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Between the Ochils and the Forth
Chapter V. - Kinross and Loch Leven


Town of Kinross and its environs—Kinross House—Loch Leven and its history—The Castle Island and its memorials of Queen Mary— The Isle of St Serf and its priory,

Between Gairney Bridge and Kinross there is little to interest the traveller beyond the general view of the tow n, and of Loch Leven with its islands. The former occupies a slight rising ground near the north-western extremity of the loch, and consists mainly of one long street, traversing the town from south to north, with a number of cross lanes. It contains some good houses at the northern extremity, but can neither be said to be well built nor very attractive in general appearance. Besides smaller inns, it contains two good hotels—Kirk-land's and the Green Hotel, within a short distance of each other. The latter, situated at the north entrance of the town, and comprising a great part of what in the coaching days was one of the best-appointed inns in Scotland, is specially to be commended. It is largely patronised during the season by anglers.

Kinross has a population of i960, and was constituted a burgh of barony by Regent Morton in the reign of James VI. The municipal and county buildings with their clock tower (a modern erection) stand in the centre of the town, and opposite to them is the town cross (also a modern structure), around the upper part of which is suspended the jougs, or iron collar, which was used n ancient times as an implement of pillory and punishment for enclosing the necks of malefactors. Kinross was formerly celebrated for its manufacture of cutlery, but this branch of industry has long since completely disappeared, and beyond a factory at Bridge End and a little weaving, no special trade or industry is maintained in the town, which depends mainly on supplying the adjoining district with necessaries. It is also largely supported by the visitors who resort here both as anglers and pilgrims to the loch and castle. The whole of Loch Leven and its islands, with a considerable adjacent territory, including Burleigh Castle and Kinross House, belongs to Sir Graham Montgomery of Stanhope, Bart., as the lineal representative of Sir William Bruce of Kinross, who purchased the estate from the Earl of Morton in the latter half of the seventeenth century. The right of fishing in the loch is rented by the Loch Leven Angling Association, who maintain a supply of boats which may be hired by visitors. The season commences in the month of April, and trout-fishing may be enjoyed at the charge of 2s. 6d. an hour, and 2s. 6d. for the day to one of the two boatmen—the Association paying the other. The charge for perch-fishing is is. per hour, including boat, and for visiting the island and castle 5s. In the height of the season there is often a great demand for boats, though twenty are kept for hire.

Kinross-shire comprehended originally only the parishes of Kinross, Orwell, and Portmoak, and these were disjoined from Fife and formed into a separate county in 1426. Two hundred and sixty years afterwards, ;n 1685, an Act of the Scottish Parliament disjoined from Fife and Perth the parish of Cleish, and portions of those of Fossoway and Arngask, and attached them to the county of Kinross, " to support and maintain the state and rank of a district shire, as it is and anciently has been." After Clackmannanshire, it is the smallest county in Scotland, and the two are incorporated into one sheriffdom.

The monuments of Kinross are of little account, with the exception of the splendid mansion of Kinross House, situated to the east of the town on a long projection of land extending into the loch, and which has at its extremity the remains of the old parish church, with its burial-ground. The house was erected in 1685, by the celebrated architect Sir William Bruce, who had a few years previously purchased the Kinross estate from the Earl of Morton. He was cousin of Alexander, second Earl of Kincardine, and is said to have originally designed the building for the residence of James II., when Duke of York, in the event of the Exclusion Bill being carried to prevent his ascending the throne. The house is of the Renaissance style of architecture, which came greatly into vogue in Britain during the seventeenth century, and of which Inigo Jones was one of the ablest exponents. Sir William Bruce seems to have studied in the same school, and produced, besides Kinross House, Holyrood House, as restored after the conflagration in 1650, and the mansions of Moncreiff and Hope-toun. Presbyterian scandal, as given currency to by Kirkton in his History, has not hesitated to ascribe Sir William's success in money-making to the circumstance of his holding the appointment of Clerk of the Bills, and thus receiving a large portion of the fines levied from the recusant Covenanters. Thus, t asserts, was the estate of Kinross purchased and the foundation of its splendid mansion laid.

