A Weekend of the Best of Perthshire
Perthshire is where it all begins for so many excited travellers to the Scottish Highlands. As the main central belt population centres are cleared, the scenery shifts dramatically and the lure of the north draws you ever deeper. It’s also one of our largest regions so doing my usual “weekend in…” will be a struggle. Follow along and subscribe for upcoming posts on Perth itself and more of the top things to do in the region. For now though, here’s a look at some of Highland Perthshire’s best bits.
What a walk! I do love charging up my peaks but this has to be one of the best low-level trails in the country. For first-timers it’s also a fantastic introduction to the area. Endlessly serene off-season, the route is worthy of Peter Pan or Robin Hood – getting lost in the woods surrounded by seeing trees, bemusing nooks and the constant faint sound of falling water and busy wildlife. Summers are a good bit busier of course but, with mini-trails branching off in various directions, solitude can still be easily found.
I mentioned the bemusing nooks. If you explore the area long enough, you’ll likely encounter (with a start) a bizarre and slightly menacing Totem pole alongside the main path. It has been impressively carved from one of the many Douglas Firs growing here. There is also a hermit’s cave which is worth exploring – just don’t do what I did!
On my first visit I stumbled upon the cave from the rear, first noticing a window that would just about suffice for a crawl space. Assuming this to be the entrance, in I awkwardly clamber on hands and knees – muttering about life being far too difficult these days – to eventually fall (yes, fall) into the main room of the small cave. Mud-covered and irascible I do at this point see that there was a perfectly adequate and obvious door to enter from the other side. Through which were coming a troop of confused teenagers. Oh, joy. My plight amused them no less. Not a day to remember for my outdoorsman’s instincts.
Aside from playing in the mud, the clear highlight is taking in the booming Black Linn waterfall at Ossian’s Hall. There is a viewing platform within the folly which affords the best view over the impressive River Braan. Scotland’s Highlands and Islands excel at great waterfalls but few will allow you to get this close to the action.
The Hermitage is located just off the A9 near Dunkeld and is one of my frequents on drives north. The principal walking route takes around an hour at a leisurely pace but can be extended – maps are available at the main signposted car park on arrival. It has been a walk popular with the stars as well – Queen Victoria and William Wordsworth amongst the visitors from centuries past.
The outdoor-theme of the day continues with a visit to this legendary Jacobite site. The 1689 battle will go down in the history books as an extraordinary victory for the Jacobites. But it was not pressed-home and ultimately did little to affect their eventual doomed outcome. Close to the battlefield site is the Pass, another of Perthshire’s top scenic locations.
Home to wildlife and more of that serenity (I’ve always had the walk almost entirely to myself) the Pass is vast. Running both sides of the Garry River, it’s astonishing to find a route of such tranquillity within such close distance to the big cities. Look out for the Soldier’s Leap (signposted throughout the route) which is where one of the Government troops fleeing the battle is said to have jumped an unfathomable distance across the water. In typically paradoxical fashion, visitors can also bungee jump off the Garry Bridge – a slightly less tranquil way of taking in the beauty of the gorge!
Unfortunately some of the route is currently blocked off (at time of writing) due to Mother Nature’s havoc-reeking. Even so, this is another glorious example of Highland Perthshire serenity. What a place to get away from it all.
A sumptuous Highland home that feels almost stereotypically defining. A grand and classy structure surrounded by fabulous Highland scenery. Throw in the piper at the entrance and it’s not hard to see why this has long been one of our most popular tourist attractions.
Historically the seat of the Duke of Atholl, it is a large and commanding building designed to impress. The lavish interior brings comparisons with the likes of Culzean and Dunrobin Castles. Weapons hanging from the walls might seem like overly-extravagant decoration, but in truth the castle has seen its share of conflict. Since its creation in the 13th Century it has been involved in many of Scotland’s historical highlights. Which is just diplomatic talk for fights.
- The Earl at the time of the Wars of Independence had fortified the castle as he was opposed to Robert the Bruce.
- The castle was occupied by Cromwell’s forces in the 17th Century.
- Blair Castle was fought over and besieged during the Killiecrankie Jacobite battles. It was even used for a Jacobite war council on the eve of the battle.
- It was occupied and besieged again during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite war in 1745 prior to Culloden.
- Queen Victoria visited the castle in 1844 and granted permission to create the Atholl Highlanders – now Britain’s only private army.
In the surrounding estate look out for the Deer Park and the walled Hercules Garden. There is also a Trekking Centre that offers pony treks for visitors. Bonnie Dundee, the Jacobite leader killed at Killiecrankie, is also buried on the estate at St Bride’s Kirk.
Around Loch Tay
Easily one of Scotland’s most beautiful lochs, Tay enjoys an enviable position smack in the middle of the Southern Highlands. Surrounded by diverse peaks and stretching glens, this is where many love-affairs with the Highlands will originate. Gorgeous neighbouring villages like Fortingall with its thatched roofs and Killin with its majestic Falls of Dochart complete the picture of this idyllic stretch. Grab a cold pint at the Inn in the latter on a summer’s day and bask in the glory.
One of my favourite hikes in Scotland is fabulous Ben Lawers, which offers the best vantage point over the Loch. The summit is one of the highest points in Britain and the views in every direction across half of Scotland on a clear day are magnificent.
Speaking of stretching Glens, let me tell you about Glen Lyon. Over 30 miles of remoteness make up this partial cul-de-sac of a Glen. Starting in Fortingall, cycle, drive or walk the route that snakes alongside the River Lyon. Aside from the very odd house, there is nothing here but wildlife, rolling hills and near-continuous deafening silence. Eventually you can dart off to the south east and make it a circuit back to Loch Tay. It’s minor roads all the way up here but the route is signposted. Even in summer you can have this place almost to yourself. Although as with most of Perthshire it is even better in the autumn due to the magnificent colours on offer.
Be sure to read part two of my top things to do in Perthshire. You can also listen to me discussing more of the best of Perthshire in my monthly blether on BBC Radio Scotland. Just click play below.
Several of the above areas fall into the care of the National Trust for Scotland who do an essential job of maintaining and protecting these fantastic Highland environments. For anyone looking at joining the Trust as a member and supporting their work, here’s a discount code for you.