The Riverside East
The Rivers Tummel, Braan, Ericht and Tay provide the picturesque backdrop to the stunning natural scenery along this section of the Heart 200. Why not take a riverside walk to the River Tummel from Pitlochry, or walk to the Hermitage waterfall on the River Braan near Dunkeld? Then there’s Cargill’s Leap on the River Ericht at Blairgowrie, and the Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve near Dunkeld where you can see ospreys from April to August, as well as beavers and red squirrels. Returning to the River Tay, don’t forget to take time out to visit exquisite Scone Palace, set in its own grounds on the eastern banks of the Tay.
There is no shortage of things to see and do in Pitlochry, whatever your interests may be. Your first port of call may well be the Pitlochry VisitScotland iCentre, which is amply stocked with information about the region, its heritage and the many things to do here. Pitlochry is a town famous for its links to the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the area in 1842 on their way to purchase their Highland estate at Balmoral. Today, it is a popular tourist resort which offers plenty of eye-catching walking destinations as well as its contributions to arts and culture.
The town has become especially well-known for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, a modern glass-fronted structure which offers a wide range of entertainment including live performances – in the summer, the theatre famously presents six plays in daily repertory which means that audiences have the opportunity to see six different plays over six consecutive nights. Pitlochry Festival Theatre is one of the most culturally important organisations in all of Perthshire, so checking their schedule of performances ahead of time, and booking tickets for events in advance, is highly advised.
Just behind the Festival Theatre is the Explorer’s Garden, where visitors can learn stories of the people who risked their lives to find new plants and trees for cultivation and conservation. Several workshops take place here, which include Scottish gin tasting, tea tasting, and ‘How to Grow a Himalayan Blue Poppy’. To find out how to participate, don’t forget to check availability and dates online.
There are many other interesting places to visit in Pitlochry. The town is home to Scotland’s oldest distillery, the Blair Atholl Distillery, and visitors can visit and take a guided tour as well as sampling the fine single malt on the premises. Whisky connoisseurs will also want to check out Edradour Distillery, while real ale enthusiasts may prefer a trip to the compact Moulin Brewery – situated only a short walk away from the railway station.
Pitlochry Hydroelectric Dam Visitor Centre showcases the rich history of hydroelectric power in the North of Scotland, and how it has transformed lives. The centre also features a ‘fish ladder’, where salmon can sometimes be seen making their way back upstream. Visitors also have the opportunity to visit the Wild Space Visitor Centre; operated by the John Muir Trust, this centre offers unique interpretative exhibitions and audio journeys, the Alan Reece Gallery, and a variety of books and other items for sale.
History devotees won’t want to miss a visit to the Atholl Palace Museum. Situated in the old servant’s quarters of Atholl Palace, this is a great place to learn more about Victorian history. The 19thcentury manor house itself has been converted into a hotel with a luxury spa and expansive gardens.
There are many walks and places of beauty to suit walkers and hikers at all levels of experience. Ben Vrackie, Queen’s View, the impressive waterfall at Black Spout Wood and Faskally Wood are all popular walking destinations. Other sightseeing locations in the area include Glen Tilt, Linn of Tummel, the Allean Forest, and Neolithic sites at Croft Moraig and the Pictish Dunfallandy Stone. Additionally, Pitlochry also features a peaceful and beautifully-maintained Memorial Garden surrounding the town’s War Memorial in honour of those who died defending their country in wartime. Walkers will want to note that the town is also at the far eastern end of the Rob Roy Way.
Arts and culture events taking place in Pitlochry include the town’s literary festival, the Winter Words Festival; the Enchanted Forest sound and light show; and Pitlochry Highland Nights – summer music and dance events organised by the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. Please check with Tourist Information for details about times and dates for these events.
Looking for accommodation in or around Pitlochry? McKays Hotel, Bar and Restaurant is centrally located and a great place to stay and Blairchroisk Cottage is in a rural setting three miles from Pitlochry.
The A822 from Gilmerton, near Crieff, to Dunkeld is a popular tourist route and takes you through the Sma’ Glen and deep into the very heart of Heart 200 country. The road east from Amulree follows the lovely River Braan to its confluence with the River Tay at Dunkeld.
If you follow this road on a warm, sunny day, then the long lay-by at Newton Bridge must be one of the finest picnic spots in the whole of Scotland. Relax a while beside the beautiful River Almond and enjoy this special place.
For the more energetic, the track that follows the River Almond upstream from Newton Bridge takes you into some very remote country indeed, and for those looking for a long walk it is around 24 kilometres through to Ardtalnaig on the south side of Loch Tay.
Glenalmond is a quiet glen to the west of Perth. The River Almond begins in the hills to the south of Loch Tay and meets the A822 road at Newton Bridge before flowing through the Sma’ Glen. A couple of miles after the river turns to flow to the east there is a split in the road at Buchanty. The minor road on the south side of the glen passes Glenalmond College, whilst the B8063 on the north side passes through the tiny villages of Harrietfield and Chapelhill. These are nice roads for cycling and the lay-bys in the Sma’ Glen are popular places for a picnic beside the river.
