During the coming year many of the Inversnaid Hotel itineraries will once again include a visit to that beautiful and popular destination, Killin. This historic village is almost exactly at the geographic centre of Scotland. It is at the head of Loch Tay and overlooked by the massive Ben Lawers which rises to almost 4,000ft.
The area has had a violent and turbulent past. For many years it was the frontline in the war between the Scots and the Picts and many local families still carry surnames from these distant times such as MacNaughton (from Nechtan, King of The Picts) and MacDiarmid (founder of the Campbells and legendary killer of Fingal).
Close to the village is Finlarig Castle, once the home of the ruthless 'Black' Duncan Campbell. It is now in a ruinous state, but near to the north wall there are still the remains of the stone-lined pit that was once used for beheading prisoners of noble blood. Commoners were hanged on the now ancient oak tree on the knoll by the castle.
Killin's importance as a tourist attraction began with the arrival of the railway in 1886. The line continued from the village as far as the pier on Loch Tay, where it linked with a steamer service that sailed the length of the Loch to Kenmore. Sadly the service eventually ended and, without the steamer, the railway ceased to be viable, and that in turn finally closed in 1965.
However the old track bed has been converted into an attractive footpath and, if time permits, offers a good opportunity for some exercise.
The beginnings of the Loch Achray Hotel
This early photograph of the Loch Achray Hotel (complete with tour bus) was taken shortly after it first opened in 1932. The building had previously been known as Achray Lodge, and had been owned by successive Dukes of Montrose, whose family had used it as a Hunting Lodge since its construction in 1868.
The hotel operated for just a few years before being requisitioned as a farm for the duration of the war. German and Italian prisoners provided the labour, cultivating vegetables in the field in front of the hotel. In 1946 all prisoners were repatriated and life at the hotel returned to normal.
Until the advent of steamer services along the Scottish coast, the villages along the shores of Loch Long were relatively unknown and un-visited. But, together with the arrival of the West Highland Railway, tourism in the area took off in a big way at the end of the 19th century and the locals were quick to take advantage of this influx of visitors, none more so than Susan McGlone.
Born in 1847, Susan or Suzy as she was she was better known, had a personality that would probably have been enough to make her a local celebrity, but the extra factor that ensured her a place in the hall of fame lay in the fact that her home was an upturned boat or, to be more precise, it was the half-hull of a disused fishing-smack that lay on the shore of Loch Long not far from the site of our new hotel at Ardgartan. Here she lived with her husband making a living by selling fish in the nearby village of Garelochhead and then increasingly by attracting visitors to her unusual home, which soon became widely known as 'Suzie's Castle'. Many postcards of her either standing or sitting in front of her 'castle' were published, and Suzy herself always had a ready stock on hand to sell to her visitors.
In addition to the pictures that document her life there are several contemporary newspaper articles that mention her. One reporter wrote:-
"Inside, everything was very neat, clean and orderly. China was laid out deftly on a sideboard, while the ingleneuk was full of contented cats. There was an old-fashioned bed at the neb' end."
Another commented "Susie knew everybody, and everybody knew Susie. She talked to everybody and anybody, and was obviously an intelligent person, but had two vices; she liked a dram, and she smoked her clay pipe.
However one of the less charitable villagers recalled: "I mind the local folk used to tell us that they took a terrible amount of drink, the two of them, and when they came back from the pub, taking the width of the road, they'd just stop at the top of the path, lie down, and roll home to the bottom."
However, despite her colourful life Suzie reached the ripe old age of 81, her obituary appearing in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times in January, 1929.