loch leven heritage trail loch leven heritage trail loch leven heritage trail loch leven heritage trail loch leven heritage trail loch leven heritage trail
about LLHT
kids' page
need to know
seasons at Loch Leven
heritage and people



Heritage and People

Loch Leven lies in wide basin bounded to the north by the Ochil Hills, with the Lomonds and Bishop Hill to the east and Benarty and the Cleish Hills to the south. Man-made features, such as standing stones, castles, tower houses, as well as ‘fermtouns’, hamlets and toll houses, are evidence of the long history of settlement in this area. Please use this list as your starting point – but then take time to explore the wider countryside. spacer >> View a map (648k)
The Pier :
a focus for sporting heritage (angling, wildfowling and curling). The Angling Centre provides a focus for trout fishing – Loch Leven is famous for its brown trout used to stock fisheries world-wide. Since the 19th century, trout fishing has been managed by Kinross Estate Company. During the season, boats may be hired from the Pier. A limited amount of wildfowling on Loch Leven is also managed by Kinross Estate Company. Curling has long been a popular sport in Kinross-shire – Kinross Curling Association dates back to 1688. When cold winters froze the ice several inches thick, huge curling ‘bonspiels’ took place on Loch Leven. Curling remains a popular winter sport, now relying on indoor rinks.
  the pier

Loch Edge:
Dinner for ducks, with a seasonal menu.
There’s always something to make a bonnie feastie for the ducks that dive and dabble round the edges of the loch. The plants change from water-loving trees like willow to reeds and flowers as you move from dry land to open water. Their roots and stems create homes for a huge variety of insects, worms and snails.

Loch edge

Kirkgate Park :
Sir William Bruce designed the side of Kinross House, which you can see through the trees, so he could look out towards the Cleish Hills. But the foreground view would have been very down-to-earth, with cattle grazing on what’s now Kirkgate Park.

KIrkgate Park

Kirkgate Graveyard :
originally the site of a Chapel of Ease built by the monks of St Serf’s Island, all that remains of a later church is the central isle (now a private chapel). The cemetery contains fascinating gravestones; many record the trades of townsfolk. Among the memorials is one to Robert Burns Begg, the local sherrif-clerk and grand nephew of Robert Burns , Scotland’s national poet. Robert Burns Begg was also a historian and recorded the discovery of a crannog (the site now marked by a post just off Kirkgate Pier).

Ablow yon auld an scrievit stanes
Lirk Kinross toun’s respected banes

The Watchtower is often assumed to have been built to guard against grave robbers. However, the tower’s inscription dates it from 1852, 20 years after an Act of Parliament outlawed the ‘resurrectionists’ as they were called.

Note : the earliest settlement of Kinross is believed to be in this area on the promontory (from the Gaelic ‘ross’) jutting out into the loch. The village developed westwards into the Sandport, a settlement of fishermen, wool and linen weavers. By the 18th century, Kinross had grown as a market town and important staging post between Edinburgh and the north.

  kirkgate graveyard
Kinross House :
One of the finest examples of late 17th Century architecture in Scotland, designed by Sir William Bruce, Royal Surveyor and Architect to King Charles II. (Bruce also redesigned Holyrood House, and designed Hopetoun House and Thirlestane Castle).
The House is privately owned and closed to the public.
  Kinross House
Kirkgate Point Viewpoint :
The story of how Mary Queen of Scots escaped from Loch Leven castle would make a great film. Willie Douglas, the castle’s 16 year old boatman, stole the courtyard key from under his master Sir William Douglas’s nose: the story goes that Willie dropped a napkin over the key while the laird was eating dinner, and picked it up as he cleared the table. Mary, disguised in commoners’ clothes, walked out of the castle in full view of the servants. Willie then locked the gate and dropped the key into a cannon outside, shutting Sir William up in his own home, before rowing the queen and her lady-in-waiting to the shore.

Sir William’s brother George supported Mary. He lay waiting just near here with a party of horsemen, who whisked her away to Queensferry. Sir William was so angry and ashamed at losing his royal prisoner that he tried to stab himself with his own dagger.

You can relive Mary’s journey when the castle is open between April and September. Just catch a boat from The Pier: you shouldn’t need a clever 16 year old boatman to steal the key for you.

