There is enough to do within five minutes walk of The Observatory to fill a week. In each case below, I have indicated the length of the initial walk, and the overall duration.
Circumnavigating Loch Faskally
Initial walk: none. Duration: 40 minutes to an hour
From the conservatory end of the house, walk down the steep slope towards the loch. It is steep and a bit overgrown, so some care is needed. Bear around to the right as the ground levels off and you will find a space where there used to be a gate. It is an easy place to climb over, or though the fence. You will find yourself on the bank of the loch. For those who are not game for the slope and the fence, leave the house by the drive, turn left and then carry on walking, keeping to the left. You will eventually come out in the same place.
The well-worn track to the right takes you along the wooded banks of the loch. After quarter of a mile, you have to follow a stone wall away from the loch side. This takes you on a residential road beside the Green Craigs Hotel and a development of houses that were built since 2010. Where this road reaches a T junction, in sight of the main road through Pitlochry, turn left and follow the road down hill past the entrance to Green Craigs.
At the bottom you will find the boat station, from which rowing boats, powered boats for fishing, fishing rods and fishing permits can be hired. A rowing boat is £6.50 per hour, a day licence to fish from the bank £4.25. The boating station is open every day from March to October, 01796 474147 for more information.
A brisk walk from The Observatory gets you to the boat station in under ten minutes
At this point you can retrace your footsteps, returning though town, if you don’t cut down past the new houses when you reach them. Or, by walking in front of the boat station, you can continue around the loch.
The path rises up though the woods, until you reach the stone marking the award the main bridge received upon its completion. From this point both bridges are in view – the new road bridge, high above that takes up A9 north, and the foot bridge, way beneath it.
On the opposite bank, you quickly find yourself on the Foss Road, the small single track road that would take you to Loch Tummel’s southern shore. Turn left and follow the slightly incongruous pavement to the top of the hill. At this point you have the A9 in front of you. To your left, however, is a farm steading, and a metal gate through which a footpath is sign-posted. Follow this though the woods until its divides. The left fork takes you to the banks of the loch again, for arguably the loveliest and quietist bit of the walk. This route eventually leads on to the dam, across which the path to the road back to The Observatory is clear. The right fork takes you to the theatre and the Seed Collectors Garden. There is also a track up to the Fonab Castle Hotel.
Alternative, taking in artificial pond, spooky forest and Faskally House
Instead of crossing the bridge half way up Loch Faskally (the one after the boat station), carry on up the Loch. Immediately after the footbridge are the footings of the former Clunie Bridge, that was demolished to accommodate the dam. From there, the path takes you through a forest in which you will find a number of curious, man-made attractions. It is not easy to find all of them, but you should see one or two each time you pass though the wood. Here is one – it is on the side of a very steep hill.
The forest path takes you past an artificial pond (probably Victorian), in on the banks of which there are a number of picturesque boat houses. Further still along the path, you will come to Faskally House. This was, in the nineteenth century the home of the Butters, the family who to this day are the major landowners in and around Pitlochry. They divested themselves of their potentially ruinous – albeit still very attractive – country house many years ago. In its demesne are the apparently makeshift huts of the Marine Scotland Freshwater Reseach Laboratories, which is not open to visitors, but does hold occasional open days. Beyond that is Fascally House, which is currently run as an activity centre by the Faskally Christian Trust. Its management has always seemed relaxed about walkers crossing their land. Return to The Observatory from here means retracing your footsteps – but it is quite hard to take the same route though the wood twice.
The Dam and Fish Ladder
Initial walk: 3 minutes. Duration: 30 minutes to an hour
Leave The Observatory by the drive and turn right, down the hill. The granite mass of the dam and the turbine hall is immediately visible. At different times of day, and of the year, the dam can be observed being used in very different ways. Sometimes a giant spout of water is shot up from an opening towards the bottom of the dam. Occasionally, the top of the dam is lowered, and water allowed to flow over – it is an awesome sight, if you catch it.
Fish really are regularly visible in the observation chamber, particularly in the late summer. And for a while in September, you can look over the loch from the dam and see salmon jumping every couple of seconds.
Opened in 2017, the Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre overlooks the dam and houses a free exhibition about the hydro scheme and a very good cafe.
The Festival Theatre
Reached in 5 minutes
Cross the dam and carry on along the road on the other side. The Theatre stages a lively program of events though out the summer. Its productions tend to be crowd pleasers, rather than the avant garde. It is nevertheless a well-designed, intimate auditorium and an evening walk too and fro is often magical. The restaurant at the theatre is expensive and disappointing. The Port-na-Craig Inn (opposite the theatre) offer pre-theatre menus, as do several other restaurants in town.
Explorers – The Scottish Plant Collectors Garden
Initial walk: 5 minutes. Duration: up to 2 hours.
The Plant Collectors Garden (opened in 2003) surrounds the Theatre from the top and to one side. The landscaping is impressive, and the little pavilions, designed by Gaia Architects of Edinburgh, show just what can be done with wood, when people put their minds to it. Tickets can be bought at the theatre’s box office and cost £4, or £5 with a guided tour.
Circular walk taking in the Dam, the suspension bridge and the town
Initial walk: none. Duration: 45 minutes (or longer if the shops tempt you)
Leave The Observatory by the drive and turn right, across the dam. Follow the road past the theatre. Once you have passed Port-na-Craig and the old ferryman’s cottage, the suspension foot bridge can be seen. It bounces underfoot. This brings you out by the recreation ground (where weekly ‘Scottish’ entertainments are offered on Saturday nights in the summer and the town’s Highland Games take place in the late summer). There is a children’s play area, here and an excellent bowl for skateboarding. Take the right fork when you come to the road beyond the recreation ground. The brings you up the hill, under the railway bridge and back on to Atholl Road (Pitlochry’s main street). There you can take in all the retail pleasures, before returning to the Observatory via Rie-Achen Road
Initial walk: 20 minutes. Duration: 2 hours (more to discover in the woods, if you are minded to)
Black Spout is a 400-feet-high waterfall that is a short walk from the town center. The picture above does it no justice – it is a great sight on any day, and it awesome in spate. From The Observatory, walk on to Atholl Road and down the hill past the shops. A little beyond the petrol station, on the opposite side of the road, is a rough road. Walk up this and you find yourself in a car park, with an information board about the woods. Follow the track up the hill for about 15 minutes, and it clearly leads to Black Spout. There used to be several bridges over the burn, allowing a circular walk, of about an hours duration. In the big storm of August 2002, these were all washed away. The last time they looked, they had not been replaced, but it is always worth checking.