The Gaelic words Bràghad Albainn mean 'the high ground of Scotland', a fitting name as the dominant mountain, Ben Lawers, is the highest in Scotland outside of the Nevis and Cairngorm ranges.
Although the area is centred on the upper reaches of the Tay River and loch system, it has no exact geographic definition. Here we use the centuries-old name of Breadalbane to tell you about the many attractions that can you enjoy, year-round, in the basin of the upper Tay from Tyndrum in the west to Kenmore in the east, from Glen Lyon in the north to Balquhidder and Strathyre in the south, and in Strathearn from Lochearnhead to Comrie. The western half of Breadalbane lies within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
The Breadalbane area has a long history of human occupation. Most evidence of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age: 8,000 to 4,000 BC) occupation in Scotland is found around the coast. A 9,000 year-old camp site by the Edramucky Burn in Coire Odhar 2,100 feet up on the slopes of the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve is one of the very few inland sites of this antiquity found so far.
Throughout the area there are also hundreds if not thousands of examples of cup-marked rocks, standing stones and stone circles. These probably date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (2,500 - 1,500 BC). The best example of a stone circle (one of Scotland's finest) is Croft Moraig (2 miles NW of Kenmore). Other Breadalbane circles are found at Fortingall, Lawers and the Kinnell circle at Killin, probably the most westerly circle in the region.
Craig na Caillich, above Killin, is also noted as one of the few known sites in Britain from which the rock for Neolithic stone axe production was obtained. The rock is believed to have been quarried in the period 2,900 to 2,300 BC.
The earliest Neolithic (New Stone Age: 4,000 to 2,200 BC) sites in Breadalbane date to about 4,000 BC and consist of chambered long cairns. These are some of the most easterly outliers of such "Clyde-type" burial cairns and have been found at Edinchip (0.5 miles N of Balquhidder Station), Kindrochet (1.5 miles E of St Fillans), Kiltyrie, on the north Loch Tay road, and in Glen Lochay near Kenknock.
Neolithic (New Stone Age) sites abound in the area. This cup-and-ring carved stone from the slopes of Meall Greigh, north of Loch Tay probably dates between 3,000 and 1,500 BC. Loch Tay is also famous for its 18 Iron Age (750 BC to 43 AD) submerged and semi-submerged loch dwellings, known as "crannogs", and several are also known from Loch Earn. The Scottish Crannog Centre on the south shore of Loch Tay, 1 mile west of Kenmore, is a 5-star tourist attraction built around a reconstructed crannog, where one can learn about and participate in many aspects of Iron Age life. The Loch Tay crannogs were constructed over a period from 2,800 to 2,000 years ago, although there is also evidence of occupation / reoccupation in historic times.
Scattered through the Breadalbane area are a number of forts, often referred to as "ring forts" or "hill forts". Although these were formerly regarded as Iron Age constructions, they are now generally called "homesteads" and thought to have an age range from Iron Age to Medieval. One of the best homestead examples is An Dun Geal (The White Fort) which lies about 800m NW of Fortingall Church.
The Romans appear to have avoided the central and western areas of the Scottish highlands. Instead they constructed the so-called "glenblocker" forts at the major entrance / exit routes of the upland areas such as the Pass of Leny near Callander, the Sma' Glen and Strathtay at Inchtuthil, near Dunkeld. Built in the 70s AD, these form part of the Gask Ridge system, the first Roman land frontier known anywhere. It is unclear whether these forts were built to control the Pictish inhabitants of the highlands or as a prelude to an expansion into the highlands that never took place.
In the Breadalbane area the fort known as Victoria at Dalginross, Comrie, acted as a glenblocker for Strathearn.
