Walking: Celtic cradle for a forest of giants

Katie Wood shuns America's 'fall' and prefers the autumnal hues of Scotland's mighty trees

Each summer the National Parks of California fill to capacity with visitors. They come to see the tallest, widest, oldest trees in the US - an understandable enough pursuit, but the crowds shouting "gee whizz" do somewhat detract from the experience.

Each summer the National Parks of California fill to capacity with visitors. They come to see the tallest, widest, oldest trees in the US - an understandable enough pursuit, but the crowds shouting "gee whizz" do somewhat detract from the experience.

Likewise, when New England's highways fill each "fall" with tourists who have come to see the autumn colours, the result is less than the spiritual experience one might have hoped for. There is little chance to commune with nature given the pressure of the traffic.

How refreshing, then, to find a small neck of the woods close to home, where six beneath a tree would constitute a crowd, and which has such treasures as the Tallest Hedge in the World, the Oldest Living Thing in Europe (the Fortingall yew, 5,000 years old); the Tallest Tree in Britain (a mighty Douglas fir), the Widest Conifer in Britain (a giant redwood) and the tallest specimens of many other trees.

You don't have to cross the pond for all this. Just head up to Perthshire, an hour's drive north from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Here, in a new tourism initiative entitled "Big Tree Country", all the glory of autumn colours and champion trees can be found - without the crowds.

Foresters have long appreciated the trees of Perthshire, dubbing it the cradle of the Scottish forest renaissance arising from the tree-planting efforts of the "Planting Dukes" of Atholl in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now these magnificent natural attractions are opening up to those visitors who wish to walk here all year round. Private forest owners, the Forestry Commission, the local authority and tourist interests, are all working together in a way which is intended to benefit visitors and the management of the woods themselves. And thanks to a combination of excellent growing conditions and a rich history, Perthshire's tree heritage is among the most interesting in Europe. Miles of way-marked forest paths make it straightforward walking and the region is filled with cosy inns, tea rooms, medieval castles, country houses, uncluttered roads and welcoming pubs and b&bs.

There are people to thank for this. Chief among them is David Douglas, born in Scone in 1799, one of the greatest of the 19th-century plant hunters whose plant introductions have done so much to shape the countryside and gardens of modern-day Britain. Douglas returned from the Pacific Northwest with seeds of lupins, flowering currants, mahonias and penstemons, as well as those of trees such as the mighty Douglas fir - a species that has produced the largest trees in Europe and provided the foundation for today's modern forestry industry. Serious horticultural enthusiasts will soon be able to visit the Plant Hunters' Garden at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and discover more of the adventures behind the introduction of many of our domesticated garden plants.

You can visit Douglas's memorial in Scone or see some of his original Douglas firs at Scone Palace, a treat in itself. Here the giant conifers - often the "champion" trees of their type in Britain - can make you believe that you are in American Big Tree Country. Huge Douglas firs, towering Sitka spruce and silver firs give a feel of the Pacific North West. The overall winner is a Douglas fir near the Hermitage at Dunkeld: the tallest tree in Britain at 212ft.

There is real wilderness, too. At the Black Wood of Loch Rannoch - the remnants of old Scottish wildwood - I admired huge Scots Pines up to 350 years old and saw pine martens, red squirrels and capercaillies, all native to these northern pine woods. I then walked past the tallest hedge in the world: enough to hide any neighbour at 100ft high and a third of a mile long. It stands at Meikleour, on the A93 road between Perth and Blairgowrie, and is a magnificent autumn sight. The Fortingall yew tree - that oldest tree, estimated at 5,000 years - sits in the small thatched hamlet of Fortingall, in the church grounds. The tourist board literature assured me that "Pontius Pilate was born here while his father was a visiting emissary of the Roman Empire". It seemed churlish to point out that the timing of the Roman invasion of Britain makes that impossible, but what would a Highlands attraction be without a legend?

I had to swallow my own "gee whizzes" as I went to see the widest conifer in Britain at Cluny House Gardens near Aberfeldy. Here we walked among the birch trees or "Birks O' Aberfeldy" made famous by Robert Burns. Around nearby Dunkeld you find the greatest concentration of tree treasures, and literary walkers will appreciate the fact that from here you can walk to Birnam Oak, a remnant of the Birnam Wood made famous in Macbeth. This is glorious craggy woodland.

On the banks of the River Tay, the next stop on my arboreal trail was Niel Gow's Oak, named after one of Scotland's finest traditional fiddlers and composers who lived in the area 200 years ago. Niel used to play and compose under the ancient tree's boughs. Or at least he did until he fell asleep underneath it one day after imbibing Scotland's famous drink, and woke up to find himself half-submerged in the Tay - hence his famous lament, "Niel Gow's Farewell to Whisky".

Inspired by such folksy tales, we took the local advice to visit MacLean's Real Music Bar in Dunkeld. An excellent evening ensued with traditional Scottish music, local ale and a chance to meet the owner, well-known musician Dougie MacLean, who has earned the reputation as "Niel Gow's apprentice". I waxed lyrical about the colours, trees and the walks with a local worthy, who counselled me "not to go telling the world". Well, I'm afraid the secret is out with the Autumn Gold initiative, and at least it might tempt travellers who might otherwise be put off by the weather.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'