The Tay is one of the best salmon rivers in Europe and lures anglers from around the world. Rivers have been at the centre of Scottish life for thousands of years. For the earliest settlers a river meant survival – a source of food, drinking water and transport. Over the centuries, villages, towns and all of Scotland’s cities have grown and developed along the banks of a river. From the Industrial Revolution, when Scotland was one of the manufacturing powerhouses of Europe, until the long decline of heavy industry in the 20th century, rivers were integral to Scotland’s economic development. As towns and cities attempt to reinvent themselves in the wake of that decline, rivers and riverbanks are crucial to regeneration, providing key destinations for residential developments, offices, leisure and recreation. Water activities such as rowing, sailing, kayaking, canyoning and fishing are increasingly popular, and wildlife is making a comeback as the environment begins to recover from pollution.
From source to sea, a river passes through a variety of landscapes – from mountains to hills, towns to cities, countryside to concrete – and the best way to discover the scenery, wildlife, architecture and history is to walk. The increasing number of paths and walkways along riverbanks present plenty of opportunities to explore. Whatever your ability – walking at high or low level, tackling tough terrain or a simple route – this series offers something for everyone.
The River Tay
The Tay may be unique amongst Scotland’s major rivers in that its source lies many miles from where the river’s course actually begins. Its source is generally considered to be a small lochan at the head of Allt Coire Laoigh high on the slopes of Ben Lui, near Tyndrum. The burn flows into the Rivers Cononish and Dochart before finally, nearly 19 miles later, reaching Loch Tay. But even then the River Tay only makes its first appearance when it spills from the eastern end of this 15-mile-long loch at Kenmore. From here, the Tay charts a sinuous course through some of the finest scenery in Perthshire, before becoming tidal at Perth. However, it is still another 20 miles before the Tay finally reaches the sea just beyond Dundee, its mouth bounded by Buddon Ness in Angus and Fife’s Tentsmuir Point. This 120-mile journey makes it Scotland’s longest river. The Tay is an immense river in every respect. As well as being notable for its length, it carries the largest volume of water of any river in the UK, with a vast catchment of more than 5000 square km – including sizeable tributaries such as the Ericht, Tummel, Garry and Lyon. By the time it reaches the Firth of Tay, it carries more water than the Thames and Severn combined and extends to a width of almost three miles. Several dams and lochs, including Loch Rannoch, Loch Tummel and Loch Tay, help control water levels, particularly during heavy spates. On its journey, the River Tay flows through a wide-ranging landscape – initially characterised by wild mountains and steep-sided glens, but with a distinct softening as it crosses the Highland Boundary Fault at Dunkeld. From here, the Tay meanders through some of the most fertile farmland in Scotland before reaching the coast. Not surprisingly, the walking to be had around the Tay is also delightfully varied, from big mountain climbs to simple countryside rambles and scenic coastal strolls. Away from the bulk of mountains like Ben Lawers and Schiehallion, lower summits such as Birnam Hill, Kinnoull Hill and the Sidlaws offer fine walking with views over the river and beyond. Several routes in this guide start from or near attractive and historic towns and villages, such as Kenmore, Aberfeldy and Dunkeld, each of these edged by wildlife-rich woodland. The Tay’s two cities, Perth and Dundee, also boast a fascinating cultural history, while bracing coastal walks can be enjoyed along the Firth of Tay at Broughty Ferry, Newburgh and Tentsmuir Point. The routes in this guide have been chosen to illustrate the diversity of walking to be found on and near the banks of the River Tay as it travels from source to sea. Many of these routes are circular to take in the best of the scenery in the area that surrounds each stage of the river’s journey. The walks also highlight the wildlife, architecture and history to be found along the way. Luminaries such as Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and J M W Turner wrote of or painted the Tay in its many forms, each encouraging tourists of the day to discover it for themselves. Today, tourism remains hugely important for much of Highland Perthshire, although the Tay and surrounding tributaries now play host to rather more active pursuits, including white water rafting, canyoning and kayaking.
It was during the 1st century AD that the River Tay was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus as Taus, while a later Roman name for it was possibly Tamia. However, its present-day derivation of ‘strong’, ‘silent’ or ‘flowing’ seems to stem from the Brythonic word Tausa. Another of Scotland’s great rivers, The Tweed, also has Brythonic origins, its name translating from Tau. Like the River Tweed, the Tay is one of Scotland’s premier salmon rivers. The UK’s largest rod-caught salmon was landed near Dunkeld in 1922 when Georgina Ballantine reeled in a 64lb fish. A significant salmon industry built up around the River Tay some 500 years ago as the fish became a valuable item of trade, while stake nets were established along the Tay Estuary in the late 1700s. Stepping further back in time, a Pictish carving of a salmon was discovered near the River Isla, another of the Tay’s main tributaries. Salmon may also have been part of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer diet when the area around Tentsmuir Point was settled 10,000 years ago. More is known about settlement in the area during the Iron Age, the history of which can be explored at the Scottish Crannog Centre on the banks of Loch Tay near Kenmore. Elsewhere, around 1500 years ago, the Picts built several hill forts along the Tay, the best example of which adorns the summit of Moncreiffe Hill on the outskirts of Perth. In 83AD, as the Romans slowly edged their way north through Scotland, they paused at the confluence of the River Tay and River Almond and established a fort called Bertha, the precursor to Perth (which would subsequently develop just downriver). The Romans also headed east and utilised the panoramic vantage point of Dundee Law. Near to Perth, at the old Pictish capital of Scone, Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots, arrived in 843AD to establish a nation and a Royal Seat. At the time, Perth vied with Dunfermline to be considered Scotland’s capital. For Perth, the river has been both a blessing and a curse. It is here that the Tay reaches its highest navigable point, with boats plying the river between Perth and the Outer Firth since medieval times. For a time, shipbuilding was a prominent industry, with timber floated along the river to several small shipyards at Perth, while the town was also once a busy trading port with goods such as wool, salt, coal and salmon exported to Northern Europe and the Baltics. But with Perth occupying such a low-lying site, the Tay has also brought its fair share of misery. Major flooding has been recorded as far back as 1210 – when the one bridge across the river was destroyed – as well as more recent events in 1990 and 1993 when parts of the city were inundated. The highest ever recorded flood took place here in 1814, when the river rose to 7m above its normal level. Today, the city is protected by a system of major flood defences. The Tay also helped Dundee develop internationally as a sizeable port and, for 150 years or so, as a premier whaling port. Hundreds of ships were built here, including the RRS Discovery – now moored by the banks of the Tay at Discovery Point. A thriving textile industry, primarily the production of linen for sailcloth, was a major employer, but it was the city’s ‘three Js’ – jute, jam and journalism – that really drove the Dundee economy during the 19th century. The production of jute for sacks, in particular, was vital to its development, at one time employing more than 35,000 workers (around one-third of the city’s population). The jute mills are long gone, but engineering, telecommunications, publishing, digital media and computer programming have given Dundee a new lease of life in recent years.
