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Callander

 

Tour Callander
The Gateway to The Scottish Highlands

Callander, in Stirlingshire, is not an especially ancient burgh, having reached that status only in 1859. It is not a large community either. But it is famous, competing with Crieff and Pitlochry as a gateway to the Highlands. The tradition is that Callander owes its rise from a small village in part to the settlement here of discharged soldiers from the Seven Years War, in s 763; and thereafter to the publicity given the area by Sir Walter Scott in The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, Rob Roy and so on. But, in fact, it was always an important strategic community at the junction of vital South Highland valleys in the land of Monteith, became an earldom in the 17th century, and was the centre of a large parish of 54,000 acres. The church was founded in 1238 and was an appendage of the Priory of Inchmahome, belonging to the Earls of Menteith. But even before all this, there was a Roman camp here, at Kilmahog, at the junction of the Leny and Teith.

Today, of course, Callander is one of the busiest tourist towns in Scotland, full of hotels, guest-houses, catering establishments and shops to tempt the visitor. And of recent years it has gained a new fame and attraction as the prototype of Tannochbrae in the Dr. Finlay's Casebook BBC TV series, scene of most of the non-studio shots, site of 'Arden House' and so on.

Most travellers from Edinburgh to the West Highlands pass through Callander, and may tend to think of it as no more than a long main street, wide but traffic-thronged. But the attractive parts of the town are in its flanks, up the hillside under the lofty wooded 1,000-foot Callander Craig, with its medicinal Red Well, to the north; and down by the wide, tree-lined Teith to the south. The best views of the place are from here, one notably well known as the opening scene of many a Dr. Finlay episode.

The parish church of St. Kessog, one of the Golumban missionaries (520--56) stands centrally in the attractive Ancaster Square, dating from 1773 but re-built 1881, and is a fine spacious place of worship, with handsome carved pulpit, and stained-glass by Strachan. Its predecessor stood at the little hill of Tom-na-Chessaig, nearer the river, with an old burial-ground. A market held here annually in March used to be called the Feill na Chessaig. The Manse is some distance from both, across the river on the south bank, built on the site of the old castle of Callander--not apparently a strong site, but no doubt once protected by marshland and moat. This was the seat of the Livingstones, Earls of Callander, and of Linlithgow. A stone from the castle is inserted above the manse doorway, inscribed A.L. E.H. 1596, for Alexander Livingstone, 1st Earl of Linlithgow, and his wife Lady Elizabeth Hay, daughter of the 9th Earl of Erroll. This first Earl was a friend of James VI who indeed entrusted to his keeping his little daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, when he went off to London in 1603; the child to become the Winter Queen of Bohemia, was partly brought up at Callander. A fragment of the ancient masonry survives in the manse garden. Near by, on this southern approach to the town, on the Glasgow road, is the large, modern building housing the well-known McLaren High School; and near by, the well-designed new private housing estate of Molland.

In the more central part of the town, amongst the very many hotels, is that known as the Roman Camp, associated with J. M. Barrie amongst others. The serpentine mound from which it takes its name, near the river, is in fact a natural feature, not Roman as was long thought; the true Roman camp lies nearly two miles to the west, below Bochastle Hill, near Kilmahog. At the foot of South Church Street, near the footbridge over the river, is a pedestal sundial, dated 1753, presented by Viscount Esher.

Callander, of course, is the notable centre for touring the Trossachs and other areas of the Southern Highlands. But there is much of interest within walking distance of the town. On the hill-skirts of the Craig, to the north, the 18-hole golf-course is renowned. Above this, a track leads over open scrub-covered hillside to the spectacular Brackland Falls on the Keltie Water. Here are a series of cascades in a rocky, tree-lined chasm, immortalised by Scott, whose character Roderick Dhu was "brave but wild as Bracklinn's thundering wave". It is extraordinary how Scott has managed to link his purely imaginary characters with local topography, all over Scotland. Some of the falls here are over 50 feet high; and there is a narrow footbridge above--which Scott once rode over on a pony, for a wager, to alarm his companions. Also here, in 1844, a foolhardy couple 'frolicking' fell to their deaths. The Keltie Water's glen probes far back into the Glen Artney hills, wherein it has been dammed to form a reservoir. A walking track up it goes on, under Ben Each and Stuc a Chroin (3189 feet) and then over the watershed below Ben Vorlich (3224 feet), to Loch Earn at Ardvorlich, about 14 miles. There are many routes to climb these mountains, however.

To the east of Callander, towards the Braes of Doune area, near the farm of Dalvey, is the ruined former fortalice of Auchleshie, a stronghold of the Buchanans. The district beyond is described under Kilmadock and Doune. To the west, is the interesting area of Leny, and Kilmahog. Leny is probably most famed for its Pass and Falls, below Loch Lubnaig, a series of foaming rapids favoured by visitors and photographers. But the large estate of Leny has its own attractions, with a little glen and falls immediately to the north. Its mansion has grown from the ancient nucleus of an L-shaped fortalice of probably the late 16th century, its east front surviving more or less as originally, with crowstepped gable, steep roofs and vaulted basement. This was the seat of a line of Buchanan lairds, close to the chiefs, until comparatively recently, and some of their heraldry survives. Near the walled-garden is an interesting obelisk-type sundial of probably the early 18th century. At Little Leny, down near the haugh of the Teith, and the Trossachs road-end, is an ancient burial-ground of the Buchanans, and the site of a pre-Reformation church. There is a renewed archway entrance, to hold the old bell, and a watch-house, with many old gravestones. Here is interred Dugald Buchanan, the Gaelic poet and scholar, from Strathyre.

Nearby, on the main road, is the pretty, milling hamlet of Kilmahog, where the picturesque old mill-wheel is still maintained in working order, its lade now a sort of wishing-well. Above all rears Ben Ledi, The Mountain of God, a shapely peak 2873 feet high. Altogether, here is a scenic and readily accessible area that sets itself out to attract, and succeeds admirably.

If you would like to visit this area as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

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