Wildlife & Nature

Autumn colours in Killiecrankie

Killiecrankie autumn (1)When the season bends towards autumn, the woods that line the banks of the River Garry start to glow with fire.   On 17th October we took a walk along the Killiecrankie Gorge, just north of Dunkeld, with leaves tumbling all around us and mist rising slowly off the water to reveal a landscape that was burnished with gold.

Killiecrankie autumn (2)Killiecrankie AutumnKilliecrankie Autumn (3)The air was icy, and frost was melting from the topmost branches as the sun caught them, sending droplets pattering to the woodland floor.   From the steep banks, noisy little rills of water poured in a headlong plunge down to the river, their fall broken by cushions of ferns and mosses.  After a few weeks of dry weather the water was low, but bare rocks and snagged clumps of dead foliage showed the astonishing level that it can reach after heavy rain.

We’ve visited Killiecrankie before, but it was later in the year, when most of the leaves had fallen and the bare branches were wearing a ghostly coating of frost.   The lighting was challenging – as I think it always is, in this deep gorge – and the trees were half-wreathed in shadow, standing in silence.

Killiecrankie autumn (4)Not so silent in mid-October, with leaves rattling down from the canopy at the rate of two or three per second.   I remembered the slaughter that had taken place here – in 1689 this was the scene of a dreadful battle between Highlanders and Redcoats in the first Jacobite uprising – and to me it seemed as if the falling leaves were like souls re-living their own end.  Then, about half-way along the path to the bridge, we came across the Balfour Stone, which marks the spot where a Government soldier was killed:  Brigadier Barthold Balfour, an officer under the command of General Hugh MacKay of Scourie.   The stone is said to mark Balfour’s grave.   We stopped and regarded it for a few moments, and I reflected for about the hundredth time that you can’t walk two steps in this country without treading on history.  How many others fell and were buried here, men of both sides?  No wonder Killiecrankie has so many tales of haunting.

Killiecrankie Autumn 176

“MacKay’s left wing broke almost at once under the onslaught, as Balfour’s infantry fled downhill towards the river, and then tried to escape down the valley…  Pursued by the MacLeans, many men were cut down before they even reached its mouth, while the survivors were killed as they became jammed together on the narrow path through the gorge… Among the dead was Balfour himself, supposedly slain by the Reverend Robert Steuart of Ballechin after he had contemptuously refused an offer of quarter.”  

‘Clan, King and Covenant:  History of the Highland Clans from the Civil War’ by John Leonard Roberts

From a pedestrian bridge over the gorge you can admire the spectrum of colour produced by birch, beech, oak, hazel, sycamore and wych elm, punctuated by dark green columns of Douglas fir.   It is a dazzling sight, made even more magical because it’s so transitory.

After a lingering spell of warmth, the show of autumn colour is only just getting under way;   I’m sure that last year the leaves turned earlier, and it’s surprising how the intensity varies from year to year.   There may be a late flush if we have a few more frosts, with no storms to strip the trees before we can enjoy them.

Killiecrankie autumn (5)Killiecrankie autumn (31)Killiecrankie autumn (15)Killiecrankie Autumn (4)Killiecrankie autumn (7)Killiecrankie autumn (8)Killiecrankie autumn (9)Killiecrankie autumn (10)Killiecrankie autumn (22)Killiecrankie autumn (12)Killiecrankie autumn (36)Killiecrankie autumn (21)Killiecrankie CW Autumn 142Killiecrankie autumn (26)

Killiecrankie is managed by the National Trust for Scotland.  The woodland walks are open daily, all year round, and there is no admission fee.   The Visitor Centre has a bookshop and café (seasonal opening – check the NTS website for full details). 

Photos copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf

Killiecrankie – haunted by memories

Killiecrankie 11You can read more about the Battle of Killiecrankie in this post on The Hazel Tree.