Kirkgate Viewpoint

Lochleven Castle :
best viewed from the Kirkgate. Originally the site of a 6th century Pictish fort, the 14th century tower which forms the nucleus of Lochleven Castle is one of the earliest and best preserved tower-houses in Scotland. A royal stronghold that was granted to the Douglas family in 1390, the castle is first known to have been used as a state prison in 1316 when King Robert the Bruce imprisoned John of Lorne there. The castle’s most famous prisoner was Mary Queen of Scots, imprisoned there from 1567 until her escape in 1568. While held in Lochleven Castle, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James (later King James Ist, uniting England and Scotland).

The Castle is managed by Historic Scotland. During the summer season, a frequent ferry service runs from the Pier.

  Loch Leven castle
Fish Gate :
Sir William Bruce designed Kinross House and its gardens so the whole property was arranged around a straight line linking the house with Loch Leven castle. From his windows, this gate made a perfect frame for the view of the castle. He must have loved the stories associated with the castle, but he loved Loch Leven’s fishing too: the gate is decorated with a basket of fish carved in stone.

Out on the loch there are more keen fishers. Herons, cormorants and sea eagles all nest on the islands – they’re just as interested in fish as Sir William was, and perhaps more skilful at catching them.

  Fishgate, Kinross House
Mary’s Gate and Mary’s Knowe :
the attractive gate and stone archway of Mary’s Gate were built on the northern bounds of Kinross Estate, and post-date any connection with Mary, Queen of Scots. Slightly to the west, a small hillock, Mary’s Knowe, is said to have been the site of a historic meeting between Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Protestant reformer, John Knox.
  Marys Gate
North Queich :
If you see a flash of blue, your eyes probably don’t need testing: you’ve just glimpsed one of kingfishers that hunt along the river.

These dazzling birds will only live around clean water. It’s a sign of how much the environment around Loch Leven has improved since the 1980s that you can now see them along all of Loch Leven’s rivers.

North Quiech
11. Burleigh Castle :
one of seven tower-houses in Kinross-shire, Burleigh Castle was built in the 15th century. The castle is on the minor road from Kinross to Orwell and can easily be visited. It is managed by Historic Scotland; a key can be obtained on application at a nearby house.
  Burleigh Castle

Burleigh Hide:
There’s a delightful mix of meadow, ponds and loch views here. The ponds lie where the North Queich river used to flow, before it was straightened to improve the farmland further up the valley.

Burleigh Hide

Orwell Standing Stones (Orwell Farm) :
dating back to prehistoric times, these two monoliths mark the site of cremation deposits which have been dated back to 2300 BC. It is suggested the stones may have acted as a focus for the burials. Although not seen from the Trail around Loch Leven, the stones are easily visible in a field north of the A 911 road (Kinross to Kinnesswood).

Villages and hamlets around Loch Leven included ‘fermtouns’ such as Easter and Wester Balgedie. Balgedie Toll, as the name implies, was built at the road junction in order that tolls could be collected from passing travellers for the surfacing and maintenance of the roads. After tolls were abolished in 1872, roads were maintained by local authorities.

The principal settlement of the ‘Bishopshire’ was Kinnesswood, once an important centre for the manufacture of vellum and parchment. It was the birthplace of the poet Michael Bruce (1746 – 67) who wrote much of his love for his local surroundings.

‘Hail, native land! Where on the flow’ry banks
Of Leven, Beauty, ever-blooming, dwells’

Another celebrated Kinnesswood man was Alexander Buchan, the ‘Father of modern meteorology’, who studied the area’s weather patterns and identified the principles of isobars (lines that link areas of equal air pressure).

Buchan warned of windy weather
When isobars lay close together

Continuing round the loch, Scotlandwell was an important centre of pilgrimage in medieval times, taking its name from the healing well. The Red Friars maintained a hospice here, visited by King Robert the Bruce.

  Orwell Standing Stones

Orwell Kirk :
Orwell’s parish kirk was one of several ancient religious sites that ringed the loch, all of them close to the water. They may well have stood on places that were sacred long before Christian times, when precious offerings were often left at lochs and pools.

Orwell folk worshipped here until 1729, when the parish centre moved to Milnathort. Now the only building here is a mausoleum, built for the Horne family of Thomanean, just west of the town. Around it lie the old churchyard graves, scattered with dead leaves and smudged with red yew berries.

