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Leaving for Leven
Lochleven Castle (Tayside)
Member Name: ryanando
Lochleven Castle (Tayside)
Advantages: Beautiful, serene (at the right times of day) historic, lots of great photos, a bit different
Disadvantages: Bird cack everywhere, not a lot to do on the island for kids
===Snaps n Paps===
Due to an engagement present from my Dad, Allan and I ended up in Kinross for a weekend at the beginning of April. We soon found out that Kinross was tiny and didn't have an awful lot to do in it but were quite happy with the surroundings of the peaceful Scottish countryside. When I was Google-mapping I had noticed there was a Loch situated right next to the hotel that we were staying in for the weekend that also had a castle on it. I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to try out my new camera that Allan had gotten me for Christmas. I got quite excited at the prospect.
As Kinross is in the arse end of nowhere, you'll need to drive. There are very little busses that go there and trains are a bit of a pain in the backside if you want to end up anywhere close by. Your best bet is to find the main road (The Muirs) and follow it till you see signs for Loch Leven or The Boathouse. You'll go through a little housing estate and then down what looks to be a dirt track before emerging into a large gravel car park next to The Boathouse (a restaurant/café owned by the Montgomery Family who own quite a lot in Kinross). If you want to sat-nav your way there then the following address will lead you right to the car park:
===What time is it?===
It would seem that we were quite lucky with our timing. As the castle is situated on an island in the loch, you need to get a "ferry" across to it. I use inverted commas since I think of ferries as big, car carrying giants. This is really just a small motor boat that fits about twelve people in it. Right off the bat this means that it would be incredibly difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to make it out to the island. The ground on island would probably make it near impossible to get around in a wheelchair too which is a bit of a shame. The ferry only operates at certain times of year as far as I can tell. They start as of the 1st of April to the 30th of September and run between 09:30am and 5:30pm each day at a frequency of one every 30 minutes. The ferries run up to the end of October, but for that month they stop at 4:30pm.
The Castle is maintained by Historic Scotland who charge a fee for the ferry which is actually quite reasonable. Adults will be set back £5.50 each, Children come in at £3.30 and concessions are charged £4.40. There is a little shop that has some souvenirs, booklets and refreshments etc just before you reach the pier that leads out to the loch and this is where you will pay for the ferry and be given your tickets.
Loch Leven is much more than just any old castle: it has some famous figures attached to it. The Castle was visited by King Robert Bruce in 1313 and 1323. Sir William Wallace was said to have recaptured the castle from the English and put the soldiers stationed there to death. Most famously of all, it's the castle where Mary Queen of Scot's was held prisoner for a year in 1567 which was the last year she spent in Scotland as she managed to escape across the loch and high-tailed it for England, never to return. Keys dated back to the time of Mary Queen of Scots were later found in the loch and are believed to have been discarded by her as she made her escape.
At the time Mary was imprisoned the level of the loch was higher than it currently is so the island was mostly underwater, with only the wooded areas to the north of the castle and the castle itself were above the water level. After drainage works in 1836, however, the island revealed a lot more of itself.
The Castle was bought by Sir William Bruce, a Scottish architect in 1675 and rather than being lived in, was used as a focal point for the gardens of the new mansion he built on the shores of the loch, Kinross house. Since then, Kinross house has passed down through various families till it reached the Montgomery family in the 19th century and in 2010 was sold to an English businessman Donald Fothergill.
===I'm on a boat!===
After a lovely chat with the woman behind the desk in the Historic Scotland shop that only ended because someone else wanted to be served (how dare they) we went out onto the pier which is where the boat picks you up. We could see that the boat (a spec in the distance name Mary's Spirit) had left the island that the castle is on so that gave me time to go get my coat out of the car which I am really glad I did. The weather when we went while not below zero was not far from it and the slight breeze became a bit stronger when we were out on the water. Wrap up warm!!
The captain of the boat was a friendly guy who showed us all how best to get in and out of the boat and explained a few of the safety aspects of our little trip to the island. Hands inside the boat at all times, no rocking the boat, general common sense. I had noticed we didn't get any safety jackets but he did comment on this and pointed out the box of them situated at the front of the boat should anything untoward occur.
The captain also said that if we had any questions about the castle or the boat then he'd do his best to answer them so we both felt quite safe and looked after under his care. We shared our boat with three others on our trip across and they never asked anything at all. I spotted a play park and old looking graveyard behind Kinross house so asked if the walking trail led to it, which it turns out it does.
The boat ride was actually one of my favourite parts of the visit. The water was fairly calm and the wind wasn't too fierce so were able to take in the splendour of the surroundings in relative comfort. I took the opportunity to take some lovely photos of the snow-capped mountains that surround Loch Leven from the middle of the loch and generally wonder in awe at the beauty of the place. The boat across to the island took no more than fifteen minutes.