Kinross House is approached through an imposing gateway, from which a broad and verdant lawn extends up to the former, with stately rows of trees on each side, but there is—now at least—no proper carriage-way. Though in perfect order and repair, it is unfurnished," and has not been occupied for many years, but is well worthy of a visit as a fine and interesting specimen of a Scottish palatial mansion in the seventeenth century. The entrance-hall and adjoining rooms are all of a sumptuous order, but the grand apartment in the house is the ball-room or large drawing-room up-stairs, which has a length of 54 feet, by a breadth of 24. The old house previously existing, and which had been for several generations the residence of the Earls of Morton, was situated on the north side of the present garden, and was pulled down about the year 1723. Some traces of .ts foundations are still visible. In contrast apparently to the old castle in Loch Leven, it used to be known as the New House of Kinross.

Sir Robert Sibbald, in his ' History of Fife and Kinross,' waxes extremely eloquent on the subject of Kinross House, then but recently erected, and characterises it as a mansion "which, for situation, contrivance, prospects, avenues, courts, gravel-walks, and terraces, and all hortulane ornaments, parks, and planting, is surpassed by few in this country." He commends also highly Sir William's ingenuity in draining the ground, and thereby converting a morass into good land, which became thus the site of handsome policies and orchards. But it may well be questioned whether it was judicious to set down a mansion in so level and moist a situation, where, in rainy weather, the basement storey must always necessarily be damp, and even the approach to the house is often wet and uncomfortable.

Loch Leven is 360 feet above the level of the sea, and throughout the parish of Kinross the elevation above the loch nowhere exceeds roo feet. A popular saying connects its appellation with the number eleven, inasmuch as it was alleged to have a circuit of eleven miles, to contain eleven islands, be tenanted by eleven kinds of fish, and be surrounded by the estates of eleven lairds. All this, however, is an absurdity. The title " Leven " occurs frequently in local nomenclature in Scotland, denoting the grey or possibly the smooth water Ciath-am-huinn or omh-amhuinn, either of which terms, when contracted, is pronounced very like " Leven." As regards extent, it used to have a circuit of 15 miles, but the draining operations of 1830, by which nearly 1400 acres were reclaimed from the loch, chiefly on its eastern side, reduced this amount to 12 miles. The depth at medium height varies from 19 to 14 feet. The surface used to comprise 4638 imperial acres, which the drainage has reduced by nearly a third, leaving the amount at a little over 3000.

The east and southern shores of the loch are, as already mentioned, bordered by hills, whilst the west, and in a lesser degree the north, are level and monotonous. It contains only two islands of any size—the Castle Island at its north-west, and St Serf's Island at its south-east extremity. Its waters have long been famous for their pink-fleshed trout, a characteristic said to be derived from a fresh-water mussel on which they feed. A similar quality belongs to the trout of Lough Neagh in Ireland.

The Castle Island is about half a mile from the shore, and nearly in a line due east from Kinross House and the old churchyard. The water at tins point is very shallow, and in dry seasons it is almost possible to wade to the island from the mainland. Traces of an ancient causeway are also to be met with, and there seems little doubt that in primeval times the Castle Island formed the site of a crannog or lake-dwelling. In the neighbourhood are two or three small islets, which, having in recent times been planted with wood, add considerably to the beauty of the scenery. Those on the north-west and south-west side are denominated respectively "Lily's Bower " and "Roy's Folly," whilst on the south side is " Reed Bower." There was another islet here called "Paddock Bower," but since the lowering of the water-level of the loch, this has become a peninsula on the mainland. Beyond, and not far from the north shore, are Green Island and Scart Island (both very small). The last-named derives its appellation from the scarfs or cormorants which frequent Loch Leven, and commit some havoc among the trout. I do not know whether Scart Island is the same that Sir Robert Sibbald mentions as being near to the Castle Island, and bearing the name of "Bittern's Bower." There is no island now in Loch Leven which is so called, and the bittern itself is a bird that occurs but rarely in this neighbourhood.

