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Hidden secrets in our landscapes

A little stone folly stands on rocks on top of a rushing waterfall. It is surrounded by bright green leafy trees. The river rushes over large rocks and boulders in the foreground.
The Hermitage | Image: Gavin Ritchie, Shutterstock
Scattered across Scotland’s countryside are clues to characters and communities from the past. Keep your eyes peeled as you enjoy a walk and who knows what you’ll discover!

A perennial pine

Mar Lodge Estate

Small, gnarled and sitting on a high scree slope alongside a few other similarly small and gnarled trees, the oldest pine tree on Mar Lodge Estate doesn’t look like much. However, this Glen Derry ‘granny pine’ is thought to be the second oldest recorded Scots pine in Scotland, dating back to at least 1477. A team from the University of St Andrews has been studying Scotland’s pines by taking tiny, harmless cores from them. The way tree rings grow varies from year to year, depending on things like temperature and rainfall, so Scots pines offer an amazing record of how Scotland’s climate has changed.

A lone pine tree stands on a moor, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. The rocky ground around it has pockets of snow.
The granny pine in Glen Derry | Image: Shaila Rao

Bygone communities

Ben Lomond

Walk along the Ardess Hidden History Trail at Ben Lomond and you’ll soon come across the ruins of houses, farm buildings and field walls – reminders of an active community who made the banks of Loch Lomond their home in past centuries. Most of the sites on this trail were built 200–400 years ago, but by the early 1800s all but one of the houses here were abandoned. The people who once lived here spoke Gaelic, hence the name ‘Ardess’, which refers to the high (ard) waterfall (eas) located on the slopes above.

A man and a young boy stand beneath a large tree by the shore of Loch Lomond, looking out across the water. Both wear hiking boots and carry walking poles.
Walking by Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the background

Fascinating folly

The Hermitage

Ossian’s Hall at the Hermitage is named after Ossian, the legendary 3rd-century Irish Gaelic warrior-turned-bard. In the 1760s an ambitious poet named James Macpherson published his ‘translations’ of Ossian’s Gaelic works to huge acclaim. These poems captured the imagination of a generation, helped to turn the Scottish Highlands into a holiday destination, and influenced art and literature for a century – Napoleon even took a copy into battle with him. However, these works were in fact written by Macpherson himself!

Here at the Hermitage, the figure of Ossian was depicted in a large oil painting hung on a secret door inside Ossian’s Hall, which slid back to reveal a hall of mirrors and the thunderous Black Linn Falls below.

A little stone folly stands on rocks on top of a rushing waterfall. It is surrounded by bright green leafy trees. The river rushes over large rocks and boulders in the foreground.
Ossian’s Hall stands over the dramatic Black Linn Falls at the Hermitage

High-level home-makers

Torridon

From red deer to golden eagles, Britain’s first National Nature Reserve at Beinn Eighe is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife. But you might be surprised at one of the mammals that makes its home here. They’re commonly perceived as a lowland creature, but water voles have set up colonies by burrowing into multiple locations across Beinn Eighe. The species saw a drastic decline in the latter half of the 20th century due to habitat loss and being hunted by the American mink. But at Beinn Eighe at least, the population seems to be thriving.

A very plump water vole sits on a mossy rock beside a loch.
A water vole | Image: Jack Perks, Shutterstock

A face in the wall

Killiecrankie

Take a wander below the railway viaduct at Killiecrankie and see if you can spot the hidden face on the stonework of the southernmost turret. We’re unsure who is depicted here but there are a couple of theories – perhaps the most likely explanation is that it was carved as a memorial to one of the Victorian stonemasons involved in the viaduct’s construction. But there are also rumours that it appeared suddenly in the stone, as a ghostly reminder of a Jacobite or Redcoat killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.

The face of a person has been carved into a stone wall.
The mysterious stone face at Killiecrankie

Walking in Scotland

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