One bright weekend this October, we spent the day in Perthshire.
This is somewhat of an autumnal rite-of-passage for white-collared Scots, eager to forget their commute and embrace nature as the nights darken. A wild, well-off region of ancient trees, hills and back-in-time villages, Perthshire is a photographer’s paradise at this time of year — as we were soon reminded.
Our first stop was the Hermitage.
It’s a glorious river-marked glen of trees, follies and trails that’s looked after by the National Trust for Scotland. During autumn it’s nothing short of breathtaking: the leaves explode into kaleidoscopes of colour; the river swells and spits from the last rains; the air is like perfume, signalling that Christmas is just around the corner. A handful of notable Victorians were said to have paid the Hermitage a visit (it’s just that inspiring) and now, in this century, it’s no different.
Only that now, the notable persons are not writers or artists, but amateur photographers.
‘There are more cameras here than people,’ a man said as he walked past us on the path. It was hyperbole with a grain of truth: groups of men blew by with tripods under their arms. The trails nearest the car park were so well-trodden we could have been strolling along a muddy Edinburgh side street. And as we approached the bridge that overlooks the falls, a larger line of people had gathered. Tripods. Cameras. Long lenses. Phones.
What struck me most about this was not the photography — I am more than guilty about that at the best of times — but rather how the majority of people didn’t venture any further than the prime photo spots. Leaving Ossian’s Hall and the bridge behind, the paths turned drier underfoot, sprinkled with pine needles and — aside from passing two parents who were vaping in the forest — we encountered only a handful of people as we ascended to Rumbling Bridge. With the recent rains, the river exhaled a cloud of spray towards us, causing rainbow fractures in the light. Another few miles of farmers’ tracks and tree-rooted paths and we returned, legs worn, to the busy Hermitage car park.
After a walk, we thought about what we’d just seen over coffee and cake.
The post-walk practice of fika is probably a routine I’ve learnt from my father, who would never go up a hill without a flask of boiling water and his trusty, beaten Tupperware of teabags. From the A9 we took a left, crossing a bridge onto Dunkeld’s high street with its hotchpotch of quaint storefronts, parked up and headed to Spill the Beans café (which you’ll find along the road to the cathedral). Light Victoria sponge, a frothy latte and a rich hot chocolate made us happy campers — but didn’t quite distract us from musing on the crowds we’d seen at the Hermitage earlier that afternoon.
There’s a bigger article to come, I think, about how Instagram has affected Scottish tourism but as for the Hermitage — well, our conclusion was bitesize. Over the past year, I’ve seen more online squares featuring the National Trust site that ever before, which surely has an influence on visitor numbers. To the crowds collecting for the gram rather than the grit of what the Hermitage offers, I’d like to make a friendly suggestion. Take the path north up the river, leave your camera in its bag and phone in your pocket, and just breathe. There’s more merit in treating your soul to this silence than online sharing will ever give you.