I must admit to a slight envy toward residents of the twin villages of Dunkeld and Birnam for having the lovely little peak of Birnam Hill right on their doorstep writes Alan Rowan.
It’s an old favourite, but in these lockdown days, it remains tantalisingly out of reach for most at the moment. Never mind, when travel restrictions are eased again and life returns to some sort of normality, it should be high on your to-do list.
Multiple ascents never fail to blunt the pleasure gained from this short, but beautiful, circuit. There are plenty of path options for anyone wishing to extend the day.
It’s a hill that can be accessed easily by rail, a short hop from Perth making for a fine half-day excursion, and equally handy for anyone looking for a brief leg-stretcher on their way to bigger things further up the A9.
It’s also a hill for all seasons, its charms changing as regularly as the foliage which decorates the slopes; from the stripped-back harshness of winter, through the replenishment of spring and fullness of summer, to the green, gold and russet riot of autumn.
In these days of easy travel, it’s fascinating to remember that it required a ferry to get between Dunkeld and Birnam until the elegant arched Telford Bridge was built in 1809. A connecting bridge had been talked about as far back as the 1500s, but the Reformation and the subsequent destruction of Dunkeld Cathedral in 1560 meant these plans never came to fruition.
Having been visiting the Birnam Centre on business, the small parking area at the old Birnam Quarry on the minor road just off the A9 was an ideal starting point for a time-limited taste of the outdoors. There are marked spots for about half-a-dozen cars and an information notice board.
I passed under the railway and within minutes was pulling uphill through the trees on the leaf-covered path, the roar of the traffic below fading with every step upwards.
The short detour to Stair Bridge has become a bit of a ritual, the view towards Perth through the gap in the ruined walls of this ornamental 19th Century construction never failing to lift the spirits. Red squirrels were in abundance, scrabbling around in the trees, and the over-excited sounds of pheasants echoed from the cover below. You may even spot the occasional bird of prey circling.
I returned to the main which meandered onwards and upwards, cutting a corner at one point via a small path to take a more direct line to reach some wooden steps and a bench, before twisting its way to the massive cairn at the summit known as King’s Seat.
My reward was the sight of the Beinn a’Ghlo Munros blanketed in white and filling the horizon to the north, a stark contrast to the wispy, pale orange of the treeline in the foreground.
The initial steep descent was surprisingly icy, a thin coating over the rocks opening up the possibility of a slip. Any fall here was likely to have been more embarrassing than dangerous, but it pays to watch your step. The boggy patches below this section were almost welcome, and the shelter of the trees again soon after, a relief.
A little further on, I reached my lunch spot, a rocky outcrop on the right which allows the best views of the walk. Directly below were the white houses of the twin villages, and beyond that the blue slashes of the three lochs of Craiglush, Lowes and Butterstone. That other worthwhile local prominence, Deuchary Hill, provided a dark, brooding backdrop.
Leaving this point, the angle of descent increased but the path offered no real difficulty other than momentum, and as the tree cover thinned, I was soon down on the track which leads south between the cottages and bigger houses.
There’s one minor but welcome sting in the tail, a path taking you back into woodland which eventually links with a track that heads back down to the underpass and the car park.
1. Begin at the parking area at the old Birnam Quarry and take track under railway, then turn first left (signed) on path and climb uphill through trees.
2. Ignore path left (signed Pass of Birnam) and keep straight on to reach sign pointing to Stair Bridge Viewpoint and make short detour out for views towards Perth.
3. Return to main path to head west then north a short distance further on to reach another marker post where the path cuts out a corner to make a more direct ascent, via wooden steps and a seat, and continue up to the large cairn at the summit.
4. Drop north, rocky at first, into the trees, passing a fine rocky viewpoint on the right and then continuing all the way down to a track coming in from the left.
5. Turn right on this track which continues between houses, eventually forking left at a marker post on to a path going back into the trees.
6. At next junction, keep straight ahead to eventually link with a track which leads back to the rail underpass and the car park.
Distance: 6km/3.6 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Grading: Woodland and hill paths, some steep sections but not strenuous, suitable for all ages. Can be wet and muddy underfoot, exposed tree roots and some rocky terrain, sturdy footwear advised.
Start/finish: Parking area beside old Birnam Quarry on B867 (Grid ref: NO 043403), just off A9.
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Map 53 (Blairgowrie & Forest of Alyth); Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 379.
Tourist Information: VisitScotland, Perth iCentre, 45 High Street, Perth, PH1 5TJ (Tel 01738 450600).
Public transport: Buses and trains to Dunkeld.