Strathpeffer is a spa town that wouldn’t look out of place as a Bavarian resort, so unusual and stylish are its buildings. It owes its unique and original Victorian buildings to the fact that in the 1700s mineral waters were discovered that were declared in 1819 to be the most healthy in Britain. Such an endorsement led to a boom in health tourism and the resulting Pump Room, Pavillion and Spa that still grace the town. The original Spa Pavilion has been magnificently restored after a period of disuse. It now serves as a multi-purpose venue for a variety of events, including concerts, dances, dramatic productions, conferences and exhibitions, as well as weddings and other functions.
Trains no longer bring visitors to Strathpeffer to sample the waters, but the Victorian railway station still stands, having been restored to house craft workers and their shops. The Old Railway Station is also the home of the Highland Museum of Childhood, a superb exhibition about childhood in the Highlands of Scotland and which covers subjects as diverse as toys and play on the one hand, and child labour on the other. It is open from April to October.
In many ways the main reason to come to Strathpeffer is to see and enjoy the town itself. The buildings, though in a wide variety of styles, all exude a no-expense-spared solidity that says much about their largely Victorian origins and about the wealth of the town at the time that much of it was built. Large and not so large hotels are interspersed with attractive houses and villas and some attractive churches.
The town is a popular base for walkers; there is plenty in the vicinity to suit all abilities. From the west end of the village a forest track leads to the hill of Cnoc Mor; a diversion en-route takes in Knock Farril a Pictish hill fort, worth the trip for the views alone. A more modern construction, dating from the early 1990s, is the Touchstone Maze. This is a maze formed from 81 stones in concentric circles, using many different types of rock found in Scotland.
The Strathpeffer and District Pipe Band and local Highland dancers perform in the square every Saturday from end May to September, and this is a popular gathering for both visitors and residents. Nearby is Castle Leod, seat of the Earl of Cromartie, Chief of the Clan Mackenzie, which is now open to the public several times a year (details on the Strathpeffer Pavilion website). The annual Strathpeffer Highland Gathering, one of the longest-established Highland Games in Scotland, takes place in the grounds of Castle Leod every August.