Trees. They are part of travel almost everywhere, by presence or absence, be they many or few. In Scotland, Highland Perthshire, just at the point where the Highlands begin to rise up to the Cairngorm Mountains in eastern central Scotland, is a place where trees and forest are defining features of the landscape. These woods suggest what Scotland may have looked like in millennia past. when forests covered the landscape more abundantly than they do now.
Not that most of these trees in what’s known as Perthshire Big Tree Country are new comers, exactly. Many of them have been in place for well more than one hundred years. Their autumn colors as leaves change across the hillsides are one of the constant beauties of Scotland. The people of Highland Perthshire have found a unique way — two ways, actually — to celebrate autumn in this landscape: The Enchanted Forest and Perthshire Amber.
The Enchanted Forest happens in Faskally Wood, just outside Pitlochry, through the month of October. As darkness comes (and it falls early in the Scottish Highlands as autumn advances) the woods are filled with sound and light, with guides and music and the aroma of warm cider, with stories and sound and movement to celebrate landscape and season.
It is a community event, run by the Highland Perthshire Community Interest Company. Even though The Enchanted Forest has become a popular autumn destination — you must purchase a timed entry ticket and ride a specific shuttle the mile or so from the center of Pitlochry to the wood — there are aspects of attending that remain, well, enchanting, and even meditative, and it all remains grounded in welcoming community atmosphere.
This year will see the return of work by lighting designers Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes, with sound design and composition by RJ McConnell, and a orchestral piece by Jon Beales. They will interpret this year’s theme, Elemental. For the first time there will be aerial artists performing up in the trees, too. Another first this year is a chance for the Forest to give back, sponsoring a charity event night which will benefit Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) and Autism Scotland.
Derek Allan, producer of The Enchanted Forest, commented that “Every year we get positive feedback from customers whose children are affected by autism, and the profound impact the show has on them. For other families who are facing challenges, such as those supported by CHAS, the show offers an opportunity to enjoy time together and a break from their normal routine. We are proud to be giving both Scottish Autism and CHAS a helping hand.” The charity event takes place on 2 October, and The Enchanted Forest is open from when darkness falls through 10:30 in the evening from 3 to 26 October.
On 24th October, Perthshire Amber begins.
When Perthshire native and internationally touring singer and songwriter
Dougie MacLean decided to begin a festival that would allow him to invite many of the musical friends he’s made across the world to Scotland, he chose to have it in autumn and to name it after the beautiful October colors of the region.
Headquartered in Dunkeld with events across Highland Perthshire, it is a celebration of music. Through the years, Perthshire Amber has grown into one of the most respected and anticipated festivals in Scotland and elsewhere in the Celtic world. Concerts take place across Highland Perthshire, in venues ranging from theaters to hotel ballrooms to castles to cathedrals to — a crannog? Indeed. A concert takes place in a reconstruction of just such a prehistoric building on Loch Tay, a bit outside of Aberfeldy.
Headliners at Perthshire Amber this year include The Paperboys from Canada, festival favorite Eliza Lynn from the United States, renown Highland fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm, and two of Scotland’s finest singers, Eddi Reader, and Emily Smith. MacLean himself will appear with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on one evening and on another join international artists Lynn, The Paperboys, and Buddy MacDonald, as well as sitting in with friends at other times.
While a number of events are already sold out at this writing, festival organizers point out that good tickets remain for some concerts, and that there are day time talks and travels including the SongBus and Amber Discoveries, as well as music sessions and workshops in which to participate, and that a number of these events are free to attend. There are opportunities to give back at this event as well, by donating food for food bank charities and by bidding on The Big Knit, a fabric project created through the year; the proceeds from that will go to a charity which helps with those who face difficulties in housing.
This year, Perthshire Amber takes place from 24th October through 2nd November. In past years, several of the concerts have been available on line, some through a subscription charge. The Perthshire Amber web site is the place to find out about any plans for that this season.
Dunkeld and Pitlochry are about half way between Inverness, to the north, and Edinburgh, to the south. Perth is a bit to the east, and coming from Glasgow, you might take the drive over to Edinburgh and then head north, or come a northeastern route from Glasgow by way of Stirling. By any road you will encounter fine Scottish landscapes along the way.
The glowing colors of Highland Perthshire in autumn are reason enough to visit. These festivals invite you to join the people of Perthshire as they celebrate their landscapes, their music, and the beauty of the changing season.
Photograph of The Enchanted Forest courtesy of Visit Scotland/Scottish Viewpoint; photograph of Scottish musician Emily Smith by Kerry Dexter.
Kerry Dexter is one of six writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You’ll most often find her writing about travels in Europe and North America in stories that connect to music, history, and the arts, including such things as an evening along The Falls Road in Belfast and Julie Fowlis singing of her home in Scotland’s Western Isles.
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