Exploring Perthshire's Big Tree Country
When the lovely people at Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust got in touch to ask if I would like to experience Perthshire's 'Big Tree Country' during the autumn, I had my bags packed quicker than you could say 'Giant Douglas Fir'. With over 200,000 acres of woodland, including more champion trees than anywhere else in the UK, autumn in Perthshire is pretty spectacular. The landscape bursts into a fiery tapestry of colour and thousands of towering trunks are testament to why this region has become known as 'Big Tree Country'.
Often seen as a convenient stopping point on the road between the Lowlands and Highlands, it seems a real shame that more people don't take time to really appreciate how special the Perthshire scenery is.
This blog post only scratches the surface of outdoor places to explore in this vast region but I have tried to include a mixture of walks, viewpoints and places of interest which I think give a good introduction to the diversity of the area. Hopefully these ideas inspire you to explore more of 'Big Tree Country' and discover some gems of your own.
There is no better way (in my opinion) to explore Perthshire than on foot. Thanks to the hard work of Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and their partners, an ever growing network of paths criss-cross the region. With walks for every ability there is a dizzying choice of trails and you could easily spend weeks following them and still only have covered a fraction! I've chosen 4 walks that I think are rewarding in their own right, from an accessible trail in Faskally Wood to a more challenging walk around the Annat Loop. For me, these trails show off some of the best assortment of scenery in the region with a few unexpected surprises along the way!
Whenever I write about walks I'm always mindful that not everyone has the ability, time or inclination to embark on an endurance hike. For many reasons there are occasions when a short, leisurely stroll is all that is required for a nature fix. With an increase of accessible paths around Scotland, there are now a number of options to enjoy the outdoors on easy but rewarding trails.
The Dunmore Trail in Faskally Wood on the outskirts of Pitlochry is an excellent example of a short walk suitable for all abilities including wheelchair users. The wide, flat path leads around the small but picturesque Loch Dunmore and when I visited the loch had partially iced over making for a pretty winter postcard scene and a solitary heron carefully tip-toed its way through the frosty reeds while keeping a beady yellow eye on me. An unusual wooden bridge and boathouse added to the fairy tale backdrop and it is easy to see why Faskally Wood has been chosen as the home of the annual 'Enchanted Forest' sound and light show, one of Scotland's most popular autumn events.
Lochside picnic benches are positioned to make the most of the views although it was a bit chilly to make use of them when I visited and I was very impressed that not only is there a handily situated toilet block but that it was still open during the winter season!
If you are looking for a scenic accessible walk in Perthshire with a very huggable tree, Dunmore Trail won't disappoint.
Distance - 3/4 mile
Suitability - All levels of fitness and abilities, suitable for wheelchair users
For a longer walk you can follow the 1 1/2 mile Foresters' Trail which is rated as moderate-going
The Hermitage woodland was created by the 3rd Duke of Atholl in the 18th century and covers approximately 33 acres. It is said the Duke used a cannon to scatter tree seeds on to the more inaccessible parts of the land.
It is now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland and has become one of the best known walks in Perthshire and for good reason. An easy circular route will take you through towering trees which look particularly spectacular in the autumn and along the River Braan, passing tumbling waterfalls and mossy rocks along the way.
This is a walk full of surprises, look out for Ossian's Hall folly overlooking the Black Linn Waterfall, a Totem Pole carved by a native Canadian from the Squamish Nation, strange fungi, a Douglas Fir which has the status of being one of Britain's tallest trees and even an artificial cave. This is the epitome of a magical walk and is guaranteed to delight all ages although be prepared to share that magic with lots of other walkers!
Distance - My recommendation is the Ossian's Cave Trail at 1 1/2 miles which takes in all the main sites that I mentioned above
Suitability - A fairly flat route, suitable for most abilities, some uneven sections
For a shorter walk follow the Ossian's Hall Trail which is 3/4 mile but still very rewarding. There is also the option to extend the walk up to 5 miles. Also note there is a NTS car park charge (£2 at time of writing), however NTS members can park for free if you display your car sticker.
Black Wood of Rannoch
The Black Wood of Rannoch could not be more different to The Hermitage. There are no follies, artificial caves or totem poles. There are no marked trails and when I visited there were no other people either.
As atmospheric and mysterious as the name suggests, the Black Wood of Rannoch contains some of the largest remaining areas of the Native Caledonian Pine Forest that once covered much of the Highlands of Scotland. Some of the trees in this patch are thought to be hundreds of years old.
When I visited there was a fresh covering of icy frost and it was a bit like stepping into Narnia with gnarly old trees growing next to their younger straighter descendants and the occasional dead tree still standing defiantly. It really is one of those woods were you are convinced that the trees might uproot and come to life any minute!
I was lucky enough to be shown around by local expert Annie Benson and thanks to her knowledge I discovered much more about the current conservation projects to manage the wood, local wildlife and history of the area. I really appreciated Annie giving up her time to help me look at the pine forest in a new way and point out things that I would have easily missed if I was on my own.
If you want to step back in time and experience what much of the Highlands of Scotland once looked like then this is the place to go.
Distance - There is an obvious track but no marked trails so walk as little or as far as you like, just don't get lost!
Suitability - Most levels of fitness and abilities, there is a rough track with a gentle uphill gradient
For marked trails that also take in bits of the pine forest park at neighbouring Carie and start off from there instead
Annat Loop Path
On the opposite side of Loch Rannoch from the Black Wood is the Annat Loop Path. This walk cuts through farmland, past the abandoned settlement of Tor a'Chruidh, across moorland and through woodland. Spectacular open views look towards Loch Rannoch, Rannoch Moor and Schiehallion and you can even spot the Black Wood across the water. A rewarding walk in itself but this is not the main reason i decided to include it on my Perthshire adventures. James Turrell is an American artist who has famously created over 80 Skyspaces; specifically proportioned chambers with an aperture in the ceiling that opens to the sky. When I discovered the only Scottish Skyspace sits hidden on the Annat Loop Path, I decided that I needed to see it for myself.
