After a couple weeks away from my Scotland Itinerary Ideas series, I’m back with suggestions and travel hooks for one of the most peaceful and calming regions in Scotland: Perthshire. I have largely focused on specific topics throughout the life of Traveling Savage, but now is the time to provide information at a higher level to help you in your Scotland trip-planning, idea-generation phase.
These Scotland Itinerary Ideas articles collect many of my previous posts on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their criticality for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin planning your next trip to Scotland.
As always, don’t hesitate to pepper me with questions.
Perthshire is a place of beguiling beauty, its ancient forested vales, rolling foothills, and deep, stringy lochs forming a greater impression upon the heart than the sum of its parts. Once upon a time this region was the southern kingdom of Picts, its strategic positioning south of the mountains undeniable, but perhaps there were other reasons for its situation: Beauty, harmony, variety, and a primordial sense of right-ness. Here age old history and nature lend themselves to new age interpretations, for rare is the place elsewhere in Scotland that has vibrated with such a comforting and meditative air. I am drawn to Perthshire’s vibrant hamlets, Caledonian woodland, and the loch-speckled hills of its western reaches. There is a well of magic here that the Tay and the Forest of Atholl and Strathbraan have managed to preserve. It is a quiet, contemplative, satisfying draught, and once you drink of it you may find ever after that you seek another sip.
Things You Can’t Miss
Dunkeld. Perhaps my favorite town in all of Scotland, Dunkeld is a tiny market town with deep history and a vibrant music scene. Just a quick 90-minute train ride north from Edinburgh, Dunkeld makes an excellent break from the city life with its gorgeous natural setting and proximity to scads of beautiful hikes in the Strathmore hills. Ancient Dunkeld Cathedral (see below) sits in partial ruin just off the main street, while on the other side, also tucked against the River Tay, stands the Taybank Hotel with its near-nightly trad sessions. Across the Tay sits Dunkeld’s sister town, Birnam (of Beatrix Potter fame), and together the two make for an unmatched base in the region.
The Pass of Killiecrankie and the Queen’s View. A few miles north of Pitlochry stands the forested Pass of Killiecrankie, which cuts between Ben Vrackie and Tenandry Hill on the River Garry. This tranquil spot is a beautiful place to do a bit of hiking and admire Perthshire’s scenery. Nearby at the head of Loch Tummel, along the B8019, is a stunning viewing platform known as The Queen’s View. With good weather, you can see clear across Rannoch Moor to Glen Coe! If you’ve got the legs, you could also hike up Craigower Hill above Pitlochry for a similar, perhaps better view.
Edradour distillery. Edradour distillery might be the smallest distillery in Scotland, but it certainly punches above its weight. This beauty hides in the hills outside Pitlochry and puts on a great tour of how they make whisky the old way. Their dedicated whisky bar serves a huge array of Edradour whiskies and others under their Signatory label, all at extremely fair prices. It would be a travesty to miss Edradour – it is certainly the best distillery in the region (unless you love Bell’s or Famous Grouse) and one of my favorites in all of Scotland.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
Dunkeld Cathedral. Construction on Dunkeld Cathedral began in 1260, and because it wasn’t finished until 1501 the final edifice is a jaw-dropping melange of Gothic and Norman architecture. The gray square-stone style cathedral was built on the site of an older monastery dating from the sixth or seventh century, so this site along the grassy banks of the River Tay has been a holy place for 1,500 years. You can feel it in the air. While part of the cathedral has fallen into ruins, another section is still used regularly to hold mass. Several bishops of Dunkeld and none other than Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, are buried here.
Perthshire’s Dark Ages past. Perthshire is littered with the remnants of Scotland’s Pictish past. Worthy of special mention to those interested in exploring this mysterious people are the Meigle Museum in – you guessed it – Meigle and Moncreiffe Hill just south of Perth. The Meigle Museum contains 26 Pictish stones dating from the late eighth to the late tenth centuries while Moncrieffe Hill once held the ancient hillfort Moredun upon its crown. We have so little to help us piece together the story of the Picts, but in the absence of data there is wonder.
