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Summer at the Lake of Monteith

The island of Talla is the second island in size on the Lake of Monteith. It signifies “A hall,” or “Great man’s house,” but is more commonly known as “the Earl’s isle.” This island contains the principal stronghold of the Earls of Menteith, now in ruins. Being situated near the middle of the lake, it must in early times have been able to set all attacking forces at defiance. Kilbride Castle, near Dunblane, was, long ago, another of their seats. Robert and Murdo, Dukes of Albany, were also Earls of Menteith, and had Doune, Falkland, and Tantallan Castles. Airth Castle seems also to have belonged to the Menteith family, who were Earls of Menteith and Airth. In Loch-Ard, in Aberfoyle, there are two small islands; on the larger, named “St. Malloch,” there were formerly the ruins of a small church or chapel; on the other, which is much smaller, may be seen the remains of a strong building, traditionally assigned to the ambitious-minded Stewart, Duke of Albany. The latter is still known as “the Duke’s island,” its Gaelic name being “Dundochill.” There is a well-known tradition in the district that it was from this island the Duke was taken on the night previous to his execution on the Castle-hill of Stirling; and this tradition is strengthened by the fact that Graham of Duchray refers to it, in his account of the parish of Aberfoyle, written about 150 years ago, and still preserved in the Advocates’ Library. The castle of Talla, or at least a considerable part of it, which appears to have been built with part of the ruins of the church of Inchmahome, was originally very strong, having covered the small island on which it is built. The tower and highest portion of the castle seem to have been chiefly composed of round stones; and the remains of three storeys are still visible, hanging their grey and shattered corners over the blue waters which wash the foundation. The lower portion was originally divided into three apartments. In the low storey was “the hall,” which measures 16 by 6 paces; and from an inventory made in the year 1692, and preserved among the “Menteith Papers” in Gartmore House, it is said to have been furnished with a “pair of virginals,” as also with “my lord and ladye’s portraits, and hangings before them,” and “ane house-knock, with the caise thereof,” &c. The fire-place still remains, and is perfectly visible. At either end, and in upper storeys, entered respectively by a door in the gable, and not encroaching on the ground floor, was a room, each containing a “standing bed and other corresponding furniture.” A small tower stands behind the hall, with which it had a communication, and originally contained three rooms, each in a storey by itself, the highest having been reached by a winding stair at the south-west comer. The middle room, according to the inventory, was “my lady’s chamber.” The ground floor is called the “laigh back room.” “The brew-house chamber” was situated on the east side of the island, and was “hung with green,” besides being furnished with two beds, “ one of green stuff, with rods and panels to conform; the other of red scarlet cloth.” On the west side of the island was the servants’ apartments, the kitchen, and oven. Speaking of the oldest portion of the castle, McGregor Stirling says:—“Its heraldic devices are partly abstracted, and no account can be given of its foundation, nor indeed of that of any of the more modem structures. From one of these devices, where the crest represents, as is believed, an eagle caupe, above a shield, the crest of which is not legible, it would appear the oldest building was erected after the introduction of the first-mentioned emblems into armorial bearings.”

A few hundred yards to the west of Talla, lies “the Dog island.” This small island is not many yards in circumference, but appears to have been large enough to be used in the Earl’s time as a kennel. On the western shore of the lake stood the Earl’s stables, long ago razed to the ground: the point of land on which they originally stood is still called “the stable ground.” On the northern shore of the lake, and around the beautiful hill of “Coldon” or “Cowden,” and on the farm of “Portend,” were the pleasure grounds of these noblemen. Here a considerable number of large and beautiful trees still gracefully spread their noble branches over the ancient walks of those feudal lords. Within this pleasure park, and on what is known as “the Friars’ meadow,” there is still to be seen a considerable mound, said to be consecrated earth brought over from Ireland for holy purposes connected with the church of Inchmahome.

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