There isn't a lot going on in Aberfeldy on a foggy day in January. Like many of Scotland's tourist towns, its pace has slowed for the winter - so it is all the more of a pleasant surprise to come upon a corner of this Tayside town that, even now, is positively humming.
Aberfeldy's Watermill has been a focal point of local life since the 15th century, when oats were first ground on the site. The current, restored building dates from 1825, and reclaims a role at the community's heart, albeit housing a very different quartet of businesses: a captivating bookshop, an art gallery, a home design store, and crucially, a cafe in which to appreciate the offerings of the other three.
The Watermill cafe's core offering is of straightforward quality - a simple, appealing menu, comfortable seating and pleasant, efficient staff - but through attention to the details, owners Jayne and Kevin Ramage (who had originally planned just to open a small bookshop) have transformed what nine years ago was a derelict museum, into an atmospheric hub.
The building's industrial past is gently invoked throughout, from intriguing displays of old equipment, to the earthy red restored furniture and crockery. Though there are plenty of discrete corners, including a 'reading room' (where better to keep kids' toys), the overall impression is of openness, with mezzanine floors, cheerfully whitewashed stone walls, and big windows that allow in plenty of light.
There isn't a huge amount of variety to the food menu, just soup, a choice of creatively-filled ciabatta sandwiches, salads, and a tempting table of sweet treats (a light and lovely yoghurt and raspberry sponge, for example) but it's more than enough for lunchtime, and the lack of fuss seems to fit. "Our ethos with the cafe from the beginning has been to keep it simple and do it well," says Kevin Ramage.
"As much of our food as possible is locally sourced and freshly prepared on site, and we make sure our staff have proper training, particularly in using the Italian coffee machine - if someone comes to us for that first coffee of the morning, it should be just right."
From the overseas visitors drawn by word of mouth while on trips to explore the dramatic nearby settings of Glen Lyon and Loch Tay, to the regulars who arrive at 10am every day to claim their favourite seats, something about the Watermill is enticing customers from near and far to take that first, second, and sometimes third coffee of the day there.
Whether that's down to the blend of the beans, or the special blend of style and culture under one roof, is hard to say.
Info:The Watermill, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, PH15 2BG. Open 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday (last orders 4.30pm) 11am to 5pm Sunday. www.aberfeldywatermill.com
Getting there:Aberfeldy is between Killin and Pitlochry, on the A827. The Watermill is signed from main road through town. In summer it is served by the Ring of Breadalbane bus service.
Mini menu:Chicken ciabatta with mango chilli chutney, £6.95. Raspberry and yoghurt cake, £2.95. White coffee (Americano with milk) £2.65
Staff tip:Kevin recommends the coffee and walnut cake £2.95
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