Formerly known as Perthshire, the county of Perth sits in the heart of Scotland. It is vast in geographic size, meaning it is sometimes referred to as ‘the big county’. It existed as an administrative county from 1890 until 1930, when it was linked with Kinross-shire, one of Scotland’s smallest counties. It has a fascinating history: Old Scone was once the capital of Scotland, and served as the traditional coronation place of Scotland’s monarchy, with the famous Stone of Scone – also known as the Stone of Destiny – long used until it was removed by King Edward I of England in 1296.
The crowning jewel of Perthshire’s historic sites is undoubtedly Scone Palace, a Category-A listed historic house in the Gothic Revival style with over 1000 years of history. Yet more ancient is the exceptional Fortingall Yew, thought by some to be one of the oldest trees in Europe.
Here’s our pick of 8 of the most remarkable historic sites in Perth and Kinross.
1. Scone Palace
Scone Palace (pronounced ‘skoon’) was once the coronation site of the Kings of Scotland and now operates as an historic house and garden. The history of the Scone Palace site as the crowning place of Scottish kings dates back 1500 years, from Kenneth MacAlpin – the self-styled first king of the Scots in the 9th century – through to Charles II in 1651. Perhaps the most famous of Scottish kings, Macbeth, was also crowned at Scone, more precisely at Moot Hill, the traditional resting place of the Stone of Scone. What sits at Moot Hill today is not the original Stone, but rather a replica, marking the original location.
Visitors to Scone Palace today can view artefacts from a wide range of historic periods, including furniture, porcelain and carved ivories from all over Europe. The archives at Scone Palace include collections dating back to the 13th century and are used in current scholarship and research. The grounds at Scone Palace are worth a visit in their own right – 200 acres of Palace Grounds offer both landscaped gardens and woodlands and are scenic locations for both wildlife and plants. Look out for the extravagant peacocks (each named after a monarch) wandering the grounds.
2. Fortingall Yew
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient European yew tree in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire. Known for being one of the oldest trees in Britain, it has been suggested that it is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, or may be the remnant of a post-Roman Christian site and around 1,500 years old. Others have suggested that it might be as old as 5,000-9,000 years old, making it one of the oldest known trees in Europe.
Local legend maintains that Pontius Pilate was born in the shade of the tree and played there as a child; however, this is thought to be a myth. The tree is a popular attraction.
3. Stanley Mills
Situated on a picturesque bend of the River Tay, Stanley Mills is a unique complex of water-powered cotton mills. They were founded at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1780s, initially processing cotton, then adapting to changes in the textile industry before finally closing in 1989.
Today, Stanley Mills is still home to the machinery that once turned raw cotton into products that were exported from Scotland across the globe. The site also features fantastic interactive displays and games as well as a wealth of information about those who would have once lived and worked there. Another highlight is poetry written and performed in Gaelic which tells the story of displaced Highlanders who worked at Stanley Mills after losing their homes in the Clearances.
4. Blair Castle
The ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and now home to Europe’s last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders, Blair Castle has been home to 19 generations of Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl. It is said to have been started in 1269 by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who started building on the Earl of Atholl’s land while he was away on crusade. Known for its beautiful tapestries, intricate plasterwork and weapon collection dating from the Battle of Culloden, the castle has also hosted Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Victoria.
Today, more than 30 rooms featuring Scottish cultural history, architectural design, period furnishings, family portraits and landscape paintings are on display. The gardens are also immaculately maintained and are equally popular in the summer months.
5. Dunkeld Cathedral
The romantic partial ruins of Dunkeld Cathedral originated as the Culdee Monastery of Dunkeld some time after the relics of St Columba were moved to Dunkeld in 849 as protection against Viking raids. Columba then became the patron saint of Dunkeld. The see was revived in the 1100s, and the cathedral developed over around 250 years, being completed in 1501. The earliest surviving part is the choir of the late 1200s. Later, it turned into a parish church. The nave was built from 1406, but lost its roof shortly after the Protestant Reformation in 1560.
Today, the still-operating Church of Scotland church features paintings dating from the 1500s on the vault of the bell tower ground floor, which once served as an ecclesiastical court. There are also notable effigies such as that of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, more infamously known as ‘The Wolf of Badenoch’.
6. Scottish Crannog Centre
The Scottish Crannog Centre aims to educate visitors about Crannog dwellers from as early as 2,500 years ago, during the Early Iron Age. Crannogs, which can be found across Scotland and Ireland, were houses built on artificial islands over water, normally linked by a bridge or causeway joining them to each other and the shore. The centre was originally opened following an archeological experiment which reconstructed an Iron Age Crannog, and now offers a unique insight into life in the Iron Age.
Today, visitors can follow the footsteps of original Crannog dwellers by immersing themselves in a reconstruction of village life. Original artefacts are on display and are used in tandem with technology demonstrations, textiles, cooking and hands-on ancient crafts to create a fully-rounded educational insight into some of our early ancestors. There’s also the ability to take in the atmosphere from a log-boat by the loch.
7. Croft Moraig Stone Circle
Also known as Croftmoraig, scheduled monument Croft Moraig Stone Circle is a prehistoric stone circle situated four miles southwest of Aberfeldy. First excavated in 1965, it was discovered to have three phases of construction. The first was fourteen timber posts arranged in a horseshoe pattern. They were later replaced by a setting of 8 standing stones. The third phase saw around 12 standing stones erected around the original horseshoe.
The site has been dated by examining some shards of pottery from phase 2 of the site, which were found to date to around 2000 BC. The site is popular both for its historical interest and because it stands near Loch Tay beneath steep mountainside.
8. Cultybraggan Camp
Situated close to the village of Comrie, Cultybraggan Camp was first used as a World War Two prisoner of war camp for some 4,000 prisoners. A ‘black camp’, it was used to house the most fanatical and notorious Nazi prisoners. Post-war, it was opened as a training camp, and then housed a Royal Observer Corps nuclear monitoring post and a Regional Government Headquarters.
Though a number of Nissen huts were demolished in the 1970s, the majority remain. The surviving huts along with an assault course and modern Officers’ Mess facility make Cultybraggan one of the best-preserved World War Two purpose-built prisoner of war camps in Britain. On display are some 66 prisoner of war pictures drawn in 1944-45, recreated prisoner accommodation and interactive audio-visual exhibitions.