Paul Murton tours Scotland's lochs. He explores some lochs close to Scotland's densely populated central belt, starting on the banks of the Lake of Menteith.
Browse content similar to An Enchanted Land. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
In the heart of central Scotland lies an area of exceptional beauty -
a place of quiet lochs, mesmerising reflections and mysterious woods.
This is an enchanted land.
It is hard to believe out here, but I'm just an hour's drive north
of Scotland's biggest bustling city,
and there's not a soul to be seen
in a stunningly beautiful landscape
that has cast a romantic spell over visitors for centuries.
Lochs are Scotland's gift to the world.
It's reckoned that there are more than 31,000 of them.
They come in all shapes and sizes, long fjord-like sea lochs,
great freshwater lochs of the Central Highlands,
and the innumerable lochans that stud the open moors
or nestle beneath high summits in dark mountain corries.
In this series I'm on a loch-hopping journey
discovering how lochs have shaped the character of the people
who live close to their shores.
For this grand tour I'm heading to a place
where water and lochs have an almost magical quality.
My journey takes me from a loch
famous for being a lake, to the romantic charm
and beauty of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray in the Trossachs,
to finish on the summit of God's own mountain in miniature, Ben Venue.
This is the Lake of Menteith,
and is famously known as the only lake in Scotland.
But how did this loch become known as a lake?
The story goes that a 16th century Dutch map-maker was enchanted
and delighted by this beautiful body of water,
but he didn't know its name.
When he asked local people,
they thought he was referring to the whole area round about,
which is known in the dialect as the laich of Menteith
meaning a low place, a boggy place.
The map-maker misheard,
and thought they had just called this loch a lake.
And the name has stuck ever since.
The lake covers just two and a half square kilometres
and has three islands.
The largest, Inchmahome,
is big enough to have supported a 13th-century priory.
In spring and summer, a ferry carries passengers to the island.
Aha! Are you the ferryman?
-I am indeed.
-Simon Lennox ferries me over.
He knows the lake and its history well.
We are heading to Inchmahome, is that right?
That's right, yeah. So that's Inchmahome, "inch" obviously island,
so island of Malcolm or island of Colm if you go
further back into the kind of... into the Gaelic on that.
So it's Malky's Island, then?
Malky's Island, basically,
if you want to drop into the vernacular on that one.
And who was Malky?
Malky was a Christian missionary back in the Dark Ages
who came out to spread the word of Christianity.
And who would have been out there? Would it have been monks out there?
Well, it was canons out there.
One of the reasons people ask why it is a priory
is because it was run by a prior,
but also it was canons there rather than monks,
and canons actually had a pastoral duty.
So rather than just being completely secluded and isolated
on the island, they went out to the community, effectively,
and kind of spread the good word,
ministered to the locals, all that kind of stuff.
islands have been sought out as refuges from the world,
places of peace and quiet and contemplation.
An island in a loch is even more special,
a form of double isolation from the everyday.
For such a small island,
there's a lot of history packed into Inchmahome,
and it has been visited by the great and the good
down the centuries.
Robert the Bruce, no less, visited,
and so, too, did many of his Stuart descendants
including Mary Queen of Scots.
And when she came here,
she was just a little princess and only four years of age.
She and her mother,
the French Queen Marie de Guise, were hiding from an English army.
Henry VIII of England had wanted to force a marriage
between Princess Mary and his sickly son, Edward.
To achieve this union, an English army invaded Scotland,
a bloody episode known to history as the Rough Wooing.
Desperate to avoid capture,
the future Mary Queen of Scots spent three weeks on Inchmahome
before she and her mother fled to France.
It is amazing how quickly legends can develop.
Mary Queen of Scots was only on Inchmahome for, what,
less than a month,
but she is supposed to have planted this boxwood bower.
When she wasn't busy gardening or doing needlework,
or even learning languages,
she played at being Queen with an imaginary court
attended by the four Marys,
"Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael and me,"
as the old song goes.
It sounds to me that Mary Queen of Scots
might have been a bit of a princess,
which is what she was.
