This article is a small introduction to Killin history, the beautiful and historic area of Scotland which I am very proud to come from. If anyone would like to know more in depth about the places and artefacts described please do not be shy to get in touch. – Davie Osler.
Travelling north west from Stirling as you pass through Callander the scenery becomes more highland as you pass over the highland fault which passes through Kilmahog just outside Callander. As you journey on the scenery becomes more and more highland until as you pass through Lochearnhead you then begin an ascent through a truly highland pass that Queen Victoria called Scotland’s own Khyber Pass when she travelled over it on her honeymoon tour in 1842.
This is a good spot to start our narrative as this where you move into the fabled lands of the Clan MacNab one of the senior clans of Siol Alpin (seed of Alpin). Siol Alpin are thought to be from the original Scots who came over from Ireland with Kenneth MacAlpin and settled and spread out from Argyll. Glen Ogle as you pass over it on the modern highway, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like in the far off days of clan warfare, as the modern road runs along the side of the hill. However, if you pause to look down as you pass over you will see I the very bottom of the glen the old road built by soldiers after the battle of Culloden as they tried to pacify the highlands. As you look down and think yes it would probably have been a fearsome bit of country then remember until this road was built there was nothing save perhaps a path.
This was the borderline of MacNab country, you are now entering Killin Parish, an area of land that stretches from LochTay to the marches of Perthshire and Argyll at Tyndrum some twenty mile west. The MacNabs are thought to have originated as McGregors but because of they were the caretakers of the ancient church of the Culdees at Strath Fillin near Tyndrum they were given the name MacNab (son of the Abbot). Although Killin Parish is MacNab country it was not solely McNabs that lived on the land, McGregors, McDiarmids, McNaughtans were also common names in the district before the coming of the Campbells. I want to talk a bit more of the district though before I tell you of the many Clan incidents that took place in this area that was so central to Scottish history but also so remote that not many people visited it unless they had specific business because of the danger that a journey to the area presented.
When the Scottish wars of Independence looked all but lost (1306), Robert the Bruce had lately been crowned King of Scotland at the Moot Hill at Scone, but had been excommunicated from the church of Rome and had been hammered by an English army at Methven. He made his way to Loch Tayside to try to escape his enemies but did not know another trap was awaiting him, the McNabs were kinsmen of the the McDougalls of Lorn who in part were kinsmen of the Red Comyn murdered by Bruce in Greyfriars Kirk, Dumfries. They watched as Bruce passed through Killin on his way west and sent word to the MacDougalls. However as Bruce approached Strath Fillin he noticed the little Chapel and paused with his troops. He went in to pray and met the abbot who told him of the dangers and blessed him with the armbone of St Fillin and explained to Bruce that although he was excommunicated from the church of Rome he was not excommunicated from the church of the Culdees, the ancient church of Scotland and Ireland. When Bruce left the little chapel he knew what to expect but was heartened by being blessed. At Tyndrum he was attacked but was able to fight off the McDougalls and escape. This gave him time to work out anew strategy and build up his fighting strength for the battles ahead.
The whole future history of Scotland hinged on this one small event and even Bruce recognised this because when he had vanquished the English and his internal enemies McNabs included, he rebuilt the little chapel and passed a law that the chapel and it’s relics were to be protected for all times hence. At the Battle of Bannockburn he had this armbone of St Fillin paraded in front of the troops before the battle and blessed by the abbot of Glen Dochart
The historic village of Killin is situated practically in the exact centre of Scotland and was the stronghold of the MacNabs and latterly the Breadalbane Campbells during the times of the clans. The village sits at the head of Loch Tay nestling round the base of the aptly named Sron Na Clachan (Nose of the Village) and looked over by the massive Ben Lawers (3984 feet) the highest mountain in Britain up to this distance from the south. From Loch Tay looking west over Killin is the easily identifiable Ben More and Stobinnion standing guard at the west of Killin like two massive sentries.
The history of Killin is ancient and the area was the frontline for many years in the war between the Scots and the Picts. A lot the names of the people in the district still carry surnames from these distant times e.g. MacNaughton (from Nechtan king of the Picts) and McDiarmid (from Diarmid founder of the Campbells and legendary killer of Fionn (Fingal). In fact legend has it that Fingals grave is in Killin and this can be seen on the hillside above the public park. Finlarig Castle in Killin now in a ruinous state was once the seat of the Breadalbane Campbells until they moved eastwards to the other end of Loch Tay at Kenmore. The castle is perhaps the only one in Scotland with a beheading pit and the hanging tree still stands on the Knoll in the castle grounds.
Breadalbane has been populated since ancient times and there are many reminders of this in the area, on the shoulder of Meal Nam Tarmachan a stone age axe factory has been found, stone circles abound and at Acharn on Loch Tayside there is a reconstruction of a crannog (an artificial island). These were built as protection from predators and other tribes and this reconstruction can be visited to find out what it was like to live in the Killin area during the Bronze Age. A visit to the folklore centre in Killin at the Dochart Bridge will give the visitor a taste of what living in the area was like in the days of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Breadalbane (The name given to the area with Killin at the centre) is very popular with visitors and tourists alike not only for the magnificent scenery but for many outdoor pursuits such as fishing (salmon & trout), golf, climbing, hillwalking, botany (Ben Lawers) or just leisurely touring the surrounding area. There is a quite testing nine hole golf course within the village and a ticket can be purchased to play various Perthshire golf courses within a one week period. There are many walks within the village surrounds and also obviously the hills around the village. Care should be taken though that suitable clothing is worn and your route is known to others before venturing up the hills. There are many experienced hillwalkers in Killin and by asking around it is easy to get advice on routes and climbing times. Permits can be obtained at the paper shop for trout fishing daily or weekly and Salmon fishing can be arranged (Please request this at time of booking as there are limited boats and rights). The outdoor shop next to the paper shop carries a good range of outdoor clothing, bicycle repairs and spares can be had along with bicycle and canoe hire. Pony trekking and salmon fishing can be had at Morenish Highland Lodges some 3.5 miles east of Killin.
Killin is an ideal spot to centre oneself for touring the central and west highlands. Glasgow is about an hour and a quarter away, Edinburgh about an hour and a half, Stirling and Perth about and hour. Oban and Fort William about an hour and a half. Ideal places to visit also include Glencoe on the road to Fort William , Scone Palace near Perth, Drummond Castle near Crieff .
There are many historic artefacts in and around Killin other than those already mentioned, Finlarig Castle home of the Breadalbane Campbells for many years before they birsed yont to Balloch (Taymouth in Kenmore). This castle has still has the hanging tree on the knoll and a beheading pit (unusual in Scottish castles), Fingals Grave on the side of the hill above Killin, the old meal mill in the village and now taken over by the Tourist Board but still houses the famous St Fillin healing stones and a folklore history centre which has a lot of McGregor artefacts and tells some of the history of that persecuted clan. Kinnel House seat of Clan McNab for many years and Innis Bhuidhe (burial ground for McNab chiefs) on an island in the middle of the famous falls of Dochart.