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Lake Menteith

The Secrets Of Lake of Menteith

Its Bonspiel has been known to draw thousands of outdoor curling
enthusiasts, but Scotland's only lake also has been a magnet for holy
men, warriors, kings and romantics.


It is a perfect autumn morning on the Lake of Menteith, and in the sharp sunlight, deciduous trees seem to mold themselves into sculptural mounds of gold and russet as darker conifers rear behind them. Beyond rise the preliminary crests of the Trossachs and, farther to the north, the salient peaks of the Highland Line.

I've driven some 15 miles west from Stirling, latterly along some of the loveliest little backroads imaginable, and taken a seven-minute boat trip across what is widely referred to as "Scotland's only lake" (of which more later) to the thickly wooded island of Inchmahome. Around me, sounds the lapping of water in the reeds, a distant honking of geese and, nearer to hand, a constant stream of birdsong.

I can't help thinking of the undulating cadences of plainchant that once would have drifted across the water from where I'm standing in the ruins of the 13th-century Inchmahome Priory. Established in 1238 by Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, to house a community of Augustinian canons, the island priory provided a spiritual retreat until the 16th century when the Reformation did away with monastic life. Inchmahome is today owned by the Stewart Trust but is in the care of the government agency Historic Environment Scotland, which runs the little launches that, from April to October, ferry visitors to and from the island from the jetty at Port of Menteith.

Inchmahome served as a refuge for more than the canons. King Robert the Bruce visited this hallowed spot on at least three occasions, while two centuries later the infant Mary, Queen of Scots was brought here by her mother, Mary of Guise, after the Scots army was defeated at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 -- a secluded area of the thickly wooded island is still known as Mary, Queen of Scots' Garden and Bower.

Three centuries later, the island's beauty was broadcast by Sir Walter Scott, whose romantic novels kick-started the Scottish tourist industry, with visitors including Queen Victoria. It's not just the sublime scenery that has drawn me here, however. I'm visiting the grave of an extraordinary roving Scotsman -- an adventurer, writer and politician who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was arguably as famous as Scott, yet whose reputation has since waned, though it is now on the cusp of a renaissance.

Stepping off the boat, I walk under the fronds of a gigantic Douglas fir by the priory's still grand west entrance. Much of this medieval complex is open to the skies, except for the chapter house, still with its steeply pitched and stone-tiled roof. In the roofless space of the choir, I find the grave I've come to see, adorned with a withered wreath and carved with the lines "Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore 1852-1936."

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2018 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Pollok House, A Home For All Seasons by Stephen McGinty.

Click here to preview our feature article on An Outer Hebridean Adventure by Kenneth Steven.

Click here to preview our column Scotland In Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photo © D. G. Farquhar / Scottish Viewpoint; D. Barnes / Scottish Viewpoint