‘Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be
Until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him...’
Macbeth, Act IV, scene I, by William Shakespeare
‘Blow wind! Come wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.’ So says the regicide Macbeth, as he goes to meet his doom in battle beneath his stronghold at Dunsinane. It's stirring stuff, but of course Shakespeare never set foot in Scotland – and Macbeth may never have visited Dunsinane. By his time, the Iron Age fort atop Dunsinane Hill had been deserted for centuries.
Hero or villain?
Shakespeare was writing a slasher drama, not a historical treatise. The real Macbeth – MacBethad mac Findlaich, known as Ri Deircc or 'Red King' – seems to have been more hero than villain, at least by his own lights. His was a hybrid realm of Scots incomers and native Picts. Their royal and noble families had intermarried for centuries by Macbeth’s time, but two different traditions decided who would be king.
A clash of cultures
The Scots favoured direct succession by the oldest male heir. But by Pictish custom, the throne passed through the female line. The real MacBethad was mormaer or 'great steward' of Moray, in northeast Scotland, and a maternal grandson of King Malcolm II – and so he believed he was the rightful heir to the throne when Malcolm died. His wife, Gruoch (the real Lady Macbeth), was also of royal blood, which strengthened his claim. When Donnchad (Duncan) I, another of Malcolm II's grandsons on the male side, took the crown, Macbeth rebelled. Duncan – who was around Macbeth's own age, not the aged monarch portrayed by Shakespeare – was killed in battle in 1040, soon after his coronation.
A popular king
Macbeth ruled for the next 17 years. Early sources say he was a popular king, 'fair, yellow-haired and tall' and his reign was quite peaceful – he even found time to make a pilgrimage to Rome.
History and Shakespeare agree on one thing, however: Macbeth really was killed in battle with Malcolm, Duncan's son, who came north in 1054 with a fleet and army provided by his ally, Siward, Earl of Northumbria, and defeated Macbeth at the 'Battle of the Seven Sleepers'. Where this took place is unknown, but it is unlikely to have been anywhere near Dunsinane. Macbeth survived, but was brought to bay and killed in battle at Lumphanan, in Aberdeenshire, three years later.
This is an easy walk to a hilltop topped with Iron Age ramparts and mysterious symbol-stones. From the top there are heart-stopping views across the Tay to Fife, north into the Grampians, and westwards over Perthshire.
From the old cross by the thatched cottage on the main street, walk through Kinrossie village, keeping the cross on your left. At the end of the street, turn right along the road signposted 'Collace Church and School'. This is a quiet road with mature trees on either side. Walk up until you reach Kirkton of Collace and its church. Kirkton of Collace and Collace are not the same place - they're just under a mile (1.4 km) apart. You can detour into the kirkyard here for a peek at the quaint Nairne Mausoleum, last resting place of William Nairne, Lord Dunsinane, the last of a line of local baronets. Built in 1813, it incorporates a 13th-century arch.
In front of the church, turn right and follow the obvious track to farm buildings on your left, then turn left at a fingerpost marked 'School Road – Path to B953'. This leads to a rutted tractor track which ascends through fields towards a mobile phone mast on your left. Past this, the path narrows to a rough strip and continues between fields to a gap between two patches of conifer woodland at the crest of the hill.
Pass through a gap in a tumbledown wire fence. A post waymarked with a yellow arrow in a green circle indicates the path. Keep straight on over a stretch of tussock grass and heather, where the path is just a faint trace. Continue to where it passes through the scant remains of another wire fence with a rotting wooden stile on your left, and go on gently downhill into birch woods. The path almost vanishes here, but you are guided by a line of old wooden fence posts on your left.
As the path emerges from the trees, look out for arrow-posts marking the way. Follow these downhill, with fields below on your right and a fir wood above on your left. Where the woods end, clamber over a wooden stile into a field. (Be careful here: the electric fence may be live.) Walk down the edge of the wide, sloping field and join the road by another stile.
Turn left and walk past a row of cottages, then a patch of pinewoods on your left, until you reach a junction. Turn left here, signed 'Collace', and follow the road. It's a quiet road, but watch out for traffic. Pass woods on the left that encircle Bandirran Hill. Walk past the quarry entrance on the right-hand side, and continue following the road through woodland to a sharp left bend with a metal gate on the right-hand side.
Go through the kissing gate next to the gate (there's an information board and a sign saying 'No dogs') and walk up the grassy track, keeping to the fence line on the left-hand side. Reach rough moorland and continue uphill. At the top you come to the ancient fortifications on Dunsinane Hill.
Retrace your steps to rejoin the road, and walk straight on through Collace village. After the village, keep following the road to reach a junction. Turn left and walk along the narrow road to reach the church again. Turn right in front of the church, and walk back along the road. At the end, turn left to return to the starting point in Kinrossie.
Quiet roads, a stretch of overgrown woodland trail, one grassy hill track; several stiles
Quiet villages, fields and historic hills
No dogs on Dunsinane Hill
OS Explorer 380 Dundee & Sidlaw Hills
Kinrossie main street
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Perth and Kinross
Perth and Kinross, sheltered by the Grampian Mountains, is often regarded as the Heart of Scotland, and its mountains, lochs and glens yearn to be explored. Just outside the ancient city of Perth is Scone Palace, home of the mystical Stone of Destiny, on which 42 Scottish Kings were crowned. Not far south-west lies the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel.
The Tay Valley is one of the region’s most scenic features, with its popular holiday resorts of Pitlochry and Blair Atholl, while Rannoch Moor is a magnificent wilderness that represents one of Scotland’s great walking experiences. The long and beautiful hidden valley of Glen Lyon lies sandwiched in the mountains between Loch Tay and Loch Rannoch, separated from Loch Rannoch by the broad summit of Carn Mairg. Said to be the longest glen in Scotland, it exhibits an enormous diversity of scenery.
In recent years Perth has developed as Scotland’s adventure capital, with an ever-longer list of adventure sports and activities to take you out and about across the region. So, if the more traditional sports seem tame, you can get your adrenaline rush by quad biking, off-road driving, abseiling, canoeing, waterskiing, cliff jumping, white-water rafting or even paintballing.