Long after the Romans had withdrawn, the Pict inhabitants of the highlands also constructed a "glenblocker" of their own in Strathearn. Dundurn fort, 1 mile SE of St Fillans, occupies a strategic hillock some 200 feet above the valley floor of Strathearn. A possible Pictish royal fort, it appears to have been occupied at least between the sixth and ninth centuries AD. The occupants may have varied over this time, however, as Strathearn, while originally in Pictish territory, lay close to land occupied by Britons to the south and Scots to the west.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, two Scottish saints of Irish origin are said to have been present in Breadalbane. While many of the tales about St Fillan, such as his miraculous cures and luminous right arm are undoubtedly the stuff of legends, at least one St Fillan who lived in the Glen Dochart and Strathfillan areas in the 8th century appears to have been a historical character. The head of his staff (crosier) and healing bronze bell can be seen in the Museum of Scotland, while St Fillan's healing stones now rest in the Parish Church of Killin and Ardeonaig, in Killin.
As in the case of St Fillan, there also appear to have been two Scottish-Irish heroes named Fingal, but both are probably mythical in this instance. Fingal's Stone in Killin is said to mark the burial place of Fingal after his death in battle nearby.
Little is known of what happened in the Dark Ages apart from what is reported in monastic records. Apart from scant remains of agricultural buildings and houses, the earliest remains of Medieval buildings in the area are probably those of religious orders, such as Strathfillan Priory at Kirkton, between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, founded in 1317/18 by Robert the Bruce in honour of St Fillan.
St Fillan's Chapel is a pre-Reformation church at Dundurn, east of St Fillans. It is on the site of an earlier chapel said to have been erected by St Fillan in the 7th century (perhaps a different St Fillan to that of Glen Dochart and Strathfillan) and of which nothing remains except a round stone basin. Since 1586 the present chapel, which is roofless has been the burial place of the Stewarts of Ardvorlich. A holy water font, of the pre-Reformation period, which stood in a niche in the wall of the chapel is still in use in Dundurn Parish Church.
Although "clans" had existed since pre-Christian times, the Late Medieval period saw the development of the clan system. Many important clans occupied the lands of Breadalbane, such as McDiarmid, MacGregor, McLaren, MacNab, McNaughton, Menzies, Robertsons and Stewarts.
Inter-clan feuds were rife, with many of them seeming to involve the MacGregors. The most famous (or notorious) MacGregor, Rob Roy, still lived to die in his bed at the age of 63, in 1734, and is buried in Balquhidder Churchyard.
Ultimately, however, many of the clans were displaced by the arrival of the Campbells of Glenorchy (later the Earls of Breadalbane). The Campbell dominance is reflected in the history of the Breadalbane castles.
Of the nine identifiable castles or fortified towers in the vicinity of Breadalbane, five are ruins, three are privately owned and occupied, and one, Castle Menzies, is open to the public.
Glen Lyon Castles
Meggernie Castle, west of Bridge of Balgie, is still occupied and not open to the public. Originally a 5-storey square tower house (now the west wing) with a modern extension added in the 20th century, it was built by John Campbell of Glenlyon about 1585 and passed into the hands of the Menzies family in the 17th century.
Carnbane Castle, 7 miles to the east at Invervar, is a ruined hall-house with horizontal gunloops still visible. Remains of a vaulted storage cellar and unvaulted kitchen can also be seen. It was built in 1564 by Red Duncan Campbell "the hospitable" but later destroyed by fire.
Garth Castle, one mile to the north of Keltneyburn, is the oldest in the region. A square tower, Alexander Stewart - the Wolf of Badenoch, whom died there in 1396, built it in the 14th century. It has been restored recently and is privately occupied.
Comrie Castle, one mile SE of Keltneyburn, is an L-plan tower house rebuilt about 1600 on the site of the original seat of the Clan Menzies, which was partially destroyed by fire in 1487, at which time the Menzies family moved to Weem Castle, where Castle Menzies now stands. No trace of the original 15th century castle remains. The 1600 restoration is thought to have been in intermittent use as a Menzies home until 1745.
