By John Plowman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the TV programme The Country House Revealed (part2/6) Dan Cruikshank told the story of Kinross House, which inspired some further research.
Kinross takes its name from the Gaelic ceann-rois (head of the promontory which sticks out from the W side of Loch Leven). The loch is a prominent feature of the area, formerly Kinross-shire, with the Ochil Hills to the NW, the Lomond Hills to the NE, Cleish Hills to the SW and Benarty Hill to the south. There are several islands in the loch, the largest being St.Serf’s Island with a Priory that goes back to the 9th C and Castle Island on which Loch Leven Castle stands. It goes back to the time of Alexander III (1257). The castle is said to be haunted by Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned there in 1567.
The modern visitor to the town of Kinross would most likely arrive via junction 6 of the M90. The town was on the road from Edinburgh to Perth and was formerly a railway junction with lines going westwards to Dollar and Alloa, southwards to Dunfermline and northwards to Perth and Dundee.
The original parish church stood near the extremity of the peninsula SE of Kinross House. It became the town hall from 1837 to 1868. Peter Underwood in his Gazetteer of British, Scottish & Irish Ghosts describes a poltergeist case that affected the parish minister Mr McGill in 1718. Pins of various sizes were mixed in his food and clothing was ripped.
Kinross House, built at the end of the 17th C (1685-92), was designed by Sir William Bruce. An older mansion on a nearby site was taken down in 1723.
The approach to the house is by way of a long drive, which divides into two as it nears the building. The design continues the line of the drive on the far side of the house towards Loch Leven Castle. It seemed to me that this alignment might be a part of a more extensive connection or ley.
The idea of an “Old Straight Track” connecting prehistoric sites was introduced by Alfred Watkins in his book of that title. Consulting the OS map (Landranger sheet 58 Perth to Alloa), I placed a ruler along the line between Kinross House and Loch Leven Castle and noted that the line extended westwards, following the general direction of the South Queich upstream to Myrehaugh Hill and thence via Glendevon Castle (grid square NN9705) to The Seat, (NN9506), a hill overlooking Glen Eagles. Glendevon Castle may also be haunted.
Going eastwards beyond Loch Leven (on a grid bearing of 103º) the line reached a hilltop with an OS triangulation pillar (NT2299), beyond which two small contour rings indicated possible mounds continuing the alignment. Later research showed that the ‘trig point’ is due E of Ben Cleuch, the highest point of the Ochil Hills.
Continuing the 103º direction on the next map sheet, the line runs south of Glenrothes, crosses the Lochty burn at the same place as the A92, passes N of a standing stone at Earlseat and reaches the shore at Macduff’s Castle, East Wemyss. The castle is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Mary Sibbald, “The White Lady of the Wemyss Caves”.
It seemed unlikely that the line going westwards (283º) from Loch Leven to Kinross ended at The Seat. The route across the Ochil Hills is difficult terrain, being a series of ups and downs. The modern road sticks to the lower ground, following the River Devon to Glen Eagles. I followed the line through the Ochils onto the Stirling map (Sheet 57), towards the higher ground of Uamh Beag (NN6911). The line direction links a line of foothills with the twin summits, where there is a hilltop cairn and a triangulation pillar.
The hill Uamh Beag takes its name from the ‘little cave’ or cist on the eastern summit. The great cave Uamh Mhor is on the SW spur. Two chambered cairns near Callander connect with the hilltop. Ballachraggan is 1 Scottish league from the cist and Auchenlaich is the same distance from Uamh Mhor, going towards the summit which is 4mi from Auchenlaich. The Scottish league of 3 Scottish miles (Sc mi.) is the same as 3 minutes of latitude, so is a natural unit related to the size of the earth. Chambered cairns on the Isle of Arran are similarly linked with each other and Ailsa Craig.
In military speak an OP is an observation post. I would like to suggest that it could equally stand for observation place and I think that Uamh Beag and the surrounding hills are an example of an OP in this sense. The first requirement of such a place is that it should be on high ground with a good view. Unlike an observation post, which needs to be concealed, an observation place is a landmark that can be seen from some distance. Secondly, the OP is not a point but several connected points like the twin summits and spur of Uamh Beag.
Uamh Beag might be the start of a ley to Kinross, Loch Leven and East Wemyss, but perhaps the line continues westwards beyond Uamh Beag to even higher ground. The direction is across undulating terrain to a crossing point where the waters from Gleann a Chroin and Gleann Breac-nic meet and a track crosses a bridge. The line then climbs again to reach a high point at Beinn Bhreac. This speckled hill overlooks Strathyre and is part of a ridge that ascends via Beinn Each (NN6015) and Stuc a Chroin to Ben Vorlich (NN6218).
Beinn Bhreac is another OP with a 1 mile connection along the ridge between Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Each. From this ridge the hills on the far side of Loch Lubnaig and Strathyre can be observed. For example, a fairy hill Beinn an t-Sidhein is viewed beyond Glen Ample and Meall Mor.
If the Loch Leven – Kinross ley is extended across Loch Lubnaig it meets a number of shielings in Glen Buckie. These dwellings have some of the characteristics of an OP, being set along the contour lines of the hillside in the direction of Ben Ledi. The group falls on the line between Ben Lomond and Ben Our and two of the structures indicate the direction and distance to Ben Our 6 miles away. One of these sites and a third site match the direction of the line from Uamh Beag. Another site in the group, located between Beinn an t-Sidhein and Benvane, marks 6mi from Ben Vorlich.
Edinchip chambered cairn is exactly 3mi from Beinn an t-Sidhein. The same direction leads to the summit of Meall Cala at 7mi and another Beinn Bhreac to the west of BenVenue. This Beinn Bhreac (NN4505) serves as an OP between Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi.
The line joining Edinchip chambered cairn and Auchenlaich chambered cairn crosses the ridge north of Beinn Each and is 9Sc mi. (3 leagues) in length. A massive crag marks the intersection with the Ben Lomond – Ben Ledi line at NN6211, 5 leagues from Ben Lomond, 1 league from Auchenlaich, ½league from Beinn Bhreac and roughly 4 miles from Ben Ledi.
The Loch Leven – Kinross line seems to continue beyond the shielings in Glen Buckie, crossing the Lianach ridge at a knoll and a crag 1mile beyond the shielings. Ruling the line on an atlas from East Wemyss through Uamh Beag identified An Caisteal as the next hilltop and Dunollie Castle, north of Oban as a coastal point. Beyond this the line crosses the Isle of Mull and goes to sea again between Coll and Tiree. Following the line on a map for such a long distance is not accurate, but Oban makes sense as the west coast destination with Coll/Tiree as the final target. At the other end of the line we have the Forth Estuary.
I think that there is strong evidence that prehistoric people surveyed the land, creating landmarks and using lines of sight from OPs to link places with mountains and other distinctive natural features. Later builders of castles and mansions seem to have been aware of these connections.
There are numerous internet references to the connection between ghosts and ley lines or lines of ‘energy’ detected by dowsing. It is difficult to distinguish between facts and folklore but what is clear is that certain places and connections between them have more history of human activity than others. Perhaps the Kinross – Oban line is an example of ‘ghost + ley’.