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Between the Ochils and the Forth
Chapter VI. - Round Loch Leven


The loch and its surrounding scenery—Levenmouth and the sluices—Scotlandwell and the Bishop Hill—Portmeak church and village of Kinnesswood—Michael Bruce and his poetry—Hamlets of Easter and Wester Balgedie— The old church of Orwell,

A pleasant and interesting excursion may be made from Kinross round Loch Leven, and if the traveller is a tolerable pedestrian, he may easily accomplish it on foot, as the circuit does not exceed fifteen miles. If he prefers to drive or be driven, there are always good horses and carriages to be procured at the Green Hotel. He may either take the north side of the loch first, or return two miles on the road that he has already traversed in coming from Queensferry, and then turn eastwards along the southern shore. This is the course which we shall now follow.

Nearly opposite to Gairney Bridge farm, about a mile to the north of Blairadam station, a road strikes off the Great North Road to the right, and leads along the north base of Benarty by the farms of West and East Brackleigh to Levenmouth, Auchmoor Bridge, and Leslie. The marks of the great landslip which look place here more than half a century ago, are still very visible on the slope of Benarty. The road borders, though at first not very closely, Loch Leven, of which the traveller by this route gets a fine view, and has facing him the Bishop Hill, the south-western extremity of which above Scotlandwell is covered with wood. The river Leven at the present day issues from the loch at a different point from what it used to do when it escaped by its natural channel. This ancient bed ot the stream is now partly covered by a plantation of trees, known as the Levenmouth Plantat:<m, and the river quits the loch at the sluices by a canal which has been cut from thence, almost in a straight line to Auchmoor Bridge, a distance of about three miles and a half. The sluice-house is a favourite place for picnics, though all the accommodation that is granted is admission to the grounds, and shelter from the weather should the latter prove inclement. No refreshments of any kmd can be obtained, but the situation is rather a pleasant one for enjoyment alfresco. The buildings and apparatus here for regulating the outflow from the loch have all been erected : once the commencement of the drainage operations subsequent to 1826.

Having arrived within about two miles of Auchmoor Bridge and completely skirted the north base of Benarty, the traveller, if he wishes to make the circuit of Loch Leven, will turn to the left in the direction of the Bishop Hill and the village of Scotlandwell, which are situated at a distance of about 1 ^ mile due north from this point. He will cross the New Gullet Bridge, which spans the new Leven river or canal about a mile from the sluice-house, and a quarter of a mile farther on he will reach the Old Gullet Bridge, near Lochend farm. A little beyond this, on the left hand, at Redhouse, a road leads to the old burying-ground and site of the monastery of Portmoak, which seems to have been connected with and formed essentially a part of the monastic establishment on the island of St Serf. It is situated close to the old shore of the loch, and about a mile south-west from Scotlandwell, to reach which directly from this, it is necessary to cross the boggy tract known as Portmoak Moss.

Following the road north from New Gullet Bridge, the traveller after a mile's walk finds himself at Scotland-well, a simple, rather ancient, and tumble-down looking village, situated exactly at the south extremity of the Bishop Hill, and overhung by Kilmagad wood. He will find here a small unpretending public-house (Thomas Ritchie's), where he can obtain a modest luncheon of bread and cheese and beer at a very moderate charge. Stepping a few yards to the west of the inn, he will come to the famous spring or well, which, along with one or two others in this neighbourhood, gave the locality of old the name of Fontes Scotia or Scotlandwells. There is now, however, only one large fountain, which is sheltered by an elegant roof or canopy erected by Mr Bruce of Arnot, a neighbouring proprietor. Beneath this, in the centre, is a large square basin of stone, open at the top, and having a depth of three or four feet. The water, which wells up in great volume through the sand beneath, is both excellent to drink and as clear as crystal. Fortunately there are no villas near at hand to pollute indirectly with their drainage this pellucid fountain, which, it is satisfactory to understand, is as pure as it looks, and has no reason to dread the result of any scientific analysis.

There is an old burying-ground at the south-east extremity of the village, where are also one of the famous springs, and the site of the old hospital of Scotlandwell. This was founded by William Malvoisin, Bishop of St Andrews, and the monks who occupied it were bound by their original constitution to set apart a third of their revenues for redeeming Christian slaves from the infidels. How far they acted up to their obligations I cannot say, but to judge from the following stanza, introduced into one of the " Gude and godly ballates," among other derogatory remarks on the Romish clergy, the establishment here docs not seem to have been in the highest repute :—

"Of Scotlandwell the Friars of Faill
The limmery long has lasted;
The monks o' Melrose made gude kail
On Fridays when they fasted."

The parish church of Moonzie near Cupar, and that of Carnock near Dunfermline, belonged to Scotlandwell, and the " parson " of this place, not long after the Reformation had to be called to account for the shameful state of disrepair in which he allowed Carnock church to continue. In an enclosure within the old burymg-ground are the tombs of Alison Turpie, wife of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, and four of their children, as also of his mother, Margaret Halero, of an old Orcadian family, wife of the Rev. Henry Erskine of Chirnside.

Before being translated to Stirling, Ebenezer Erskine was minister of the parish of Fortmoak, to which, as already mentioned, the greater part of the country on the east side of I.och Leven belongs. A story is told that in announcing to his parishioners his approaching departure from them to another sphere of labour, he spoke of his having received a call from the Lord to go to Stirling. An irreverent " auld wife" in the congregation, meeting her minister shortly afterwards, when he repeated in effect what he had already stated from the pulpit, made the following observation : "Troth, sir, an He had called you to Auchtertool, you wad ne'er hae let on that you heard Him !" Yet in fairness it should be always remembered that Ebenezer Erskine showed by his subsequent conduct that he was ever ready to sacrifice worldly emolument when duty and principle seemed to call on him to do so.

