NOT many Scots villages have a cathedral and even fewer were immortalised by Shakespeare.

The neighbouring Perthshire settlements of Dunkeld and Birnam are lucky enough to have both of these between them, not to mention an enviable setting on the banks of the Tay.

The natural beauty and historical significance of the villages have long been an attraction for artists, writers and even royalty. Modern visitors still appreciate these things, of course, but can also enjoy the many excellent cafes, restaurants, and shops, not to mention the thriving arts scene.

Historic highlights

Dunkeld and Birnam sit on opposite banks of the river and were linked by a bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1809. They lie close to the geographical boundary between Highland and Lowland Scotland.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Aberfeldy

Dunkeld means “fort of the Celedonians” in Gaelic and is thought to have been founded by the King of the Picts in the ninth century. Built on the site of the former Culdee Monastery, work on the Cathedral began in 1260 but was not completed until 1501. In 1689, the Battle of Dunkeld was fought between Jacobites loyal to James VII and soldiers defending William of Orange.

Birnam, meanwhile, is home to the iconic oak tree of the same name, a relic of the ancient Birnam Wood mentioned in Macbeth. “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him…,” prophesised the Three Witches in the play. Nearby Dunsinane Hill still has evidence of the hillfort used by the real King Macbeth, who ruled Scotland from 1040-1057.

Agriculture has long been the main industry in this part of Perthshire, though in recent times tourism and food and drink have become major contributors to the economy.

Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais and children’s writer Beatrix Potter were regular visitors.

What to do

The first thing that strikes you when you hit Dunkeld is just how beautifully preserved the architecture is – indeed, many of the picturesque houses have been restored by the National Trust for Scotland. It doesn’t take you long to get your bearings along Atholl Street towards the river.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Aberfeldy

Exploring the town on foot, you can’t miss the Cathedral (, which is still in use by the Church of Scotland, and also houses a lovely museum in the Chapter House, telling the story of the villages and its people. After your visit, pop into nearby Spill The Beans café for coffee and cake.

Also just a short hop from the Cathedral, youngsters and more artistic visitors will love Going Pottie (, where you are encouraged paint your own mugs, plates, jugs and bowls. If you’d rather buy something a little more professional, you can do that there too.

Just a short walk across the Tay, Birnam Arts ( offers an eclectic programme of live music, theatre, comedy and discussion throughout the year, complete with an arts hub for community workshops.

A permanent exhibition in the centre celebrates Beatrix Potter’s relationship with Perthshire. The idea for Peter Rabbit was conceived here, as were favourite characters like Jeremy Fisher and Mrs Tiggy Winkle. There’s also a fantastic café-bistro serving up delicious local produce and fabulous home-baking.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Anstruther

Also on the south bank is the stunning Hermitage woodland (, a pull for walkers and nature-lovers from all over world for generations – Queen Victoria, Wordsworth and JMW Turner are among the visitors – where you can marvel at the towering Douglas Firs, some of the tallest trees in the UK. Other attractions in the wood include Ossian’s Hall, the folly overlooking the spectacular Black Linn Falls, and Ossian’s Cave.

Walkers are spoiled for choice in this part of the world, of course. The gorgeous Birnam Riverside Path takes you straight to the Birnam Oak, while the Atholl Woods Path on the north bank takes in the Cally Loch, which provides the perfect spot for a picnic. Progression Bikes in Dunkeld (progressionbikesscotland) will hire you a mountain bike if you’d rather be on two wheels.

For those of a more adventurous spirit, the Canyoning Company ( provides accessible adrenalin-fuelled excitement among the region’s waterfalls.

Where to eat

If it’s a restorative sandwich or scone you’re after, David Sutherland recommends the Aran Bakery on Atholl Street. “I’ve had the lime and pistachio cake there a few times and it is fantastic,” he says. The nearby Country Bakery is also good for soups, sandwiches and wraps.

If you’re after something a little more substantial, Howie’s Bistro on Atholl Street ( has a menu packed with the classics – steaks, venison, fish and chips, steak pie – done well.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Aberfeldy

By day, the Scottish Deli (, also on Atholl Street, sells tasty store-cupboard treats. By night, however, it turns into one of the best restaurants in Perthshire, offering a tapas-style approach, small plates packed full of quality ingredients. The cheese, meat and vegetarian sharing boards, meanwhile, are a delight.

For a good fish supper, the nearby Dunkeld Fish Bar delivers. Margaret Wilson tells us: “Fabulous fish and chips and one of the loveliest towns in Scotland to stroll round while enjoying them.”

Where to shop

If you’re looking to take some local produce home, award-winning Dunkeld Smoked Salmon ( on Brae Street has a fine selection of home-cured, smoked and roasted fish.

If it’s fine Scottish knitwear you’re after, The Naked Sheep on Atholl Street (nakedsheepshop) is the place to be. The range of jumpers and cardigans is extensive, covering every brand, style, texture and wool blend you could think of, while the choice of hats, gloves and scarves is also impressive.

Jeffreys Interiors is a quirky and memorable home and interiors emporium housed in a lovely old church on Tay Terrace. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending hours here, and emerge with a clutch of cushions, vases and lamps. Or even a sofa.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Anstruther

Where to stay

Luxury: With an enviable position on the river bank and stunning woodland views, Dunkeld House Hotel ( is the perfect place to enjoy some proper R&R. Rooms from £95.

Boutique: The Merryburn B&B (, in Birnam, offers a warm welcome, stylish bedrooms and a tasty breakfast. Guests can also relax in front of the fire with a good book and a dram. Dogs welcome. Rooms from £98.

Central: The cosy Atholl Arms Hotel ( has comfy rooms from £69.

Cool: If you’d rather go self-catering, there’s a Scandinavian-style loft conversion in Dunkeld, which sleeps four, from £70 a night. See

What to do nearby

Macbeth fans will want to climb nearby Dunsinane Hill, where fact and fiction collide. You can still discern the iron-age fort and the real King’s fort, while imagining Birnam Wood climbing up the hill. There are expansive views across central Scotland and beyond on this easy and enjoyable climb (just 310m), accessed from the village of Collace, half an hour from Dunkeld.

If you’ve always fancied doing a bungee jump, Garry Bridge at Killiekrankie, 25-minutes from Dunkeld, offers one of the most scenic opportunities in Scotland. Go to for details.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Comrie and Lanark. Send your suggestions for things to do and hints and tips for the best places to eat, stay and shop to