Orwell Kirk
Michael Bruce:
Michael Bruce, the ‘Gentle Poet of Loch Leven’, was born in Kinnesswood in 1746. The son of a weaver, he took a keen interest in religion and poetry, and local farmers clubbed together to pay for this promising young man to study at Edinburgh University. He wrote many poems, often inspired by his love for the landscape around the loch.

Michael planned to become a minister in a local kirk, but he always struggled with poor health. He died, aged just 21, in the house where he was born.

You can find more of his poetry along the Michael Bruce Trail between Kinnesswood and Scotlandwell.

Gravestone of Michael Bruce, Poet
Carsehall Bog :
w et places like this bog are an essential part of the National Nature Reserve. It’s home to rare flowers and animals like water voles – you might here the ‘plop’ as one enters the water. Many of the thousands of pink footed geese that spend the winter here roost for the night in the safety of the bog.

Holy grass, featured on the seat, also grows in wet places like this. It smells like new-mown hay, and was used to perfume churches on holy days.

Carsehall Bog

Levenmouth Wood :
We think of fungi as things that appear in autumn, but they’re growing all year round. They form branching networks of threads that can cover huge areas: there are probably several right under your feet. Neither plant nor animal, fungi are nature’s great recycling machine.

  Levenmouth Wood

Levenmouth Wood Hide :
The pools here mark the course of the old river Leven, before the grand drainage scheme of the 1830s. Now they’re one of the best places on the National Nature Reserve to spot wading birds and ducks.

The first conservation scheme on the loch was set up in 1901 to protect pintail, one of the ducks you might see here. There was such demand for the males’ fine tail feathers to decorate ladies’ hats that the birds almost died out.

  View from Levenmouth Hide

The Leven Cut and Sluices :
at the beginning of the 19th century, the demand for food from a growing urban population encouraged landowners and farmers to seek new ways to increase production. The Kinross Estate and neighbouring landowners decided that, by lowering Loch Leven, they could increase land available for farming by some 1100 acres. This could be achieved by cutting a new, deeper channel for the River Leven and controlling its flow by sluices. Mill owners and industrialists downstream were persuaded to help finance the scheme as they would benefit from a more regular water flow all year round. (Water was an essential part of papermaking and distilling). An Act of Parliament (the Leven Improvement Act, 1827) allowed the digging of the four-mile Cut from Findatie where the River Leven flows from the loch.

The shrinking of the loch was the growing of the land
The linking of the mills is the flowing of the Cut

The Sluice House was built in 1830; industries downstream now had a reliable water supply.

Chimney stacks, linen flax, corn mills, whisky stills,
Snuff mills, paper mills, bleach fields, profit yields

Although many of the mills and industries have now closed, the sluices still regulate the outflow from Loch Leven.

  Leven Cut and Sluices

Levenmouth Sluice House:
Eels go a long way to have their children. When they’re about 14 years old they swim from European rivers to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda, about 8,000 miles away. There they mate, and their young drift back to Europe as tiny, transparent creatures called glass eels. Before this epic journey was discovered in 1922, there were all sorts of outlandish theories about where eels came from. Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned they grew directly from wet mud.

The building that spans the river is the sluice house, where five gates control the flow of water out of the loch and into the river Leven like giant taps. The sluices were an essential part of the engineering scheme that lowered the loch, and they’re still in use today.

  sluice house

St Serf’s Island and Chapel Viewpoint :
this island, the largest in the loch, is a safe breeding ground for many hundreds of waterfowl and gulls each summer. There is no public access; birds nest undisturbed on the tussocky grassland.

The ruins of the 5th or 6th century chapel can be seen near the eastern end of the island. Dedicated to St Serf, the Culdee monks of this early Celtic community lived and worked on the island. The priory was a major centre of learning and it was here, between 1420 and 1424, that Andrew Wynton, Prior of St Serf’s, wrote his ‘Orygynal Cronykil’, the first book on the history of Scotland. (This history makes mention of Macbeth and the three witches, a reference later picked up and embellished by Shakespeare.) Although the monastery was demolished in the 1830’s, the chapel was preserved as a bothy for shepherds who looked after sheep and cattle on the island.

  st serfs

Findatie Beach :
This used to be one of the very few points of public access to Loch leven and was once popular for picnics and swimming encouraged by the high water quality. Farmers have always made the best use they can of their land, but by the 1990s fertiliser was one of the causes of the algal blooms that choked the loch. Through the loch’s catchment management plan, farmers as far away as the Ochil Hills work to limit the amount of chemicals that run into the rivers. It’s made a huge improvement in the water quality – good for birds, fish and people.

