This year, when the impulse to make a Perthshire pilgrimage coincided with both the half-term holidays and the end of the salmon’s migratory season, it was too good a chance to miss. Usually, when the idea occurs we realise we’re out of sync with the salmon. Packing for every eventuality, weather-wise (wet and wetter), we bundled into the car and headed for a weekend at Pitlochry.
Our first stop was the town’s famous salmon ladder. A small crowd had gathered at one of the lower pools. An intent heron perched on a concrete corner, gazing through the surface hopeful for some dinner. Wishing him well we headed up to tour the dam. Teetering over the head-spinning drop to foaming waters below we were not the only nervous looking parents of small children.
On our return the heron had gone, leaving us to guess at whether good or bad luck had sped his departure. We stopped to note the salmon count displayed outside the ladder’s viewing chamber. Some six thousand, five hundred and ninety three of the determined fish had passed through the ladder so far this year on their epic migratory journey.
Not even an entire weekend of drizzle can detract from the vibrancy of Perthshire in autumn. Our hotel manager’s casual remark that we’d probably missed the last of the leaping salmon was more of a dampener.
Several hours’ worth of beautiful forest walks, criss-crossing noisy rivers with banks bursting and swollen waterfalls made up for our disappointment. Wildlife was plentiful – ducks, dippers, pheasants and more heron. Red squirrels in particular abounded; apparently they become almost fearless towards the end of their nut harvest. The earthy, seasonal smells of damp fallen leaves and bonfire smoke added to the embarrassment of sensual riches.
Driving home with our luggage of slightly smelly wet woollens, and knowing we were guaranteed a visual feast of fungi if not a salmon sighting, we stopped off at the Hermitage; maintained by the National Trust for Scotland and home to Ossian’s Hall, (the least folly-some folly I’ve visited) situated across from the Black Linn Falls.
The walk along the River Braan was spectacular; sunlight and misty rain both filtering through the trees towering above. Our young sons’ jostling for the best view on the slippery rocks and precarious bridge caused more nervous parenting. We headed through the surprisingly uncrowded hall to the viewing balcony. After a few moments spent gazing across at the now deafeningly close falls from behind some earlier arrivals, the woman in front of us suggested to her family that they make room. ‘We’ve seen a fair few; let’s let some other people have a turn.’ Sensing my ears prick up she grinned and informed me that yes, there were salmon jumping today.
And there they were, leaping through the dashing down spray. We watched for a short while before heading home, adults impressed and thoughtful, children as full as energy and vigour as the leaping fish.