  • Elaine Forrest

    Hi Jo
    I do so look forward to your blog it is truly an inspiration to get out and enjoy this wonderful country.
    I will be heading to Killiecrankie as soon as I can .I decided, thanks to you to visit Dryburgh Abbey as I had recalled we had a family gravestone there. Imagine my joy when I found that my Uncle Zerubbable Forson was one in a long line of Zerubbable ‘s
    Thank you so much Keep up the good work very much appreciated.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you so much, Elaine, that’s very kind of you, and I’m really glad to inspire people to get out and enjoy the fantastic history and landscape of Scotland. Delighted to hear you visited Dryburgh and I cannot believe your uncle’s name: Zerubbable! Gracious goodness, I would like to think he was a character, with such a name! 🙂 Do you know anything about its origins?

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Viv! We have got a stunning collection of photos from that day. It was a pleasure to be out there, in the sunshine. You are most welcome, and I’m glad you enjoyed them.

  • Cornel Ap.

    In the first photo I like those waves created by stones, it gives me the impression of very fast waters.

    I notice some fog there… something usual for Scotland, isn’t it.

    That photo of water reflections! Stunning colours!

    Autumn has great light and beautiful colours.

    • Jo Woolf

      Yes, the river was going quite quickly at that point, but slowed down a lot further on, making still pools and lots of lovely reflections. You’re right about the fog! But really it was mist that was lingering and it ‘burned off’ by lunchtime. We do sometimes get sea fogs on the east coast – that is called ‘haar’. I know, Colin was very pleased with that photo of the reflections! He got several like that, all the same amazing colours. He remembered his waterproof trousers this time which was good because he usually gets very wet legs and bum from squatting in wet places! 🙂

  • dancingbeastie

    Hasn’t it been a beautiful, gentle autumn? You have captured the landscape here breathtakingly well. It quite puts me to shame that I haven’t made more effort to share our autumn beauty this year!
    I think your photo of the water is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Wow. There’s a textile artist I know who would find this so inspiring, I think – as do I!

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you very much! Yes, what a lovely few weeks we’ve had, and so very welcome after the non-summer. That pic of the ‘marbled’ water is Colin’s and he was very pleased with it! The colours are SO beautiful. He says thank you! 🙂

  • Jane

    A beautiful collection! My favourite is the marbled water, but the colours are gorgeous in the others too. How pretty autumn is in the northern hemisphere.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Jane! We got some fantastic pics of the water that day. The reflections were amazing. Yes, we’re really lucky with our autumn – and we’re making the most of it after the wet and cool summer.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Andy! Yes, the reflections were fabulous, and Colin got a lot of photos which he’s very pleased with. Aha, Killiecrankie schists, eh? Would you mind pointing them out?? 😀

      • Fife Photos and Art

        I must confess to guessing a wee bit about the rocks. I know there are lots of schists and gneiss’s in that area, and there is a rock group called the Killiecrankie Schist Formation. So I put two and two together for your photo ‘killiecrankie-cw-autumn-91.jpg’ 🙂 These rocks are 542 to 1000 million years old, and are metamorphosed remains of deepish marine deposits (mudstones) which were highly deformed during the Grampian/Caledonian Orogeny (mountain building event). BTW, I had a look at some of Colin’s artwork last week, he is an amazing artist. His work is BRILLIANT!!!!

      • Jo Woolf

        Oh! Thank you for pointing those out! How nice that there is a rock formation named after Killiecrankie! I will take another look at them. You are very kind – and Colin says thank you! 🙂

  • tearoomdelights

    A wonderful variety of photos, Jo, and I like your point about stepping on history all over the place in this country. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. I’ve never seen Balfour’s stone so I should go and have a look at that. I’ve been meaning to go and have a look at the colours lining the Garry and you’ve inspired me to crack on with it. I’d love to get a day like the one you had, the colours look so beautiful in the sunshine.

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Lorna! We were very lucky but we just felt we had to go out and enjoy them while the fine weather lasted. I’m hoping the wind we’re getting doesn’t strip too many leaves off. I was very interested to see Balfour’s Stone, which I’d never heard about either. So many memories are attached to this place.

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