There is no village which bears the name of Portmoak, but the church of that parish stands on a rising ground a little to the north of Scotlandwell, and is passed in going to the village of Kinnesswood. In its churchyard the poet Michael Bruce is buried.

About a mile to the north-west of Scotlandwell, and high up on an acclivity of the Bishop Hill, overlooking Loch Leven, is the village of Kinnesswood popularly pronounced Kinnaskit, which possesses some interest as the place where Michael Bruce lived and died. This amiable and lamented youth has for ever associated with his name his native county of Kinross; the little village of Kinnesswood, where he was born; and Loch Leven, which forms the subject of his longest though certainly by no means his best poem. His father was a weaver, and a pious God-fearing Presbyterian of the old Scottish type—a characteristic which was also eminently conspicuous in his mother. As a boy, Michael used to "herd" on the Lomond hills, and he was always noted as a delicate "auld farrant" child. Having early exhibited an inclination for study, he resolved to devote himself to the ministry of the Secession Church, which had then but recently been called into existence under the leadership of the Erskines. He attended the necessary sessions at Edinburgh University, and there made the acquaintance of the celebrated John Logan, then a student for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. There is no evidence, however, to show that there was any great intimacy between him and Bruce, who, when his college career was completed, set himself to gain a living by acting as schoolmaster at Gairney Bridge. From that he removed to be teacher at Forest Mill, a lonely little hamlet in Clackmannanshire, on the road from Dollar to Kincardine. In fording the Devon on horseback on his way thither, he fell into the water; and the wetting which he thus sustained seems to have developed the consumptive tendency by which his constitution was already marked. The malady was further aggravated by the damp and uncomfortable schoolhouse in which he had to exercise his functions as teacher, and ere many months had passed away, he was compelled to quit Forest Mill and return to Kinnesswood, where he died in 1767, before he had completed his twenty-first year. After his death, Logan called on his father, and obtained from the old man the MSS. of his son's poems, Michael having already achieved a local reputation as a bard, though not! ing from his pen had yet appeared :n print. Logan published a few of the poems along with some of his own, but included in the latter the celebrated " Ode to the Cuckoo," which in itself was sufficient to make the poetical reputation of any author. The matter s somewhat too intricate to be discussed here, but there can be little doubt, both from the evidence of Brace's letters and that furnished by contemporaneous testimony, that a base and unworthy fraud was committed by Logan in appropriating the authorship of the ode. His delinquencies, however, in relation to Bruce, did not end here. Among the latter's effusions there were several which were known among his friends and relatives as " Gospel Sonnets," but were really for the most part paraphrases from Scripture, and included the beautiful and pathetic hymn, " The hour of my departure's come." These were all appropriated by Logan, and contributed as his to the collection of metrical translations from the Bible, published by authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and appointed to be used in public worship. Many of the best of these, with which Logan was long credited, were really the productions of Michael Bruce, the poet of Kinnesswood. On the appearance of the volume of poems in 1770, Bruce's father paid a visit to Logan in Edinburgh, to learn what had become of the " Gospel Sonnets," of which he had so distinct a recollection as the emanations of his son. He had some difficulty in obtaining an interview, and when he did, could procure no satisfaction, Logan failing, moreover, to produce the volume of Bruce's MSS. which he had received, and alleging that it had been destroyed by mistake, through the servant of the house having used it in the singeing of fowls. Logan long enjoyed his chief reputation as a poet on the strength of this unrighteous spoliation, and it is only comparatively recently that the rights of Michael Bruce have been vindicated.

Kinnesswood is five miles from Kinross, and one of those sleepy " dead alive " places which seem to abound on the eastern side of Loch Leven, but is not devoid of a certain quaint picturesqueness. It consists of one main street, with a long straggling wynd running up from it at right angles towards the hillside. A little way up this wynd, with its gable facing the entrance, is a two-storeyed thatched house, of humble appearance, an inscription on which states that here Michael Bruce was born in 1746, and here he died in 1767. The village was long famous for the manufacture of vellum and parchment, an industry which is said to have been originally practised by the monks of St Serf, and continued from their time in the parish of Portmoak. It used to be almost the only place in Scotland where this trade was carried on, and from this quarter the Register Office in Edinburgh received its supplies of the commodity in question, at least since the reign of Charles II. A family of the name of Birrell was latterly chiefly connected with the manufacture \ and one of them—John Birrell—exercised his vocation in the days of Michael Bruce, and wrote a biography of the poet.

The hamlet of Easter Balgedio is half a mile northwest of Kinnesswood, and that of Wester Balgedie is another half-mile north-west of the former. They both partake very much of the characteristics of Kinnesswood and Scotlandwell, but arc smaller in size. The northeast corncr of Loch Leven has now been reached, and after walking for a mile or two along the north bank (there being, however, a broad tract of low ground between the road and the water), the traveller arrives at Lothrie's Bridge. A footpath leads down from this to the old church and churchyard of Orwell, close to the shore of the loch. This was in ancient times merely a chapel of ease or dependency of the Abbey Church of Dunfermline, having been bestowed as such on the latter by Robert the Bruce. When it was raised to the dignity of a parish church is not known, and the building itself has long been a ruin, the present church of Orwell being situated at Milnathort.

Near Lothrie's Bridge the road bifurcates, one branch leading on the left to Kinross and the other on the right to Milnathort, past Burleigh Castle, to be afterwards described. By taking the former, which crosses the North Queich at Burgher Bridge and passes near the mansion of Lethangie, the traveller will, after a pleasant walk of nearly two miles, reach Kinross, and thus complete the circuit of Lochleven.


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