Aberfeldy War Memorial just off Aberfeldy's main street - the access to the Birks of Aberfeldy
Other Stuff
'Birks', according to my Chambers 'Pocket Scots Dictionary', is Scots for 'a small wood consisting mainly of birches'. (Don't say I don't teach you stuff here.) In my other book (for I have more than one book at home... I have two!) - an early 20th century 'Blue Guide' to Scotland - it says: the 'Birks of Aberfeldy' sung by Burns seem never to have existed, and in the opinion of some the poet intended to describe Abergeldie, where birches are plentiful.
Hmm... Burns did spell 'Aberfeldy' as 'Aberfeldie'. And to make matters slightly more confusing, both 'f' and 'g' are right beside each other on the keyboard of a typewriter or computer. Hmm.
So, did Robert Burns ever actually visit the Birks of Aberfeldy, or is there a certain amount of jiggery-pokery going on here to try to attract tourists?
Well, apparently, he did. Robert Burns visited Aberfeldy in 1787 during his grand tour of Scotland. The Birks of Aberfeldy was at that time known as the Den of Moness, a name that brings to mind ogres with large wooden clubs. He found the woodland gorge with its thundering waterfalls so captivating that he sat himself on a stone ledge and penned a verse. In fact, he penned a song, and the words that he wrote were to be sung to the tune of an old song titled 'The Birks O' Abergeldie'. Or, at least, just the chorus. Confused? Me too.
But the truth of the matter does appear to be that Robert Burns did write the Birks of Aberfeldy, and he did sit on a rock to do so. Today, you can in fact sit on that very stone ledge - marked by a plaque - and see the things Burns saw all those years ago. It's not hard to see why he felt so inspired. The Birks of Aberfeldy is almost too beautiful for words. The woodland itself is magical. The Moness Burn that flows through the deep gorge leaps off steep edges in any number of places to create breathtaking waterfalls.
And amidst all of nature's splendour you will find a statue of Robert Burns sat on a bench, pen in hand, no doubt thinking to himself, 'Now then, is that a 'y' or an 'ie'?'
This attraction is housed in the Aberfeldy Distillery on the edge of town, and the distillery is, you'll be glad to know, still in operation. Dating to the late Victorian period, Aberfeldy Distillery still produces a 'beautifully balanced single malt whisky' called, logically enough, 'Aberfeldy'. There's a coffee shop, a nice statue of a Highlander, and if you pay your money you can see an 'atmospheric heritage exhibition and working distillery', and get to do that travel-back-in-time thing where you discover and see things and even get to meet Sir Thomas Robert Dewar. If, like me, you don't have much money to spend, then if you lurk outside by one of the regular air-vents, there are some wonderful smells coming from within. I lurked for quite a while, nose held aloft, smelling a smell to die for.
The Black Watch memorial statue is a memorial to the formation of the Black Watch, a Scottish regiment that was formed to keep the Jacobites in check. The adjacent bridge over the River Tay was built by General Wade to allow those same soldiers to march to and fro to further keep the Jacobites in check. Both the bridge and the statue have been erected at a seriously picturesque location, and you can spend a good long while soaking up the surrounding scenery. [See the 'Aberfeldy - Ale' page for details of the memorial plaque and information on the Black Watch.]
Visually, Castle Menzies is a wonderful castley castle. It sits over a mile outside Aberfeldy, across Wade's old bridge, and just west of the hamlet of Weem. The castle has been the 'seat of the Menzies chiefs for over four hundred years', and inside you can see typically castley stuff like big arched kitchen fireplaces, four-poster beds, and the room in which Prince Charles Edward Stuart stayed before his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. [The castle is open from Easter to October.]
This is not easy to get to. It's not in Grandtully village, but located between Aberfeldy and Grandtully, up a farm track off the A827 road, just over three miles north-east of Aberfeldy. There are signs for a kennel and cattery business at the start of the farm track. The problem is that the A827 road is too dangerous to walk on. The traffic on it is fast, and there are numerous bends with almost nowhere for a walker to go to avoid being splattered all over the tarmac. As such, I would advise that YOU SHOULD NOT WALK ON THIS ROAD. The start of the track is on a bend of the A827, and so I'm not even sure that it would be safe for buses to stop there to let you on or off. Probably the safest way to reach it is to get a taxi from Aberfeldy, and if there are a few of you then it wouldn't cost too much. Alternatively, if you have a car, there is a small car park right up that farm track, beside the church itself. Or, you could hire a bicycle at Pitlochry and cycle there (Try Escape Route on 01796  473859).
And so, what is so good about St Mary's Church that we have to make special arrangements to get there? Well, I've given it a three-hippo-rating... need I say more?
As I approached the church up the farm track it didn't look like anything worth writing home about. It just looked like an old farm barn. I squeezed through a few of those impossibly narrow metal gate things, and gently pushed open the door to the church. It was dark. Perhaps I have inadvertently wandered into a barn, I thought to myself, fully expecting at any moment to hear the bellowing moo of an irate cow. The door swung shut behind me. I stood in the gloom, hoping my eyes would adjust to the small amount of light that came in a tiny window. Then I saw it. A switch. A light switch. I flicked it on, and all of a sudden I was standing in an astonishingly beautiful little place that had indeed once been a church.
Above my head was an arched wooden ceiling crammed with intricate swirling paintings full of people of long ago. I've never seen anything like it. The structure was built in the 16th century, and fell out of use as a church. It did in fact become a byre for a while.
This is very very special folks. Do not miss this. [The church appears to be open most of the time.]
The Rob Roy Way is a long-distance walking route, some 77 miles long, that starts at Drymen and ends in Pitlochry. It passes through Aberfeldy. As with all long-distance paths it may be regarded as a great adventure encompassing a number of days, where one is presented with the opportunity to see mountains and lochs up quite close, to sup ale and slurp soup in far-flung places, and to smell trees. [CLICK HERE FOR A SPECIAL ROB ROY WAY PAGE WITH INTERACTIVE MAP AND ROUTE.]
The Scottish National Trail - Scotland's end-to-end long-distance walking route, passes through Aberfeldy
Dewar's World of Whisky, Aberfeldy - exterior statue of Highlander
A red-coated tourist by the Black Watch memorial statue in Aberfeldy
Low winter sun streams through the trees in the Birks of Aberfeldy
Having a rest amidst winter's colours in the Birks of Aberfeldy
Statue of Robert Burns on bench in the Birks of Aberfeldy
Castle Menzies, Weem, by Aberfeldy
St Mary's Church, Grandtully, near Aberfeldy - exterior in 2012
Door and painted ceiling inside St Mary's Church, near Aberfeldy - 2012
Small window and interior painted ceiling in St Mary's Church, near Aberfeldy - 2012
The Rob Roy Way waymarker logo