Birnam is a village in Highland Perthshire, which grew up in the 19th C as a resort town when the railway reached it. It's on the west bank of the River Tay, which here makes an S-bend, so it becomes the south bank. It's connected by the 200-year old Telford Bridge to Dunkeld on the east bank.
A few ancient trees are all that remain of the primeval Birnam Wood - the one that marched off to Dunsinane in Shakespeare's play Macbeth - but there are extensive modern woodlands above Craigvinean.
The nearest Tourist Information Centres are in Perth and Pitlochry: the nearby TIC in Dunkeld closed in Nov 2018.
Dunkeld and Birnam Station is close to the village centre. There are trains every hour or so from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling via Perth, continuing north to Aviemore and Inverness. The Caledonian Highland Sleeper (for Inverness) runs overnight Sun-F leaving London Euston after 21:00 and dropping off here towards 06:00; the southbound sleeper picks up around 23:00 to reach Euston for 08:00. You might prefer to take the Lowland Sleeper from Euston towards midnight and change at Edinburgh for a daytime train; going south you need to leave Birnam before 21:00 to pick up the southbound sleeper in Edinburgh.
Most of the buses along the A9 bypass Birnam, and there's usually only one or two Citylink buses per day from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Inverness. Change at Perth Broxden for services to Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling and towards London.
Stagecoach Bus 23 runs every hour or so from Perth via Birnam to Aberfeldy or Pitlochry.
Access from the A9 Edinburgh to Inverness road is from junctions at the north and south ends of the village.
Edinburgh Airport is about an hour from Birnam. Reckon £75 for a taxi transfer to Birnam or Dunkeld.
Walking is fine for Birnam, Little Dunkeld and Dunkeld. Buses and trains run up the valley from Perth through Birnam to Pitlochry and Aberfeldy - see "Get in" - but you'll need your own transport to get anywhere else.
Taxi: Birnam Autocabs, based at Perth Road, Birnam. Phone +44 1350 728828.
He was born in 1005 and his full name was Macbeth MacFinlay, ie he was son of Finlay and his Christian name was Macbeth, meaning “righteous” or “son of life”. He was Lord of Moray, a large region stretching up to Sutherland; further north was Viking territory, while to the south lay the Kingdom of Alba. In 1040 King Duncan I of Alba attacked Macbeth, but was defeated and killed at Elgin, so now Macbeth became King of Alba. There’s no contemporary evidence that he was a tyrant, and his reign was secure enough for him to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050. But in 1054 the English invaded, his forces were driven back by Duncan’s son the future Malcolm III, and in 1057 Macbeth was slain at Lumphanan near Aberdeen.
Macbeth’s own line died out, whereas Malcolm’s line continued, with King James VI & I among his descendants. So when Shakespeare wanted a royal villain without impugning his own monarch, this was a shrewd choice. The play was written in 1606 and has proved a sure theatre-filler ever since, in multiple productions and adaptions. However circa 1900, a young JRR Tolkien was disappointed by the resolution of the witches’ prophecies:
"Laugh to scorn / the power of man, for none of woman born / shall harm Macbeth."
"Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill / shall come against him." .
Macbeth is dismayed (spoiler alert) when Birnam Wood appears to advance, but in truth it doesn’t: it’s just the oncoming army using branches as camouflage. And he’s finally killed by Macduff, who "was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped." So, something like a Caesarean birth – but Macduff would still be "of woman born."
Tolkien reckoned Shakespeare had fudged it, so in Lord of The Rings he does better. The Ents are a real forest marching upon the sorcerer Saruman at Isengard. And the Witch-king of the Nazgûl, who is unassailable since "not by the hand of man shall he fall", is slain by Éowyn and Merry, ie by a woman and a Hobbit.
- 1 Birnam Oak (Down Oak Road across park to riverside). An ancient oak tree: no-one's sure, but based on its girth of 7 metres, it will be 500 to 600 years old. It's a last remnant of Birnam Wood, the primeval forest that once cloaked this valley. There are several other old trees nearby, which many visitors mistake for the oak: the ancient sycamore is larger but is a mere 300 years old. Recognise the real thing by a) it not being a sycamore, b) it's specifically a sessile oak: the acorns grow direct from the twigs, not on stalks; and c) there's a pretty obvious sign.
- 2 Birnam Arts, Station Road, Birnam PH8 0DS, ☏ . Daily 10:00-16:30. A multi-purpose building with a cafe, Beatrix Potter exhibition and shop, workshops, WiFi, visiting music and drama and the Library. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) spent several childhood holidays at nearby Dalguise, and it was on a later holiday to Eastwood, just across the river in Dunkeld, that she created the basis for Peter Rabbit. She was also a notable naturalist (Perth Museum displays her paintings of fungi) and conservationist. This exhibition recreates the creatures and environment that inspired her. Exhibition £3.
- Craigvinean Forest, one mile west of Birnam, is accessed via a track just west of the little River Braan. Autumn colours are gorgeous here but are best admired in the morning: the light fades early as the sun goes behind the crags to the south. (Alas the notable Douglas Fir blew down in Jan 2017.) Up the hill, The Hermitage is a collection of 18th C follies commemorating the Celtic Bard Ossian. These include the "Hall of Mirrors", effectively an artwork installation reflecting a waterfall, and "Ossian's Cave", which they couldn't recruit a hermit to live in so they paid a guide to dress up as one. All this was inspired by the 18th C publishing blockbusters of Fingal followed by Temora then Ossian, supposedly the works of that 3rd C Bard: they were all the fabrication of the industrious James Macpherson.
- The Forest is part of Tay Forest Park which comprises a dozen or so separate tracts across Perth and Kinross. The main portion and visitor centre is on Loch Tummel. The emphasis of the park is on recreation and it's nothing like as wild as Cairngorms National Park.
- Walk: Birnam is the start of many excellent walks.
- Niel Gow Fiddle Festival carries on the traditions of the renowned fiddler Niel Gow (1727-1807) - not "Neil", that was his grandson. The next event is 20-22 March 2020.
- Birnam Highland Games are held on the last Saturday in August, on Games Park, Little Dunkeld. Various stalls, piping and dancing, athletics, and not least the World Haggis Eating Contest. The next event is on Sat 29 Aug 2020.
- 1 Birnam Post Office & Tea Room, Perth Rd. M-Sa 09:00-17:00, Su 10:00-16:00. Unusual building in American Frontier style with herring-bone timber, built in 2004. You half-expect Rin Tin Tin to come bounding out, so yes, the Tea Room is dog-friendly, with a good selection of refreshments.
- and see listings for Birnam Arts and Birnam Hotel.
You'll probably do better in Dunkeld.
- 1 Birnam Hotel, Perth Road PH8 0AA, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 3-star near rwy station, mixed reviews but you get what you pay for. Amenities include a bar and pizzeria. B&B doubles from £40.
- 2 Merryburn Hotel, Station Road, PH8 0DS, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Small guesthouse with 5 rooms, clean & comfy. B&B double from £80.
- 3 Jessie Mac's, Murthly Terrace, PH8 0BG, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Offering a mixture of self-catering hostel and B&B, in a refurbished Victorian manse. With a comfortable lounge, dining room, well-equipped kitchen, drying room, bike shed and free wifi. Dorm £22 pp, private room £30 pp.
- Plus some half a dozen other small self-catering and B&B places around the village. Otherwise try across the bridge in Dunkeld.
|Routes through Birnam|
|Inverness ← Pitlochry ←||NW SE||→ Perth → Edinburgh|