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Issue 58 - Perth & Kinross

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011

 

This article is 6 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Perth & Kinross

With the old county boundaries of Perthshire straddling Scotland from the east coast at Dundee to the hinterland of Loch Tay and Glen Lyon in the west, with its northern boundaries touching Invernessshire, and southern boundaries touching Fife, Clackmannan, and Stirling, the smaller adjoining territory formerly known as Kinrossshire to the south tends to be overlooked as an entity in its own right.

Nevertheless, Kinross does still field a strong sense of self-identity, not least as the location of Loch Leven. For it was here, in 1567, that Mary Queen of Scots was held captive on the island and forced to abdicate her throne. Loch Leven is today a National Nature Reserve, but during the summer months there is a boat to take visitors to visit the small ruined fortress from which Scotland’s most unfortunate monarch managed to escape, but not before she had signed away her destiny.

For the past 40 years, Kinross has been bipassed by the M90 travelling north from the Forth Road Bridge towards the City of Perth, but it nevertheless continues to serve as a gateway to Strathallan and Strathearn, and the Ochil Hills to the north west.

Those hills you can clearly see on the horizon as you turn from the M90 onto the A977 beside the giant NATO communications golf ball and head towards such quirky destinations as Rumbling Bridge, the Yetts o’ Muckhart, the Wicks o’ Baiglie ,and the Crook of Devon. Popular music enthusiasts will be familiar with the Balado Activity Centre here which annually hosts T in the Park, Scotland’s largest outdoor music festival.

And within the range of the Ochil Hills lies Blackford, today celebrated as the home of Highland Spring Mineral Water and the Tullibardine Distillery. Further on there is Dunning and Forteviot, once a seat of Pictish kings, and the mile and a half long main street of Auchterarder, which serves the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel and its world famous golf courses. At Ardoch, close to the little village of Braco, the Romans once guarded the approach roads to the Antonine Wall, the remains of which can still be seen.

Sweeping north from Kinross, the M90 bi-passes the pretty villages of Milnathort, Glenfarg, and Bridge of Earn to approach the City of Perth, the region’s administrative centre on the River Tay. Sometimes called The Fair City, after Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Fair Maid of Perth, there has been a settlement here since prehistoric times. Carry on along the A90, and the journey takes you past Kinfauns, Kinspindie, Inchture and Fingask Castle, scene of the annual Fingask follies in May.

At Abernyte, 125 dealers have banded together to create one of two Scottish Antique Centres (the other is at Doune in Stirlingshire).

Modern Perth, with its open green spaces of the North and South Inches on each side, and the River Tay running through it, is full of interest. The Perth Museum & Art Gallery houses collections of fine and applied art, archaeology, human and natural history. In a former water works is housed the Fergusson Gallery, a large collection of paintings by the celebrated Scottish Colourist artist John Duncan Fergusson (1874 – 1961). At Balhouse Castle in Hay Street is the Regimental Museum of the Black Watch Regiment which was raised in 1739 to police the Highlands.

Early Scottish kings were traditionally crowned on Moot Hill at Scone, on the far side of the River Tay, while seated upon the legendary Stone of Destiny, brought here from Argyll with the merger of the Pictish and Scottish kingdoms in the early ninth century. Having been stolen by some students in the 1950s, it can now be seen at Edinburgh Castle.

A priory was also founded here by Augustinian canons around 1114 with Scone Abbey being inaugurated some years later to hold the relics of the now rather obscure St Fergus, a Pict by birth who converted to Christianity.

Alas, the Abbey was destroyed during the Reformation and nobody knows that happened to the saintly bits and pieces.

However, the imposing red sandstone Scone Palace, built in 1808, became the ancestral seat of the Murray earls of Mansfield & Mansfield, a family which rose to prominence in the reign of James VI.

On view to the public in the interiors are fine collections of furniture, porcelains, ivories, and clocks. The surrounding estate is shared by Perth Races, and it annually hosts the Scottish Game Fair.

