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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Lochleven & Burleigh

The shores of Lochleven, in Kinross-shire, afford a rich feast to the lover of the picturesque and romantic. Apart from the interesting associations which arise from historical events connected with the locality, there is a peculiar charm to be found in the combination of mountain, lake, and stream which make up the scenery presented. And though the grandeur of the hills and the gloom of the passes which are to be met with in the Highlands are alike awanting, there are more attractive elements of beauty to be seen in the serenely peaceful villages which are scattered around the lochside. The quaint old town of Kinross is itself no uninteresting study. For it can claim a very respectable antiquity, and has been frequently the scene of stirring events in the history of the country. Standing upon the main highway to the north, and affording a convenient resting-place between Queensferry and Perth, it has been often chosen as a rendezvous for troops on the march, or as a place of ambuscade for purposes of interception. From very early times the town has been famous for its cutlery, and its artificers were held in such high esteem that the name of "Kinrosse" was borne upon the shield of the Cutters of Sheffield as being most worthy of renown.



But the chief point of interest in the neighbourhood is undoubtedly the Castle of Lochleven. No situation could be more romantic than that which it occupies. The loch is dotted here and there with little islands which rise abruptly from the water, bearing scant foliage and displaying no rugged or precipitous rocks. Upon one of these stand the ruins of the Monastery of St Serf or Servanus, whose somewhat unveracious history was recounted by Andrew Wyntoun in his Orygynale Cronickles of Scotland, written many centuries ago. One of the largest islands is situated about the centre of the loch, and upon it is erected the Castle of Lochleven, which name has become familiar to every Scottish ear from the historical events of which it has been the witness. Founded in pre-historic times by one of the Scottish chiefs, of whom we have no record save its name, it has stood the brunt of many an angry storm through unnumbered ages; and though now somewhat battered and decayed, there are still unimpeachable tokens remaining of the strength and durability of masonry erected before the 19th century estimate-work.

The first appearance of Lochleven Castle in credible history is made during the period of the Balliol dispute in 1333. Throughout Scotland only four Castles supported the claims of Bruce against Balliol and Edward of England, and of these Lochleven was one. To reduce this stronghold to subjection, a body of English, under Sir John de Strivelin, was sent to besiege it; but as the position of the Castle in the centre of the loch prevented any stealthy approach or surprise, the besiegers had to adopt other measures. Finding that the main outlet of the loch was by the little stream of the Leven, the English hit upon the expedient of damming up this outflow with dykes, so that the accumulating waters of the loch might rise above the level of the island, drown the inmates of the Castle, and suffocate Scottish Independence out of existence. But the theory was too correct to be justified by fact, and finally proved the destruction of the attacking forces. The loyal Captain of Lochleven, Alan Vipont by name, sent out at midnight a few of his faithful retainers, who approached the barricade, erected by Strivelin, in a small boat, and, demolishing a portion of the embankment, they caused the pent-up waters of the loch to overwhelm and destroy many of the enemy. Grave doubts have been entertained of the accuracy of this story; but there are not wanting many local antiquaries who can yet indicate the remains of the English dyke, and who cannot tolerate the honest scepticism of any Edie Ochiltree who may "mind the big-gin’ o’t."

It was fitting that so loyal a stronghold should become a Royal Castle. Robert III. occupied it for some time as a Court residence, and the difficulty of access to it in so rude an age may have been found rather an advantage than otherwise. But as civilization advanced the regal taste became more fastidious, and Lochleven soon descended into the position of a state-prison. Whilst in the care of a branch of the Douglas family, it degenerated from its former greatness, and was unhallowed by the presence of Royalty, save under compulsion, and in "durance vile." Every one knows the melancholy story of Mary’s incarceration here, and the romantic incident of her escape to still more relentless imprisonment in England. This episode in the history of Lochleven it is needless to relate; but it may be interesting to note that, with a refinement of cruelty, the dominant party, after her defeat, sent the Earl of Northumberland, who had risen to support her cause in the north of England, to occupy the chambers which the Royal fugitive had tenanted, and to leave them only, like her, that he might die upon the scaffold.