Castle Menzies lies 4 miles east of Keltneyburn. The Menzies family left Comrie Castle after its partial destruction by burning in 1487 and built their next castle, known as Castle Weem or the Place of Weem at Weem. It was destroyed by Neil Stewart of Garth around 1502. The Z-plan Castle Menzies, which has a date of 1571 on a panel above the door, was their next home. A new (west) wing extended it, in the 19th century. It became derelict during the mid-20th century but was bought by the Menzies Clan Society in 1957 and restored.
Glen Dochart Castles
The ruins of Loch Dochart Castle lie on a wooded island in Loch Dochart, 1.5 miles east of Crianlarich. The 16th century three-storey tower house with round tower was built by (Black) Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy between 1583 and 1631 and burnt down in 1646.
Finlarig Castle (ruin) in Killin was also built by (Black) Duncan of Glenorchy, around 1609. It was probably originally Z-plan as traces (spiral staircase) of a demolished NE tower remain. He also built a chapel where the ruins of the mausoleum stand to the east of the castle on the mound. The mausoleum was built by the Campbells (of Breadalbane) in the early 1800s. Two gravestones by the mausoleum mark the resting-place of the Marquis and Marchioness of Breadalbane - the last of the Campbell line and descendants of Black Duncan. An alleged beheading pit or, alternatively, Victorian garden cistern lies to the north of the castle.
Loch Earn Castles
Edinample Castle, one mile from Lochearnhead on the south Loch Earn road, was built in the late 16th century. It is privately owned and is not open to the public. The initial tower was probably built by Colin Campbell, 6th Laird of Glenorchy but was extended into the Z-plan castle by (Black) Duncan, 7th Laird of Glenorchy. It was subsequently extended and has been restored recently.
Dalveich Castle (ruin), one mile east of Lochearnhead on the north Loch Earn road, is known from the late 16th century and may be much older. An elongated Z-plan tower house with round towers possibly at either end may have been occupied by the McLarens before being inhabited by the Stewarts.
Post-Medieval Rural Settlement
The highland rural population increased significantly in the late 1700s and early 1800s and settlements increased in size and number accordingly. The traditional rural settlements were townships or baile and the Gaelic word persists in dozens of place names, such as Balquhidder. A survey conducted in 1769 identified some 120 settlements on the north shore of Loch Tay. The inhabitants were largely tenant farmers and cottars. Cattle grazed the low ground in winter and were moved into the hills in summer while the low pastures were used as arable land. During the summer herdsmen, along with the women and children from the farms or fermtouns, lived in small turf or stone huts, called shielings, where butter and cheese were produced. The remains of over 700 shielings have been identified within the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve alone. But all this was about to change.
Market forces encouraged the consolidation of small cattle tenancies into larger farms but the ultimate crisis arose from the introduction of large-scale sheep farming. Not only did sheep compete with the tenant farmers' summer cattle grazing grounds but breeds such as Cheviots could not survive the winter on the hillsides and over winter had to be moved to the low level pasture and arable land hitherto used by the tenant farmers. The inevitable consequence of agricultural improvement was depopulation on a grand scale, initially to the coasts but ultimately to the cities and the colonies. The population on the shores of Loch Tay, which had peaked in the 1811 census, had declined to barely one-third of that size by 1871.
The result is evident throughout the Breadalbane region in the form of abandoned buildings and deserted townships. Some excellent examples have been described, and can be seen, from Loch Tay (Lawers; Croftvellick; Tomour), Glen Lochay (Tirai) and Glen Dochart (Ardnagaul). Many ruined settlements contain remains of limekilns and mills and, in the case of Lawers deserted village, a laird's house and ruined church dated to 1669.
Many of the dwellings took the form of what is known as a longhouse or byre dwelling, in which animals were stabled in the same elongated building as the human inhabitants. A relatively modern example, the 19th century Moirlanich Longhouse near Killin, has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland and can be visited on Wednesdays and Sundays from May to September.
