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Harran Hill in Fife - a Walk Back in Time

Updated on February 5, 2015
Harran Hill has had trees rooted here since the last ice age.
Harran Hill has had trees rooted here since the last ice age. | Source

Nature and history rolled into one.

It has to be a lucky person who can walk outside their front door and within a few minutes step back in time. I think I am one of the fortunate. The location where I live goes back a long way both historically and geographically.

To begin with, there are associations with the Romans and Picts. The Picts were the first Celts to inhabit Scotland which was then known as Alba. The name 'Picts' is a Roman name for the Celtic tribes and they should really be referred to as the Cruithne. Local archaeological finds have included Celtic battle axes and drinking vessels. There is also some evidence for a Roman camp in the area and certainly a battle was fought between the Picts and the Third Legion just below Benarty Hill.

There are also references to saints and to the famous Knights Templar as well as kings and queens - Mary Queen of Scots rode frantically around Benarty Hill when she escaped from Loch Leven that lies just over the ridge.

I'll now take you on a short tour of the area. We'll start off from Ballingry where I live and move through the area towards Harran Hill.

The western end of Benarty Hill and Wood. The likely area of Benarty around which Queen Mary made her escape from Loch Leven.
The western end of Benarty Hill and Wood. The likely area of Benarty around which Queen Mary made her escape from Loch Leven. | Source
Ballingry cemetery to the East of Benarty Hill - seen in the background on the left of the photograph -  Some of the graves go back hundreds of years.
Ballingry cemetery to the East of Benarty Hill - seen in the background on the left of the photograph - Some of the graves go back hundreds of years. | Source
The Avenue - an old country lane still cobbled and possibly haunted.
The Avenue - an old country lane still cobbled and possibly haunted. | Source

One of the oldest parishes in Scotland


Ballingry is one of the oldest parishes in Scotland. The lands were once owned by the Culdees of St. Serf's Island on Loch Leven. The island and loch are just over the large hill called Benarty, that you can see in a couple of the photographs. The Culdees travelled from Ireland in 37AD and set up Christian worship over previous Druid and other Pagan faith sites. Some historians believe that the Culdees were the Essenes escaping from the Middle east and carried with them secret knowledge and texts. The Culdees were not only teachers but also healers and practiced meditation.

The present name 'Ballingry' is believed to be a modernised version of Baile-an-Gruoch. This basically means 'the abode of Gruoch'. Gruoch was of course queen to King MacBeth - and no, they were nothing like the dark murderous pair of Shakespeare's play. In the 11th century it is believed that Queen Gruoch made a gift of certain lands to the Culdees of St. Serfs and the name Ballingry still bears traces of her name. There is also a well in the area called Gruoch's Well. Interestingly another theory about Ballingry is that instead of the 'abode of Gruoch' it was instead a title such as 'the township' or 'place of the Gruoch'. The name Gruoch has strong similarities to the word Gruagach which means Cailleach or in other words the Mother Goddess. It might of course be that Queen Gruoch still had sympathies for the Great Mother and certainly many wells and other spiritual places attributed to the goddess were given Christian Saint's names.

The street where I live is just one of the many called 'Kirklands'. This shows that most of the surrounding areas were owned by the church. Indeed the famous Knights Templar had extensive lands just south of Ballingry. The first Knights Templar in Scotland were given lands by King David I around 1127. Hugues de Payens visited his comrade in arms - the Earl of Roslin (Henri St Clair) - and were given permission to build a Templar Preceptory near Blanatrodoch - this is now called the Temple, Midlothian. The family of Henri St. Claire were of course responsible for building the incredible and now very famous Rosslyn Chapel that also has many mysterious ties with the Knights Templar.