History has not recorded what catastrophe, either in nature or politics, rendered this ancient Keep unfit for habitation. Now there remains little save the square tower and a portion of the outer wall to tell of its former greatness, and to preach to coming generations the mutability of all things. The great hall has now no carpet save the greensward, no roof save the blue vault of heaven; and the winds sough eerily through the tenantless chambers once resonant with song and revelry. Yet it would be difficult to imagine a spot more calculated to revive the memories of the past; and here we might look to find some

"Lady of the Mere
Lone sitting by the shores of old Romance,"

did we live in other times than the present. But time, the devourer of all things, has laid his destroying hand upon the Castle, and though:—

"Gothic the pile and high the solid walls,
With warlike ramparts, and the strong defence
Of jutting battlements—an age’s toil!
No more its arches echo to the noise
Of joy and festive mirth. No more the glance
Of blazing taper through its windows beams
And quivers on the undulating wave.
But naked stand the melancholy walls
Lashed by the wintry tempests, cold and bleak,
That whistle mournful through the empty halls
And piecemeal crumble down the tow’rs to dust."


Directly betwixt the town of Kinross and the shore of Lochleven stands the mansion-house of the locality, commonly called the New House of Kinross. Erected as a residence for the Duke of York (afterwards James II.), it presents all the characteristics of the mansion of the period, though its chambers were long deserted, and the exquisite prospect which it commands of hill and lake was unenjoyed for years by the lawful possessors. A little further around the shores of the loch is situated the old Kirkyard, which contains not a few headstones telling of the virtues of "the rude forefathers of the hamlet." And here, as a memento of semi-barbarous times, there is the house still standing in which the watchers kept ward over the dead to preserve their bodies from the sacrilegious resurrectionists. Close by the kirkyard is pointed out the spot where Mary landed when she made her escape from Lochleven Castle, though the reclamations recently made by drainage of the loch render it difficult to indicate the place with any degree of accuracy.


Following the pathway by the shore of the loch one soon arrives at the Burgher Brig, a relic of more recent times, but of a period rapidly passing away. Tradition relates that at one time there was no ford over the river North Queich, which runs into Loch Leven, save the precarious passage afforded by stepping stones, which in times of spate were quite impassable. But when the advancing civilization of the district had erected a Burgher Kirk in the neighbourhood, the Lord of the Manor graciously became a Pontifex in own country, and built a wooden stair-bridge similar to those now seen in Japan, which was ultimately replaced by a stone structure.



A little way from this spot stands the ancient Castle of Burleigh. The road which leads from Milnathort around the loch to Scotland-Well, passes this ancient pile, which is placed immediately upon the pathway. The situation is most picturesque. The gable of the Castle towards the road is quite covered with ivy, and the rent and broken portions of the edifice are enlivened and beautified by the subdued tone of the evergreen leaves. By moonlight the scene is romantic in the extreme. The heavy sombre shadows which are thrown across the roadway, and the pale silvery glory which lights up each prominent tower and battlement, give a weird and old-world aspect to the whole place. From time immemorial the Castle of Burleig has been in the family of the Balfours. Many are the stories related of them, but perhaps none is so sadly romantic as that which is now to be told. In the unsettled times betwixt the abdication of Queen Mary and the settlement of her son, James VI., upon the throne, the young Lord of Burleigh fell under the power of the arch-conqueror Love. The charms of the daughter of the gardener at the Castle had overpowered and captivated him, and reckless of consequences (as lovers ever are) he sought to elevate her to an equality with himself by honourable marriage. Her beauty was the theme of every tongue:—

"Who had not heard
Of Rose, the gardener’s daughter? Where was he
So blunt in memory, so old at heart,
At such a distance from his youth in grief,
That having seen forgot? The common mouth
So gross to express delight, in praise of her
Grew oratory. Such a lord is love,
And beauty such a mistress of the world."

But Balfour’s affection was not reciprocated by the maiden, whose heart was already engaged to another. Deaf alike to his threats and entreaties, she remained steadfast to the lover to whom she had plighted her troth, and refused to be swayed from her resolution to live for him alone. The Lord of Burleigh, finding all his endeavours to win her hand fruitless, quitted the paternal roof in the hope that foreign travel might obliterate her image from his heart, and hoping that absence, in his case, would prove the. bane of love. But his hopes were doomed to disappointment, and he returned to his home with intensified love and increased affection for the object of his devotion. She, however, had profited by his absence and was now married to the man of her choice, who held the position of schoolmaster at Inverkeithing.