The castle of Loch Leven, though nothing definite regarding its origin can be ascertained, is said to have been founded by Congal, son of Dongart, king of the Picts; and, at all events, it seems occasionally in early times to have been a royal residence. Among our Scottish monarchs, Alexander III. is said to have occupied it, and specially on one occasion, after his return from England, where he had been visiting his father-in-law, Henry III., at Wark Castle. In 1301 we hear of Edward I.'s forces besieging the place, and the siege being raised by Sir John Comyn. Thirty-four years later, in the reign of David II., when Edward III. had despatched an expedition to reinstate Baliol, the son of the former pretender to the Crown, Loch Leven Castle, then held by Sir Alan Vypont in the interest of King David, was invested by the English army under the command of Sir John Strivelyn. An attempt was made by the latter to submerge the island by damming up the river Leven at its exit from the loch, but was frustrated by the enterprise of the Scottish garrison, who, in a sudden and unexpected expedition made during the night to Levenmouth, succeeded in making breaches in the rampart. The water burst through with such violence as to carry everything before it, flooded the English camp, and drove the soldiers to flight in helpless confusion. Baggage and spoils of every kind were left behind, and carried off in triumph by the Scottish army, which thus received an important reinforcement towards resisting the siege. This-, too, they had not to sustain long, as a successful sally made by them on the English detachment at Kinross shortly afterwards freed them from the blockade.

In [429, Archibald, Earl of Douglas, was committed by James I. a State prisoner to Loch Leven Castle, which also, nearly sixty years later, received as a captive Patrick Graham, the Archbishop of St Andrews, who, by a sentence of deposition and imprisonment pronounced in 1484 by Pope Sixtus IV. and the College of Cardinals, had been committed first to a cell in Inchcolm, thence to Dunfermline Abbey, and finally to Loch Leven. Here he died, and his remains were interred in the hallowed ground of the island of St Serf.

Whilst the Castle Island continued an appanage of the Crown, there seems generally to have been resident in it a governor appointed by the sovereign, and known by the title of the captain of Loch Leven. When or how it first came into the hands of the Douglases is not very clear, but in 1540 we find a charter of novodamus granted by James V. in favour of Robert Douglas of Loch Leven and his son William, of the lands and barony of Kinross., and of the castle in the loch, along with other lands, of which those of Dalqueich, in the county of Kinross, are said to have been in the possession of the said Robert from time immemorial, though the writs and evidents of ownership had been lost. It was this Robert Douglas who married Lady Margaret Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Mar, who had previously borne to James V. a son, afterwards the celebrated Regent Moray, who was thus brother uterine of William Douglas of Loch Leven, the custodian of Queen Mary.

The main interest in the castle of Loch Leven centres, of course, in its having been the place of detention for a twelvemonth of the unfortunate Queen of Scots, who was conveyed here from Edinburgh in 1567, after her surrender to Moray's army at Carberry Hill. She managed to effect her escape from captivity on the evening of Sunday the 2d of May 1568, mainly by the aid of George Douglas, brother of the laird, whom, it is said, her charms had captivated. A young lad, known as the Little Douglas, doubtless a relation or dependant of the family, and who figures in ' The Abbot 'in the character of Roland Graeme, managed to steal the keys of the castle whilst the family were at supper, and, with the assistance of George Douglas, conveyed the Queen to a boat which was lying in readiness under the castle walls. She embarked in this, and was safely ferried across to the mainland, where she was met by Lord George Seton and other followers. Then mourning on horseback, she fled across the country with them to St Margaret's Hope, and there crossing the Forth to the opposite shore, proceeded to Lord Seton's castle of Niddry, near Winch-burgh, in West Lothian. Here she jested for two hours, and then continued her journey to Hamilton, where she found the army that had assembled on her behalf. A few days more decided her fate at the battle of Langside, which was followed by her flight to the Solway and embarkation for England.