By 1314 however, things had turned against the warrior knights. There have been many legends that say nearly 3000 Knights fled to Scotland under the protection of King Robert the Bruce who was at the time excommunicated from the church. Although there is no absolute proof of the Knights Templar fighting at Bannockburn for the King, historians agree that there are very interesting and tantalising hints from various sources.

show route and directions
A markerHarran Hill -
Harran Hill Wood
get directions

B markerBallingry -
Ballingry
get directions

C markerDunmore -
Dunmore
get directions

D markerBenarty Hill & Woods -
Benarty Hill & Woods
get directions

E markerSt serf's and the Kirklands surrounding it -
St. Serf's and the Kirklands surrounding it
get directions

The rocky outcrop is Dunmore Hill. In Pictish times this was also the site of a hill fort.
The rocky outcrop is Dunmore Hill. In Pictish times this was also the site of a hill fort. | Source

Hill forts and King Arthur

Moving out of my street and the others named Kirklands we walk out of the village and onto a lane called 'The Avenue' - we'll hear more about this later. First lets take a look at Benarty Hill to the north of the village and also Dunmore - a rocky outcrop that sits on top of Benarty.

The 'crag and tail formation of Benarty Hill was carved out in the last Ice-Age and stands approximately 1,168 feet - the summit being capped by quartz-dolerite rocks. The hill creates a ridge between two lochs. On the Ballingry side is Loch Ore and over the ridge to the north is Loch Leven.

The oldest records that refer to Benarty Hill can be found in the register of the Priory at St. Andrews. The name is believed to translate into 'Arthur's Ridge' - Ben - ridge, arty - Arthur - which is thought to commemorate King Arthur of Dark Ages Britain. Locally it was often referred to as 'the sleeping giant'. There are of course thousands of these sites all over Britain and in Scotland itself. Perhaps we can assume then that Britain either did have a wondrous hero named Arthur or could it just be that many kings were named Arthur and memorials were set up for them on their death?

Benarty Fort

On the very western edge of the hill is the remains of a fort. According to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, the site is 'scheduled' meaning that under law it's protected against being built on or any other usage. According to Sir James Balfour in his book 'Annuals' (1527) the fort had been built by King Gedor of the Picts. There is indeed much evidence of a battle taking place between Romans and Picts in this area - battle axes and other items have been discovered not that far from this location.

As mentioned previously it is around this western edge of the hill that Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have sped along on her escape from Loch Leven Castle, which lies over the other side of the hill in Kinross.

Dunmore

This steep outcrop perched on top of Benarty Hill is also the site of an ancient hill fort. The name 'Dunmore' can be traced back to Celtic-Pictish routes, 'dun' meaning 'fort' and and 'more' over looking the sea or water. Dunmore does over look both Loch Leven and Loch Ore as well as the River Forth in the distance.

Benarty Hill, Western side with part of Benarty Wood in the foreground
Benarty Hill, Western side with part of Benarty Wood in the foreground | Source
Old cottages now in ruins - all that's left of the Lochore House Estate.
Old cottages now in ruins - all that's left of the Lochore House Estate. | Source
The Avenue goes off into the distance - this area is thought to be a place of strange shadows and white ladies.
The Avenue goes off into the distance - this area is thought to be a place of strange shadows and white ladies. | Source

The Avenue, Lochore House and ghosts

Continuing our journey up to Harran Hill both Benarty and Dunmore will remain on our right hand side giving and added bonus to the lovely view.

We're reaching an area which I find very sad indeed. On a clearing some way up the Avenue used to stand an old house. It was first built by the Malcolm family 1654-1661. The property was at that time called the Ladath Estate and the house known as Inchgall, only later becoming Lochore House. The most famous occupant of Lochore House was Lady Scott, (Bonnie Jean Jobson of Lochore), who in 1825 married the son of the famous Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, who visited the house on numerous occasions.

Eventually It did fall into some disrepair but to top it all, it was finally raised to the ground by vandals - a wonderful part of our local history gone forever. The only buildings still standing are the melancholy ruins of some cottages and I think what was once stables.

This beautiful old house was of course haunted by the usual white lady. I visited a youth centre way back in 1970 when I was about 8 years of age. This youth facility was the ugliest building you have ever seen that was stuck onto the backside of this wonderful house. The house itself was very atmospheric and also sad as if longing for the days when it was a family home. For some reason I always did have a very strong attachment and love for this house. However, how much of that was due to my childhood dreaming and sense of magic? I never did see the white lady either then or at any time on passing the house when it was still standing. Perhaps since the house has gone the lonely lady walks the avenue? People have reported seeing odd shapes and a white figure walking this lovely, brooding lane, that was once the entrance and exit for Lochore House Estate.