And so, one evening, little dreaming of the danger which was near them, as the husband and wife sat at their own fireside, planning perchance some elaborate scheme for securing the happiness in perpetuity which they then enjoyed, their threshold was darkened by the person of young Balfour of Burleigh. No phantom from the "undiscovered country" could have exercised more power upon the young wife, or paralysed her more completely. Reproach was upon his lips, vengeance was in his eye. The haughty disposition which he had inherited from a remote ancestry was unsoftened even by the influence of love, and now jealousy inflamed him. Drawing a pistol from his bosom, he shot his defence-less rival through the heart, in the presence of his wife, and within his own house. No more dastardly act than this has been recorded in the history of the British nobility. It was only to be expected that so complete a poltroon would seek refuge from the consequence of his guilt in flight and ignominious self-exile. Yet so powerful was the feudal influence of the family that the affair was hushed up and secured from publicity; and its story now only exists in the traditions of the country, which have been repeated for generations in the field or by the ingle-side.


A short distance from Burleigh Castle stands Pow-mill, whose untiring water-wheel has revolved for over three centuries. The Pow Burn, which forms the motive power of the mill, is one of the eleven streams which flow into Loch Leven, from which tradition states (somewhat apocryphally) that the name of Leven was derived. The ancient mill, until lately, was in a wonderful state of preservation. The quaint old-fashioned gables and open courtyard remind one forcibly. of the mills of Holland and the Low Countries; and the moss-covered dyke and green-speckled wall still further add to its venerable aspect. As the mill of the district, and therefore a centre of local intelligence, many stories are related of it, one of which is as follows :—

The farm of Pittendreich, in the immediate neighbourhood, was for many generations until lately in possession of a family of the name of White; and the requirements of their agricultural pursuits naturally made them intimate with the occupants of the mill. During the persecuting times it so happened that Crawford, the miller, took the side of Episcopacy, whilst White, the farmer, was known to be one of the "hill-folk." The characters of the two men gave an index, to their religious beliefs; for White was an upright, God-fearing man, whom even his enemies respected; but Crawford was rude in speech, loose in morals, and reckless in conduct. In those sad times to be "saintly" in any degree was to provoke the vengeance of one’s ill-wishers; and though long preserved from molestation, White’s day of trial at length arrived. A band of troopers, scouring the countryside in search of "conventicle-men," had been directed by some "good-natured friend" towards Pittendreich and White had barely time to escape by a backway and fly for his life ere they entered his dwelling.

Whilst Crawford the miller stood in his doorway dreamily contemplating the deepening twilight, he beheld a man stealthily creeping along by the hedge-sides as if fearful of being seen, yet driven, nevertheless, to compulsory flight. As the figure came nearer he recognized with some surprise in the excited and anxious face before him, his old neighbour White, of Pittendreich. Hailing him as he sought to pass, the miller inquired whither he was bound, and despite their opposition in religion and the risk he thereby ran, the fugitive declared the cause of his unwilling journey. Nor was his confidence in the neighbourly feeling misplaced. Touched by the circumstances of the case, the miller gladly extended his aid to him. "Come in bye," said he, "for here ye may be safe. They’ll never look for a saint in Hell."

And having seen the farmer safely bestowed, he resumed his position in the doorway, certain that his reputation with the troopers would preserve him from molestation. And thus the "touch of nature" had made even these diverse characters "Kin," and overcame for the tithe their religious animosity. And the record of this neighbourly action survives to the present day, though both have long mingled with mother earth.

The shore of Lochleven from Pow-mill to Scotland-Well is dotted with picturesque little villages which cannot fail to interest the wayfarer. Little Balgedie, Meikle Balgedie, and Kinnesswood form a continuous link, the last-named being ever memorable as the birthplace of Michael Bruce, the poet, whose Scripture Paraphrases are known throughout the world. The last of the Leven villages is Scotland-Well, the name of which may have been bestowed by the Roman invaders, since Tacitus refers to Fons-Sotiœ in his "Annals." The pathway around the eastern end of the loch leads by the base of Bennarty to Paran-Well.

This ancient locality of Paran-Well (erroneously called "Parrot Well" by Sir Walter Scott) was selected for an ambuscade at a very stirring time. The marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Darnley was distasteful to many of her powerful subjects. Amongst these the Earl of Moray, her illegitimate brother, and throughout her life her most implacable enemy, was principally offended by this union. Apart from the fact that Darnley and he were sworn foes, there was the old cry of "the Kirk in danger" to call to his side many wavering vassals. Supported by the Lords of the Congregation, who resented Mary’s marriage as endangering the Protestant succession, Many stationed a body of horse at Paran-Well, under the shadow of Bennarty, to intercept Darnley and his bride whilst on their way from Perth. But accurate intelligence and an early turn out enabled them to defeat the purpose of their enemies, and to escape for a time from their menaces. And thus it appears that every portion of Lochleven is consecrated by some memory of the unfortunate Queen, whose own reminiscences of the locality must have been of the most mournful description.

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