If you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful area within a short distance of Perth, then Glenalmond is a great place to visit, especially if you are here in autumn and want to enjoy the autumn colours.
For an alternative route between Dunkeld and Perth, or Blairgowrie and Perth, there are a number of quiet rural roads that take you to Perthshire villages such as Bankfoot, Stanley and Murthly.
Travel six miles north from Perth on the A9 and you will reach the village of Bankfoot, where you can visit Taste Perthshire for their all-day restaurant and an exciting shopping experience. There’s a particularly good selection of local gins.
Over to the east side of the A9 is Stanley with the impressive Stanley Mills beside the River Tay.
An exactingly preserved vestige of the Industrial Revolution, Stanley Mills sits below the village of Stanley, about eight miles north of Perth. The distinctive building houses a cotton mill first founded in 1786 by Richard Arkwright on the banks of the River Tay. For two centuries, the mill produced textiles thanks to the power generated by the mighty Tay’s current – first created by water wheels, and then by hydroelectric turbines. The story of Stanley Mills is one of diversification and evolution as this industrial complex developed and expanded over time. Visitors can discover more about the history of the mills, determine many unexpected facts from the interactive presentations, and find out what it would have felt like to be on the busy factory floor as raw cotton was processed into a sought-after end product.
Further upstream on the River Tay is Murthly and the 15th century Murthly Castle.
An alternative route from Pitlochry to Blairgowrie is over the A924 via Kirkmichael, Strathardle and Bridge of Cally, then down to Blairgowrie on the A93.
For wide open views and a quiet road, this is a great option to consider. Stop off for a walk along the way or take time out at Bridge of Cally.
The Cateran Trail long distance route passes through Strathardle, so even if you’re just passing by, you could take an hour out from your journey to explore a short section of this interesting trail which is based on the route used by cattle rustlers in the 15th century. For those looking to take a short walk on the Cateran Trail, it is possible to gain access to it at Enochdhu, Kirkmichael and Bridge of Cally.
The villages of Ballinluig and Grandtully offer something for the historically-minded and the outdoor activities enthusiast alike. Ballinluig is situated on the banks of the River Tummel, and was originally developed during the construction of the Highland Railway where it was an important transport link to Aberfeldy. Today, it features the Tynreich Nursery garden centre and the popular Ballinluig Motor Grill with its distinctive American diner-style façade.
Grandtully is a village near the River Tay, with two bridges spanning the river – the Old Bridge and the more recent Pitnacree Bridge. The historical St Mary’s Chapel, built by Alexander Stewart and situated in Nether Pitcairn, is a remarkable 16thcentury church with tempera paintings adorning its wooden tunnel vault ceiling which date from the 17thcentury. The paintings, which depict Biblical characters and scenes, were painstakingly restored in the 1950s and are recommended viewing for any Scottish history aficionado.
The foundations of the original Grandtully Castle (constructed in 1414) can be found to the east of the town, whereas the current castle – which dates from the 16thcentury – was visited by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. The building has since been converted into a series of privately-owned apartments.
Those seeking the more adventurous life will want to check out the Freespirits Outdoor Company in Grandtully, where white water rafting on the River Tay is the order of the day. But anyone with a sweet tooth may well be more inclined to visit Ian Burnett: The Highland Chocolatier, an award-winning tourist attraction which includes a chocolate lounge, gift shop, and instructional chocolate exhibition (including an audio guide). Larger groups are asked to contact the company in advance to arrange bookings.
The twin villages of Dunkeld and Birnam, straddling the River Tay, are linked by a seven-arched bridge which was built by Thomas Telford in 1809. The area is famed for its beautiful riverside walks, not least to the Birnam Oak which can be found on the Birnam Riverside Path, which runs along the banks of the River Tay. The Birnam Oak and its neighbour, the Birnam Sycamore, are thought to be the sole surviving trees of the great forest that once straddled the banks and hillsides of the River Tay. This forest is celebrated in Shakespeare’s play Macbethas the famous Birnam Wood.
The Hermitage (which is well signposted on the A9) is a great walk along the River Braan through an impressive stand of Douglas Firs. The walk takes visitors to the perfect viewing point to observe a very impressive waterfall. Also worth seeing is the Dunkeld House Tree Trail, a National Tree Collection of Scotland (NTCS) project which is supported by Woodland Heritage. The trail celebrates the tree heritage of the Dunkeld House Estate, and relates stories about the eighteen remarkable trees that grow here.
Dunkeld is also widely recognised for its Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve, where many different types of wild animals can be spotted throughout the year. Operated by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the reserve covers an area of 98 hectares, with its star attraction being its beautiful ospreys which nest close to the centre’s observation hide. Other animals to be seen on the centre’s grounds include wildfowl, red squirrels and beavers.
