When it comes to lochs in Scotland…
– You may know a bit about Loch Ness and the many theories concerning its mysterious monster
– You likely have heard or sung or played the song about Loch Lomond
Do you know about Loch Leven though? It is a place of nature and history, and there are several songs to do with Loch Leven, as well.
… and there are two lochs named Loch Leven, one near Kinross, and the other in Lochaber in Highlands.
This photograph is from Loch Leven near Kinross
and this from the loch in Highlands
The one with the Mary Queen of Scots connection is east of Stirling, west of Saint Andrews, north of Dunfermline, and near to Kinross.
The one in Lochaber has the village of Glencoe to its south and the town of Kinlochleven to its north.
The Loch Leven near Kinross is the main subject of this piece.
Information to help you discover Loch Leven in Highlands will gradually be added to this story as well.
The Loch Leven near Kinross is an inland, freshwater loch, which makes it a homeplace for many resident bird species and a great stopover for migrating birds as well. So much so, in fact, that it is a favored place for those humans who love to watch birds, too.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB for short) has an established presence near Loch Leven. When open (it is closed at this writing because of the pandemic), RSPB staffers offer guidance, guidebooks and equipment of interest to bird watchers.
What birds might you see?
Pink-footed geese frequent the Loch Leven on their migrations.
You may also see lapwing, plover, wrens, thrushes, finches, sparrows, osprey… Icelandic whooper swans are known to overwinter at the loch too. The RSPB website has areas about regular and recent sightings of birds at Loch Leven.
The varied bird species are in part drawn by the varied natural habitats at Loch Leven. which you may enjoy exploring yourself. It is a Scottish National Nature Reserve.
There are grasses and rushes both upland and near the banks of the loch.
On the uplands, you’ll find wildflowers: part of the area is a bumblebee sanctuary. It’s the world’s first such place, in fact. It was created in 2007.
You can walk through nature on the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, which goes around the loch and off into the woodland as well. The trail is mostly level and barrier free, and there are mobility scooters available at several nearby locations.
On such a walk, you will experience a range of forest areas.
There are small willows at the loch’s shores.
Scots pine is a food source for birds, and for another local resident, the red squirrel.
You might enjoy the scent of those Scots pines’ needles, especially in summer. You may enjoy the colours of the bark of silver birch at any season. Come autumn, birch leaves turns golden and make a fine display. You will also come cross the rowan tree, notable for its red berries.
Perhaps Robert the Bruce, in the 14th century, and Mary Queen of Scots, in the 16th century, walked among these trees and saw these birds.
What’s known for certain is that each of them called in at the castle on the island at the centre of Loch Leven.
Robert the Bruce visited in 1313 and 1323. Mary Queen of Scots had a more complicated history with the castle, and with Loch Leven.
Mary first came to the castle for a brief visit in 1562, to recover from a fall from her horse. In 1565 she came as guest, and while there had a conversation with John Knox.
He was a Calvinist minister who among other things did not think women should be rulers; Mary was a devout Catholic who had been queen of Scotland since her father’s death when she was a child. Both of them intelligent and forthright, one imagines their conversation may have been quite interesting.
The third time Mary Queen of Scots came to Loch Leven was as a prisoner in its castle, having surrendered to noblemen opposed to her rule. While there, she was forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her infant son James, who had been taken from her custody. She spent nearly a year in the castle on the island.
Beth Malcom has written a song in the form of a conversation between Mary and one of her ladies, watching curlew fly over the loch and imagining an escape.
There are songs concerning the Loch Leven in Lochaber too, in English and in Gaelic. Here is one which blends in both languages.
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