Wracking my brains for a walking route that could act as a follow-up to the first section of the West Highland Way (we didn’t want to tire of the Way months before actually walking it), I recalled a day in Perth earlier this year when I had walked to the entrance of Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park while waiting for a reservation at Toby Carvery.
With at least forty minutes to wait for a table to become available, my father and I had left the restaurant via the car park and headed left up Manse Road. We strolled along roads lined with expensive-looking cottages with names like Whispering Pines and Orchardbank House, paused at St Mary’s Spirituality Centre to get a closer look at the “Redemptionist” monastery and, now hungry and running low on time, stopped just short of the park itself at the end of Corsie Hill Road, turning back.
On Monday morning I met Paul at Perth Train Station, a little over a week after we had departed Drymen by bus. With only six miles to walk rather than twelve, we were this time travelling considerably lighter. Gone were the spare socks and waterproof jackets, replaced instead by rather more casual clothing and a Salted Caramel Latte (with cream) from the Costa we passed while crossing Perth.
From the train, Kinnoull Hill had been barely visible due to a low-lying blanket of fog, only Kinnoull Tower managing to pierce the morning haar. By the time we left Costa, however, the sun was already starting to burn through, and by the time we crossed the Tay River, passed Toby Carvery and began our ascent the mist and drizzle had been replaced with blue skies and Autumnal sunshine. It was to be a very pleasant day indeed.
The tangle of country lanes and lack of signposts made it difficult to retrace our steps from that earlier visit, but aside from a brief detour onto Langley Drive we soon found our way untroubled past the monastery and into the car park that marks the entrance to Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park. A popular suicide spot, we had to pass a warning sign and a list of emergency telephone numbers (including Samaritans) on our way into the park.
With flashes of sun shining through the trees, each one ablaze with a slightly different shade of red, we continued uphill until the car park behind us finally disappeared into the tree line. Determined to spot some wildlife, we kept our eyes peeled for deer, red squirrels or birds of prey, having instead to make do with a wooden badger — one of fourteen woodland sculptures designed by Pete Bowsher to represent the animals indigenous to the surrounding area.
The trail, dense with trees, afforded little in the way of views, and so there was little to prepare us for the panorama which awaited us at the summit. We trundled into a small south-facing clearing, some two hundred and twenty-two metres above Perth, and gaped unreservedly at the rolling hills and meandering river that seemed to dominate the landscape. The sight was quite simply spectacular: the earth immediately fell away in front of you, providing undisturbed, dramatic views of the Tay, Friarton Bridge and both the motorway and railway lines feeding into Perth.
Further to the left, if you were brave enough to lean out, Kinnoull Hill could be seen protruding from an outcrop a short distance away. Having soaked in as much of the spectacle as our memories (and memory cards) could likely handle, we gathered up our jaws from the ground beneath us and re-entered the woods on our way to the tower itself. You couldn’t walk a hundred yards without passing another sign cautioning you to be careful near the cliff’s edge.
Designed to resemble the castles of the Rhine region in Germany, Kinnoull Tower was a folly built by the 9th Earl of Kinnoull in the 18th Century. Now all that is left of it are the ruined remains of the cylindrical tower itself, and two of the connecting walls. Perched almost precariously on the very edge of the cliff, to the point that it cannot be circled by non-suicidal visitors, it is clearly visible to anyone travelling to Perth from Dundee.
We carried on along the escarpment, making a gradual descent through flame-leaved trees as we followed the Forestry Commission’s maintenance road down towards Deuchny Hill. We passed alongside fields of sheep and horses, pausing to take pictures of camera-shy (or just downright difficult) farm animals against the still sensational backdrop of the countryside. Here we followed a new, shorter path around Deuchny Wood, taking us to a separate park for mountain bikers through a mixture of pine trees, firs and maples.
We asked a couple of horse-riders for directions back to Perth, and took a network of minor roads around the back of Kinnoull Hill until we arrived back at the car park from which we had first entered the Woodland Park. We then returned to the base of the hill for a few drinks (and a congratulatory carvery) before our trains home.
If only there was a Costa at the beginning of every leg, and a Toby Carvery at the end, we wouldn’t have to train for the West Highland Way at all.