Despite appearing natural, the woods surrounding the Perthshire town of Birnam were planned by the Dukes of Atholl in the 1700s. Cutting the forest in two are the gorgeously clear waters of the River Braan, where a series of cascades descend to Black Linn waterfall before flowing into the River Tay near Dunkeld.
In the 18th century, a small viewing platform was built at The Hermitage above the raging torrent of the Black Linn. As a result, the woods became a major draw for tourists and an inspiration for celebrities, including Dorothy Wordsworth and JMW Turner
Also around this time, the Scottish poet James Macpherson declared that he had discovered the ancient poems of the Gaelic bard Ossian and translated them into English. Although it is now accepted that Macpherson wrote the poems himself, the Dukes of Atholl exploited the story by renaming the viewing platform Ossian’s Hall and creating the artificial Ossian’s Cave. Today, huge trees give The Hermitage an almost cathedral-like feel – one Douglas fir, at 201 feet, is the fourth tallest tree in Britain.
1. Burn and beyond
Take Birnam Glen Road (signposted Inchewan Path) from Birnam, under the A9, past Dunkeld/Birnam Railway Station. At a crossroads, keep straight on then go right at a fork into woodland. Climb gently south-west alongside the Inchewan Burn for about one mile to another fork. Turn right, cross a bridge over the burn and continue to a junction.
2. Conifer to deciduous
Veer left to another junction then go right and follow a forestry track, signposted Inver Car Park. Soon after, bear right on to a track and descend to an intersection. Take the Braan Path to Rumbling Bridge and then climb to the Inchewan Braan Path. The trail meanders through deciduous woodland, passing to the south of Dundonnachie cottage. Keep left at a track into open countryside and walk south-west, passing a house at Tomgarrow to reach a junction.
3. Rumbling Bridge
Turn right and descend a narrow road to the A822. Cross the road and take the woodland path to a viewpoint high above Rumbling Bridge and the River Braan – this spot greatly impressed Queen Victoria when she visited in 1865. At the next fork go right, continue to a narrow road, turn right and walk across Rumbling Bridge with the Braan’s torrent of white water rushing below.
4. Black Linn Falls
When the road sweeps left, go right through a gate where a path drops gently downhill. When it splits, keep right and walk through glorious woodland alongside a section of the River Braan all the way to the impressive Ossian’s Hall and a breathtaking view of the Black Linn falls.
5. Beneath the tracks
Follow the path away from The Hermitage, keeping the Braan to the right. Once under a railway arch, walk through a car park. Just before the A9 turn right and follow a narrow road past Inver, turning left at a Forestry Commission car park. Continue to a bridge spanning the River Braan then take this under the A9.
6. Giant Oak
Turn left on to a path and walk to the confluence of the River Braan and the Tay. Go right and follow the Tay, soon passing the huge Birnam Oak – thought to be the last remnant of the ancient Birnam Wood, immortalised by Shakespeare in Macbeth. Beyond the tree, turn right up steps on to a path that bears right to the road. Follow this back to the start.
Main image © Alamy