Thanks to some detailed instructions from Annie, I knew to look out for ground lights leading off the main track and down towards a stream. Without this handy tip I am sure I would have missed it as it definitely isn't obvious from the main path. The Skyspace sits across a little bridge and has been designed to blend sympathetically in to the landscape. I love discovering art that's main purpose is to encourage you to focus on the beauty of the natural world and I'm glad I made the effort to seek out this surprising installation among the Highlands of Perthshire. It's the perfect place to sit, rest and reflect and if you time it right you can enjoy the sunset over Loch Rannoch on the way down.
Distance - 6.5 miles
Suitability - A reasonable level of fitness due to the distance and uphill sections
You don't always have to go on a long hike to be rewarded with a stunning views in Perthshire and these are a few of my favourite parking places with a guaranteed wow factor.
Queen's View is rumoured to have been named after Isabella, the first wife of Robert the Bruce, not Queen Victoria as many people think. A short walk from the car park at the visitor centre takes you to a small platform with magnificent views along Loch Tummel towards Schiehallion.
There is a small exhibition, cafe and toilets in the visitor centre although it can be busy depending on when you arrive as this is also a popular stop off for coach parties. Visit early morning, evening or off-season to increase your chances of having the view to yourself! Also note that there is a car park charge.
The Garry Bridge crosses the River Garry and a car park is conveniently situated at one end of the bridge allowing you stop and take in the famous views along the gorge.
Dunkeld is a small and picturesque town situated on the River Tay. A car park is situated a short walk from the bridge and I highly recommend stopping there and enjoying a stroll along the riverside and up onto the Thomas Telford designed bridge for gorgeous views. If you have the time, Dunkeld itself is worth exploring. Note that there is a car park charge.
Interesting Stopping Points
I've also decided to include a couple of other places with interesting viewpoints that involve short but moderate going and sometimes uneven uphill walks, although the effort is worth the reward in my opinion.
The Pass of Killiecrankie is a beautiful wooded gorge with the River Garry flowing through its centre. In 1689 the Battle of Killiecrankie took place nearby which was part of the first Jacobite Uprising. On this occasion the Jacobites were victorious against the Government troops who fled down the Pass. If you park at the visitor centre you can walk to Soldier's Leap where it is said one of the Government troops called Donald McBane made a spectacular escape from a group of Highlanders by leaping 18ft across the fast flowing river. On the way down you also get a nice view of the gorge.
On a quiet day this is also a great place to spot wildlife and I was lucky enough to see a red squirrel running around the car park. This was actually my second red squirrel of the weekend as one ran across the road on our way to the Black Wood the previous day. I'm pretty sure two red squirrels in two days is a record for me!
Black Spout Waterfall
On the outskirts of Pitlochry is the 60m high Black Spout Waterfall which funnily enough is situated in Black Spout Wood. It is possible to reach the waterfall on foot from the centre of Pitlochry or use the car park at the start of the marked trail in the woods. An uphill section takes you to a small wooden viewing platform which gives an excellent vantage point to appreciate the waterfall rushing down the hillside. If you have time there is a three mile circular route called the Edradour Path which continues uphill through the wood past Edradour Whisky Distillery and back through Pitlochry. This is an ideal trail for those wanting to combine a local dram or two with their walk (and why wouldn't you!) as you can also include a visit to Blair Athol Distillery on the route. I would have been very tempted to do this walk myself had it not been a Sunday, meaning the distilleries were closed, definitely one for the future though!
Where to Stay
The Old Mill Inn, Pitlochry
On this trip I stayed at The Old Mill Inn which is centrally situated in Pitlochry. Having gained the accolade of 'Scottish Inn of the Year' in 2016 I had big expectations and I wasn't disappointed. There is a very cute working waterwheel at the entrance and the bar and restaurant have a nice cosy feel.
As the hotel was quiet, I was upgraded to a deluxe room which was very spacious, clean and comfortable. The decor was very boutique and modern which surprised me as I was expecting and maybe would have preferred something more traditional but that's just personal taste. The bathroom was large with a huge walk-in shower and officially the deepest bath I've ever been in!
I really liked the modern additions for gadgets and the Nespresso machine was an indulgent inclusion. I was also delighted to see Highland Soap Company toiletries in the bathroom as they are some of my favourite products and it was good to see a local business being supported.
The staff were without exception extremely friendly and helpful and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it as a place to stay in the area and an ideal base to visit all the places mentioned in this blog.
I also had dinner in the hotel restaurant which features lots of Scottish produce on the menu.
I opted for the Roast Belly of Ayrshire Pork & Stornoway Black Pudding followed by Iced Cranachan Parfait with Raspberry sauce. I would describe the dishes as homely, comfort food and certainly had no complaints.
The restaurant has a nice relaxed feel and again the staff were very attentive, a good overall experience.
Hopefully I've given you some inspiration to dig a little deeper next time you are in Perthshire and head off the beaten path to explore some of the lesser known gems too. If you have a favourite walk or place to visit in Perthshire be sure to let me know in the comments box below!
Many thanks to The Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust for inviting me along and their invaluable guidance. As an independent charity they are doing a fabulous job of opening up and improving access to Perthshire's countryside for us all to enjoy. You can find out more about the great work they do and discover lots more trails to explore on their website.
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