We now travel some distance up this lane with its old cobbled stones and finally to the entrance of Harran Hill Wood.

Harran Hill Wood - beautiful and mysterious
Harran Hill Wood - beautiful and mysterious | Source
There are many large stones and boulders lying all around Harran Hill Wood, possibly left by the turmoil of the last Ice Age.
There are many large stones and boulders lying all around Harran Hill Wood, possibly left by the turmoil of the last Ice Age. | Source
The entrance to Harran Hill Wood
The entrance to Harran Hill Wood | Source
Harran Hill Wood - a very old place with an extraordinary atmosphere
Harran Hill Wood - a very old place with an extraordinary atmosphere | Source

Harran Hill Wood - a place with hidden depths!

Harran Hill Wood covers about 27 hectares and is a protected nature centre. It is a mature broadleaved woodland. Fife Council report in their information guides that the area has been seeded with trees since the last Ice Age. Although one or two areas were used briefly as a plantation in the early 20th century, a lot of work has been done to ensure that the natural trees of the area such as - hazel, oak, Ash etc., have been helped to regain lost ground. The site is also well regarded due to its immense biodiversity of animals, plants, ferns and bryophytes - mosses, liverworts etc. Dog's Mercury is another plant that can be found in the wood and this is always a sign of an old and mature area of trees. This toxic plant was once used to make dye for cloth.

Harran also has its fair share of stinging nettles, but thankfully it does have the antidote near by in the form of dock leaves. Many question whether the dock leaves do actually help. I can only tell you that from experience of being stung numerous times, rubbing the skin with the dock, very gently over the area where you have been stung, definitely takes the pain and burning sensation away.

The area also has a healthy number of wildlife. Unfortunately since I usually have the dogs with me I never usually get near to the deer, foxes, red squirrels or any other of the numerous mammals and birds that inhabit the wood.

One of the interesting aspects of Harran is the landscape deep within the wood itself. On starting your journey it seems like an ordinary very pretty woodland with an interesting convoluted path running through it. Go off the beaten track just a little though and suddenly, the ground disappears downwards. You then come across heavily wooded, fern-filled dens, reinforced with tall rocky crags and huge moss covered boulders strewn everywhere. Even in the brightest light these strange hidden places are often in gloom but they are so filled with energy and atmosphere that they seem magical.

Harran Hill Wood has many secret places filled with energy and atmosphere
Harran Hill Wood has many secret places filled with energy and atmosphere | Source
Looking back at Benarty Hill from Harran
Looking back at Benarty Hill from Harran | Source

I hope you've enjoyed this short journey into my small part of the world.

People often think that where they live is boring and nothing much has ever happened. I thought this at one time until I started looking, listening and learning about the area where I live. I had no idea that we had our ancestors the Picts living on our door step, or that the pesky Romans had a temporary camp just up the road! Have a good look around where you live and you might be very surprised at what you find.

Looking down from the Avenue, to Lochore Meadows Country Park. The one reminder of the coal mine past - the Mary Pit - is left as a memorial. This is another stomping ground for me and the dogs and has it's own stories to tell.
Looking down from the Avenue, to Lochore Meadows Country Park. The one reminder of the coal mine past - the Mary Pit - is left as a memorial. This is another stomping ground for me and the dogs and has it's own stories to tell. | Source

Comments

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  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hey LW! What a lovely comment to make and as always great to hear from you!! Yes, history and what the places and people looked like can have me awake at nights - awesome!! I think if I had a choice of travelling to the past or future I would take the past!

    Many thanks again to one of my favourite writers!!!

  • thelyricwriter profile image

    Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

    Seeker, awesome work my friend! This is an EXCELLENT article. Wow, all the history and such a beautiful place. I share a passion with you when it comes to history. Just the thought of what once was is enough to intrigue my mind for weeks. Loved every aspect of your article. The photos are awesome, nearly like it has a certain aspect about them. Class "A" hub also. Voted up and all across but funny. Shared also. GREAT ARTICLE SEEKER!!! Have a great weekend and see you soon.

