The History of Loch Leven
The origins of Loch Leven lie in the retreat of the last ice age in northern Britain some 10,000 years ago. As the ice sheet retreated, a massive block of ice left in a shallow depression melted thus creating the Loch.
For most of its life, the Loch was larger and deeper than it is today. But in 1830, by which time the Loch had come into the hands of the Montgomery family, an enormous drainage scheme resulted in a nine foot drop in the water level.
Before 1830, the Loch had four islands; afterwards it had seven. Today, most of the Loch is no more than six feet deep with the exception of two areas with a depth of approximately 60 feet near Scart and St Serf’s islands.
The largest of the Scottish lowland lochs, Loch Leven is famous not just for its brown trout but also for its wildfowl. It is home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in inland Europe. Shovelers arrive from as far afield as Siberia. And up to 20,000 pink-footed geese make the journey from Iceland every autumn, forming the highlight of the Loch’s spectacular migratory population.
Little is known of the very earliest human inhabitants but possibly as early as the 8th century, a group of Culdees (Celtic monks) established a priory on St Serf’s, the largest of the Loch’s seven islands. Its reputation as a scholastic and theological centre spread across Europe until the 12th century when, as the influence of the Celtic church was waning, Kind David I granted the priory to the Augustinian Order who continued to maintain it for at least another 400 years.
During this latter period, activities of a less religious nature were taking place elsewhere on the Loch. At some point during the English king Edward 1’s attempts to conquer Scotland, the island now known as Castle Island was fortified. No one knows for sure who first built the castle here but we do know it was in Scottish hands by 1313 because Robert the Bruce was staying there in that year.
Seeing service as a state prison and as a royal treasury, Lochleven (as the castle became known) remained a royal castle for much of the 14th century. David II spent time on the island in 1361, escaping from the Black Death, and also imprisoned his nephew there. It was also during his reign, in 1335, that Lochleven was besieged, unsuccessfully, by Sir John Stirling, the English Governor of Edinburgh Castle.
In 1390, that imprisoned nephew, who was now in the last year of his reign as Robert II, granted not just the castle but the whole of the Loch to Sir Henry Douglas and it was during the long period of ownership by the Douglas family that Mary Queen of Scots was both a guest and then a prisoner on Loch Leven. Follow the link to read that story!
Contact Us if you would like to step back in history and book a boat trip out to visit the historic Island on Loch Leven.