Autumn Tints of Perthshire
Perthshire is home to some remarkable trees and woodlands – Europe’s oldest tree, the world’s highest hedge, Britain’s tallest tree and widest conifer – the list of superlatives goes on and on. Thousands of years ago this part of Scotland was cloaked in pine, birch and juniper, which was gradually cleared through the centuries to provide farmland and timber, to the extent that there was barely a tree left in some parts by the 18th century. Fortunately there were those, such as the ‘Planting’ Dukes of Atholl, who had the foresight to plant trees for the benefit of future generations. The county also benefitted from the exploits of plant collectors such as David Douglas, who introduced more than 200 new plants to Britain, including some of the most important trees, such as the tall and stately fir that bears his name today. Come autumn, and the leaves turn from fresh green to a palette of red, gold, yellow and bronze and are a wonderful sight to behold as the morning mists clear.
Our tour starts at Scone Palace and after seeing some of the towering specimens here, including the first Douglas Fir to be introduced to the UK, we view equally impressive beech hedge at Meikleour and two historic trees – the Parent Larch in the grounds of Dunkeld Cathedral and the Birnam Oak, believed to be the last surviving remnant of Birnam Wood, the great oak forest made famous in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'.
Another venerable tree features on our middle day. In fact the Fortingall Yew has been estimated at anything between 3000 and 9000 years old, making it the oldest living thing in Europe. We also visit The Hermitage, the wild 'tree garden' created by the Dukes of Atholl in the 18th century, and the wonderful woodland garden at Cluny House.
We conclude at Faskally Forest, which offers a glorious profusion of deciduous and coniferous trees; Diana’s Grove at Blair Castle, which presents probably the best 'big tree' experience in the country, and the Falls of Bruar, whose surrounding woodland is a living memorial to the poet Robert Burns.
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11 October 2022: Itinerary
We will depart from our designated pick-up points and travel to Scone Palace. David Douglas, the most famous of Scotland's plant hunters, was born at Scone and worked at the palace as a gardener. In the grounds today you can see a magnificent Douglas fir raised from the original seed he sent back from America in 1827. Nearby is a 'pinetum' containing spectacular conifers, many planted over 150 years ago. Avenues of towering North American giants - such as Wellingtonia, Sitka spruce, noble fir and western hemlock - form an incredible outdoor cathedral where tree lovers can worship.
We continue our journey, stopping to admire the Meikleour Beech Hedge, an incredible living wall of beech trees, 30 metres (100ft) high and 530 metres (1/3 mile) long, which at this time of year should be clothed in crisp golden hues. The trees were planted in 1745 and are now officially recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest hedge in the world.
We continue to Dunkeld in the afternoon. Near the famous Cathedral we will find the remaining Parent Larch. This is the sole survivor from a group of larches planted here as seedlings over 250 years ago. The young trees had been collected from the Tyrol mountains in central Europe in 1738. These trees became famous as the seed source for the large-scale larch plantings carried out by the Dukes of Atholl on the hillsides around Dunkeld. In the adjoining village of Birnam, we will see the ancient Birnam Oak, believed to be the last surviving remnant of Birnam Wood, the great oak forest made famous in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'. The gnarled and ancient oak certainly looks medieval - its lower branches rest wearily on crutches and the first 3 metres (10 ft) of its trunk are hollow!
We continue to our comfortable accommodation at the nearby Birnam Hotel, built on 1850 and steeped in history, from the Great Fire in 1912, to the visits by the King of Spain and by the French Empress. The hotel boasts a fine vaulted oak beam Baronial. Dinner will be served in the evening.
Meals include: Dinner
Hotel: Birnam Hotel
This morning, after breakfast, our first visit will be to the geographical heart of Scotland, where stands the oldest living thing in Europe. The Fortingall Yew has been guesstimated at anything between 3000 and 9000 years old. What you see today are the relics and offspring of the original tree, which was recorded in 1769 as having a girth of 17 metres (65.5 ft).
We continue to Cluny House Gardens, near Aberfeldy. Wandering through this wonderful wild woodland garden we will discover rare and exotic plants from around the world. The gardens feature trees and shrubs from America, New Zealand, Japan, China and Tibet, creating the unique atmosphere of a Himalayan woodland paradise. We'll also see Britain’s widest conifer - a giant Wellingtonia, 11 metres in girth and over 130 years old.
Our final visit to day is to the Hermitage. The waterfalls, rapids and swirling pools of the River Braan provide the focal point for this wild 'tree garden'. Created by the Dukes of Atholl in the 18th century, it includes two romantic 'follies'. A short nature trail takes you through varied woodland, with a good chance of seeing red squirrels. Also featured is Britain's tallest tree, a stately Douglas fir measured at 64.5 metres (212 ft). We continue to Aberfeldy, following in the footsteps of poet Robert Burns, who wrote 'The Birks of Aberfeldie' here in 1787. The birks (Scots for birch trees) still cloak the steep slopes of the Moness gorge, along with oak, ash and elm. The narrow path climbs to a bridge directly above the Falls of Moness, providing spectacular views into the gorge.
Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner
Hotel: Birnam Hotel
Although today we must return home there is much more to see, beginning at Faskally Forest. Many of the trees in this forest are between 100 and 200 years old. A network of old estate paths lead round the small but picturesque Loch Dunmore with its timber bridge and boat house, surrounded by a glorious profusion of mixed forest.
We continue to the Pass of Killiecrankie which offers a splendid walk beside the River Garry through a densely wooded gorge with abundant wildlife. A visitor centre provides information on Killiecrankie's natural history, as well as the battle fought here in 1689. The woodland is particularly famous for its autumn colour, with the view along the pass from the Garry Bridge being one of the most photographed in Perthshire.
We will then travel north to Blair Castle where we visit Diana’s Grove, which presents probably the best 'big tree' experience in this country. Most of the trees were planted over 100 years ago as specimens of newly introduced conifers, mainly from America. Recent measurements show more than 20 trees topping the 45.7 metre (150ft) mark, with several British record breakers among them. Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl, known as the 'Planting Dukes' in the 18th & 19th centuries. By 1830, the family had planted over 27 million trees around the glens and straths of the Atholl Estate.
Our final visit is to the Falls of Bruar. The woodland surrounding the Bruar gorge is a living memorial to the poet Robert Burns, who came here in 1787 to admire the waterfalls. At that time the steep slopes were bare, so Burns wrote 'The Humble Petition of Bruar Water' in which he urged the Duke of Atholl to plant its bleak banks with trees. When the poet died in 1796, the duke created a 'wild garden' in his memory, planting the riverbanks and establishing paths and bridges. After a visit to the nearby House of Bruar, dedicated to all things Scottish, we will return to our original departure points, where will arrive during the evening.
Meals include: Breakfast
11 October 2022: Additional Info
11 October 2022: Accommodation
The Birnam Hotel is located in the heart of Scotland in the picturesque village of Birnam. It boasts 25 comfy bedrooms, an Italian bistro and a lounge bar. This Baronial-style hotel is perfect base for exploring the beautiful Perthshire countryside.
The hotel is located close to the south bank of the River Tay, one of Scotland’s most famous salmon fishing rivers, and the historic Birnam Oak, the only surviving oak tree from Shakespeare's Macbeth.