The Hermitage near Dunkeld in Perthshire is a managed woodland inside Tay Forest Park that was designed as a leisure area for the 18th-century Dukes of Atholl.
The forest is easily accessed from the A9 and it offers walks on gravel paths alongside the River Braan and through a woodland nature reserve to a waterfall.
Review of The Hermitage
If you’ve ever been to Dunkeld in Perthshire you’ll understand why the area has been called ‘big tree country’ for the last hundred-or-so years.
This is a region of Scotland that has been designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty thanks to the vast swathes of ancient forest that covers the landscape from Blair Atholl in the North to Crieff in the south, with the town of Dunkeld more-or-less in the middle.
There are over 200,000 acres of woodland in Perthshire so you’re pretty much spoilt for choice if you ever visit the region and fancy taking a walk, but in my opinion one of the best forests is Tay Forest Park, home of The Hermitage.
Getting there is easy enough if you follow the A9 and head towards Little Dunkeld but there are lots of signs pointing to The Hermitage so you’ll find it difficult to miss. There’s a decent-sized car park so you shouldn’t have any trouble parking up either.
The Hermitage was originally designed as a recreation area for the Dukes of Atholl but these days it’s managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) who ensure the forest paths are kept easily accessible so that anyone can enjoy this beautiful part of the country.
Leaving the car park you’ll pass a notice board that has a good route map but to my mind the best thing about visiting places like this is to just head out and see where the trail takes you.
That being said, there are so many forest walks in this part of Scotland it can become a bit of a head-scratcher trying to work out which ones to visit which is why I always recommend getting an OS map of the area before leaving home. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
NTS have done a great job of maintaining the forest paths and although they’re unpaved (thankfully – who wants to see tarmac in a forest?) they’re level enough that both wheelchairs and pushchairs should make it a fair distance into the trees without becoming bogged down in mud.
The majority of the trees in The Hermitage are Douglas Firs and I think the only way I can get close to describing them is to say they’re majestic. That might sound like a bit of a superlative but these trees really are gob-smackingly big. Just get into the heart of the forest and look up to see what I mean.
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Central to the experience is the River Braan which the main path follows for some distance, and there are several areas where you’ll get to see the river crashing over rocks under roaring waterfalls, but as you stop to marvel at the views you’ll get a chance to do a bit of nature spotting too.
Look up and you’ll more than likely see red squirrels darting around the treetops as this is an area where reds have made a remarkable comeback after years of being pushed back by their larger – and more aggressive – grey cousins.
Scan the river and you might also see salmon leaping up the waterfalls as they head to their spawning grounds – though be aware that spectacle only happens in their spawning season from November to December – and if you’re very lucky you might even see signs of beaver activity in the water.
But it’s the fir trees that draw most visitors to the forest, and though it’s a fairly short walk through it you’ll get to see some of the tallest trees in Britain along the way.
Read on to discover more things to do at The Hermitage.
Things to do at The Hermitage
One of the highlights of a visit to this natural paradise is watching the thundering Black Linn Falls as the water from the River Braan crashes down into the foaming pools below the towering rock faces, and the best place to see this amazing sight is from Ossians Hall, a feature in the forest that I guarantee is going to surprise you.
The hall (well, it’s not really a ‘hall’ as such, more of an enclosed viewing platform), was built in 1757 as the focal point of the forest and a place to view the falls in comfort, and it’s great example of one of those old ‘follies’ they liked to build so much in the 17 and 1800s.
NTS have refurbished the building back to its former glory after years of neglect and stepping through the entrance leads you into a circular room decorated with mirrors, sliding panels and paintings.
Glass doors open up at the far end onto a viewing platform that looks right over the Black Linn Falls and it’s quite an experience to just stand there and gaze down at the waterfall below so make sure you’ve got your camera with you as you’ll no doubt get plenty of snaps worthy of a Facebook status update or two.
Arguably the best time to visit The Hermitage is in early autumn when the forest transforms into a multi-coloured extravaganza, but to be honest you’ll enjoy your visit at any time of the year.
If you fancy walking further into the Big Tree Country you can follow paths that lead you into Craigvinean Forest which is one of Scotland’s oldest managed forests, and Pine Cone Point which is a man-made structure shaped like a pine cone that offers amazing views of the surrounding trees.
And if you’re still looking for more forest walks after that lot I highly recommend heading back to your car, crossing over the A9, and following the Dunkeld House Tree Trail which offers lovely walks along the River Tay, or visit the Birks of Aberfeldy which is a 30-minute drive up the A9.
If you want to learn all about Scotland’s great forest trails read my Guide to the best Forest Walks in Scotland.
- Visiting The Hermitage is free (apart from the car park).
- The forest is stunning – as are the waterfalls that you can view from Ossian’s Hall.
- The forest is a great place to go wildlife spotting and the River Braan is a superb location for watching the spectacle of salmon leaping up the river in autumn when they return to their spawning grounds.
- If you visit in summer make sure you check out the snack van in the car park that sells home-made cakes and delicious coffee.
- Make the most of the area and visit other forests nearby. Check out the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust for details.
- There aren’t any bins in the forest so take a bag with you if you’re intending on having a riverside/forest picnic.
Tay Forest Park,
Old Military Rd,
Click the map for directions
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near The Hermitage
- Tay Forest Park. Dunkeld PH8 0JR. 46-minute drive. Tay Forest is a large forest region of mostly coniferous trees. The forest is popular with walkers and mountain bikers and there are many miles of paths for both activities. A popular starting point is to the west of Loch Tummel at Tummel Bridge village.
- The Birks of Aberfeldy. Moness Burn, Aberfeldy. 32-minute drive. Picturesque woodland that inspired the poet Robert Burns to write one of his most famous poems. The ‘birks’ are the birch trees that this woodland is famous for. Well-maintained pathways run throughout the site and a wooden bridge overlooks a tremendous waterfall.
- Faskally Forest/The Enchanted Forest. Loch Dunmore Faskally Wood, Pitlochry PH16 5LB. 21-minute drive. Faskally Forest offers a scenic walk around a small loch that is home to kingfishers and herons. It is also the venue for The Enchanted Forest, a music and light festival staged during October each year.
- Queen’s View. Pitlochry PH16 5NR. 32-minute drive. A historic viewpoint that overlooks the scenic Loch Tummel from an elevated position. It was said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite spot in Scotland (hence the name). There are woodland walks throughout the area and the visitor centre has a café and tourist information point.
- Falls of Acharn. Aberfeldy PH15 2HT. 32-minute drive. Waterfall on the southern side of Loch Tay near the village of Acharn. The walk to the falls is highly-rated as it passes through a very scenic beech tree woodland.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.