===On the Island===
The castle is situated on the left side of the island with woods surrounding the back of it. The right side of the island is mostly grass and another small wooded area. There are the remains of a more booming tourist trade on the island. A small corrugated iron type hut painted green used to be a shop where you could buy refreshments and souvenirs (the same stuff, I assume, as the one back on the shore of the loch) but has been disused for many a year now. It is important to note this, however, as the only contact you have with the outside world (if you've forgotten your mobile) is situated here. There is a small box with a radio in it in case you need to call for help. The ferries are every half hour
There is a toilet block next to the shop in case you are caught short which is surprisingly clean and useable, though they only have hand sanitising gel to use to clean your hands since there is no running water on the island.
You won't want to wear your best shoes to the island. The very first thing we noticed when we got there was the sheer amount of bird cack that littered the ground and, rather oddly, avoided the castle completely. Masses and masses of it. I don't know if they tidy the place up a little later in the year, but by heck, there was a lot of it when we went. Historic Scotland recommend strong footwear for your visit anyway as sometimes the ground can become quite muddy depending on the water level of the loch.
===Scaling the Castle===
The castle consists of two towers; the one nearest you when you disembark is the tallest one being four stories and is also one of the oldest four story tower houses in Scotland. When you go through the gates of the castle you are instantly met with the sight of a recently constructed staircase made from wood hugging the side of the castle. In 1997 some work was completed to make the upper floors of the tower more accessible to visitors. In true testament to the builders of the castle, the 1997 framework is cordoned off on the upper level due to being unstable. The stone of the castle stands around it mockingly. The newness of the wooden structure juxtaposed with the castle only serves to make you wonder about the construction of the place further which is no bad thing. It even looks quite snazzy for photos.
There are plaques throughout the tower house explaining what each section was used for. The bottom two floors were kitchen and "service staff" accommodation with the upper two floors belonging to the owners of the day. When Mary stayed there, it was this tower that she was confined to with her doctor living in the floor above her as she was pregnant at the time but mis-carried the twins she was carrying.
It's all very well preserved and Allan managed to spot the old stone toilet before any information was read. There's a giant hole between the levels that was used as a sort of dumb-waiter to pass food quickly between the levels which has thankfully been grated over for safety.
The views from the windows of the tower are stunning. Kinross house can be seen clearly from a few of them and the views of the loch from others.
The second tower (The Glassin tower) lies in the opposite corner of the castle courtyard on the south-east side. There are a few references to the water works and storage methods in the lower levels and the upper levels open out with some huge windows to enjoy the view of the woods surrounding the castle. While wandering the woods below the window I managed to be discussing the noises the birds were making and made a rather loud velociraptor-esq noise just as a woman had leaned out the window to take a look. She tried her best to act like she hadn't heard me be a complete fool and failed. Fantastic timing as always.
The only other place of note on the island is the "staff only" area where the sheds with equipment are kept. As you are alone on the island with no supervision, you can easy walk into the area without any trouble and I found some of the nicest views of the mountains hiding in that area.
===Check your Clocks===
That's pretty much all that the castle has to offer. A smidgen of history and some pretty views. There are a couple of picnic benches dotted over the island (which would take about a minute to cross at a slow jog) which could provide you with something else to do if you have the foresight to bring a picnic with you. I can imagine the woods would be quite a nice place to wander in the height of summer, but since the weather still thinks that it's winter at the moment, the woods were still fairly sparse and dead. It might be a good idea to go a little later in the year when the plants have had a chance to grow. If you are a plant fanatic then there are beds of Pink Purslane dotted throughout the wooded areas which are apparently quite fragrant. Again though, we missed that due to everything being convinced it was still winter.
When we left the island we had a wander round to The Boat house for a cup of tea and noticed that the car park was packed by about 11:30am and the queues for the ferry across were getting bigger. We had pretty much the run of the island with only one other family being there at the same time. I think had the island been packed we may not have enjoyed it as much as you'd not be able to get photos of the castle without strangers in it. As such I'd suggest going early in the morning before the rush starts.
Later that evening as we were walking through Kinross a car passed with a woman in it waving frantically at us. We were rather confused as to who it could be since we knew no-one here. She had passed before we realised it was the woman from the shop who we'd had a natter with that morning. That not only made us giggle but kept the lovely morning we had at the castle fresh in our minds well into the evening!
We spent about an hour on the island taking photos and wandering round. I saw other families who only stayed for half an hour as the kids got round the whole castle and then got bored within 15 minutes. As such, unless you bring stuff with you (like a picnic or games to play on the benches) then you'll probably find that your kids won't appreciate the island that much unless they have a love of all things castle. Personally, however, Allan and I loved it. It was peaceful, serene and absolutely stunningly gorgeous (minus the bird cack). I got a tonne of lovely photos and had a lovely morning with Allan. I'd give it five out of five if the shop was still open as it may have made it a bit easier to spend a bit longer there if it was. It might get a bit pricey if you're taking the kids and might not be worth your money if they don't want to stay long. As it stands though, I'd give it a firm four and recommend a visit if you can.
Summary: A lovely little castle with some big historic names attached to it.