How to use this guide
The 25 walks in this guidebook run geographically from the source of the Tay on the slopes of Ben Lui to the Firth of Tay, where it empties into the sea just beyond Dundee. Wherever possible, the start/finish for each walk is easily accessible by public transport and, if not, there is car parking nearby. The majority of the walks are also easily reached from villages and towns along the length of the River Tay, with access to shops, places to eat, accommodation and public toilets. Each route begins with an introduction detailing the terrain walked, the start/ finish point (and grid reference), the distance covered, the average time to walk the route and the relevant Ordnance Survey (OS) map. Public transport information is also detailed, although this may change from time to time and should be checked before commencing any of the walks in this guide (travelinescotland.com). A sketch map shows the main topographical details of the area and the route. The map is intended only to give the reader an idea of the terrain, and should not be followed for navigation – the relevant OS map should be used for this purpose. Every route has an estimated round-trip time. This is for rough guidance only and should help in planning, especially when daylight hours are limited. In winter, or after heavy rain, extra time should be added to allow for difficult conditions underfoot.
Risks and how to avoid them
Some of the routes in this guidebook are challenging hillwalks while others cover more remote terrain. The weather in Scotland can change suddenly, reducing visibility to only a few yards. Winter walking brings distinct challenges, particularly the limited daylight hours and the temperature – over higher ground, temperatures can fall well below freezing. Please take this into consideration before commencing any of the hillwalks in this guide. Preparation should begin well before you set out, and your choice of route should reflect your fitness, the conditions underfoot and the regional weather forecasts. None of the hillwalks in this guide should be attempted without the relevant OS map or equivalent at 1:50,000 (or 1:25,000) and a compass. Even in summer, warm waterproof clothing is advisable, and footwear that is comfortable and supportive with good grips is a must. Don’t underestimate how much food and water you need and remember to take any medication required, including reserves in case of illness or delay. Do not rely on receiving a mobile phone signal when out walking, particularly away from built-up areas. It is a good idea to leave a route description with a friend or relative in case of emergency. There is a route for almost all levels of fitness in this guide, but it is important to know your limitations. Even for an experienced walker, colds, aches and pains can turn an easy walk into an ordeal.Those routes that venture into the hills or rough terrain assume some knowledge of navigation with use of map and compass, though these skills are not difficult to learn. Use of Global Positioning System (GPS) is becoming more common; however, while GPS can help pinpoint your location on the map in zero visibility, it cannot tell you where to go next and, like a mobile phone, should not be relied upon. Only a few walks in this guide cross hill or mountain terrain and in winter it is recommended that you take an ice axe and crampons – and know how to use them – on these. Such skills will improve confidence and the ease with which such a route can be completed. They will also help you to avoid or escape potentially dangerous areas if you lose your way. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland provides training and information (mcofs.org.uk). However, for most of the routes in this guide, proficiency in walking and navigation is sufficient.
Until the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2003, the ‘right to roam’ in Scotland was a result of continued negotiation between government bodies, interest groups and landowners. In many respects, the Act simply reinforces the strong tradition of public access to the countryside of Scotland for recreational purposes. However, a key difference is that under the Act the right of access depends on whether it is exercised responsibly. Landowners also have an obligation not to unreasonably prevent or deter those seeking access. The responsibilities of the public and land managers are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (outdooraccess-scotland.com).The walks in this guidebook cross land that is only fully accessible due to the co-operation of landowners, local councils and residents. Some of the routes pass through farms, golf courses and streets, and near homes and gardens. Cyclists and horse riders often use the paths and tracks, and anglers and canoeists may use the river and riverbanks. Consideration for others should be taken into account at all times and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code must be followed. At certain times of the year special restrictions are implemented at low level and on the hills, and these should be respected. These often concern farming, shooting and forest activities: if you are in any doubt, ask. Signs are usually posted at popular access points with details: there should be no presumption of a right of access to all places at all times. The right of access does not extend to the use of motor vehicles on private or estate roads.
Red and Sika Deer Stalking:
Stags: 1 July to 20 October
Hinds: 21 October to 15 February
Deer may also be culled at other times for welfare reasons. The seasons for Fallow and Roe deer (less common) are also longer. Many estates provide advance notice of shoots on their websites.
12 August to 10 December
Felling: All Year
Planting: November to May
September to April
March to May – although dogs should be kept on leads at all times near livestock.