Three places have been assigned as the scene of Mary's landing on the banks of Loch Leven after her escape from the castle. One of these is at the spot known as Mary's Knowe, on the shore of the loch, nearly a mile north from Kinross House. Another is at the north side of " Paddock Power," nearly 300 yards east from the old churchyard of Kinross, and almost in a line with the castle tower. Not far from this a bunch of keys was picked up by a boy in 1805, and supposed to have been those of the castle, which are stated in one account of Queen Mary's escape to have been thrown by young Douglas into the loch after locking the gates to prevent pursuit on the part of the inmates. A smaller bunch was picked up in the same neighbourhood in 1831, and conjectured to have belonged to one of Queen Mary's wardrobes.

It is more probable, on the whole, that the place of Mary's debarkation was at Coldon, at the south-west extremity of the loch, where she would be less liable to interception than anywhere n the neighbourhood of Kinross, and have at the same time a nearer and more convenient course of flight to the Firth of Forth. Most likely she made her way by the old road leading from Perth, which passed through the villages of Paranwell and Kelty, and thence by the Kirk of Beath and the country east of Dunfermline, across Calais Moor to Queensferry.

In the year following Queen Mary's escape, the Earl of Northumberland was sent a prisoner to Loch Leven Castle, at the request of Queen Elizabeth, to escape whose vengeance he had taken refuge in Scotland. He was detained there for three years, and at the end of that period was removed to England, where he was arraigned and beheaded on the charge of high treason.

The last notice that we have of the castle in Scottish history is the confinement here of Robert Pitcairn, commendator of the Abbey of Dunfermline, and Secretary of State under the regency of Lennox. He had been concerned in the political escapade known as the Raid of Ruthven, under which the youthful monarch, James VI., had for a time been subjected to a species of durance. For his share in this adventure, Pitcairn was arrested and conveyed to Loch Leven, where he died in 1584.

The Castle Island is now, owing to the subsidence of the waters of the loch, considerably larger than it was at the time of the imprisonment of the Queen of Scots, when its extent barely amounted to two acres. The tower or keep rises from it amid some fine old trees, and attached to it is a 'court, which is surrounded by a rampart wall, and formerly included a garden, besides an extensive range of offices. At the south-east corner of the rampart stands a small circular tower, in which, tradition says, Queen Mary was confined, the principal donjon or keep being inhabited by the Douglas family, with the Dowager Lady Margaret Erskine or Douglas, Sir William Douglas's mother, as resident wielder of authority. Some warrant for the tradition as to the place of Mary's confinement seems to be afforded in the following passage from a letter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton to Sir William Cecil, dated 2d August 1567: "The quene of Scotland is straytlier kept at Loughleven than she was yet, for now she ys shut up in a tower, and can have non admitted to speake with her but suche as be shut up with her." It may be fairly inferred, I think, from this, that Mary had at first been a resident in the castle itself, and allowed the liberty of walking about the island, and that having excited the suspicions of her jailers, she had been subjected, with a few attendants, to close confinement in the tower in question.

This small tower of Loch Leven is known as the "Glassin Tower," probably from its windows having been fitted with glass, in contradistinction to the stanchioned openings of the donjon. It consists altogether of four storeys, comprehending a vaulted cellar and three superimposed apartments, each of the latter of which has a diameter of fifteen, with a height of barely ten feet. There are fireplaces in each chamber, but the upper floors have disappeared. On the basement storey, above the vault, is a large projecting window or balcony, and on the first floor there is another large window, but without any projection. It was probably this apartment that the Queen occupied, and it may have been from th.s window, which commands a view of Benarty and the southern shore, that she was let down into a boat, and thus effected her escape. The waters of the loch must in those days have washed the base of the tower, and with the inmates of the castle locked in, and prevented from pursuing, it would not be difficult to be ferried over to Colaon, which lies nearly directly opposite to this corner of the island. Notwithstanding its pleasant outlook, and the walk from it along the ramparts, which, however, it is questionable that Mary was permitted to enjoy, the Glassin Tower must have been anything but a comfortable abode.