Perth and Scone Palace. The city of Perth gives its name to the region and possesses a pretty, compact city center. This is the place to go if you need a splash of city life in the region, though it is still quite small at 44,000 people. Nearby Scone Palace is a stunning red sandstone mansion house with a castellated roof built in the early 19th century. This was the ancient gathering place of the Picts and later the coronation site of the kings of Scotland upon the Stone of Scone.
Things to Do Off the Beaten Path
Hike through the Hermitage. The Hermitage just outside Dunkeld encompasses the Craigvinean Forest along the banks of the River Braan. Soaring pines thrust up from rocky gorges and amidst the hilly woodland hide several strange and interesting structures like Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors, Ossian’s Cave, and Georgian follies built by the Dukes of Atholl. The beauty of the place is the draw, and you can easily use Dunkeld as a base for hikes through the Hermitage and up into the hills beyond on several well-marked paths.
Visit the Scottish Crannog Centre. Go back in time with a trip to the Scottish Crannog Centre at the head of Loch Tay. Crannogs are dwellings built partially or fully over bodies of water like rivers and lakes, and at the Centre you can view reconstructed crannogs to get a sense of life back in the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Building a dwelling over water seems both difficult and dangerous, so you have to wonder what was happening on land to make crannogs look like a sensible option.
Clamber up Schiehallion or Ben Lawers. For the hikers and munro-baggers out there, Schiehallion and Ben Lawers are a couple of Perthshire’s most famous peaks. Schiehallion, or the Fairy Hill of the Caledonians, is a popular munro due to its easy ascent and magnificent views across central Scotland. Ben Lawers is the highest mountain in the southern part of the Scottish Highlands with a beautiful situation between Aberfeldy and Killin.
Logistics and Salient Bits
Bases. I have always chosen to base myself in either Dunkeld or Pitlochry. They are similar in many ways – both at the top end of the region, both along the A9, both beautiful small towns with interesting wrinkles – though Pitlochry is generally considered to be more “touristy.” You can arrive to either town easily via train or car, and their situation makes exploring Perthshire very convenient. Pitlochry has more accommodation options, and I especially liked Torrdarach House and Beinn Bhracaigh. Alternatively, I would consider Blairgowrie and Aberfeldy if the thought of seeing any other visitors appalls you or if you’d just like to be a bit further out. To the east and west of the A9, respectively, these towns are more typical work-a-day places with their own understated charm. Perth is the place to stay if you’re more of a city person who wants a wider variety of facilities to choose from, and if transportation convenience isn’t an issue you could always consider staying out west near Crieff or Comrie.
Transportation. The most populated part of Perthshire is easily accessible by train from Edinburgh and Glasgow since the railroad mirrors the A9 as it snakes north toward Inverness. A car makes straying off the main drag very easy and convenient, though you could easily hike along paths further afield if that’s your sort of thing. Buses will certainly get you between the smaller towns east and west of the A9, but I must admit that building a trip around buses in this region, where there are so many beautiful out-of-the-way things to see, does not fill me with delight.
Food & Drink. When it comes to food and drink, I’m really just looking for a comfy pub with grub a cut above average, so I was happy to find several places in Perthshire that exceeded my modest expectations. The Taybank Hotel in Dunkeld is my favorite pub in the region. They pull great pints and the music is second to none (they also do a mean stovie). In Pitlochry you’ll find the Moulin Hotel, the Auld Smiddy Inn, and Fern Cottage – a trio of restaurants well worth your pounds. Just outside Pitlochry is the attractive Logierait Inn who do excellent fish and chips. In Perth, I’ve heard Twa Tams is a fantastic pub.
Another batch of itinerary ideas all wrapped up. Perthshire is a fantastic place to visit, and I hope you give it strong consideration as you plan your next trip to Scotland. Go! You will not be disappointed.