Within the village of Killin itself, the Killin Heritage Trail provides insights into the lore and history of the village and highlights details of its historic buildings, such as the 1840s mill, said to be built near the site of an 8th century meal-grinding mill built by St Fillan.
With its highland setting but proximity to the Central Belt of lowland Scotland and major cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, the major industry in Breadalbane is tourism. Other than services, most other activities are related to the land. Hill farming and forestry occur throughout the region and in 2013 development is scheduled to commence on a small underground gold mine at Cononish, near Tyndrum.
In the 1950s, however, things were very different. The area was alive with construction activity.
The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (now Scottish Hydro Electric, a subsidiary of SSE), constructed the Breadalbane Hydro Electric Scheme between 1951 and 1961. It is centred on the mountainous region around Loch Lyon, Loch Earn and Loch Tay in highland Perthshire and utilises water stored behind 6 dams. Its 7 power stations have a total installed capacity of 118 MW, enough to power about 65,500 homes.
The Lawers section of the system gathers water through a system of tunnels and aqueducts and diverts it into Lochan-na-Lairige where it is stored behind the massive Lawers Dam, 344 metres long and 42 metres high. Tunnel and pipeline then feed the water to Finlarig Power Station on the shores of Loch Tay. The gross head of 415 metres between the dam and the power station is the greatest of any of Scottish Hydro Electric's power stations.
The Killin section is the most complex. A drop of rain that falls in Glen Dochart can be diverted through Glen Lochay to Glen Lyon before ending up back in Glen Lochay after being used to generate electricity! Pipeline and tunnel transfer water from above Glen Dochart and from Glen Lochay to Loch Lyon in Glen Lyon. An aqueduct also takes water from the headwaters of the River Orchy system, which would normally, flow into the Atlantic, and delivers it to the head of Loch Lyon. The first power generation on the Killin system takes place at Lubreoch Power Station at Loch Lyon dam. The released water then flows down the River Lyon to the Stronuich reservoir, which is also fed, by water from the adjacent Cashlie Power Station. Cashlie is powered by water tunnelled from Lochan Daimh in a side glen off Glen Lyon. The Stronuich reservoir water is then returned to Glen Lochay by tunnel where it powers the Lochay Power Station, the largest in the Breadalbane scheme.
In the St Fillans section, water from Lochan Breachlaich, which would normally flow into Loch Tay, is diverted by tunnel to Loch Lednock Power Station on the shore of Loch Lednock reservoir. Lednock Dam is a diamond-headed buttress dam (one of only two of this type in Scotland) designed specifically to cope with earthquake hazards from the nearby Highland Boundary Fault. The water from Loch Lednock is then transferred by tunnel to the underground St Fillans Power Station on the shores of Loch Earn. Loch Earn water is diverted into a tunnel to feed Dalchonzie Power Station.
So if you do happen to spend a rainy day in Breadalbane, just think how that rain is helping to power Scotland, thanks to the ingenuity and skill of these engineers and tunnellers over 60 years ago!
Breadalbane is not just a summer destination. Winter hill walking is popular, as is ski mountaineering when conditions permit. Deer stalking and shooting continue through the winter months and it is possible to fish all year round. And what better time to visit a distillery than on a chilly winter day!
You can access it all on a network of quiet roads, paths and cycling routes, which weave their way through our countryside - a network called the Rings of Breadalbane. The Rings are your gateway to truly coming to know and love Breadalbane.
For further information on the Breadalbane area contact the Breadalbane Tourism Co-operative Tel: 01567 820 527 or visit the website at http://www.breadalbane.org/discoverbreadalbane
As you can see from the information above the Breadalbane area of central Scotland is full of fascinating places to visit and history to appreciate. If you are on holiday in one of our self-catering holiday cottages, at any time of the year, there are plenty of places to visit for a family day out. Access to the area is also possible by using the Breadalbane Explorer bus service, which we have covered in an earlier blog.