The loch displays scattered clouds, gaps of sky, sunlit mountains and an imposing modernist dam. A watchful heron stands on a rock within the shadow of the concrete cliff. Pitlochry dam is one among 9 energy stations within the Tummel valley hydroelectric scheme. Earlier than it opened in 1951, just one in each 200 crofts right here had electrical energy. A fish ladder, added two years later to assist salmon swim again as much as their Highland spawning grounds, is now a vacationer attraction. SSE, the power firm that harnesses energy generated by the dam, opened a visitor centre in 2017.
The backdrop consists of the wooded hills of Highland Perthshire and the mottled peak of Ben Vrackie. There are many extra energetic choices for climbing by means of these landscapes, however this mild, wooded amble from the railway station is ideal for a day that ends within the pub. The stroll has its share of mountain views throughout Loch Faskally, created by the dam, and is wealthy in fowl and vegetation, from Himalayan blue poppies within the Explorers’ Garden to carpets of wooden sorrel in Faskally Forest. There’s an opportunity to identify pink squirrels, lease a ship, and even swim within the loch.
My first view of Pitlochry dam comes quickly after leaving the station, as I stroll down by means of woods to an Edwardian suspension bridge. The previous village of Port na Craig on the far financial institution is now dominated by Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Its founder, John Stewart, hid a word close to the river throughout the second world struggle that learn: “When peace is asserted I shall return to this spot to present due to God and to ascertain my Pageant.” The primary one was in 1951, and for many years the competition passed off in a short lived tent-like constructing. The Eighties theatre that changed it was upgraded in 2022 with a glass, brick and timber extension that wraps the older constructing. On the hillside above, the glades of the Explorers’ Backyard signify totally different elements of the world, from North America to New Zealand. Clusters of autumn crocuses flower pale purple by the trail.
Climbing alongside the 34 swimming pools of the fish ladder, I peer into the swirling water, trying in useless for the previous few salmon, then stroll on beneath tall timber. There are views all the best way throughout the cloud-echoing loch. It’s usually changeable Scottish climate. One minute there’s daylight glinting down by means of the beech leaves and the following I’m spritzed by a bracken-scented bathe. A veil of drizzle, with a hazy rainbow suspended in it, drifts in entrance of the pines as I cross the Clunie bridge in Faskally Forest.
Stones from the previous bridge, demolished when the dam was constructed, have change into a viewpoint from which to admire the unreal loch, ringed by timber on the sting of autumn glory. An early-Nineteenth-century guide, Account of the Principal Pleasure Excursions in Scotland, describes the “pleasant retreat of Archibald Butter, Esq close to the Tummel and surrounded on all sides by advantageous banks of wooden”. Butter’s woodlands grew to become a centre for coaching foresters till the late Sixties. The 23 species that flourish there now embody oak, Douglas fir and wild cherry. I comply with an undulating lochside path beneath aromatic Scots pines.
Little Loch Dunmore, in the midst of the woods, has a picket footbridge and boathouse. At an annual autumn gentle present right here known as Enchanted Forest (5 Oct-5 Nov 2023), colored floodlights are angled into the branches of mossy mountain ash and bending beech timber. It’s an after-dark spectacle.
For now, the afternoon sunshine picks out gold leaves of a cascading silver birch and the loch’s mosaic of lily pads. There’s no signal of the goldeneye geese that nest up within the timber right here, however the forest is stuffed with birdsong and a robin is perched quizzically by a rotating disco ball, attempting to peck his pixelated reflection.
As I head again in direction of Pitlochry, an excellent quacking herd of mallards has gathered on the shore close to an indication on the cafe that reads: “Duck Meals 75p.” There are kayaks, rowing boats, pedalos or standup paddleboards to rent for exploring the nonetheless waters. Simply earlier than I get again to the dam, a pink squirrel runs proper throughout the trail in entrance of me.
A number of steps additional and I attain an idyllic lochside seashore and may’t resist digging my swimming costume out of my rucksack. A swimmer tells me the water temperature continues to be 13C and I handle about 10 minutes, rising with an after-swim glow to match the molten gentle. I heat up with a espresso within the dam’s customer centre, the place the glass-walled cafe perches on stilts above the riverbank.
A live-feed digicam within the cafe reveals underwater footage from the fish ladder. A lot of the salmon have already swum upstream, however there’s a busy scene of bubbles streaming and larvae darting amongst drifting leaves. There are shows on the life cycle of salmon and the engineering concerned in hydroelectric energy.
100 steps lead all the way down to the riverbank once more and eventually I’m heading into city alongside winding Ferry Highway. A quick-flowing stream known as the Moulin Burn runs subsequent to it, dashing down in direction of the River Tummel.
It has pushed centuries of mills, powering native industries: material and cornmeal, logging and laundry. It nonetheless turns a waterwheel subsequent to a creeper-covered, 18th-century stone constructing in the midst of Pitlochry. This was as soon as a cornmill and is now the Outdated Mill Inn.
Google map of the route
Begin Pitlochry railway station
Finish The Outdated Mill Inn, Pitlochry
Distance 5¼ miles
Time 2½ hours
Complete ascent 224 metres
GPX map of the route at Ordnance Survey
Sipping whisky by the millstream and watching the waterwheel is a calming method to finish the stroll. There’s meals (mains from £17) and, on Fridays and Saturdays, stay music. Tonight it’s a rock band from Dundee.
After 9.30pm on music nights, the Outdated Mill morphs from chilled family-friendly hangout to social gathering central the place dancing on the bar isn’t unprecedented. Alongside common Belhaven beers, there’s a rotating forged of visitor ales from native breweries resembling Inveralmond in Perth. Even nearer to residence are Pitlochry’s distilleries, together with the prolific Edradour, primarily based in a standard farmhouse. Edradour’s 10-year-old single malt, aged in sherry casks, tastes like liquid plum pudding and gleams like treacle.
The Outdated Mill’s large seasonal beer backyard, over a bridge from the pub, with a tented space and out of doors bar, is open from Easter to the tip of October.
The place to remain
The 13 trendy rooms on the Outdated Mill begin at £149 B&B, although Pitlochry is filled with different locations to eat and to remain. The Seventeenth-century Moulin Hotel, in a fairly village up the hill, has doubles from £120 B&B, its personal brewery and a rushed-off-its-feet restaurant. I’m staying at Pitlochry Youth Hostel, a brief stagger from the pub, the place my twin en suite room is £45. The hostel is licensed and has kitchens and sitting rooms for friends, with views throughout the rooftops to the wooded hills.