"I CAN understand why Perth was named Scotland’s happiest place,” says lifelong resident Colin Murray. “It’s so liveable, with great food, loads to see and do, and really friendly people – it’s more like a large village than a stressful big city.”

I see what he means – we’ve only been on this ghost tour for five minutes and already Colin has waved at half-a-dozen people. And we’ve not even mentioned the beavers yet. Yes, beavers. In a Scottish city.

Perth has plenty to smile about, as I find when I head back for the first time since that happiness award in 2020.

The Stone of Destiny may be heading back to London for Charles III’s coronation, but soon it will be back in its rightful place. And by that I don’t just mean back in Scotland at Edinburgh Castle, but in its real rightful place in Scone.

The National:

The Stone of Destiny will be the star attraction at the revamped Perth City Hall after a massive project to bring this grand edifice right in the heart of the city back to its best. I can see real progress and it should open in 2024 at the latest, bringing Perth a massive tourism boost. If you head to Perth now, you get to see Perth City Hall and the city centre as it evolves.

I’ve watched Perth’s evolution over the last few decades first-hand. In 2008, it became the first city in the UK to be awarded Cittaslow status, in recognition of its determination to promote wellbeing and a quality of life ahead of development for development’s sake, then officially became a city again in 2012. It was also the site of Scotland’s first farmers’ market and was awarded the title of Scotland’s Food Town of the Year in 2018.

“All of the awards don’t surprise me,” says Christopher Strachan, restaurant manager at fine dining bolthole 63 Tay Street. “Perthshire boasts a remarkable natural larder, perhaps the finest in Scotland with the beef, lamb and soft fruits from the land, and salmon and trout from our waters. The game is world-class too.”

I cannot argue as I tuck into a five-course tasting menu alive with ultra-fresh produce. The remarkable Graeme Pallister has been head chef since 2007, sourcing vegetables tonight from his own allotment on an island in the Tay and apples from one of the waitress’s gardens.

Perth’s foodie scene is impressive in its quality and affordability.

I don’t have a bad meal, savouring seafood and a view of St John’s Kirk (hence the St Johnstone football team) at Cafe Tabou, modern Scottish flair at North Port and a cracking Cullen Skink at my hotel the Mercure Perth.

It’s no normal hotel. There is an old mill waterwheel running through reception, with the hotel woven around this slice of Perth heritage. It’s worth staying here for that alone but their brasserie is decent, too, and the bedrooms are bright and spacious. That waterwheel and gushing lade touch on how deeply historic Perth is. I take the History and Horror Tour of Perth. It is no-jump-out-and-scare-you ghostly thrill ride, more a deep dive into the city’s history from the brilliant Gary Knight, who has published books on Perth.

“Perth is unique with history everywhere you look. And yes, one or two ghosts woven into our rich fabric,” he says as he bangs his staff on the cobbles and leads us back to the 16th century in Blackfriars Burial Ground.

There is real strength in depth, too. The Fergusson Gallery features the work of Scotland’s Matisse, JD Fergusson. At the Perth Museum and Art Gallery I delve into the city’s history. Perth Concert Hall is a superb modern venue that showcases everything from classic concerts to West End musicals – it welcomes back the Royal National Mod from October 14-22.

The National: Perth Art Gallery and Museum.

Perth may be a cerebral city, but it has green lungs too. The North Inch and South Inch parks neatly frame the centre. Legend has it that King James II banned golf from the parks as it was distracting his men from archery practice.

Distracting me today is the River Tay, which connects the parks and flanks the city centre. I’m up in North Inch looking for beavers – in 2021 Perth became the first city in the UK for 400 years to sport a resident beaver population. They are most active at sunrise and sunset – I don’t see them, but see evidence of their handiwork in the riverbank trees.

As there are no beavers in North Inch, the next morning I hook up with Piotr of Outdoor Explore. He runs kayak trips on the River Tay that open up what he calls “Perth’s Wildlife Big Five”, including beavers. Downstream from the city we find them working away on their dams.

I end my trip where it all really began for Perth. And that is out at Scone Palace. This is where many a Scottish monarch was crowned, an integral site in Scottish history.

I explore the lavish palace, before easing off around the grounds to Moot Hill, where Scottish nobles used to gather for the coronations. Soon the Stone of Destiny will be back on the banks of the Tay in Perth. No wonder the citizens of the Fair City of Perth are smiling.