Did you know that Perthshire is ‘Big Tree Country‘? We spoke to Paul McLennan, Manager of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, to find out more about Perthshire’s spectacular forests and where best to experience them.
Why are the forests and woods in Perthshire so special?
There are remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest that once covered most of Scotland. It is also home to the Fortingall Yew, Europe’s oldest living organism and possibly up to 5,000 years old. A decade ago a list was compiled of the 100 Heritage Trees of Scotland, voted for by the public. It turns out that Perthshire has more Heritage Trees, 22 in all, than anywhere else in the country. These include the Fortingall Yew, the Birnam Oak (last survivor of great Birnam Wood mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth), the Meikleour Beech Hedge, and the Scone Douglas Fir grown from seed brought back by the celebrated Scottish botanist and scientific traveller, David Douglas.
Are there any walks you would you recommend for visitors to really experience the beauty of Big Tree Country?
We have collected eight of the best walks in Perthshire in a booklet, ‘Take the Bus for a Walk’. As the name implies they are all accessible by public transport. Each walk is well mapped and illustrated, and there are way-markers along each route. You can find the booklet in Perthshire VICs, and it is available to download from www.perthshirebigtreecountry.co.uk.
Do you have a favourite place (or two!) to enjoy the stunning autumn displays?
The walk up to PineCone Point in Craigvinean Forest, above the Hermitage in Dunkeld, is a special one with multiple viewpoints. The trail winds gently up hill, following an old carriage track laid down at the order of the Duke of Atholl, who wanted his guests to enjoy this special spot without puggling the horses. The trail is now power wheelchair and buggy accessible.
Can you tell us more about the UK’s first geocache based tour, launched in Perthshire?
Perthshire is now a geocaching ‘hotspot’, and has built a reputation as the geocaching capital of Scotland since the UK’s annual Geocaching Mega event was staged here in 2010. Over 1,500 cachers from 21 countries registered, many staying in the area for a week or more. Now there are more than 1,000 caches within a 35 mile radius of Dunkeld.
Increasingly, geocachers plan days out, weekend breaks and even annual holidays around ‘cache rich’ environments, and this has led to a new initiative designed to promote rural tourism – the GeoTour. The Cateran Trail GeoTour will be the first based in the UK.
What is a GeoTour?
It is simply a series of caches with a common topic or theme focussed on an attractive area with great scenery, history and cultural traditions. A perfect marketing tool for Perthshire.
GeoTours are marketed heavily by Groundspeak Inc. – the not for profit organisation which oversees and promotes the sport worldwide to over 5 million geocachers. For more information on geocaching in Perthshire visit www.geocaching.com/adventures/geotours/cateran-trail.
What would you suggest to visitors interested in foraging?
Get out early! Foraging for fungi is particularly popular at this time of year. For friendly, specialist advice, courses and guided walks try Plants with Purpose, based in Bankfoot.
Do you have any tips for visitors they might not find in a guidebook?
Have a go at geocaching. One of the most common things people log when they find a cache is a fervent ‘Thank you for bringing me to this wonderful place’ as well as, ‘Such a surprise’ and ‘I’ve lived here for X years and never knew this was here.’
One of the real strengths of geocaching is that the caches are placed by individuals who want people to visit a viewpoint special to them or read about jaggy little bits of our local history and culture that don’t make it into the guidebooks.
It’s free to register at www.geocaching.com where you’ll find an engaging 2 minute video by way of introduction. Anyone with a Smartphone can download a free app such as C:geo to get started. You don’t have to buy an expensive GPS device these days.
Can you suggest some fun family activities?
For young children there is a Wildwood Safari around the main trail on Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park, birds and animals carved into tree stumps. There is another excellent series of sculptures and carvings on Moncrieffe Hill.
There’s a good range of activities for all the family at Highland Safaris, and that’s also the place to try or brush up on your trail bike skills.
What are your personal highlights of Big Tree Country?
I have a particular fondness for the Birnam Sycamore, also known as the Young Pretender, as it stands beside the incomparably older Birnam Oak. It’s not so much a tree as a statement of arboreal majesty.
What do you love about Big Tree Country? Do you have any favourite walks or viewpoints? Please leave any comments below.