Yesterday Richie and I took to the waters of Loch Lomond in the two man canoe once again. Having scraped the ice off my pick up truck, we decided to go to a different put in point than our normal one at Aldochlay near Luss. And so it was we set off from Duck Bay to Inchmurrin, the largest island of any inland waterway in Britain, and the loch’s most famous island.
Inchmurrin Island from the loch
Inchmurrin means island of Mirren and is named after the Irish monk St Mirren (565 -620) who established the Abbey at Paisley and became the patron saint of the town as well as giving his name to the town’s football club. It’s one of three permanently occupied islands on the loch and boasts not only a farm, a hotel and several holiday cottages and chalets but also a nudist colony. We tried to get some photos but the nudists were a wee bit shy. When we passed, the temperature would have been a disincentive for frolicking in the woods anyway.
The Hotel at Inchmurrin
By the time we’d paddled to the far end (east side) of the island the temperature had risen enough to jettison a couple of layers. This was the scene at our “breakfast cafe”
Scotland in autumn? or tropical beach?
After breakfast we paddled down the north side of the island to complete the circumnavigation. I spotted these ruins above one of the holiday homes.
Church ruins on Inchmurrin (centre)
At certain parts, although quite far from land the loch is only a few feet deep on the north side of the island.
Here is what loch lomond islands.com says about Inchmurrin;
BY FAR the largest of Loch Lomond’s islands, Inchmurrin is truly an enchanting place of woodlands and meadows, high ridge and gentle vale, and always with the water sparkling on all sides. An ideal way to explore it is to sail in to one of the golden gravel bays on the isthmus of the tiny north-east peninsula and from there climb steeply through giant oaks and birches to the open grassy ridge. Leaving plenty of time to linger and enjoy the views from the ridge, descend gradually through vast rhododendron thickets and across rolling meadows to the welcome of the little hotel on the south-east shore. On a bright May morning this little expedition must be among the greatest of pleasures that life can offer.
Set on a headland on the south-westerly extremity of Inchmurrin stand the ruined walls of an ancient castle. It was to this place that the Earl of Lennox with his family and retainers fled in the fourteenth century from his stronghold at Balioch Castle on the mainland, to try to escape from the plague ravaging the neighbourhood. Here also it is believed came Robert the Bruce, later to become victorious King of Scotland, given refuge by the fifth Earl of Lennox after his defeat by the men of Lorne. Inch murrin Castle too became an exile for the tragic Isabella, Countess of Albany, and daughter of the eighth Earl of Lennox. She had had the nightmare experience of losing her husband, father and two sons, all executed at Stirling on the same day in 1425 at the command of King James I. This terrible toll the King exacted in revenge for his eighteen years of imprisonment in England, an ordeal for which he held the House of Albany responsible. At first imprisoned in Tantalion Castle, she was later allowed to move to what must have been a place of her childhood memories at Inchmurrin, passing her days in religious works until her death in 1460.
Other fragments of Inchmurrin’s story have found their way down through the dark mists of time. Sir John Colquhoun of Luss was slain there by the islanders in 1440, but what tale lies behind this dark deed has not been revealed. King James VI of Scotland (and I of England) frequently found his way to the island to enjoy the exhilaration of the deer hunt, and it is said that the notes of the bugle horn often echoed through its woods.
Long, long before all these events, Inchmurrin knew echoes of a gentler kind, as the soft chanting of early Christian monks rose upwards from the chapel they had constructed somewhere towards its southern end. This chapel was dedicated to St Mirrin, and it is likely that he must have visited or even lived here, but in my case his name was given to this peaceful
island. There are places where one can imagine the chapel and its monastic dwellings may have stood, but there is no certain evidence as to its location.
When Inchmurrin Castle fell into disuse and ruin is not known, but along with the other lands of Lennox, Inchmurrin was purchased by the Marquis of Montrose in the seventeenth century, and by 1792 we find the island being described as being well wooded and abounding in pasture and supporting two hundred deer under the care of a gamekeeper and his family working for the Duke of Montrose. About the same time it was written that the people of Inchmurrin belonged to no parish, and it was recommended as a place for ladies who had occasion for temporary retirement.’
By the 1830s a neat modern cottage for the accommodation of parties of pleasure from the annual residence’ had been erected, and fifty years later Inchmurrin was still the Duke of Montrose’s private deer park, inhabited by another in a long succession of gamekeeping families.
Still another fifty years on in 1930, when Inchmurrin was sold by the Montrose Estate to Mr A M Melville, the only habitation was the keeper’ lodge, set in a little bay on the short southern shore, where it remains in use today. The new owner had some bungalows built, but soon afterwards the island was sold to the Scott family, who still own it.
The present generation of Scotts, Mr Tom Scott, his wife and Sons have worked hard to make Inchmurrin an economic success, and this they have done without spoiling it natural beauty. They run a herd of eighty beef cattle, for which they grow feed of grass and kale. They also own the hotel, opened as a guest house in 1956, and now fully licensed and open from March to October, and for visitors and inhabitants they run a ferry service to the mainland near Arden. There are now fifteen houses on Inchmurrin, three of which are inhabited permanently, and a cluster of some ten wooden cabins belonging to a naturist club. Much frequented by anglers, watersports people and trippers on the mail boat from Balmaha, Inchmurrin hotel also gets some more exotic visitors, who drop in for dinner by helicopter. If they had the time and patience, they might find the opportunity to get there free and on foot, for very occasionally the southern end of the Loch freezes enough to allow people to walk to and from the mainland. During the great frost of 1895, twenty six thousand people are said to have walked on the Loch on one day, and men of the Montrose Estate transported food and other supplies by horse and cart across the ice to the gamekeeper in the lodge on Inchmurrin.
A great shinty match was played in the vicinity:of the island on a fine sheet of ice, and at the same time skating races and a curling match between married men and single men were taking place further south on the Loch. Many years later, in 1934, another sport brought tragedy when a boat belonging to Loch Lomond Rowing Club was swamped off Inchmurrin
and five of the crew were drowned.
In March 1990, when heavy rain and the release of water from hydroelectric dams caused Loch Lomond to rise to the highest levels ever recorded, a house near the southern shore of Inchmurrin had to be temporarily evacuated.
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