Places to Visit in Scotland
- Breadalbane and Loch Tay, Perthshire
There are many scenic areas of Scotland but Breadalbane and Loch Tay, in the heart of Perthshire have that winning combination of mountains, lochs, history and attractive small towns and villages. As if that wasn't enough, the area is also accessible from the central belt of Scotland where the majority of the population live and work. For example, Loch Tay is only a 90 minute drive, once you have left the city of Glasgow.
Breadalbane (from "Braid-alban", the upper part of Alba - the Gaelic word for Scotland) extends over areas of the Highlands with such resonant names as Atholl, Lochaber, Lorne, Menteith and Strathearn. This Web page, however, covers mainly the area around Loch Tay.
This is Campbell country (a description that could be applied to large tracts of Scotland as the various branches of the powerful clan spread from Argyll across the centre of the country as far as, for example, Castle Campbell in Clackmannanshire). There are a number of castles in the area which belonged to Campbells but it was not until 1681 that John Campbell of Glenorchy was created Earl of Breadalbane, a title that is still in existence.
Loch Tay is 14 miles long but as it only averages about one mile wide, it is only Scotland's sixth largest loch at 10.2 square miles (26.4 square km). The loch is fed at its eastern end by the rivers Dochart and Lochay and the river Tay starts at the western end at the village of Kenmore on its 120-mile journey to the sea (making it Scotland's longest).
Loch Tay doesn't have a monster (like the one reputed to inhabit Loch Ness) although the anglers who go out during the fishing season keep hoping to catch a monster fish. Apart from fishing, Loch Tay has remained uncommercialised and tranquil, unlike some other areas of open water such Loch Earn, six miles to the south, which has lots of watersport activity. Loch Tay has nothing noisier than a few canoes which can be hired by visitors in Killin.
Scottish place-names with "Kil" in them are derived from the Gaelic word "ceall" meaning cell. Since monks were associated with cells, the word soon became associated with a saint or a church. In the case of Killin, it may be "Cill fionn" or white church, though some reference books suggest it is from "Kilfin" or Saint Fingal who is said to have been buried there. Then again, it may be from "cilltean" or burying place - historically it was the burying ground for clan MacNab (still a feature within the village, on an island below the Falls of Dochart).
Killin straddles the rivers Dochart and Lochay and nestles amid the grandeur of the surrounding mountains of Breadalbane. With a population of only 650, it is still a major tourist centre and there is a folklore centre in a restored watermill, close to the Falls of Dochart.
Falls of Dochart
Despite their fame and the number of tourists who travel to see them, the Falls of Dochart are certainly not in the Niagara Falls class. However, there is an attraction in the rushing water crashing through and over the rocks and there is a particularly good view of them from an old, narrow bridge. In the summer, or when the river is not in spate, the rocks seem to act as a magnet to those who delight in having a picnic beside the roar of the water.
There is a deep pool below the falls which is popular with fishermen because salmon returning to the river to spawn rest there before the strenuous effort of swimming up the rushing water.
The Falls of Dochart reputation became established in the 19th century when guidebooks of the time said that the were being painted by more artists than any other in Scotland.
Although the lands were at one time held by the Menzies clan, Castle Menzies was built to the east of Loch Tay and it was "Black Duncan" Campbell who built Finlarig in 1621-29. It was a Z-plan tower house but only two ruined square towers with connecting walls survive.
There is a rectangular pit to the north of the castle which is said to have been used (presumably on a regular basis) for beheadings. Nobles were executed here - more common folk were hung from a nearby oak tree. However, archaeologists and historians think it was more likely that it was used to collect water!
Finlarig Castle is on the outskirts of Killin. Travelling east out of the village, there is a narrow bridge on the right hand side of the road, just past the Killin Hotel. The road is a dead-end but there is a small car park and the castle is on a small hill on the left of the track.
Rising to 3984 feet (1214 metres) Ben Lawers is the highest mountain in Perthshire but only the 9th highest in Scotland. But rising from Loch Tay and with neighbouring mountains almost as high, it is an important nature reserve and 19,000 acres are now administered by the National Trust for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council. Although its flora are protected from sheep, but the increasing numbers of hill walkers attracted by relatively easy climbs and great views create other problems. There is an information centre on the Bridge of Balgie road with trails leading from there to the top.
To the west of Ben Lawers is the Tarmachan range (which is illustrated in the graphic at the top of this page)
The hills to the north of Loch Tay have many rocks with "cup and ring" markings made by residents who lived in the area around 3,500 years ago.
A crannog was a wooden dwelling, built on stilts offshore from the banks of a loch and reached by a narrow walkway. They were built around 2,500 years ago to provide protection for the inhabitants of the area at that time - the walkway could be destroyed if required. Of course, if the danger was a party of marauders who were capable of building a boat, the wood and straw buildings could also be vulnerable.
The Scottish Crannog Centre was created in 1997 to promote the study and preservation of these ancient loch dwellings. A replica of one of the crannogs has been built on the south bank of Loch Tay, not far from Kenmore. It has attracted 80,000 visitors since it opened. The replica is seven metres high and is supported by tree trunks. The crannog is based on excavations from a 2,600-year-old site on Loch Tay, where the locations of another 18 crannogs have been discovered.
Located at the eastern end of Loch Tay, the village of Kenmore (from the Gaelic for "Big Head" which was also the nickname of King Malcolm Canmore) began as an inn in 1572. A hotel on the site of this building claims to be the oldest in Scotland (as do a number of other establishments). When Robert Burns stayed at the hotel he wrote some lines above the fireplace.
Two miles east of Kenmore, on the road to Aberfeldy, there is a stone circle of Croft Moraig which is the most complete of its kind in Perthshire.
While Finlarig castle at the west end of Loch Tay has fallen into decay, Taymouth Castle near Kenmore has survived into the 21st century and is about to have a new lease of life. Planning permission has been granted to renovate the building and turn it into a plush "six-star" leisure resort with a golf course and all the facilities you would expect from a modern, luxury hotel.
Taymouth was built as a mansion between 1801 and 1842 though it does incorporate a 16th century tower house, Balloch Castle. It was one of the many properties owned by the Campbells of Breadalbane.
In the 20th century it became a hotel and then a school for American children in Europe. Part of the building became a clubhouse for the local golf course on the estate.
How to Get There
Loch Tay is best reached from the Lowlands of Scotland via Stirling and then the A84 through Callander, Strathyre and Lochearnhead. Alternatively, if you are starting out from Glasgow, you can take the A81 north to Aberfoyle and then through the Trossachs to join up with the A84 at Callendar,
See also the Loch Tay Location Map (you can enlarge the scale of this map, if required).
Return to Index of Places to Visit
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
News & Views>
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar>
Places to Visit>