Ask many people where Lochleven Castle is and they may give you a puzzled look. Tell them it’s the castle you see from the motorway in the middle of a loch as you bullet north from the Forth Road Bridge towards Perth, and you may see a dawning realisation. I can sympathise with being hazy on Lochleven - I was exactly the same before I resolved to come off the motorway and discover a castle that swirls in epic tales of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots.
Escape to Loch Leven
Turning off the motorway at Kinross, I was amazed at how quickly we entered a much more bucolic world. Gone were speeding cars and concrete and in their place were the leafy banks of Lowland Scotland’s largest loch. My wee girls and the couple of their pals we’d brought along were soon slipping around the water’s edge admiring the birdlife. Swans, oystercatchers, herons and buzzards all whirled before us in a view that also took in a crumple of distant hills.
Loch Leven is renowned for its birdlife, with the RSPB Vane Farm nature reserve on the southern shores of the loch. You don’t need to head to the official reserve to appreciate the myriad birdlife as the waters teem with avian visitors, with up to 20,000 migratory geese alone found here in winter. The wee boat trip across to Lochleven Castle – as romantic a way to approach a fortress as you can imagine – opens up a rich slice of flora and fauna.
A Castle on an Idyllic Isle
It is not just the local fauna that charms. Lochleven Castle for me enjoys one of the most beguiling settings of any castle in the country. It reclines on a little low lying island that is awash with trees. The ferry lands in front of a large grassy meadow with picnic benches on hand if you’ve brought your own lunch. There is a toilet too, but little else so we felt like we’d really escaped from it all.
With no roads, the island is perfect for families. The grown-ups soaked up the sun at a bench before tackling the castle as we watched our young ones race around the grass and conjure up games laden with kings, queens and princesses. We wandered around the isle on a footpath through the forests where we found a ‘witches’ den, a clearing in the trees with some tree stumps where the kids’ imaginations vaulted off. Lochleven offers up a rich palette of colours for wee ones to play with.
Exploring Lochleven Castle
The sturdy castle itself is fairly well preserved, with the most impressive feature the solid tower house that looms large as you approach. It was at the very top of this bolthole that Mary Queen of Scots was famously imprisoned for a year in 1567. Mary had originally been incarcerated in a newer annex, but was said to have ‘preferred’ the tower house. Mary’s time on the island was a miserable one. Not only had she lost both the throne and her freedom, but she also soon lost the twins she had been carrying.
Lochleven Castle – More than Just Mary
Information boards throughout the tower house and the rest of the castle tell the story of Mary, but the castle’s history goes far beyond just the tale of this unfortunate monarch. Lochleven was also visited by the likes of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Robert the Bruce’s visit was a violent one as he is said to have seized the castle back from English forces. William Wallace is also said to have taken the castle by force, killing all 30 ‘Inglismen’ he found on the island. Ironically the information boards speculate that the castle may actually have been built by English forces in the first place.
Back to the Motorway
After hours running around the meadow and woodland playing kings and queens, exploring the nooks and crannies of this history rich castle, we reluctantly made for the ferry. A ferry that would take us all back to the real world. As we puttered back across the loch a giant heron swooped high above us, a reminder of a corner of Scotland as far away from the stress of busy motorways as you can imagine.