If you were to take a map of Scotland and draw a line stretching from Cape Wrath in the far north- west to the upper reaches of the Solway Firth, then draw another from the Mull of Galloway back up to Duncansby Head in the far north- east; where they cross sits the town of Aberfeldy. The town can, therefore, quite literally claim to be right at the heart of Scotland. Flowing past it, fast and wide, are the waters of Scotland’s longest river — the Tay.
A famous landmark of the town is General Wade’s five- arch bridge over the Tay. It was built in 1733, a long time before motor transport yet it still copes well with all of today’s traffic. It’s widely regarded as being Wade’s greatest work. Mind you, not everyone was so taken with its design. Dorothy Wordsworth just thought it “ambitious and ugly”. It didn’t take long to construct either. With a spring start in April it was finished before the end of the year. Wade certainly could get the job done.
The bridge was part of a system of military roads built in the wake of the 1715 Jacobite
Rising when it was recognised by the government that the only way to control the unruly Highlanders was through better communication. As an old rhyme goes:
Had you seen these roads before they were made, You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade.
Above the bridge stands the impressive Black Watch Memorial. This was where, in 1740, the great battalion of the Black Watch was formed.
Undoubtedly, the most colourful time of year to visit Aberfeldy is from mid- October through to early November. The woods of the “Birks of Aberfeldy” are renowned for their brilliant autumn display.
“Birks” is the Scots word for birches. Besides birch, you’ll find a great variety of trees — some from afar like the Antarctic beach, the Kashmiri whitebeam and Chinese scarlet rowan while others, like the ash, hazel and rowan, are more native to the Highlands.
Come let us spend the lightsome days In the birks of Aberfeldy.
One man who was certainly impressed with this wooded gorge that climbs steeply above the Moness Burn was Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns. He crossed the hills from Amulree to Kenmore on 30th August 1787 little realising that before the end of the day, he’d have composed a poem that would immortalise the town of Aberfeldy. One can’t help but wonder how much more he would have been impressed with the place had he been given the opportunity to return and see it in autumn some two months later.
Ever since he wrote his poem “The Birks of Aberfeldy”, the Den of the Moness has assumed the affectionate name of “the Birks” and has welcomed countless thousands of visitors all anxious to experience for themselves the landscape he described.
The circular walk from Aberfeldy to the high bridge over the upper falls is a great walk for any season — even in the depths of winter when the braes that Burns tells us “ascend like lofty wa’s” lose their colour and the “foaming stream” that “deep- roaring fa’s” is frozen into a silent curtain of ice. Only the fastest flowing water avoids being turned to ice. It’s a cold place in winter and the track can be very slippery but what great photographic opportunities there are to be had at this quiet time of the year. Just remember to wrap up well!
It’s a steep climb above the Moness Burn but there are several places to
rest and admire the view. At one spot near the waterside is a bench where we can share our own poetic thoughts with a seated statue of Robert Burns himself. Higher round the trail you’ll pass the stone bench where it’s said he was inspired to sit and put pen to paper.
In late October, the low sun struggles to reach the deeper parts of the gorge giving us the play of light against shade. The burn is never far from sight or out of earshot and nowhere is it more dramatic than at the Falls of Moness. Burns needed no camera to record the scene — only his pen: White o’er the linn the
burnie pours And rising, weets wi’ misty
We might experience these “misty showers” first hand when crossing the little footbridge above the falls. Looking over the balustrade to the 50 feet cataract and deep cavern below, it can be a terrifying place after a rainy spell.
As you look down over the falls from the safety of the bridge, just keep your guard. Although you may think you’re alone, there’s every chance you’re being watched. An old name for the Moness was the Pheallaidh ( Feldy) burn ( hence the name Aberfeldy meaning the mouth of the Feldy). Pheallaidh is a supernatural water creature that often lurks around the falls with nothing but mischief in mind. However, only those with the power of the second sight will be able to see him.
In 1914, the Den was gifted to Aberfeldy by the Marquess of Breadalbane. Before this, to enjoy the two- mile long trek would have cost us 6d. Now, you’ll be glad to hear, it’s free to all.
The Birks in autumn and the statue of Robert Burns ( below).
The Black Watch Memorial and the town of Aberfeldy. The five- arch bridge across the Tay ( below) was built in 1733.
The fine views as you climb higher and the gushing falls ( right).