Visitors won’t be able to miss the brightly coloured ‘little houses’ of Dunkeld, which were built in the early 1700s. Restored to provide homes for local people, they are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). Another NTS property is the Ell Shop, featuring the original iron ‘ell’ measure – just over a metre long – which was used for measuring cloth in days gone by. Dunkeld is now considered significant among architectural historians due to the preservation of the 18thcentury façades of many of its buildings. Further historical information about the area can be found at the Dunkeld Community Archive at The Cross, Dunkeld.
The Birnam Arts and Conference Centre is a focal point for arts and culture in the area, and includes one of the village’s best-known attractions, the Beatrix Potter Exhibition and Garden. This presentation showcases the celebrated author of children’s fiction and includes plenty of exciting interactive features to keep younger visitors intrigued. The Birnam and Dunkeld area greatly inspired Potter, who spent her childhood holidays in the region. The arts centre also offers a café area, a gift shop, conference facilities, and is a popular wedding venue.
Any lover of watersports will want to visit Paddle Surf Scotland in Birnam for some instruction in a very distinctive pastime. Those who prefer walking may prefer to visit the majestic Dunkeld Cathedral, part medieval ruin and part modern Parish Church, which is the site of the tomb of the notorious ‘Wolf of Badenoch’ – Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan. Other popular destinations for walks in the area include Ossian’s Hall, the Corbenic Poetry Path, and nearby Tay Forest Park.
Looking for a hotel in Dunkeld? The Dunkeld House Hotel is set in its own grounds on the banks of the River Tay.
Blairgowrie is one of the largest towns in Perthshire, and is affectionately referred to as ‘Blair’ by the locals. Situated on the banks of the River Ericht, it has a proud industrial history due to its past as a flax-growing hub with no less than twelve spinning mills in operation during its heyday. Today, the town area has become the centre of Perthshire’s soft fruit-growing industry, with its raspberries and strawberries being particularly sought after.
In the heart of the town is a popular venue, the Wellmeadow, where events and markets are regularly held. When it is not in use, it is a peaceful green space. Only a few hundred yards away is the River Ericht, which is a popular location for fishing, canoeing and rafting. The river is famed for ‘Cargill’s Pass’, the point where Donald Cargill – minister and Covenanter – is said to have leapt across dangerous rushing water to evade capture by dragoon guards in 1679.
The town centre has a great selection of independent retailers, and visitors will want to check in at the Blairgowrie VisitScotland iCentre at 26 Wellmeadow for the latest information to help them enjoy their stay. Art lovers will find much of interest at The Wee Scottish Gallery, run by Karen Appleyard Photography and well worth a visit.
Blairgowrie Golf Club is a well-known destination for golfers, especially since hosting the Junior Ryder Cup in 2014. The club is highly regarded and very welcoming, whether you are there for a round of golf or a spot of lunch.
Blairgowrie is also the main starting point for the sixty-mile, circular Cateran Trail which walkers can follow, based around the historic drove roads used by cattle rustlers. The town also marks the start of the Snow Roads – a scenic driving route through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park to historic Grantown-on-Spey.
The Blairgowrie and Rattray Highland Games are normally held in September, and well worth coinciding your trip with. Blairgowrie is also known as the ‘Gateway to Glenshee’, for those who enjoy adventurous sporting pursuits; year-round activities include skiing, mountain biking and hang-gliding.
Blairgowrie also hosts an ever-popular New Year’s Day fun run, for those who didn’t celebrate too hard the previous night.
A Category A listed historic house which is a must-see for any tourist, Scone Palace is situated near the village of Scone and the city of Perth. Constructed from red sandstone and featuring a distinctive castellated roof, it remains among the very finest examples of the late Georgian Gothic style to survive in the United Kingdom.
Originally an early church and then an Augustinian monastery, the priory was granted abbey status in the 12thcentury and the Abbot’s residence (or ‘palace’) was built, hence the reason why the building today retains the title of Scone Palace. Though for centuries Scotland’s monarchs were crowned at Scone Palace, the Abbey became a secular lordship following the Scottish Reformation. The current building is the result of architect William Atkinson’s programme of enlargement between 1802 and 1808, with further work completed in 1842 to prepare for a visit from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Today, Scone Palace is a five-star tourist attraction with its lavish State Rooms open for public visits between April and September. The building boasts a vast collection of rare items including clocks, ceramics and fine furnishings. The palace grounds are also available for public viewing. The gardens include the famous David Douglas Pinetum, as well as the remarkable Murray star-shaped maze designed by Adrian Fisher. Peacocks can also be seen roaming the grounds.
In addition, the Palace is often host to outdoor events taking place on its grounds. These include the Rewind Festival, the Scottish Game Fair (organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), and the Farming Yesteryear Vintage Rally.
The nearby village of Scone has become a hub of flight events and aviation training, with a number of piloting instruction and aerial tourism companies operating in the area such as ACS Flight Training, Alba Airsports and the Scottish Microlight Flight Centre.