It's highly unlikely that even the gifted Child Queen
planted the boxwood, but I'm told it's very old.
Old enough indeed to have been around
when the future Queen of Scots hid on this sequestered isle.
I head back to the shore
to meet my new steed which will get me to my next destination
in classic style.
Now I've very kindly and rather generously
been lent this 1957 Francis Barnett motorbike
which, I have to say, I'm approaching with some trepidation,
partly because she's extremely old and valuable,
and partly because I've only just passed my motorbike test.
This is trickier than I thought
because the gear is where I would normally expect
the brake to be.
And that is because this is an old British bike,
and everything is a wee bit back to front.
Oh, let's see, get in the right gear.
Thankfully, it doesn't take that long to adjust.
And it's a rare pleasure to be rolling along
in the spring sunshine.
Heading west without mishap, I reach the village of Aberfoyle,
which narrowly avoided being rebranded as Scotland's fairyland.
Some welcome sign that would have made.
The reason for the rebranding proposal
was to market the area's fairy connections,
which begin and end in the old graveyard
just outside the village at Kirkton.
By a strange twist of serendipity, fate or whatever,
the minister of Kirkton was a Kirk in his own right,
being the Reverend Robert Kirk,
author of the celebrated book
The Secret Commonwealth Of Elves, Fauns And Fairies,
which he completed in the year of our Lord 1691.
And this grave marks the spot where his body lies.
Or does it?
The Reverend was a local man,
steeped in the Gaelic folklore of the area.
He claimed second sight
which gave him privileged access to the invisible world
of the fairy folk.
To get to know them better,
he took to walking on the wooded slopes of a hill
overlooking the village.
Called Doon Hill, this is the gateway to fairyland.
In his secret commonwealth,
the Reverend Kirk wrote about the spiritual beings,
the Sidhe of Celtic folklore that he'd encountered on the hill.
He explained how they lived unseen amongst us,
and how many human beings have a spectral fairy double.
There is a bit of a fairy in all of us, it seems.
But within a year of finishing his book, Kirk was dead.
And his body, or what appeared to be his body,
was found up here on Doon Hill.
But local people said that it wasn't Kirk,
instead, they said it was his fairy double.
Kirk himself had been imprisoned by the Sidhe
whose trust he had betrayed
by writing the book in the first place.
And some local people believe that Kirk's soul is still here,
trapped beneath the roots of this ancient tree,
the only pine...
..in a forest of oaks, which is really rather strange.
An air of enchantment hangs over Doon Hill to this day,
amplified by the messages and wishes
pinned and hung on trees and branches all around.
It's an echo of an ancient Highland custom
that the Reverend Kirk would have understood.
But do people here still believe in fairies?
Personally, I like to keep an open mind.
Now, I'm not saying I believe in fairies,
but I'm not saying I DON'T believe in fairies either.
Just remember what happened to the poor Reverend Kirk.
And be careful what you wish for.
Fortunately, my disappearance is only momentary,
and I continue my journey, unharmed by my encounter with the fairy folk,
following a path through ancient oak woods,
which once provided cover
for one of the most notorious outlaws in Scottish history -
Rob Roy MacGregor.
Rob Roy lived with other MacGregors in the area around Loch Arklet.
From here, he combined cattle raiding
with his support for the Jacobite cause
which was dedicated to restoring
the exiled Stuart monarchy to the British throne.
But defeat in 1715 brought government reprisals.
Troops burned houses and drove off livestock.
Rob Roy fled,
and the army built a garrison to crush future lawlessness.
Now that's what I call a view and a half.
But it's one that's changed a lot since the days of Rob Roy MacGregor.
Now, I've got an old map here from about 1700,
which shows Loch Arklet as it was
before it was dammed and the land flooded, back in the 19th century.
It's about half the size on this map as it is today.
Now, over there, you can see some trees, the tops of some fir trees,
now that is a place called Corrie Arklet.
It's where Rob Roy MacGregor married Helen Campbell
before the place was burned to the ground
by government troops, stationed here at A,
Looking for evidence of those times,
I make my way to the site of the garrison.
