Perthshire has many beautiful lochs, often nestling in dramatic remote glens, far away from roads or towns. Loch Leven is also beautiful, but must be one of the most accessible in Perthshire. It’s so easy to get to and has a fantastic heritage trail all the way round.
So we decided our next Day Out From Perth would centre on this popular attraction and the neighbouring towns of Kinross and Milnathort. It’s Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology so we’ll also get in touch with our fascinating past.
It’s a bright but windy spring day, so we wrap up warmly and set off down the M90 to Loch Leven, which is only 18 miles away.
9.45am – Loch Leven
We arrive at the car park at the loch’s pier. There’s an office there staffed by the Loch Leven Heritage Trail team, so we pop in for some advice. Loch Leven Heritage Trail is a unique trail linking natural, historic and cultural heritage around the loch. The 21km trail is level and barrier-free for most of its length, so it’s suitable for walkers and cyclists of all ages and abilities, and for wheelchair- and motorised-scooter users.
Our daughter wants to ride her bike round the loch and we’d like a nice walk with the dog, so the helpful information officer points us in a northerly direction. This route allows us to stop at the playpark on the way, spot birds and other wildlife, have a great view of Lochleven Castle and find out more about the loch’s heritage at the information points along the way.
Loch Leven has a fascinating history. It was the security provided by the waters that first encouraged people to settle at Kinross. Remains of a crannog, an ancient type of settlement that first appeared around 3000BC, have been found in the water near the pier. The island where the castle sits is said to have been fortified as long ago as the 7th century. Long before Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here in 1567 (she later made a daring escape), the castle was captured by the English in the late 13th century, then recaptured by William Wallace in a night raid.
There is a daily boat trip to Lochleven Castle, offering a fascinating glimpse into the past. The boat trip isn’t running today but it’s usually on seven days a week, from 10am to 4.15pm, April to September. We’ll come back and do the trip another day, and conquer another part of the trail too!
10.45am – Coffee at The Boathouse
After our breezy walk it’s great to get to the warmth of The Boathouse restaurant, back at the car park. It’s a friendly and quirky place, with strings of lights across every ceiling, and signs, paintings, photos and cute ornaments on the walls. We’re shown to a table where a giant cuddly toy rabbit, dressed in a tweed outfit, is sitting in one of the chairs. We order scones (sensible grown-ups) and chocolate cake (the wee one), which are brought with delicious freshly roasted coffee.
11.30am – RSPB Scotland Loch Leven reserve
Images from Helen Patience rspb-images.com. The Wetlands by Alex Gilfillan and Red Squirrel by Paul Ashcroft.
We’re now ready for more outdoor action, so we hop in the car and drive the few miles along the loch to the fantastic RSPB Scotland Loch Leven reserve. (You can walk here from the Heritage Trail, too.) Known for being family-friendly, it’s a great place to introduce young ones, and adults too, to nature-spotting. We’re welcomed by RSPB Scotland staff Colin, Ian and Becky, who tell us what’s been recently spotted at the reserve, including lapwings, red squirrels, a Highland cow who’s just had a calf, and a little family of goslings. As well as the three spacious hides just across the road from the centre, Colin also recommends a woodland walk above the reserve, from where you’ll get a stunning view over the reserve, the loch and even the Firth of Forth.
We hire a Explorer pack for our daughter, which is a backpack comprising a pair of excellent binoculars, books about trees and birds, and a bug-viewing pot. She also gets a “wildlife bingo” list where she can tick off what she’s seen.
We stroll down to the hides, situated along the wetlands of the reserve, and in each one we spot different birds. Among our finds are: Greylag geese and their goslings, Pochard ducks, lapwings (whose calls sound like a robot!), black-headed gulls, oystercatchers, swallows – and a pied wagtail who taps on the window of the hide, much to our amusement. Our daughter even scoops up a bug or two and examines them closely before setting them free.
We head back to the centre and climb up to the café for one last look through the telescopes in the viewing platform. From there we spot goldfinches, the elusive garden visitors. Lunch in the café smells delicious but we’re booked in to the Courthouse in Kinross (for lunch, not for any misdemeanour!) so we thank the friendly team, and head off to our next stop.
