The Real Enchanted Forest

This was going to be a post about a family trip to the Enchanted Forest, the light show in the FCS forests at Fascally near Pitlochry. However I didn’t anticipate the demand for tickets and, by the time I got around to booking, there were none left.

Our enthusiasm for an evening in the woods was undiminished by missing out on tickets so we decided to hold our own Enchanted Forest experience in the woods near Blair Athol. It may not have had the 600w floodlights, the artists, the lighting designers, and Creative Scotland funding, but I am sure it was a close approximation.

IMG_8018.JPGWe entered the woodlands fringing the Tilt through a gap in the wall and wandered down an avenue of beech trees. Everything seemed changed in the light of our three small torches. We shone our lights onto tree bark and lichen, lit the small tumbling waterfalls of the tilt and looked up at the canopy of beech leaves. All looked different, strange, especially when the children started making hand shadow wolves and giant emus on the canopy above.

Motes of dust and the odd falling leaf shone white in the beam of our torches and, surprisingly for a chill October night, mosquito-like insects and the odd moth fluttered around. We tried to attract a moth in by shining our lights onto a patch of bright, reflective lichen on a tree trunk.

IMG_7980.JPGWe sat on a bench, switched off the torches and watched as a lone car passing along the nearby country lane sent shadows skidding through the woodland. The 11year-old made us listen in the dark to the woodland’s sounds.

Heading for home a giant Gruffalo shadow rose out of the path ahead. The 9 year-old’s woolly moose hat was caught in the beams of our torches. Inspired, we played with creating scary shadows for a bit and then retreated back to base for cake and hot drinks.

We’ll keep Enchanted Forest on the to-do list for another year, but I can’t imagine that it could be any better than this. Could it?


We LOVE the Highland Folk Museum

The Highland folk museum is my kind of museum, one with no endless corridors and stuffy rooms of glass cases. One where, instead of sullen guards reminding you not to touch/keep your kids under control/not to slide down the banister, there are knowledgeable interpreters, dressed up and in character, ready to enthuse children and adults alike in Highland history.

It is also an outdoor museum and laid out on a site a mile long with significant buildings, from curling hut and tailors, to railway halt and farmhouse reconstructed and relocated at the site.

There’s simply too much to properly fit into a day and so here are our top suggestions of things to see

1. The sweetie shop
Kirks stores is a traditional shop with all the traditional sweeties: aniseed balls, soor plooms, barley sugar. And they sell them by the quarter.

2. The school house
We always race here first. It’s near to the entrance but there must be something inherently attractive in a 1940s classroom with a teacher brandishing a leather strap who is only strict with the grownups and gives the kids good marks in their handwriting tests using pen and dipping ink.

3. The curling hut in the woods
I’ve got a soft spot for curling huts (we happen to live opposite one in Glasgow) The woods are great for a picnic too – all Scots pines and blaeberry beneath.

4. The Black house Village
Right at the far end of the site is a reconstructed township from the 1700s. Here you can meet Highlanders and sometimes even a redcoat. On our recent visit we got to try traditional basket making with an expert and watched a skilled weaver creating a tweed from wood dyed using bracken (she was extolling the various uses of pee in creating textiles, but I think they may have used a more modern fixing agent this time…)

IMG_7939.JPGAgainst the council of the weaver we went to speak to the redcoat and regretted it when he tried to join the kids up to the kings army.

5. The Old Kirk
An example of an early prefab. Built in the 1890s, apparently churches just like this were sent all over the empire. But it’s not so much the story of the kirk but the unaccompanied Gaelic singing playing inside that I go for. I could sit and listen and contemplate happily.

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But mainly I get dragged off to the cafe, shop and playpark.



A fine day out at Blair Castle

There are lots of things to like about Blair castle: the gardens are stunning, there’s a tame bagpiper on hand to provide the atmosphere, the arboretum contains some spectacular trees, and, should you want to walk, rather than learn about the Duke of Atholl, his private army and vast wealth, you can walk along tumbling Highland streams in colourful mixed woodlands.