Unrecognisable today, it's now a bed and breakfast
run by Kelly Bray and her husband.
-Nice to meet you.
So this is the garrison?
Yeah, welcome to the Garrison of Inversnaid.
Doesn't look much like a garrison to me.
It's been put to other use, I think, since then.
It has indeed. So, originally it was...
..built by the Duke of Montrose in 1718,
after the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715.
This was a three-storey barrack block in front of us here.
And then our barn was a three-storey barrack block.
Our house is in the location
of what would have been a two-storey guardhouse.
This was the original external wall.
There would have been a bakehouse on the corner there
and another external wall there and a perimeter external wall, as well.
We're standing in the middle of the old parade ground,
and although the garrison is now enjoying life as a smallholding,
there's still compelling evidence as to its former usage.
So, just here, Paul,
this is where the guys when they were barracked here,
would sharpen their bayonets as they walked through the door here.
That's amazing, isn't it?
And it's still here. It's like a signature, almost.
Yeah, 300-year-old signature of the guys that were stationed here.
Now, the barracks are converted
to house Kelly's extraordinary menagerie of animals.
So we have two Highland heifer calves,
we have two pigs and four piglets, they have now.
We have three ewes and two lambs off of one of them.
We have nine hens, one cockerel, two geese.
And you know them all?
I know them all.
And what happens when you have to send them off to market?
My husband does that bit.
-Yeah. I'm a vegetarian.
I give them love and the rearing that they need
to make sure that they're good meat.
And then he takes them off for market, yeah.
Leaving Kelly to feed the animals,
I head towards Stronachlachar,
which nestles on the shores of Loch Katrine,
by far the biggest loch in the Trossachs.
Since Victorian times,
it has supplied the city of Glasgow with drinking water.
Clean water's something we all take for granted
and don't really give much thought to at all.
But 150, 160 years ago,
it was a scarce resource in a rapidly changing world.
By the 19th century,
Glasgow's burgeoning population
was in desperate need of a freshwater supply.
Hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians
depended on the polluted River Clyde,
and drew water from just 30 wells.
In 1832 and in 1848, two major cholera outbreaks killed thousands.
Spurred into action,
the Corporation of Glasgow took control
of the city's failing water companies,
and set about finding a clean and healthy supply.
In 1856, work began to bring the crystal clear waters of Loch Katrine
to the heart of the industrial city.
Now, this was a monumental task
and the engineers at the time boasted
that nothing like it had been seen since the days of ancient Rome.
To show me around this monument to Victorian ingenuity and ambition,
I'm meeting up with Archie Stevenson
who shows me where Loch Katrine water
begins its long journey to Glasgow.
It flows about 26 miles from this point,
a drop of probably about ten inches every mile.
It just drops down gradually.
It's a great feat of engineering.
That's incredible. Do you know what the flow is here?
At the start it was 40 million gallons a day, which was...
They thought would be enough, but as it's developed,
Glasgow takes almost 90 million gallons a day.
-Somebody's obviously liking the water.
Loch Katrine lies about 41km from Glasgow,
and the challenges to get such huge amounts of water
to Scotland's largest city were immense.
Over the course of three years, 80 tunnels,
some over two and a half kilometres long,
were dug through the hills.
And 22 bridges carry the water high over river valleys.
Over 3,000 navvies were employed
to complete this extraordinary undertaking.
You're talking about 1850s,
there wouldn't have been any electric lights.
They didn't have any mechanical digging equipment, did they?
This is all hewn out by human muscle, blood, sweat and tears.
Blood, sweat and tears, and a real undertaking.
Now, tell me, what's the water like here to taste?
It's probably the best water in the world, so it is.
Biased, but by far the best.
The opening ceremony
of the Loch Katrine water supply took place in 1859,
with Queen Victoria as guest of honour.
Now, it was, of course,
a very wet day when the great Queen arrived with Prince Albert
and two of her daughters,
as reported by the Scotsman of the time.
"The rain," it says, "poured down in incessant torrents,
"soaking everyone to the skin."
Fortunately, the Queen was able to avail herself of all the mod cons
of the modern world in a purpose-built cottage nearby,
just in case she was caught short.
