Photo: The Praying Hands of Mary
The Enchanted Forest at Faskally woods in Perthshire is one of the eagerly anticipated cultural events of the year. Each October the wood is transformed into an otherworldly experience with a dazzling light display that also features incredible set designs and an original music score. Using the forest as a natural backdrop, you can experience an evening that is, quite simply, out of this world. This multiple award winning show is one of the hottest nights out in Perthshire, tickets go on sale next week so be quick if you want to be a part of it this year. Mill Cottage, just a few miles from Dunkeld is convenient place to stay if you are journeying up for this and also makes a perfect base for exploring all of Perthshire and for walking in the nearby woods.
Perthshire has no shortage of otherworldly delights, Schiehallion, as well as being one of the most well-known mountains in the country, and the supposed geographical centre of Scotland is also the location of a cave known as Uamh Tom a’Mhor. Although marked on the ordnance survey map this 40 yard long cave is notoriously difficult to find but has been positively identified as the entrance to the realm of the fairies. It is not expressly forbidden to enter but we can only consul caution as local lore warns of sheltering travellers being lured deep inside for up to 30 years. A far more attractive place to stay in the area would be Acharn Courtyard. A fantastic choice if you are at all interested in the many outdoor attractions around Perthshire as it is handy for all the most famous mountain and river activities.
The original Gaelic name of Glen Lyon - Gleann Lìomhann - translates as "valley of Lugh", after the Sun God in Celtic mythology. Hidden away in a remote corner of the glen is a small turf roofed house known as Tigh na Cailleach. This dilapidated and unassuming building is home to a family of water worn stones known as the Cailleach (old woman), the Bodach (old man) and their children. It is an ancient shrine to the cult of the Mother Goddess and to this day the family are brought out of their house at the start of the summer and each October they are returned for the winter, just before Samhain. This is the only remaining shrine to the Celtic mother goddess An Cailleach in the UK and this is the oldest uninterrupted pagan ritual on record. It’s a fascinating place and well worth persevering with the long boggy hike to investigate. For a fascinating day out you could combine a visit there with a trip to see the enigmatic praying hands stones which are an accessible walk from the Ben Lawyers visitor centre. This mysterious rock formation is the source of much local folklore. Shaped like a massive standing stone that has been split in two so as now to resemble a pair of hands in prayer it looks towards the conical hill of Creag nan Eildeag. The stones have a recent Christian name (The Praying Hands of Mary) but ancient legends predate the arrival of Christianity with one tale recounting how the rock was split by Fingal’s Arrow. Strathlyon Cottage is a great place to return to after a day on the hills, luxurious and convenient for all the attractions of nearby Aberfeldy.
Just across the regional border in Stirlingshire, Aberfoyle is historically one of the busiest places in Scotland when it comes to fairy activity. This has much to do with a local 17th-century minister, Rev Robert Kirk, who managed to balance his religious beliefs with a strong interest in paganism. A pamphlet he wrote in 1691 about an evening spent with the little people sparked a storm of controversy. Although the reverend is buried in the graveyard in Aberfoyle, a tall tree on the summit of nearby Doon Hill, distinctive and visible for miles around is known as the 'Minister’s Pine' and is said to house his spirit. The surrounding trees are festooned with pieces of brightly coloured material with votive messages. This stems from an old custom, were rags would be left to rot at holy places in the hope of cures, and as offerings to the local spirits.
To cash in on the area’s notoriety the local council has taken to building a number of fairy homes in the nearby forest. The carved dwellings are along a popular family walk, as well as providing some entertainment for young ones they serve as a fascinating reminder of the strange pagan history of the region. The Old Farmhouse on the banks of Loch Lomond is just half an hour’s drive away, a modern well equipped oasis, ideal to retreat from the pressures of the outside world.