Visiting Big Tree Country in Perthshire
I’ve been enjoying a bit of an obsession with Perthshire over the last few months. On my final visit of the autumn, I’m storming down the A827 on my way to Pitlochry and I notice the astonishing beauty of the last of the day’s light over Loch Tay. Before you know it, I’m smiling like an idiot, collecting goose pimples en masse and easing the foot off the accelerator. Moments like this underline just how easy Scotland is to love.
Following on from my previous top selections of things to do in Perthshire, I’ve now picked out another stream of highlights throughout one of Scotland’s largest and most beautiful regions. One blog post was just never going to be adequate…..
Big Tree Country
This is the core of Perthshire. I’ve been calling the region Big Tree Country since I’ve been working in tourism and never really reflected on its true significance. Obviously, there’s a noticeable amount of them in these parts, but I’ve spent my last trip getting the full low-down on their limitless contribution to Perthshire.
Home to numerous of the best tree collections in the country (or any country), you’ll find some of the oldest, tallest and thickest trees on the planet dotted around Perthshire. Rare and endangered seeds are planted here in the hope that this is the place for them to grow. In an effort that takes years, decades and centuries to achieve success, the level of dedication to tree conservation here is amazing.
Nowhere is better for appreciating the role of the legions of trees up here than the Garry Bridge. Standing high over the baltic-looking, inky black waters of the River Garry, the vantage point looking down over Killiecrankie is jaw dropping. It sets the scene for wooded adventures to come. The densely forested areas also bring all sorts of added perks including the presence of gorgeous red squirrels, leaping salmon, deer and birdlife from buzzards to chaffinches.
I was fortunate enough on this month’s visit to be shown around Big Tree Country by the lovely folks at the Perthshire Countryside Trust. The work they do with the likes of The Hermitage and Killiecrankie is due massive recognition. Their abundant path networks merge seamlessly into the landscapes, the surrounding natural environment is monitored and nurtured with affection and they engage numerous local partnerships and communities to constantly improve Perthshire for visitors and locals alike. How much do you want to kick up these leaves?
I’ve gushed praise about Loch Tay on numerous occasions, it’s magnificent. Neighbouring Loch Earn is right up there too. I’ve also got to add Lochs Rannoch and Tummel into the mix. These 4 are amongst Scotland’s most majestic and commanding bodies of water. They set off an already wonderful landscape of peaks, forests and nature trails.
Pick of the vantage points is Queen’s View. Overlooking Loch Tummel, this was a favourite of Queens Victoria and Isabella (wife of Robert the Bruce). The distinctively conical Schiehallion mountain is the main pull for the eyes but the entire vista is just extraordinarily good for the soul. The viewing point has its own visitor centre and coffee shop – which, be advised, does fill up in peak season! Like an increasing number of sites in the area, Queen’s View is fully wheelchair accessible.
A little further west on this road, the scenery continues to amaze as you navigate towards equally thrilling Loch Rannoch. Backed up by the endless beauty of Tay Forest Park and its various forest trails, the scenic remoteness makes it popular for outdoor lovers of all kinds. This is also Craigh na Dun territory – yes, the Outlander filming location crew did well. As for this Loch Tummel paddle boarder, how much fun does this look?
Scottish Crannog Centre
What’s a crannog? In my ignorance this was my first reaction when researching my trip to this tucked away cultural goldmine. The Centre is a fascinating insight into life on the water 2500 years ago in Iron Age Scotland.
Why set up shop on water as opposed to dry land you’ll ask. Security – from threatening animals and marauders alike. Practicality – immediate access to the fresh water for cleaning, drinking and possibly fishing.
Underwater exploration of the area has unearthed all sorts of gems and that research isn’t going to end any time soon. The fascinating homes amounted to conical huts on stilts and were home to substantial groups of inhabitants – along with any goats, sheep, cattle and any other companions that they may have had. Today’s crannog is a superbly detailed and authentic reconstruction and visitors are treated to a passionate guided tour.
The Crannog Centre is to be found on the southern banks of Loch Tay. A great attraction for kids, and big kids, there are numerous interactive activities to further authenticate the experience. Expect dressing up, tool utilisation and even creating fire – desert island-style. Any profits made go directly into maintaining and researching this fantastic, and slightly surreal, chapter of Highland history.
Perthshire is a fabulous introduction to the dedicated addiction that is Munro-bagging. In my last piece I picked out Ben Lawers as a favourite. Another at a similarly challenging level is mighty Ben Vorlich, guarding Perthshire’s south western border with the Trossachs. This is a gloriously rugged area and with the Loch as a constant companion behind you on the ascent, you’ll want your camera to hand. Upon reaching the summit you’ll be rewarded with these spectacular views over much of the southern Highlands.
I would allow around 4 hours return for Ben Vorlich and it’s clearly pathed throughout. You start on the southern shores of the beautiful Loch Earn, parking at Ardvorlich, after a slightly hairy single-lane road drive with passing places. No problem if you get a clear run at it but beware there’s a steady stream of lorries that frequent this route and reversing for a quarter mile (round corners in my case, the joys!) may be required. The second half of the ascent is particularly rocky but still suitable for most ability levels and this is one of the easier Munros for beginners.
Accommodation and Dining
Perthshire has some lovely B&Bs and the like dotted around in its more scenic spots but if you are looking for proximity to amenities and other practicalities then the likes of Dunkeld and Pitlochry make for excellent bases. For the former, I’ve always fancied a stay at the luxurious Dunkeld House Hotel which looks like a comprehensive Highland experience with comfort. Think spas, swimming pools and top dining. The Hotel also makes for a nice lunch option after a walk along the Tay from Dunkeld Cathedral. Having visited the Cathedral on countless occasions, I’ve never until my last visit taken the time to follow the river west from the ruins. Tragic error – this is the Tree Trail and another great opportunity to see these extraordinary pillars of wisdom up close.
For Pitlochry, I thoroughly recommend the Old Mill Inn which is amongst the finest in its category for accommodation in Scotland. Stylish, practical but with a cosy atmosphere its rooms will be a welcome sight after a long day on the hoof. They provide a fabulous breakfast too. I find full-on Scottish/English Breakfasts too much first thing in the day and when travelling non-stop around Scotland, the same old same can get repetitive. Full marks to the Inn for providing healthy but tasty alternatives to the norm. The Inn also provides its own dinner restaurant and other Pitlochry options include the ever-popular Victoria’s on the high street that offers an extensive and high quality menu with loads of choice for fish fans in particular.
Perthshire is firmly on the bus and coach tourist route and is constantly used as a stop off (usually on the way to Inverness from Edinburgh). Many of my top Perthshire picks will be on their itineraries but if you want to have the freedom to experience them all at your own pace, a car makes a big difference if you’re time-restricted.
If you’re not, walking’s the way to go. Both long and short distance routes are open to you and the Cateran Trail comes particularly recommended. A 64-mile whopper of a route through Perthshire and the Angus Glens, it’s the ultimate way to get to know the eastern chunk of the region. You can download this and some of the other top walking routes here.
For first time visitors to Scotland it will always be tempting to rush headlong up to Skye and the northern Highlands, I get that. But, trust me, anyone spending a week or more exploring the countless treasures of Perthshire will not go home anything other than overwhelmingly satisfied. It has an unmatched ability to offer stunning, scenic, remote landscapes and, at the same time, have convenient proximity to hubs and travel networks.
Scotland at its best.
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