Royal Cottage, as it's now known, was a very expensive umbrella,
with royal loos attached.
Meanwhile, the Queen turned a ceremonial handle,
opening the sluice gates to allow Loch Katrine's water
to begin its slow progress to Glasgow.
And in the pouring rain, a military band played the National Anthem,
and several cannons fired a Royal Salute.
According to popular myth,
the shock waves produced by so much explosive going off
shattered the windows of the Queen's cottage.
When the time came for the Queen to leave,
she was transported across the loch by a steamer,
a stylish and noble tradition that continues to this day.
STEAMER HORN BLOWS
This is the steamship Sir Walter Scott,
named after the famous author
who did so much to popularise this part of Scotland
with his romantic novels and poems.
Up on the bridge, I joined the captain, Debbie Whyte.
Why were you so keen to become a skipper of a steamship?
I don't know. I really liked being out on the boat.
It's so different, you know,
it's not like being in an office or anything like that.
It was one of the other skippers, actually,
who'd said to me, "Why don't you go for it?"
And I kind of laughed at him. And he was like, "What's so funny?"
And I went, "I've never really thought about it."
-So I just... It felt like a challenge.
I've been here for six years.
The surroundings are still amazing.
There is a lot going on in your head, though...
..because you're always constantly aware of what could go wrong,
or the weather, things like that.
So, my head's very busy.
-A lot to think about.
There's an awful lot to think about.
And this is a really historic boat, as well.
Yeah, 118 years old.
118 years old?
-Do you know where she was built?
She was built in Dumbarton, by William Denny Brothers.
-Then she did her sea trials to Arran and back.
Dismantled, put into sections, took her up the River Leven,
across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid.
Then they got horse and carts to drag her to Stronachlachar.
-In pieces, yeah.
Yeah, then they reassembled her and launched her in October of 1899.
And she's been sailing here ever since.
Can I possibly have a shot?
-Aye, of course you can.
Fantastic. Being at the helm of such a historic boat.
Debbie communicates with the engine room using the ship's telegraph,
which signals everything from full steam ahead, dead slow, to stop.
Leaving her at the wheel,
I head off to find out what powers this little ship.
Below deck, I squeeze in beside the ship's engineer, Derek Dunn.
We're standing beside an extraordinary piece of engineering.
What is this machine?
She is an 1899 Matthew and Paul triple expansion steam engine
built in Dumbarton.
And she's never really been touched very much.
-She's almost original.
-That's amazing, isn't it?
And this is steam that's propelling us along?
Hot water, boiling water.
Yes. I think she is the only steam propelled,
passenger-carrying vessel on fresh water in Scotland.
But I can tell from the way you're talking about this engine,
you're quite passionate about steam.
Well, I was a ship's engineer, and I started off life on steamships.
And then coming here at the end of my working career,
it's an absolute pleasure to be on the vessel.
-It really is.
-I've been here about three and a half years now,
and every day's an experience.
I suppose it's an honour to be associated with this engine,
and to give a couple of years of my life
just to maintain her and make sure she continues to run.
And, hopefully, when I go,
somebody else will take on the mantle and run her properly.
It's clear that Derek is a man in love with engineering,
which is just as well, given the heat and noise of the engine room.
But for me, it's time to take some fresh air and a turn on deck,
where I admire the passing scenery,
and reflect on the man this little ship is named after -
Sir Walter Scott, whose pen made the loch world-famous.
Now, views like these inspired Sir Walter Scott
to write his epic poem
The Lady Of The Lake.
And when it was published in 1810, it caused a sensation,
selling over 25,000 copies in just six months.
The lake of his poem was Loch Katrine,
and the lady in question,
Ellen Douglas, was caught in a web of love, intrigue and murder.
The book triggered floods of visitors
to see for themselves the scenes of the drama.
Scott believed that wild nature was the guiding force of mankind,
not reason or logic.
Other famous romantics followed him,
including the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge,
and painters like John Knox,
who transformed the landscape they saw
into an idealised romantic world.
