Genteel, attractive Perthshire is, in many ways, the epitome of well-groomed rural Scotland. An area of gentle glens, mature woodland, rushing rivers and peaceful lochs, it’s the long-established domain of Scotland’s well-to-do country set.
First settled more than eight thousand years ago, it was ruled by the Romans and then the Picts before Celtic missionaries established themselves.
The ancient town of Perth occupies a strategic position at the mouth of the River Tay. Salmon, wool and, by the sixteenth century, whisky, were exported, while a major import was Bordeaux claret.
At nearby Scone, Kenneth MacAlpine established the capital of the kingdom of the Scots and the Picts in 846. When this settlement was washed away by floods in 1210, William the Lion founded Perth as a royal burgh.
North and west of Perth, Highland Perthshire is made up of gorgeous and mighty woodlands, particularly along the banks of the River Tay. The area is dotted with neat, confident towns and villages like Dunkeld and Birnam, with its mature trees and lovely ruined cathedral, and Aberfeldy set deep amongst farmland east of Loch Tay.
Further north, the countryside becomes more sparsely populated and spectacular, with some wonderful walking country, especially around Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and the wild expanses of Rannoch Moor to the west.
North of the Tay valley, Perthshire doesn’t discard its lush richness immediately, but there are clear indications of the more rugged, barren influences of the Highlands proper. The principal settlements of Pitlochry and Blair Atholl, both just off the A9, are separated by the narrow gorge of Killiecrankie, a crucial strategic spot in times past for anyone seeking to control movement of cattle or armies from the Highlands to the Lowlands. Pitlochry aso features in our reader survey of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
Greater rewards, however, are to be found further from the main drag, most notably in the winding westward road along the shores of Loch Tummel and Loch Rannoch past the distinctive peak of Schiehallion, which eventually leads to the remote wilderness of Rannoch Moor.
Rannoch Moor occupies roughly 150 square miles of uninhabited and uninhabitable peat bogs, lochs, heather hillocks, strewn lumps of granite and a few gnarled Caledonian pine, all of it more than 1000ft above sea level. This has earned Rannoch Moor a vote to one of the most beautiful places in Scotland by Rough Guides' readers.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the moor is its inaccessibility: one road, between Crianlarich and Glen Coe, skirts its western side, while another struggles west from Pitlochry to reach its eastern edge at Rannoch Station.
The only regular form of transport is the West Highland railway, which stops at Rannoch and, a little to the north, Corrour Station, which has no road access at all. From Rannoch Station it is possible to catch the train to Corrour and walk the nine miles back. It is a longer slog west to the eastern end of Glen Coe, the dramatic peaks of which poke up above the moor’s western horizon.
Determined hillwalkers will find a clutch of Munros around Corrour, including remote Ben Alder (3765ft), high above the forbidding shores of Loch Ericht.
Where to stay
- Best for a little luxury and stunning views: Loch Leven Hotel & Distillery
- Best for families: Springwell Croft Cottages
- Loch Ossian Youth Hostel: A mile from Corrour train station on the shores of Loch Ossian. This comfortable, cosy – and remote – eco-hostel is a great place for hikers seeking somewhere genuinely off the beaten track. Good wildlife-watching opportunities, too.
Outdoor activities in Perthshire
In Perthshire, outdoor activities range from gentle strolls through ancient oak forests to white-knuckle rides down frothing waterfalls. The variety of landscapes and relative accessibility from the central belt has led to a significant number of outdoor operators being based in the area: the tourist board’s Activity Line can give advice and contacts for more than thirty companies who comply with the Adventure Perthshire Operators’ Charter.
- Highland Adventure Safaris: An inspiring introduction to wild Scotland in which you’re taken by 4WD to search for golden eagle eyries, stags and pine martens.
- Nae Limits: Canyoning, cliff-jumping, bungee jumping and sphere-ing (which involves tumbling down a hillside inside a giant plastic ball) for adrenalin junkies.
- National Kayak School: Everything from whitewater kayaking courses to sea-kayaking holidays.
- Splash: Rafting on larger craft through the best rapids on the Tay at Grandtully.