12.45pm – Lunch at The Courthouse, Kinross, and stroll to shops
A friend has recommended The Courthouse in Kinross, especially their pizzas, and when we find out it’s also dog-friendly, we reckon it sounds ideal. As the name suggests, this building in the heart of Kinross was once its Courthouse, with jail cells, a vault and a yard, and there are some nice nods to the past within the stylish interior, including our vintage bench seats.
We’re welcomed and shown to our table and, once the dog has settled to sleep, we order pizza, Caesar salad and a savoury tart. When our daughter’s pizza arrives, we can see why it was recommended. The base is light and fluffy, the tomato sauce rich with basil, and the mozzarella creamy but light. Our mains are delicious too, and we add this to the list of places we must come back to.
We stroll down Kinross High Street, parts of which feel very old indeed, including the town hall, and we pop into the lovely Skeins & Bobbins, where I buy some wool so I can try to teach myself to knit (again!).
2.00pm – Burleigh Castle, Milnathort
We leave Kinross and drive the few miles to Milnathort, pausing briefly at Burleigh Castle, an impressive ruin dating from the late 1400s or early 1500s. Burleigh Castle was the seat of the Balfours of Burleigh for more than 250 years. It has an unusual Jacobean corner tower, round at the base and rectangular on the top floor. If you want to see inside the tower, you can contact Historic Environment Scotland ahead of your visit (April to September only).
2.15pm – Loch Leven’s Larder, near Milnathort
No trip to the Loch Leven area would be complete without visiting Loch Leven’s Larder, an award-winning family-run farm, restaurant, deli and retail shop. The restaurant is attractive and popular, the deli is well-stocked and the retail shop could compete with any city outlet. Clothing, jewellery, bags, gifts, cards, kids’ toys, home décor – you can find almost anything here, and not just the usual brands.
We buy some delicious strawberry-and-white-chocolate ice cream for our daughter, as well as some Pittenweem oatcakes and Leith savoury biscuits, and head off to our next stop.
3.00pm – Orwell Church, Milnathort
When we reach the attractive village of Milnathort, we see a few signs for Orwell Church. Idly wondering if there’s any connection to George (there isn’t, of course), we stroll up to the pretty church that’s perched at the top of the hill overlooking the village. I have a bit of a fascination with old graveyards, and the spring sunshine is now bright and warm, so we wander around reading the inscriptions, some of which date from the early 18th century. The church itself dates from 1729.
3.30pm – Heaven Scent, Milnathort
After our graveyard wanderings, we decide there’s time for one more stop. Heaven Scent is a lovely welcoming café in Milnathort’s South Street, serving decadent meringues, traybakes, cakes, scones and croissants. It’s so hard to choose, but finally we opt for a chocolate Easter cake covered in mini-eggs, a richly oozing slab of caramel shortbread and a plump tasty scone and jam. Our treats are delicious; a fitting way to finish off our day of walking and eating!
Heaven Scent, like many of the places we’ve visited today, has lovely quirky touches. A “SMEG” fridge door is the disguised door to the bathroom, where toilet rolls are kept in a vintage suitcase. The café also has a “Secret Garden”, accessible through a door at the back, where there are often barbecues for customers, and you can sit at the wooden tables to enjoy food and drinks al fresco.
4.30 – Back to Perth
We’ve had a lovely and interesting day at Loch Leven and the surrounding area. We’ll definitely be back, not least to complete the other parts of the loch’s trail, take a boat trip to Lochleven Castle and do some Christmas shopping at Loch Leven’s Larder!
Places to stay in Perth
If you’d like to do a great Day Out from Perth, here’s a list of fantastic accommodation in the heart of the city where you can stay, before and/or afterwards:
- Atholl Place Self-Catering Townhouse
- Achnacarry Guest House
- Alexander Residence
- Almond Villa Guesthouse
- Auld Manse Guest House
- Auld Manse Self Catering Apartment
- Balvaird Apartment at Scone Palace
- Best Western Queens Hotel
- The Fitzroy Bed & Breakfast
- Grampian Hotel
- Hazeldene Guest House
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel
- Mercure Hotel
- Murrayshall Hotel & Golf Courses
- No 9 The Guest House Perth
- The Parklands Hotel
- Premier Inn Hotel
- The Royal George Hotel
- Salutation Hotel
- Sunbank House Hotel
- The Townhouse
- Woodlea Guest House
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