SECOND time lucky. On May 2, 1568, Mary Queen of Scots finally escaped Lochleven Castle. She’d been held there against her will for 11 months after Protestant Scots Lords had risen against her following her marriage to Lord Bothwell. Forced to surrender at Carberry Hill, she had been imprisoned on the island fortress in the middle of Loch Leven near Kinross.
There was more misery to come. Whilst imprisoned, she suffered a miscarriage, losing twins.
An earlier attempt to escape, when she disguised herself as a washerwoman, failed. But on this occasion, she managed to escape whilst her captors were merrily soused.
But it was to be a short taste of freedom. Less than two weeks later those forces loyal to her were defeated by her half-brother at the village of Langside, outside Glasgow.
Mary fled south to England to seek the aid of Queen Elizabeth, a journey that ultimately led to the executioner’s block in 1587.
Loch Leven in the 21st century seems far removed from that turbulent history of nearly half a millennia ago. Seen from the M90, it’s a vision of tranquillity. It’s the same close up too.
Some three miles in diameter, the result of glacial melt, Loch Leven is one of Scotland’s shallowest freshwater lochs (the average depth is 15ft).
In the 19th century a drainage scheme reduced the loch’s size by about a quarter and saw the water drop by up to 9ft. After the drainage the number of islands on the loch had risen from four to seven.
What didn’t change was the loch’s appeal to a wide variety of wildlife.
In summer ospreys glide over the loch in search of food, whilst in winter thousands of pink-footed geese – around 10 per cent of the world’s population – noisily announce their arrival from Iceland and points north to roost. Teal and tufted duck can also be spotted feeding in its shallows. Indeed, there are more freshwater breeding ducks on the loch than anywhere else in inland Europe. The loch is also famous for its strain of brown trout.
There are miles of track around the edge of the loch. And plenty of local cafes and restaurants (the Loch Leven Larder being our favourite). Summer and winter, the loch draws walkers and cyclists to its shore.
When Mary Queen of Scots escaped in 1568 the keys to the castle were thrown into the loch. More than two centuries later, in 1791, they were rediscovered and given to the 16th Earl of Dalmahoy. Like the winter geese, the past always returns in some form or another.