  Findatie Beach

RSPB Nature Reserve:
The fields between the road and the loch are wet grassland, one of the most important habitats in the nature reserve. Birds like curlew, snipe and lapwing all feed in the moist, soft ground, which makes it easy for them to probe for insects and grubs with their beaks.

  RSPB Loch Leven

Wildflower Meadow Viewpoint :
Bumblebees, like honey bees, live in colonies, but they’re usually much smaller – between 50 and 400 bees compared to 50,000 to 60,000 in a honey bee colony. Instead of having an army of workers to build the nest, a single queen has to do the job after hibernating over the winter.

These charming insects are in trouble, because so many of the wildflower meadows on which they depend have disappeared. The wet meadows around Loch Leven make an ideal habitat, and they’ve been set up as a bumblebee reserve.

  Wild Flower Meadow

Bishop Hill View :
On the slopes of Bishop Hill above Kinnesswood there’s a tall pillar of rock known as Carlin Maggie. Legend has it that a local witch quarrelled with the Devil – never a good idea – and he got so annoyed he threw a thunderbolt that turned her to stone. Further north, on the slopes of West Lomond hill, there are some rocks called The Devil’s Burdens. Perhaps Maggie refused to carry them for the lord of Hell…

  Bishop Hill

East Brackley Viewpoint :
This is an ideal place to look at the physical landscape within which Loch Leven is set. The Lomond Hills beyond the loch and Benarty to the south comprise layer upon layer of sandstones, mudstones and limestones laid down as sediment on the ocean floor 300-400 million years ago before being solidified into rock. The hills are capped by a columnar block derived from volcanic lava that cooled to form a solid sill protecting the softer rocks beneath. Loch Leven itself was formed much later when the glaciers moving eastwards down the valley of Kinross-shire eroded and hollowed out the underlying bedrock to leave a shallow depression.

From this highest point on the trail you get a grand view of the loch and the wide valley that drains into it. Imagine how the open water, islands, marshy reed beds, meadows and pools look to the birds that live here. What we see as different environments are all connected to them. They use every one of them, to feed, breed, and protect their young. Loch Leven is the only place in Scotland that’s got everything they need.

  East Brackley Viewpoint

Benarty Hill View :
Long before big outdoor festivals like T in the Park, people used to flock to the top of Benarty Hill for a few days of games, singing, dancing, and probably plenty of drinking. The gatherings happened at Beltane, the Celtic festival at the beginning of May, and always involved a big bonfire. They were a fixture in the calendar until the end of the 1800s.

Benarty seems always to have been a place of myths and spiritual meaning. It’s often called ‘The Sleeping Giant’, because of the hill’s profile, and the name might be based on early Gaelic for ‘The head of the great god’.

  Benarty Hill

Old Railway :
Opened in 1860, three different companies built railway lines to Kinross in the railway boom of the 19th century, giving it connections to the south, east and west. It made it an excellent place for industries like wool spinners Todd and Duncan, who moved their factory here from their original base at Alva. Helped by the railway connections, their business grew into an international company, and once supplied tea towels to Buckingham Palace! Now the mill specialises in cashmere, the fine wool spun from goat hair.

Loch Leven Station was a stopping point on the journey north and a Curlers’ platform served the many curling tournaments called “bonspiels” hosted on the loch. The station closed in 1921 and all rail use ceased in 1971, coinciding with the construction of the M90 motorway.

  Railway Artwork

Loch Leven Mill Hide :
The trees and reeds around the loch give vital shelter to ducks as they look after their chicks. The hide’s a good place to watch for them, but there are plenty of other things to look out for.

  Loch Leven Mill Hide

South Queich :
The water quality has improved a lot along the South Queich since pollution control measures were agreed in the 1990s. Now the river’s clean enough for lots of insects and grubs to live in the water, providing food for birds like dippers. These plump round birds dive under the stream to catch their food, using the flow of the water to pin them down to the river bed as they walk along it, hunting for insects.

  South Queich



loch leven heritage trail footer
design: ec-designstudio