From Perth, the A90 travels west to Inchture, Invergowrie and Dundee; the A85, through Methven to Crieff and Comrie and Loch Earn; the A9, heads north to Bankfoot, Dunkeld, Ballinluig and Pitlochry; the A93, to Blairgoowrie and Glenshee, and the A94, to Coupar Angus and Meigle. This is a vast region encapsulating rich acres of farmland and some of Scotland’s most glorious scenic distractions.

Methven Castle, on the A85, was built by the second Duke of Lennox in the mid seventeenth century and is one of the surviving traditional tower houses to have been built in Scotland. It has been recently restored and remains in private ownership. Crieff is the main town of Strathearn lying on the southern edge of the Highlands, and has been a holiday resort since Victorian times. The Crieff Hydro, one of Scotland’s most celebrated health spas, dates from 1868.

Since Crieff was once an important cattle “Tryst”, the town’s Visitor Centre features a Highland Drovers exhibition.

Comrie lies on a geological fault line and is sometimes called the “Shaky Toun.” Although the danger is nowadays minimal, the Earthquake House is open to the public and has recorded tremor records from 1597.

All around these hamlets is superb walking country, notably the Lednock, leading to the popular Deil’s Cauldron with its spectacular waterfall. Loch Earn, and Lochearnhead village, where Perthshire spills into neighbouring Stirlingshire, are popular destinations for fishing and water sports enthusiasts. Loch Earn has an unusual tidal system created not by the sun or moon, but by the prevailing wind.

From Perth, fanning northwards alongside the course of the River Tay, the A9 journeys to Stanley, Murthly and Dunkeld. The village of Stanley takes its name from a daughter of the seventh Earl of Derby who married the first Earl of Atholl. Their descendant, the first Duke of Atholl, decided to create a cotton mill on the spot, and the village was created to house its workers. The mill was finally closed down in 1989. Nearby Balathie House, once home of a branch of the Robertson family, has become a country house hotel.

Murthly Castle, sheltered on the west side by Birnam Hill, was begun as a Royal hunting lodge in the fourteenth century. Birnam Hill featured prominently in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth presaging that individual’s demise. The village of Birnam, however, only emerged in the Victorian era, gaining celebrity as a holiday spot much enjoyed by the novelist Beatrix Potter.

The town of Dunkeld shares a railway station with Birnam, but had previously grown substantially owing to the fame of its cathedral which allegedly once held relics relating to St Columba. Inevitably, this led to it also being savaged during the Reformation, and the the nave and the porch have since remained roofless. A Cathedral Museum is housed within the former Chapter House.

The Hermitage, which sits on the west side of the A9, is a celebrated pleasure park on the River Braan.

Today administered by the National Trust for Scotland, it was created by successive dukes of Atholl as a tribute to Scotland’s mythical blind bard, and it features Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors, Ossian’s Cave, and various Georgian follies.

Turn west at Ballinluig, and the A827 takes you first to Aberfeldy, a small market town, where the River Tay was in 1733 bridged by General Wade in his bid to police the unruly Highlands. A single malt distillery was built here in 1896 and Dewar’s World of Whisky Visitor Centre is a popular local feature. The Birks of Aberfeldy, much celebrated by Robert Burns, is a gorge and scenic walk which has been designated “ a Site of Special Scientific Interest.” At the mouth of Glen Lyon is the village of Fortingall, said to be the birth place of the biblical Pontius Pilate.

Travelling towards Kenmore and Loch Tay, the road loops around Castle Menzies, the hereditary stronghold of Clan Menzies. Every January, the opening of the salmon fishing season is launched with a ceremony at Kenmore, on Loch Tay.

The magnificent Taymouth Castle, where Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, stayed as guests of the Marquis of Bradalbane in 1842, largely dates from the nineteenth century. It nevertheless stands on the foundations of Balloch Castle which was built for Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy in 1550.

Despite their having once owned 437,696 acres of prime land, in this region this particular branch of Clan Campbell fell on hard times and the estate was broken up shortly after the First World War. Taymouth Castle is today well maintained by the current owners, but unfortunately not open to the public. In the grounds there is nevertheless an 18-hole golf course which is open to membership.

