Things to Do in Central Scotland
First settled as a missionary post around 730 AD, Dunkeld was where Celtic monks set about converting the Pictish tribes to Christianity. By the middle of the ninth century, the town was Scotland's capital and the base of Kenneth MacAlpin, widely recognized as the first King of the Picts.
Over the following centuries, a massive gray sandstone church was built in Norman and Gothic styles to house the bishopric of Dunkeld, one of the most powerful in Scotland. Its tower once stood 96 feet (30 meters) high, but this, along with the rest of the cathedral, was destroyed in the Protestant Reformation of 1560.
Today the photogenic ruins sit in manicured grounds above the banks of the River Tay; the choir at the eastern end of the cathedral was restored in the early 20th century and is once again used for services. A ninth-century carved Apostles' Stone depicting Christ's disciples stands in the chapter house; this was rescued from use as a gatepost following the destruction of the cathedral.
Tucked away along the rhododendron-clad banks of the River Braan, just west of historic Dunkeld, the Hermitage is an idyllic woodland walk through Craigvinean Forest, created in the 18th century and little changed today.
Passing through a gorge amid Douglas firs (including Scotland's tallest at 60 feet (18 meters), an easy 15-minute stroll reaches the Black Linn falls, which are overlooked by the Georgian folly of Ossian's Hall, so-named after a third-century hermit. A step further on is Ossian's Cave, created to represent the hermit's dwelling place. Both were built for the Duke of Atholl in 1757; the Hermitage walk has since been enjoyed by the likes of poet William Wordsworth, painter JMW Turner and Queen Victoria. However, the follies fell into disrepair in the early 20th century before being donated to the Scottish National Trust and renovated in 2008; today Ossian's Hall once more contains a magical Hall of Mirrors. A 1770 stone bridge and a totem pole carved from a magnificent Douglas fir sit nearby.
The Hermitage walk is connected to a hiking network around Dunkeld, and although lovely at any time of year, is at its most glorious in fall, when the deciduous trees turn golden and the Black Linn waterfall is at its most spectacular.
Scotland’s oldest and most famous working distillery is found in the heart of Perthshire and produces the UK’s number-one blend of malts, The Famous Grouse. The Glenturret Distillery opened in 1775 and has changed hands many times since then. In the late 19th century, it was owned by Matthew Gloag, who was invited to provide the drinks for a royal banquet in honor of Queen Victoria. For the great occasion, he created a whisky using the purest of water from the Perthshire hills and finest local malted barley, and utilized handmade oak casks to flavor his whisky. He called it The Grouse, with his son adding the ‘famous’ in 1905. The distilling process perfected by Gloag is still used today, as are the rotund, copper pot stills and the casks – seasoned with sherry or bourbon – where the whiskies are aged for a minimum of three years. They are then ‘married’ with several other single malts for a further six months to create the perfect, consistent blend and each year 43 million bottles of Grouse are exported to 94 countries.
Tours of The Glenturret include tastings and the chance to bottle your own single malt (an experience launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2014). The revamped restaurant sells the best of local produce and there’s also a souvenir store selling Glenturret single malts as well as The Famous Grouse plus branded glassware and clothing.
Dunfermline was once the capital of Scotland and its grandiose abbey and palace were built on the remains of a Benedictine priory founded by Queen Margaret in the 11th century; she went on to become Scotland’s first royal saint and was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1250. The foundations of her priory lie under the abbey’s monumental 12th-century Romanesque nave, which is the final resting place of King
Robert the Bruce in 1329 as well as seven other Scottish monarchs. Repeatedly destroyed and repaired during centuries of territorial skirmishes with the English, the abbey was eventually sacked during the Scottish Reformation of 1560. Just 27 years later its fortunes changed again when a splendid palace added by King James VI for his queen, Anne of Denmark. When the English and Scottish monarchies unified in 1603, Dunfermline ceased to be of political importance and the abbey fell into disrepair.
The original abbey church was replaced in 1821, and services are now held there every Sunday at 9.30am and 11am. Much of the old refectory, parts of the cloisters, kitchens and the lower floor of the palace can be seen and two small museums occupy the old gatehouse of the abbey.
Killiecrankie is a small village near Pitlochry in Perthshire, sitting close to a wooded gorge formed by the River Gary in a region of spectacular Highland scenery. Close by is the National Trust for Scotland’s Killiecrankie Visitor Centre, nestled in the scenic Killiecrankie Pass and marking the site of an historic battle that took place on 27 July, 1689, during the first Jacobite Rebellion. As well as information on the flora and fauna of the area, the Visitor Centre has plenty of gory detail about the battle and several of the way-marked walks from there lead to Soldier’s Leap, where legend holds that a Jacobite soldier leapt across the river gorge to escape English troops. Other outdoor activities include the Highland Fling bungee jump descending 40 m (130 ft) into the gorge, kayaking, cycling, and wildlife spotting; deer and elusive red squirrels are seen in the dense woods in fall, wrens and dippers in winter, and carpets of wild flowers in spring. Summer brings flycatchers and warblers – and bats in the evening – as well as hosts of butterflies and bees. A five-km (three-mile) section of the Killiecrankie Walk leaves Pitlochry next to the fish ladder and heads via viaducts, forest walks and tunnels to the dramatic viewing point at Soldier’s Leap.
Sitting beside the clear waters of the Manachy Burn at the heart of Speyside whisky region, Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery (the name means ‘Black Water Valley’ in Gaelic) produced a flavorsome single malt known as Roderick Dhu from 1898 until 1983. As one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, it was then closed down and today it is run as a museum showcasing early whisky production.
As much of the whitewashed distillery was rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s, the equipment on show dates from that time. Tours are by handheld audio guides that take visitors through the process of whisky making, including the barns in which the barley was stored, the still house where the uisge beatha (water of life) was distilled and the bonded warehouse where the finished product was aged for three years.
There’s a visitor center in which to sample a dram or two as you watch documentaries on the art of whisky making; true aficionados will relish the choice of malts in the museum store. Dallas Dhu can be visited along withthe 50 distilleries and cooperages found in the Speyside countryside.
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