Welcome to Kinross
At the western edge of Loch Leven, in Fife, lies Kinross. The bustle of the town takes place amidst the old buildings of a settlement with over 1500 years of longevity. Today’s Kinross is a stopping off point on journeys along the M90, which leads from the Forth Road Bridge, just to the west of Edinburgh, north to Perth and an important centre for the Scottish textiles industry. To understand the development of Kinross from earliest times, however, we must first turn our attention to Loch Leven.
The security provided by the waters of Loch Leven first encouraged settlement at Kinross. The first indications of human habitation are the remains of a crannog in the shallows near the pier. A crannog is an artificial island, or lake dwelling, used by extended families which began to appear in the lochs of Ireland and Scotland around 3000 BC.
The earliest mention of Kinross to appear in historical records, albeit much later, also centres development on the loch. Castle Island, the loch’s second largest, is said to have been fortified by the 7th century King Domnall Brecc of the Picts, who died in the Battle of Strathcarron in 642, against King Owen of the Britons.
A later King of the Picts, King Brude, offered the largest island, St Serfs, to the religious order of the Culdees c.840. Although in 1145 King David I handed St Serfs over to the canons of St Andrews, its priory remained a significant ecclesiastical centre until the Reformation in the 16th century. In the late 14th century Prior Andrew Wyntoun, considered by many to be the founding father of Scottish history, wrote his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland on St Serfs. Patrick Graham, the first Archbishop of St Andrews, died here in 1478 (in 1877 archaeologists uncovered what is believed to be his grave). Today, little remains of this once important priory apart from the ruins of a chapel.
It was Castle Island which would become the scene of some notorious events in Scottish History. Amongst the most significant of the castle’s tales take place during the Wars of Independence with England. Captured by the English at the outset of the war in the late 13th century, Loch Leven Castle was taken by the Scots during a night raid by a force led by William Wallace, who slew the occupying garrison and their wives. It was successfully held against the English by John Comyn in 1301 and visited by King Robert I in 1313, a year before he would defeat the English at Bannockburn, Stirling, and 7 after he murdered Comyn in Dumfries Priory to claim the throne for himself. The English again tried, and failed, to take the castle 5 years after Robert I’s death in 1334. The earliest parts of the existing tower house and much of the battlements are believed to date from this turbulent period.
More than with any other character in Scottish history Loch Leven Castle is famed for its association with Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587). A Catholic queen in an aggressively Protestant country enflamed by pro-English and pro-French conspiracies, she compounded her difficulties with unsuitable marriages and a degree of moderation which angered all camps. In June 1567 she was taken as prisoner to Loch Leven Castle, having alienated much of her support, where she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, who became James VI. Here she gave birth for the second time, sadly to stillborn twins who are believed to be buried somewhere in the castle. Mary was not to be captive for long: after one failed attempt she finally escaped during May Day celebrations with the help of a number of her supporters.
There are fewer details recorded about the earliest happenings on the headland, where the modern town is now situated. A town probably developed here as a means of supplying the castle from the early middle ages, but little of it remains. The development of the town we know today began largely in the 17th century when Sir William Bruce of Balcaskie decided to build what many regard as the first stately house in Scotland on the headland, in 1690. Kinross House remains a private residence but its pretty gardens are open to paying customers. The building of the house did much to redirect the focus of the town away from the islands; many of the town’s oldest buildings came into being in the same period, including the Tollbooth.
In the 18th century Kinross received a major boost as the result of industrialisation. In the first decades of the century well over half of the 600 population were employed in some kind of industrial capacity, mostly as weavers; a century later over 600 people were employed to operate the mechanised looms of the local factories alone. The growth of the town made it a hub for the Fife area which, in turn, prompted the growth of a number of the leisure facilities attracting many to Kinross from Fife and beyond. With the growth of tourism much of the town’s activity has refocused on the loch, because of its historical interest, but also because of its status as a nature reserve famed for its bird life and trout fishing.