IMG_7901.JPGAnother thing is that the castle and grounds are actually open most of the year unlike many of Scotland’s visitor attractions. It is only shut from end November to the end of February and it opens again over Christmas and new year.IMG_7905.JPG
We wandered into the grounds by mistake having walked from where we were staying in Blair Athol, along the gorgeous path by the Tilt and arrived, by way of an avenue of beach trees, at a statue of a well-built Hercules at the highest point of Hercules walk and overlooking the beautiful and well-kept walled gardens. IMG_8007.JPGThe children had decided what they were doing today and it had, apparently, not included a walk. They packed their own lunch and two rucksacs full of note pads and reading books and other things and dragged us off to leave them somewhere while we went on one of these hateful walks we keep dragging them on. In the end we left our voluntary Hansel and Gretel in Diana’s grove, the 2nd Duke of Athol’s tree collection, where the adventure playground proved an irresistible draw, and headed up-stream, away from the castle grounds and into the woods.

IMG_7902.JPGWe managed a couple of hours, interspersed with update phone calls with the children, walking through autumnal gorge woodland of bronze-turning beech. Below us the Tilt cut and polished its way through the grey metamorphic rocks. A couple of Bridges draped with thick moss added to the atmosphere.

IMG_7911.JPGOn our return we listened to the children regale their adventures in the woods, heard how wet their feet were and then listened to the moaning as we marched them down the spectacular avenue of limes away from the castle and to the wonderful cafe of the Water Mill in Blair Athol village.
The Water Mill is a 400 year-old working mill, bakery and cafe with delicious cakes and scones, lunches and homemade bread.


Autumnal Trees and Leaping Salmon at the Hermitage

I really can’t imagine a better place to be late afternoon on a bright October day. In fact, I don’t know why I haven’t seen this spectacle before.
I’m standing on a balcony overhanging a plunge pool into which is falling a river of rushing water. The shape of the building around me seems to amplify the sound of the waterfall and the rush of water even drowns out the sound of my older daughter singing Katie Perry songs to herself.

Above and all around are trees turning auburn, golden and copper wearing densely moss-draped boughs. And to top it all, the most spectacularly enormous salmon are throwing themselves into the rushing torrent, falling back, and trying again.

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The Victorians really knew how to do things and The Hermitage must be one of the best. They took an already spectacular setting along the beautiful tumbling Braan and it’s fabulous falls and added some of the New world’s most spectacular tree species (although the creator of this landscape can only have imagined what it would look like in 2014), built an arching stone footbridge just below the falls for the perfect view.

IMG_7883.JPGAnd, to top off any Victorian’s to do list, added a Greek-themed grotto, to view the falls from their best angle. Ossian’s Hall, as it is called, is shaped to capture and amplify the sound and, when I first came to the Hermitage 16 years ago my (now) husband blind-folded me and led me through the building into the balcony, which was an incredible experience as it sounded like I was walking right into the midst of the waterfall. Unfortunately, in the interests of preserving the building, the National Trust for Scotland has now had to put a glass wall up between hall and balcony, which reduces the impact a little.

The falls are an impassible barrier for the salmon, which are trying to get back to the site where they were released as parr by the Salmon fishery. This makes it both a fabulous place to see the spectacle of the salmon migration; and a poignant experience, knowing that these magnificent animals will never make it to the Shangri-La their genes and sense of smell is telling them exists just beyond the waterfall. It was the first time I had witnessed it and it left me utterly speechless.

IMG_7878.JPGAnd if you can drag yourself away from the falls, the woods are stacked full of moss, lichens and fungi and some of Britains tallest and most spectacular trees. Just past the waterfall is another uniquely Victirian conceit, a hermits cave. Built into a couple of huge shist boulders it has a stone bench set into the wall inside and two round windows. Perfect for hobbit make-believe. It’s hard to spot if you don’t know it’s there.

If you continue the walk up the Braan for a couple of miles it will take you to Rumbling Bridge where you can cross and walk back through the woods on the opposite side if you want a longer ramble.

I know I have been known to say this before but it is the perfect Autumn day out.