An Introduction to Perth

St Matthew's Church, Tay Street, Perth, Scotland. Copyright David Wheater.jpg

by David Wheater

Perth is a small, friendly Scottish city, situated in central Scotland, with a population of around 45,000. Perth lost its city status in 1975, but regained it on 14th March, 2012 in a competition to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Perth is a lovely city, offering a high quality of life with easy access to some of the most picturesque countryside in Scotland. Occupying a convenient central location in Scotland, all of Scotland’s six other cities may be easily reached via the M90, A9 and the A90.

Perth derives its name from the Pictish-Gaelic word for “wood” or “copse” and was at one time considered the working capital of Scotland due to the regular visits of the royal court.

Perth is often referred to as “The Fair City” after Sir Walter Scott’s 1828 novel the “Fair Maid of Perth”. Just over an hours drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh, the city of Perth makes the perfect base to explore all the lovely Perthshire villages and the beautiful surrounding Perthshire countryside.

Perth is often overlooked by visitors to Scotland, but it really is a beautiful small city that always rewards a visit. With the majestic River Tay running through it and an attractive, pedestrianised city centre, it’s a great place to spend a day or two.

Surrounded by rich, fertile farming land, on the west bank of the river Tay, Perth is an important retail and commercial centre for the region, with regular livestock and farmers markets taking place throughout the year.

Today, the city’s main employment is found in the retail, tourism and insurance industries, with Aviva and Scottish & Southern Energy being some of its largest employers. Perth is also home to the headquarters of Highland Spring and the global Stagecoach Group.

Perth College UHI (University of the Highlands & Islands) attracts a large number of students from the rest of Scotland and overseas to study MBA’s and MSc’s in its popular centres for Enterprise and Computing Science. Perth College is also a centre of excellence for aircraft engineering.

Sadly, few historic buildings remain from Perth’s days as the capital of Scotland, but it can certainly boast of a long and colourful past, with many of Scotland’s most important historical events having taken place in the city. Certainly, one of the most important was the beginning of the Scottish Reformation, which began with John Knox’s powerful sermon against “idolatry” in the burgh kirk of St John the Baptist in the city centre (open to visitors and well worth a visit). Perth actually used to be called “St John’s Town” after this church and the local football team is still named “Saint Johnstone”.

Hidden from view and buried underneath the city are the remains of Oliver Cromwell’s Citadel which was built to fortify and hold the city after capturing it in 1651. Archaeological digs have uncovered an impressive fortification, which was demolished from the 1660’s onwards after the restoration of Charles II to the throne.

Perth is easily explored on foot and offers lovely walks along the River Tay promenade and two beautiful parks, in the north and south of the city, called the North and South Inch. A highly recommended walk is the well sign posted River Tay Circular Walk. Perth is a very regular winner of the Britain in Bloom Award and its residents take great civic pride in making it one of the most attractive cities in the UK.

Now an important commercial centre for the whole of Scotland, Perth is an important retail centre offering most of the major high street brands, alongside a healthy mix of independent specialist retailers. With a traffic-free high Street and attractive Georgian terraced houses, shopping in Perth city centre is stress-free and a lovely place to be.

Perth and surrounding county offer an incredible amount to see and do with seemingly endless castles, distilleries, beautiful walks and scenery, not to mention the magnificent Cairngorms National Park less than an hours drive away. The lovely Perthshire villages of Aberfeldy, Crieff, Pitlochry and Dunkeld should also not be missed.

In Perth itself, a visit to the Perth Museum & Art Gallery, St John’s Kirk, The Fergusson Gallery, Stanley Mills, the Fair Maid’s House, Branklyn Gardens and the Black Watch Museum is an absolute must for every visitor. A bit further afield, a walk up Kinnoul Hill affords amazing views over the whole county and the castles of Huntingtower, Elcho and Megginch should not be missed either. Perth is also an excellent base for visiting Scone Palace and Blair Atholl.

If you’re a whisky lover you’re in your element with several just a short drive away, including Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery, Strathearn Distillery and the Glenturret Distillery.

Perth has its own very popular Perth Racecourse hosting many well-attended races throughout the year, with Ladies Day and Gold Cup Day being just a few of the highlights.

For culture lovers, the Perth Festival of the Arts is usually held in May, with other county highlights being the Perth Show, The Scottish Game Fair, the Glenfiddich Piping & Fiddling Championships, Rewind Scotland, the Perthshire Amber Festival and Blair Castle International Horse Trials & Country Fair.

With all this to offer Perth is a city not to be missed!

This article is one of a series on Perth by David. For more articles on Perth, please click on the ‘Perth’ tab below.