Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Monday, 28 February 2011

Loch Leven and some graves

The 'dismal' day mentioned in a previous post had transformed itself into a sunny, but blustery one by the time we arrived at the Kirkgate car park; oyster catchers were scattered along the grassy shore and Lochleven Castle was catching the afternoon sunshine.

The castle was used as a state prison (its first use) when, in 1316, King Robert the Bruce imprisoned John of Lorne there;  in 1390 it was granted to the Douglas family as a royal stronghold. In 1567 Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James, later King James 1st, uniting England and Scotland. She escaped in 1568.

Now managed by Historic Scotland, a frequent ferry service runs from the pier to the castle during the summer and despite living nearby for many years, we have yet to make a visit there. Likewise we have still to walk the full 'Hertitage Trail'. Some way round, Lynne spied a cluster of yew trees off the path and guessed an old graveyard would be found there.

It was indeed just that and so we spent a pleasant hour 'Guddling among the Graves'.  This was the title of a series of illustrated talks by Hamish Brown about the folk art of Scottish gravestones, a talk which eventually gave birth to his fascinating book 'Scottish Graveyard Miscellany'.

Note the hourglass ('the sands of time are sinking') and the skull and crossbones

We were in fact at the site of the old Orwell Kirk, (without a church, the 'graveyard' would be a cemetery) which was moved to Milnathort in 1729. Now another building stands here - a mausoleum dated - 1865.

The earliest date we could find on a stone, was 1633 (and on the same stone 1688.) Note the spelling of 'year' as it was then.

The two photographs above show 'table stones', the gravestone having been placed on legs to prevent wear.

Further along the Trail is a seat with a rhyme in Scots carved into the backrests.

It relates to standing stones found on the land of Orwell Farm. The stones, which can't be seen from the trail, mark the site of cremation deposits which have been dated 2300BC.

In the centre backrest

To our east lay Bishop Hill and below it the village of Kinnesswood, once an important centre for the maufacture of vellum and parchment. Alexander Buchan the 'Father of meteorology' was a Kinnesswood man who identified the principles of isobars:

Buchan warned of windy weather
When isobars lay close together

We've enjoyed many a fine walk on Bishop Hill .........

Bishop Hill from the Heritage Trail

....but none better than in March 2010 when we paid our respects to Carlin Maggie.

The whole Trail covers 12.5Km and there is much more to tell than I have done here. One day we really must walk it in its entirety - and take that boat trip to Loch Leven Castle as well.

Note: much of the above is courtesy of  the Loch Leven Heritage Trail with some checks from Lynne.


  1. Hi Gibson, very interesting stuff. I am glad i am not the only person who likes old graveyards. I have a post pending in a similar vein.

    Any ideas about the skull and cross bones or do you think it just represents death?
    The small cemetery in Dunvegan has some very interesting grave stones supposedly from the knights templar.

  2. fascinating - skull and crossbones design identical to those in palma cathedral.

    my understanding is that they mark a mason's grave...whatever that might mean, or have meant!

  3. Very interesting, Gibson. Well done.

  4. I love history so found this post very interesting.


  5. Hi Alan - Thanks and I look forward to your post. As far as I can see from Hamish Brown's book, the skull and crossbones is a 'symbol of mortality' - one of the most common. Others include: skulls on their own (death heads); bones; the hourglass; Father Time; angel of death; skeleton; corpse (naked or shrouded); coffin; bells; sexton's tools, usually spade and pick displayed as a cross (saltire). There are others!

    Ah, Dunvegan! A much loved area and thanks for that bit of information on the graveyard. I've spent more time at Struan graveyard where Norman Collie and John MacKenzie are buried - more of a pilgrimage really - but we'll certainly go back to the Dunvegan stones now.

    David - Thanks. I can't find anything in Hamish's book that suggests skull and crossbones marks a mason's grave. There is a chapter on Trade Stones but I'd have to re-read that for any further info.

    Martin - Thanks. Pleased you enjoyed. So much of interest on the Trail for such little effort.

    Sticks 65 - glad you enjoyed the post. Many thanks - there's more to come.

  6. This walk was obviously a bloggers gift. All interesting stuff. All too often I just plough on without taking the time to look more carefully at things, so a lesson may be learnt here.

  7. You're quite correct Sir Hugh. The credit for taking time to stop and look really belongs to Lynne though!

  8. I've visited that graveyard often - it adds a sombre touch to what is basically a recreational area.Memento mori indeed.
    A mason's (stone as opposed to trouser rolling !) grave would be marked by compasses, a farmers by a plough coulter, and a merchant by the numeral 4 (no idea why)

  9. Old Mortality -

    I'm no expert on any of this and Hamish Brown gives various symbols for the three categories you mention. The numeral '4' was used in the 12th century to mark trade goods and ended up meaning a merchant as you say. Hamish Brown suggests it might represent in some cases 'trading to the 4 corners of the world'.