Queen Victoria’s visit to Taymouth Castle in 1842 undoubtedly had a major impact on both her and the area, reminding her husband of his beloved German homeland. Two years later, they were Lord Glenlyon’s guests at Blair Castle, and within six years they had purchased the Balmoral estate on the far side of the Grampians.

On a melancholy return trip to Dunkeld in 1866, following the death of her husband, the Queen stopped off for a picnic with her ghillie John Brown to enjoy a remarkable view of Loch Tummel stretching westward as far as the Glencoe hills. Inevitably, this spot has since become known as The Queen’s View.

The Murrays of Atholl descend from a Flemish nobleman, Freskin, who arrived in Scotland in the twelfth century. He was granted extensive lands in Perthshire by King David and married into the old line of the Celtic Mormaers of Moray, from whom the family’s Murray surname originates. From their early beginnings, Freskin’s descendants supported the Stewart dynasty, still managing to hold on to their lands when Lord George Murray, a younger son of the first Duke of Atholl, played a seminal role in the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

Pitlochry, on the River Tummel, remains part of the lands of Atholl, and following Queen Victoria’s visit in 1842, became a popular holiday resort. In 1947, a dam was built as part of the Tummel Hydro Electric Power Scheme, and since then its fish ladder has been promoted as a visitor attraction.

There are two Scotch Whisky distilleries at Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, and Edradour, which is Scotland’s smallest. Both produce distinctive single malts.

The Pitlochry Festival Theatre was founded in 1951 by John Stewart in 1951, the current building being built at Port-na-Craig in 1981. On its doorstep are Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion, the latter being sometimes referred to as the mountain at the centre of Scotland.

Under its shadow sits Killiecrankie. On 27th July 1689, a battle was fought here between the Highland Scottish clans supporting James VII of Scotland (James II of England) and British Government troops supporting William of Orange, who had seized the British throne. Although it was a stunning victory for the Jacobites, it had little overall effect on the outcome of the First Jacobite Rising largely because the Jacobite’s leader, John Graham of Claverhouse, first Viscount Dundee, was killed in the action. To this day it is said that every year a strange red light appears in the sky over Killiecrankie on the eve of battle.

Rising from the lower slopes of the Grampian mountains, at Blair Atholl, is Blair Castle, commanding the strategic route through the central Highlands. Built in the 13th century, it was the last British castle to come under attack by soldiers in the 1745 Uprising. The Blair Castle International Horse Trials and Country Fair is Scotland’s leading equestrian event, running over four days in August every year.

Opened in 1995, the nearby House of Bruar, a luxury retail destination, welcomes more than one hundred thousand visitors through its doors annually.

Across country to the east is Strathardle and the ski slopes of Glenshee. Driving north from Perth, the A93 passes Meiklour and the world’s largest beech hedge. It is said that the reason it grows so high and tall towards the heavens is that the men who planted it were all killed at the Battle of Culloden.

A few miles further on are two adjacent burghs, Blairgowrie and Rattray, which lie on either side of the River Erricht. Pictish relics are a-plenty in this part of Scotland, and one of the largest collections of sculptured stones can be found at the Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum.

There are also several clan strongholds in the area, not least the recently sold Craighall Castle, ancestral home of the Rattrays, which dominates the edge of a gorge above the River Erricht; Newton Castle, home to Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Chief of Clan Macpherson, and Ardblair Castle, home to the Blair Oliphant family.

At Coupar Angus, situated at a crossroads on the south bank of the River Isla as it flows into the County of Angus, once stood a famous Cistercian Abbey built in the 12th century. This is soft fruit country, and the local population increases dramatically in summer with berry pickers flocking in to harvest the raspberries and strawberries.

At the Spittal of Glenshee is the ancient gathering ground of the Clan MacThomas. In the event of a snowy winter, the Glenshee Ski Centre swings into action.

Ski-ing began here in the 1930s, and in 1957 the Dundee Ski Club built the first T-bar tow. The Glenshee Chairlift Company was formed in the 1960s and prospered until 2004 when lack of snow forced The Glenshee Chairlift Co Ltd into receivership. Happily a management buyout by Glenshee Ltd and the return of heavy snow early in the year have ensured the future.