Parts of Perthshire are little known and extremely remote, especially parts of highland Perthshire. But you don't have to stray far from Perth itself to find fascinating corners that are very little visited. St Martins is a perfect example.
A network of single track roads give access to a settlement that turns out to be little more than the name on the map plus a few attractive cottages and the beautifully located St Martins Parish Church. The nearby St Martins Abbey turns out to be a mansion built in 1791 hiding away from sight behind screens of trees and not publicly accessible.
St Martins Parish Church was not open when we visited, but the exterior and, in particular, the churchyard, are sufficiently interesting to make a trip worthwhile. The church itself is located in a loop of St Martins Burn and the site is curiously whalebacked in shape, falling away on both aides and at one end. This gives the impression of a site that is considerably older than the building which occupies it today. And it is: St Martins Church was built in 1842 and it is obvious from the many fascinating old gravestones in the churchyard that today's church replaced an earlier church or churches dating back at least as far as 1600.
In fact, the earliest record of a church at St Martins was in 1189, when an already existing church on the site was granted to the Bishop of Dunkeld. Thereafter it appears to have been in continuous use through the medieval period to the Reformation, and afterwards. Little or nothing is known about what the early church or churches that stood on this site would have looked like. It is probably that the church referred to in 1189, if made from stone, was still in use at the time of the Reformation. The usual pattern would have seen it rebuilt thereafter to suit the new form of worship as soon as funds became available.
The first reference we have to the church's architecture is a comment made in 1794 that the church had been rebuilt in 1776. It was again rebuilt in 1842, and it is possible that some parts of the structure of the earlier church remain within what has stood here since.
The churchyard is fascinating for its collection of early (i.e. 1700s) gravestones carrying symbols of mortality such as skulls, crossbones, coffins and angels. These came into vogue because carved crosses were considered too Papist for the Presbyterian Church. Also common on early gravestones are symbols representing the trades of the people buried here. At St Martins you can find a hammer and anvil on the 1791 gravestone of James Tasker, a blacksmith. There are also a number of gravestones of farmers carrying carvings of ploughshares.
One gravestone at St Martins carries a carving which was quiet popular in Scotland in the 1700s, of a scene showing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Especially attractive and unusual are two immortelles. Immortelles were stunningly beautiful but highly fragile memorials comprising china flowers, birds and other objects arranged in a circular form and covered by a glass dome. They were popular in the 1800s and the few which have survived have usually been protected by wire cages. If you find a complete one today, the glass dome usually has so much condensation on its inside surface that the contents are difficult to see. One of those at St Martins is complete while the other, tragically, has a broken glass dome, within which the china objects are still present.