After checking the weather and finding that it was to be hot and sunny all weekend i decided to grab my backpack and head out of Edinburgh to make the most of the great weather. I was originally going to head to Fife but changed my plans at the last minute (something I frequently do!) and decided to take a trip to Kinross and Loch Leven Castle where I last visited on a School trip when i was about 9 years old!
Travel: Kinross is only about 45 minutes away by car or bus from Edinburgh and there are a couple of bus options to choose from with Megabus (book online) or Stagecoach servicing that route. If you are booking in advance then the Megabus might be cheaper but if not then with Stagecoach you can buy a Fife Day rider + for £11.20* which gets you there and back and unlimited bus travel in Fife for the day. I actually forgot about Stagecoach (shocking as i am from Fife and use them all the time!) so i booked on the Megabus to Kinross park and ride.
The bus arrived at the Park and Ride after only 50 minutes, it was the second stop and luckily i was familiar with the area as the place is not really well sign posted (its at the back a big Sainsburys). To get to Loch Leven its only a 20 minute walk from the Park and Ride, just turn right as you exit the park and ride, then it is a straight walk into town where you will find a sign pointing to Loch Leven and after taking a left at the sign i was at the pier.
I got there a little early so had to wait 20 minutes until the ticket office opened at 10am, as it was a nice day there was already quite a few people there waiting. I had taken the precaution of booking my tickets the previous evening, as the castle is on an island you require a boat to get there (included in your ticket price) and the boats only fit 12 people and sails around each hour so it is best to book in advance. I was the 3rd person in line but when i got to the desk and had my reservation checked it failed to show up! I originally thought have i done something stupid and booked the wrong date or year! It turned out that they had an IT malfunction which meant my booking never went through and the ship was full! I have to say fair play to the staff though who handled the situation well and ended up putting on a second boat to ensure my booking was honoured and that i could leave at 10:15am.
The boats are small and as mentioned before seat a maximum of 12 people but the trip is short only taking around 10 minutes from the pier to island. I was on boat 2 with about 6 other people and we left a bit late as a guy decided that he needed to buy a coffee 1 minute before we were due to leave (there is always that one guy).
On arrival at Island you are faced with Loch Leven Castle, this is your first good photo opportunity, then you are faced with swarms of midges who love sunshine, woods and water so bring some midge repellent if you have some! There are a few options available for exploring the island, if you head left or right there is a woodland trail which goes on a loop around the island or you can head straight for the castle ruins. I decided t0 head straight for the castle, it is surrounded by a stone wall so you can only enter through a gated entrance which you come across on the left hand side of the castle as you look at it from the pier.
The castle is perhaps best known for its strong association with Mary Queen of Scots, now I know pretty much every historical building in Scotland seems to have a Mary Queen of Scots connection and the majority seem to have pretty loose connections such as Mary passed through one time or something but Loch Leven has a genuine significant connection. It was here that Mary spent a year in prison from 1567 – 1568 after the failure of her third marriage and during this period she was forced to abdicate the throne and had a miscarriage. Eventually she managed to escape the island thanks to help from young Willie Douglas who stole the jail keys and used a local celebration as a distraction to get a disguised Mary off the island via a rowing boat.
The castles levels are no more with only the walls surviving the test of time, there is a wooden staircase which allows you to enter the ruins and it takes you into to an open plan area. It is from there that you can go downstairs to the kitchen or upstairs to the highest level which acts as an observation deck but it is very significant as that floor is where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned during her stay. Although the floor is missing bar the narrow deck there is a seated area near the window where you can look out and see what Mary might have seen all those years ago, perhaps a place where she spent time contemplating her escape or the many troubles of her life.
The exploring of the castle did not take long as there is not really that much to see inside, afterwards there are a few bits to explore outside and some information plaques to read with history of the island and castle. After reading those i headed on the nature trail which as i mentioned before takes you full circle around the island and around the castle walls. It is a fairly small island and the time between landing and the next boat coming to pick you up is around 45 minutes which is probably an ideal amount of time for most people to see everything.
I got on the next boat of the island and after getting back “ashore” I still had a couple of hours till i was due to catch my bus, so i decided to explore the Loch Leven Heritage trail which starts right outside the ticket office at the pier. This path is completely car/vehicle free and it goes all the way around Loch Leven totalling around 20km, it is possible to walk it but many people prefer to cycle and there is a bike hire available in town at Loch Leven Cycles. There are numerous landmarks and viewpoints around the path and when the sun is shining is a nice walk, although like the island there are a fair few midges along the route.
I walked about 10km of the path as i didn’t have time to do the full thing before my bus was due to leave but with the good weather is was a worthwhile excursion. There are benches at various points when you either need a rest or just want to sit and enjoy the views on offer and there is even a mini beach area which some people used to go paddling in the Loch. The path does follow the loch but it changes between water views and a forest area so you get a changing landscape as you walk around and if you follow it for long enough there is a RSPB centre which is ideal for the keen bird watchers or nature lovers. I got as far as Queen Marys gate which was the furthest viewpoint i had time to see, it was a gate leading onto a field so yeah whatever, not really sure about the fame of the gate but at least it was an enjoyable walk to get there.
After beings “amazed” by the gate I headed back to the pier and when I arrived back I was a bit peckish so i decided to grab something to eat. There are a few options for eating at the pier and as it was sunny and I needed something quick the best option seemed to be the Grub Hub which is fully outdoors. They offer a range of quick bites such as salad, ice creams and crepes and i went for the sugar and lemon crepe which was pretty tasty. There is also beer and wine on offer if you fancy enjoy a cool beverage while sitting on the deck enjoying the views of Loch Leven and if I had the time I would have definitely stayed longer and enjoyed a beer but overall a good day out and amazing weather.
So a breakdown of my total money spent for this trip from Edinburgh were as follows:
Transport: Megabus £14.90 return, Attractions: Loch Leven Castle: £0 (Since I have a Historic Scotland pass entry was free otherwise it would have been £7.50* for Adult), Loch Leven Heritage Trail: Free, Food: Crepe: £3.50*