The keep or principal part of the fortress is a square tower of five storeys, the basement consisting of a sort of dungeon or vault, which is approached on the east side by a descending flight of steps. Through an openinng in the roof of this chamber a modern stone staircase has been carried, leading to the first floor, the large apart ment on which has probably served as a kitchen. From a corner of it a turret staircase leads to the second floor and upper apartments of the castle, the principal entrance to which seems to have been on the north side by a large arched opening in the wall of the second floor, to which access must have been gained by a wooden stair or ladder. There is no trace of any stone staircase, but the opening in the wall in question has all the appearance of a doorway, and the ladder or drawstair could be raised and replaced at pleasure. As regards the upper apartments, the flooring has disappeared. Altogether there is little evidence of good accommodation, although a tradition is preserved in Kinross of the castle being able to furnish fifty beds. Most probably this only meant that fifty persons might there find sleeping-places.

The other important island in Loch Leven is that of St Serf, which lies more than a mile to the south-east of the Castle Island, and presents few attractions to the general observer, exhibiting merely a nearly level expanse of grass, which the drainage of the loch has increased in extent from 32 to 70 acres. It has, however, a more curious history than its more renowned congener, having been the seat of an ancient Culdee priory, said to have been established there by St Serf, who received the island in gift from Brude, king of the Picts, in the seventh century. St Serf, who has thus given his name to his place of settlement, is said to have come originally as a Christian missionary from the East, and after visiting Rome, to have proceeded to Scotland and received the hospitality of St Adamnan, St Columba's biographer, on the island of Inchkeith. He has also been identified with the St Serf of Culross, who brought up St Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow; but this, as I have elsewhere endeavoured to show,1 is a mistake, arising from the circumstance of there having been two St Serfs, who lived at two periods—one in the fifth and the other in the seventh century—and the incidents connected with the lives of each having been mixed up together. It is very likely indeed, however, that both had a connection with Culross, which was certainly the principal scene of the labours of the elder saint.

The Culdee establishment founded by St Serf on the island in Loch Leven, subsisted ;n great reputation till the reign of David I., who set himself strongly against the maintenance further in Scotland of the ancient clergy regime, and converted all the monastic establishments throughout the country, whether with or against their consent, into communities of canons regular. Such was the fate of the monks of St Serf's Island, who were obliged to remodel their discipline and affiliate themselves to the canons regular of the priory of St Andrews. There is little else recorded in history concerning them, unless it be of a benefaction of the lands of Bolgyn and Kirkness,1 in the vicinity of Loch Leven, made to them by the famous Macbeth and his wife during their sovereignty of Scotland, and also the circumstance of Andrew de Wynton, author of the 'Chronicle' (a metrical history of the world), being in the early part of the fifteenth century prior of the religious community on St Serfs Island.

At the Reformation this community was dispersed, and the property of the island was made over to the Earls of Morton. Scarcely anything now remains of the ancient buildings beyond the walls of a small edifice, which, Pill comparatively recently, served as a place of shelter for the cattle that grazed on the island. The foundations have, however, been traced and laid open, and the dry hollow which in former days served the monks as a vivarium, or fish-pool, has also been rendered manifest. The island lies nearly two miles to the south-east of the castle, and the traveller can easily obtain the services of a boatman to transport him thither. He will thus, too, be enabled to gain a much more complete idea of Loch Leven and its shores than he can obtain by merely crossing over to the Castle Island.

A great part of the east shore of Loch Leven belongs to the parish of Portmoak, which, in ancient phraseology, is denominated Petmook, as signifying the region or district of St Moak, St Moluoc, or possibly St Machutus, for it seems possible to refer it to any of these three names. St Serfs Island has been styled the "island of Petmook"; and on the other hand, the parish of Portmoak used to be anciently known as that of St Servanus, and is so styled in a minute of Presbytery in 1659.


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