Taking a Day Trip to Perth – Scotland’s former capital
A Perth Day Trip
With the smell of the Highlands in the air, today I’m adding to my recent journeys around Perthshire with a long-overdue Perth day trip. Although a city (re-instated to this official status in 2012), Perth is amongst the most relaxed and calm hubs in the country. Despite being Scotland’s former capital, the population today is not much more than 50,000. A beautiful centre on the banks of the powerful River Tay, it does draw impulsive comparisons with Inverness, but in truth has its own distinctive charm. In a region blessed with rich history and an enviable outdoor scene, Perth completes the set as a growing cultural hub.
The City Centre
Black Watch Museum
Balhousie Castle is host to this interesting and evocative tribute to the Black Watch, ‘Scotland’s Premier Highland Regiment’. With a focus on WWI in particular, the museum is a visual journey through the bloody history of the legendary military unit. One of the rooms plays the radio broadcast of the PM announcing to the nation that Britain is now at war with Germany. A period of history that I studied a great deal in my school days, there can’t be many recordings to freeze the blood more than this.
The museum is a busy little place, with artwork and memorabilia making a colourful tribute to several centuries’ worth of worldwide campaigns. The origins of the fearsome name ‘Black Watch’ are not certain but its heartlands include Perthshire, Dundee and Angus. I think it’s fair to say George R R Martin may have taken some inspiration as well.
It has shot to further popularity over the summer thanks to the presence of the remarkable Weeping Window outside. Several thousand handmade ceramic poppies are seen to pour out of one of the castle’s upper turret windows. An astonishingly creative piece of art, the display and tribute has pulled in 80,000 visitors so far. I am a bit late in the game in getting to see the display and it is only going to be around in Perth until September 25th – so don’t delay!
Exploring the city centre
Wonderfully compact, Perth is very easy to wander around. The heart is St John’s Kirk which is more of a mini-cathedral. Stained glass windows line the perimeter and an atmospheric interior provides a beautiful setting. This was one of the significant sites visited by John Knox in the 16th Century as part of the movement toward the Reformation.
Outside, local businesses are doing their best at embracing the continental café culture. While working a treat I’m sure on the handful of hot days we’ve had this year, I sat alone amidst a sea of empty chairs with my espresso waiting patiently for my vitamin D. The joys of being a Scotsman. Applause to them nonetheless, it’s a near-immaculate city centre, and Perth is widely recognised as excellent for foodies. Head to the Queen’s Bridge just east of here for excellent views over the River. Green space is also abundant thanks to the North and South Inch parks either end of the centre.
A tasteful tribute to the work of JD Fergusson and his wife Margaret Morris, the gallery is a colourful and welcome dose of modern art. A rare talent, Fergusson was strongly influenced by his time in Paris (he studied at the Louvre) and his work leans towards light and vibrant portraits, particularly of women. The upper level is dedicated to Margaret, who excelled at dance (from age 3!) and had her own style as a designer and choreographer. Her principal belief was that movement was key to creativity and health. A sturdy Munro followed by a glass of Macallan tend to do it for me but I think our mindsets would have generally aligned. The gallery is a great end destination for a half hour nosey after a walk along the riverside.
A Little Out of Town
Now don’t attempt to do all of the below as well as the above on the one day, you’ll do yourself an injury. But each of these is a great accompaniment to a day trip to Perth and are easiest to reach by car if possible.
For those that like their Scottish stately-home style castles, you’ll love Scone (pronounced Scoon). Styled “The Crowning Place of Scottish Kings”, the Palace has long played a central role in Scottish history. As the coronation place for royalty, this is where it all kicked off for numerous famous Scottish monarchs. On arrival, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be greeted by a camera-loving peacock. Not one to shy away from attention, this guy struts about the gardens like he owns the place. In truth that honour goes to the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, to whom Scone is a family home.
A grand mansion in every sense, the grounds are massive and exploring them in depth could take a full day. The Palace itself is bursting with eye-grabbling furniture and artwork as well as endless collectables. It was in the chapel next to the Palace where the kings were crowned, on the Stone of Destiny no less. The latter was nicked by Edward the Longshanks and was kept in Westminister Abbey until 1997, when it was returned north to Edinburgh Castle.
Scone Palace’s presence is thought to have been a big determinant in Perth’s status as ‘capital’ of Scotland in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Within a few minutes drive from the town centre, it is an absolute must for visitors.
Perth is super-chilled anyway, but if you’re needing yet more excuses to relax, this could be just the place. Enjoying a great spot atop Kinnoull Hill overlooking the city, there is an array of plant life tucked away over its 2 acres. With the autumn colour change now close, it’s a great time of year for a visit. The Gardens are a within a 5 minute drive from the city centre.
As a bit of a relentless castle chaser, I’m a bit appalled that this is my first visit to Elcho. Located within about 20 minutes drive of Perth down a series of country roads, it is one of central Scotland’s most intriguing relics. On arrival I’m shown a map of the interior and talked through how to get around. I scoffed at first but it’s good advice, I got lost several times due to the slightly bizarre layout. With a series of spiral staircases and numerous levels, Elcho has a fabulous appeal.
Dating back to the 16th Century, it does lean towards family home rather than grim fortress. Given its aura I’m surprised that it does not boast more of a history. I find myself drawing comparisons to the more illustrious Doune Castle in Stirlingshire. In a generally good state of repair, it enjoys a peaceful and scenic setting. Neighbouring a farm, the views from the roof over the Perthshire terrain are glorious.
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