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi b.Malin - lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub! I hope I don't sound pompous - not my intention - but yes, the countryside around here along with the history is lovely and great for walking!

  • b. Malin profile image

    b. Malin 5 years ago

    Thanks for a Lovely Educational Trip, Seeker. The pictures are Breathtaking as well as Beautiful. You are so fortunate to live in such a Fantastic area. A Postcard read, indeed!

  • Seeker7 profile image
    Author

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Lesley, lovely to hear from you as always!

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub and that the atmosphere came through in the photos - it really is a very energetic (if that's the right word?) place. Many thanks again, Helen.

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    I sensed the atmosphere of Harran Hill wood as I was reading and looking at the pictures!!

    What an interesting area you live in and the landscape is beautiful, thank you for sharing it's history.

    Voting up, best wishes Lesley

  • Seeker7 profile image
    Author

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alastar, as always, lovely to hear from you! Glad that you enjoyed the hub of the local bits and pieces around here. It's a great place to have a 'mosey' around and having the two dogs, it's a blessing to be able to get them out to places where they can run to their hearts content without getting into any trouble!

    It was a beautiful morning (29th Sept) and I was up there today with the dogs - not one soul was around, not even the white lady! Rather than being creepy it was magical! It's not often anyone gets a place to themselves so I treasured every moment.

    Many thanks again Alaster for your lovely comment and the share - much appreciated!

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

    Ah Helen, this is the kind of history and first person hub I really like with a capital L. So much cool special Scottish stuff unknown to me no longer. Your photos are simply grand and what i wouldn't give to just mosey around your area for a week- maybe more! Enjoyed the recollections of Lochore and the White Lady- maybe you'll see her yet. How wonderful to live around so much eclectic history and nature's splendor. All the good for this gem Helen my friend, did so enjoy the journey. Lets pin it and share, too.

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi teaches12345, many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a lovely comment - I think you would enjoy the countryside around here and it is very atmospheric!

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi CMHypno always a pleasure to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, many thanks for the visit and glad that you enjoyed the hub!!

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kashmir56 - always a delight to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the journey around my local area! Thanks also for the share and vote up - very much appreciated, thank you!!!

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Frank - thank you so much! What a wonderful comment to leave and I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub! You've actually made me blush and that's not an easy thing to do!! LOL!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    I can just see the battles fought here from King Arthur's time. What a beautiful view and the paths are just lovely. I would love to visit here some day. Thanks for sharing this history and background of this area.

  • CMHypno profile image

    CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    What a beautiful part of the country you live in Seeker7 and thanks for sharing the great descriptions and pictures.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

    I loved this one and thank you for sharing.

    Eddy.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi Seeker7 awesome hub and very interesting information and loved all the very beautiful photos you used to highlight this hub . Well done !

    Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

    Seeker what a historical, wonderful, beautiful, I can go all day with adjectives and it never be enough to describe a walk back in time.. it's nice to see what was.. because around here it's never what was or what is.. it's what will it look like..:)

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Mhatter99 - your welcome and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile image
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    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Gordon - Cowdenbeath!! Now I know a few folks from there as I worked with a housing association in Stenhouse Street for 14 years! It's a small world indeed! I don't get into Dunfermline as often as I would like, but I do like a good nose around the old town. I notice your in Lanarkshire - if I mind correctly you've got quite a number of beautiful and interesting places as well out that way?

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    My kind of place. Thank you for the tour and great pictures.

  • Gordon Hamilton profile image

    Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

    Wow - fabulous pics and information. My maternal grandmother was from Cowdenbeath and I remember spending a lot of time as a child in the Kingdom of Fife, both in Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline. Sadly - other than to watch football matches or for a couple of family weddings - I haven't visitied Fife properly for many years. Seeing places like this is something I really enjoy, especially when it has close family significance, and I really would like to see these places for real again. Added to the ever lengthening to do list - but I'll get there! :)