying clothes.


I trust guests to use logs responsibly.  Please only use wood from the pile as directed by the caretaker – wet wood does not burn and can damage the flue.


If all this sounds complicated, don’t give up, the stove has made a lot of people very happy over the years.


Refuse collection


There is a wheelie bin on the site.  All rubbish should be put in liners and placed in the wheelie bin.  Please do not simply throw individual items of rubbish in the bin, or carrier bags of rubbish.  I end up having to fish them out and it is disgusting.


Weekend visitors should leave the rubbish in the wheelie bin.  For those minded to recycle, Perth and Kinross Council run an excellent service from their premises on the way out of town (to the south).  When driving back to the A9, turn right immediately after the petrol station.  There are separate containers for white, green and brown glass, paper and plastic (such as milk containers).  If you are recycling, it would be much appreciated if you could put your general rubbish into the appropriate skip at the recycling centre too.


If you are staying for the week, collections are early on Tuesday mornings.  The wheelie bin should be wheeled beyond the five bar gate, past the bungalow to the end of the drive where it meets Armoury Road. You then need to retrieve the bin once it has been emptied.




Good, fresh food – bread, fruit, vegetables, fish and mean, is available from the  shops on, or just off, Atholl Road (Pitlochry’s main road).


The nearest supermarket is the Co-op on West Moulin Road (turn left off Atholl Road opposite WH Smith).


Asda, hypermarket in Perth (big, but not brilliant) follow the road from Pitlochry to Perth, the road goes straight into town and you cannot miss Asda on the left before you get to the inner ring road.


Chemists – two on Atholl Road


Off-licences: there are two on Atholl Road.  Thresher, the one that is furthest away, is marginally the better.


Video hire – videos can be hired from the petrol station that you pass coming into town from the south.  They require ID, but are happy to hire to holidaymakers.


Whisky – is available almost everywhere, but the most knowledgeable service is at Robertsons.


Cycle hire – Escape Route in West Moulin Road hires very new bikes that are a pleasure to ride.




Cats, dogs and smaller pets are welcome at The Observatory.  However, it is vital that no evidence of their stay remains after you leave.


Obviously this means that animals that are likely to gnaw at or scratch the furniture or other parts of the house should not be allowed across the threshold.


Equally importantly, no animal hairs should be left on the furniture.  The best way to ensure this is not to allow pets onto the furniture.  If allowing pets on the furniture is unavoidable, a blanket or similar should be employed to prevent their hairs adhering to the furniture. I would be grateful if you would employ your own blankets for this purpose.  If your pets have a blanket on which they frequently sleep or sit, this should only be put on furniture on top of some other suitable blanket.


Removing animal hairs from furniture is very time consuming.  In the event of this being necessary, an additional charge and an administration charge will be levied.


In the garden, evidence of animal stays should also be removed.

Additional notes


Washing machine and dryer: are like any others.  Ask Lisa Scott if you are uncertain.


Video recorder: reception is though the ‘AV’ channel


Garden furniture: please use the blue wooden chairs outside (once you have learned to assemble them) and use the black folding table – but please don’t leave them outside overnight.


Videos/CDs/Sporting equipment: a large variety of these are provided for the use of guests.  Please enjoy these but do leave them as you found them.


Telephone: feel free to use it and send me a cheque for an estimate of the cost of the calls that you make.  Once I receive the itemised bill, if there is a significant difference between what you have paid and the actual cost, I will either invoice or refund you.  If you use the phone and don’t offer payment, however, I will invoice you for the cost of calls made plus an administration charge.


Hair dryer: in the drawers beside the television.


Extra bedding: in the wardrobe in the main room.


First aid box: in the bathroom (please replenish what you use).


Smoke alarms: will activate when they detect smoke and will automatically go off when the smoke has cleared.  When the batteries have run down they emit an intermittent ‘beep’.  When this happens, please alert the caretaker.


TV Reception

Digital freeview works well - although the getting the right bit on the right chanel can be a bit of a challenge. The freeview box is on when the red light is off and is on stand-by when the red light is on.


Please do not attempt to retune the TV stations.  They are set for the best possible reception, but this can at time be hampered by the weather or the trees.



Please make use of the table mats when putting hot dishes on the dining or coffee tables.  If you want to dine outside, please use the fold-down black table that is kept beside the piano in the main room.


The story of The Observatory

The Observatory was built in about 1906 by Professor George Forbes, a former Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's University, Glasgow (the forerunner of the University of Strathclyde). He was also 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. Much later 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 an 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.

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 is the one that is kept locked, to the left of the front door).

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 here 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.


Tim Dawson
Telephone: 07984 165251

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