Ossian’s Hall

The original building here was a summerhouse built in 1757 as a retreat from the pressures of daily life – a hermitage, which gave the place its name. Ossian’s Hall was built in 1782–3 to replace the summerhouse. The exterior was transformed to look like a small circular temple, while inside a luxurious drawing room was decorated with plasterwork, paintings and mirrors.

Entering the building, visitors came first into a circular antechamber and were confronted by an almost life-sized painting of Ossian. A secret pulley was operated, sliding the painting into a recess in the wall, and allowing access to a brightly painted and well-lit inner room. Here the noise of the rushing water, amplified by the building’s acoustics, suddenly burst on the visitor’s ears: the waterfall was reflected in mirrors covering the walls and ceiling, giving the illusion of water pouring in all directions.

The hall was partly blown up by gunpowder in 1869, probably as a protest against toll charges on the bridge at Dunkeld levied by the 7th Duke of Atholl. After it was repaired, the painting of Ossian was replaced with a portrait of William Duff, a local ghillie known as ‘Beardy Willie’, who was a favourite of Queen Victoria. But by the early 20th century Ossian’s Hall was derelict. It wasn’t until 1951 that the Trust salvaged and simplified the building.

In 2007, 250 years after its original construction, the Trust undertook a new project to conserve and protect the building, as well as reintroducing elements of surprise and to capture the contrasts of light and sound. Visitors can now enjoy an experience of the building and waterfall which, although different to that of early tourists, shares its spirit.