About 50 years later,
two like-minded friends and a young bride
followed the romantic trail
right here to the heart of the Trossachs.
They were the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais, his friend,
the great Victorian art critic, John Ruskin,
and his young bride Effie Gray.
What happened when they holidayed here together at Brig o' Turk,
near the shores of the magical and mysterious Loch Achray
caused a scandal and a flood of speculation.
Millais joined Ruskin and his wife Effie on holiday
because he'd been commissioned to paint Ruskin's portrait.
After a long search, he found the perfect location in Glen Finglas,
above the village.
Now, my own quest is to find the exact same spot,
which isn't easy after all those years.
But to help me, I've got this postcard of the portrait,
which must have been made somewhere down here near the river.
OK, a bit slippery, these rocks here, got to be careful.
But I think this may well be Ruskin's stone,
the spot that Ruskin stood on for has portrait painting by Millais.
He must have been over there somewhere.
We've got the waterfall behind me.
We've got a waterfall behind Ruskin here.
You can clearly see a rock, looks like the head of a lizard,
very similar to that rock behind me.
Now, since then, obviously, that tree has fallen, filling in the gap.
But I reckon this is the spot where this portrait was made.
And the whole idea behind it was to try and express something
that both Ruskin and Millais shared about the nature of art
and the kind of art that Millais excelled at,
and that was painting from nature in the open air.
But it did more than that,
because it helped end Ruskin's marriage to Effie Gray.
Effie was young, outgoing and playful,
unlike her socially awkward husband Ruskin,
who was ten years her senior.
He'd met Effie when she was just nine,
and had courted her for many years.
Seeing off younger rivals,
he'd narrowly avoided a duel because of her.
But their marriage was a disaster,
and Effie fell in love with the charismatic Millais here
among the hills and lochs of the Trossachs.
She eventually asked for an annulment
on the grounds that her union with Ruskin had never been consummated.
The hearing that followed led to salacious gossip and rumour,
which Ruskin did nothing to contradict.
It was even suggested that Ruskin had never seen a naked woman before
in the flesh, and was shocked to discover
that the female body was not like the smooth and unblemished forms,
that, as an art critic, he was used to.
Odd for a man who believed in the moral power of raw nature.
I just wonder what Ruskin was thinking about
when he posed for his portrait.
Did he know that Effie and Millais were already in love?
Whatever the truth behind this love triangle,
Effie, at least, seems to have found happiness,
because she went on to have eight children with Millais.
Ruskin, on the other hand, never married again.
The enchanted landscape of loch and wooded hill
had woven its spell over Ruskin and Millais.
Love had blossomed and died beneath the shadow
of one of the prettiest mountains in Scotland,
which is my final destination in my grand tour from lake to loch.
Ben Venue is a Highland mountain in miniature,
rising in rugged grandeur above Loch Achray and Loch Katrine.
Early guidebooks to the area waxed lyrical about Ben Venue,
and quoted Scott's Lady Of The Lake to make the point.
"Crags and knolls and mounds confusedly hurled
"The fragments of an earlier world."
Because of Scott's famous poem,
Ben Venue became one of the earliest and most popular peaks
to be climbed for pleasure in Scotland.
Since then, clothing and footwear might have changed a good deal,
but the mountain in miniature hasn't got any lower,
and it's still a stiff climb to reach the summit,
where countless thousands have stood before.
Ooh! Here we are.
At last. At last, at last.
The summit of Ben Venue.
Just kiss the cairn, as you do.
Now, this might not be a particularly mighty peak,
but the views live up to all the expectations of Scott
and the Romantic artists that came after him.
Down there is Loch Arklet, and behind me is Loch Katrine,
and down there is Loch Achray,
which makes this the perfect place for me
to end my grand tour from lake to loch.
In the final programme in the series, Paul explores some lochs close to Scotland's densely populated central belt. Starting on the banks of the most famous lake in Scotland - the Lake of Menteith - Paul wanders through an enchanting landscape, visiting Loch Ard, Loch Arklet, Loch Katrine and Loch Achray, before climbing a mountain in miniature, Ben Venue.