Tucked away in a hidden corner of Highland Perthshire, the village of Fortingall, to the north of Loch Tay, is surrounded by grass-clad hills and mountains. Time moves slowly among the reed-thatched cottages at the heart of this Arts and Crafts village, which was planned and built by shipowner and local laird Donald Currie. It took on its present-day appearance in a series of improvements that date from the late 19th century.
The settlement predates this period by some time, however. The nearby Bronze Age monuments and a Stone Age cairn suggest that people have lived here since prehistory. Generations have come and gone while the evergreen Fortingall Yew lives on.
The tree is at least 3,000 years and generally accepted to be 5,000 years old but some experts believe it may have sprung into life as far back as 7,000 BC. It is certainly Britain’s oldest tree and is among the oldest living organisms in Europe, which is food for thought as you enjoy this pleasant cycle route.
A. Walled sanctuary
Park by Fortingall churchyard where you can see the yew at any time within its protective enclosure. Nowadays the trunk is comprised of separate elements due to being hacked at for souvenirs but in 1769 its girth was measured at a huge 16m (52ft) as indicated by a circle of white pegs. The local church also has a long history – a monastery, dating to the 600s, which acted as an important early Christian centre, is associated with the site.
Swinging onto your saddle, follow the road west. Carn nam Marbh or Cairn of the Dead stands in a field to the left, marked with an upright stone. This turf-covered mound of stones was used as a burial site when the villagers were annihilated by the Black Death except, according to legend, one old woman who survived. This site may also have been used as a burial place in earlier times.
B. Scott’s favourite glen
Leaving Fortingall behind, enjoy an easy cycle ahead, keeping straight at a junction, signed Fearnan, to reach the Bridge of Lyon. The bridge is a good place to admire the surrounding Breadalbane landscape, as this part of Highland Perthshire is known. The name comes from the Gaelic braghaid albainn, meaning uplands of Scotland. The river below drains the “longest, loneliest and loveliest glen in Scotland”, as Sir Walter Scott described Glen Lyon.
Further on, turn left for Duneaves, onto a deliciously quiet single track road. This runs parallel to the River Lyon, climbing gently after a while through birch woods before an easy, mainly, downhill section.
C. Comrie Castle
Continue to a T-junction then turn left and recross the river. In front of the junction, you can glimpse ruined Comrie Castle behind trees in a private garden (access may be granted on enquiry).
This small tower house was the original seat of the Menzies family until it was partially destroyed by a fire in 1487. Later, the family moved to the nearby Castle Menzies, though some DIY-minded younger scions of the family repaired and reoccupied the building, which has an adjacent icehouse, in around 1600. In its heyday it would have controlled all traffic by the Lyon. The best view of the castle is from a passing place on the right.
For the return, simply follow the B846 left, signed Tummel Bridge, and then left again at the sign for Fortingall.
How to Get There
Fortingall is signed off the B846 at Keltneyburn, five miles from Weem, by Aberfeldy. There is no public transport option for cyclists.
Find Out More
Aberfeldy TIC, The Square, Aberfeldy
Mill Street, Aberfeldy, PH15 2BG
Healthy, tasty food for the body and brain from this award-winning cafe.
Fortingall, Aberfeldy, PH15 2NQ
Stylish hotel just yards from the Fortingall Yew.
The Square, Kenmore
Read a poem by Robert Burns in the Poet’s Bar.