Welcome to Aberfoyle
Aberfoyle is the ‘Gateway to The Trossachs’, a region famed for its beauty and history. This small town lies on the upper reaches of the River Forth, at the base of Craig Mhor and in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, perhaps the most beautiful park in Scotland. To the northwest is Loch Katrine and Ben Venue, to the northeast Ben Ledi and to the west Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond. Despite the fact that in Aberfoyle one is confronted by the beauty of nature at every turn the town is easily accessible, being less than an hour’s drive from both Glasgow and Stirling.
Lake of Mentith - Photograph Courtesy of Linda Wallace
It is the tales associated with Rob Roy MacGregor which draw many people with an interest in history to Aberfoyle. While the Trossachs in general were the stomping ground of this ‘Highland Rouge’ and Aberfoyle certainly paid host to him, the town has a greater claim to fame than many ever realise during their stay: namely that it was, albeit briefly, the capital of Scotland.
King Aedan MacGabhran (c.532-608), considered one of the founders of the Scottish monarchy, had his primary stronghold at Eperpuill (Aberfoyle). As ledgers say only that he was born ‘close to the Forth’ Aberfoyle must also be considered amongst the most likely locations for his birth. Aedan was also king of the Gododdin, a people whose adventures are related in the earliest poem to come out of the British Isles and the first historical account to mention King Arthur by name. Considering also that Aedan’s son and heir was Artur MacAedan, some historians have speculated that Aedan is the father of the legendary King Arthur. It is possible then that King Arthur was born in Aberfoyle! However, all of this is speculation. What is more certain is that one of Aedan’s descendants was King Kenneth MacAlpin, who united the Scottish and Pictish kingdoms in 843. In any case, after Aedan’s death Aberfoyle would never again be the seat of a Scottish king.
Another of Aberfoyle’s charming legends takes place in the 17th century. Robert Kirk, born in 1644 the seventh son of the minister of Aberfoyle, was fascinated by magic. Despite following his father in becoming Aberfoyle’s minister (where he distinguished himself by producing the first Gaelic translation of The Psalms), he maintained this fascination: writing The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, published posthumously in 1861. When Reverend Robert Kirk disappeared mysteriously during one of his daily walks, from his manse to the Doon Hill in 1692, it was believed that those magical creatures whose secrets he had betrayed in his book had taken their revenge on him. The solitary pine tree which sits at the top of Doon Hill is said to hold the Reverend’s soul captive.
Despite Aberfoyle’s noble past and strange happenings it was to remain a tiny and fairly insignificant town up until the 19th century. Its fortunes changed almost overnight due to the success of the novels of Sir Walter Scott. In his novel ‘Rob Roy’ Aberfoyle, which the author visited frequently, features prominently. He stayed in Aberfoyle for a time during the first decade of the 1800s, exploring The Trossachs and gaining inspiration for the poem The Lady of the Lake which he wrote in Aberfoyle’s Old Manse House. When it was published in 1810 tourism to the Trossachs skyrocketed. In 1862 a rail link was established with Aberfoyle primarily to cater for the tourist trade.
The enhanced communications helped promote Aberfoyle’s industries. Aberfoyle had been the site of an ironworks from the 1720s and also developed a wool spinning industry. Aberfoyle State Quarry was established in 1858, which quarried slate from the southern slopes of Craig Mhor. With the arrival of the railway the town became the third biggest supplier of slate in Scotland, its heyday arriving when Aberfoyle slate was used for billiard tables on the luxury liner The Queen Mary. Despite this early success, decreased demand for slate eventually led to a downturn in Aberfoyle’s industrial sector. In time the quarries, mills and ironworks were closed. Another blow came in the 1960s when the rail link was abandoned. For the tourist the decline may be an advantage in that there are no signs that there was ever any industry in the area.
The abandonment of the rail link has not stopped people coming to Aberfoyle. On the contrary, if anything they are coming in greater numbers than ever before, although now by road. The result of which is that Aberfoyle has a surprisingly large car park for a town with just 7000 inhabitants. However, one would be mistaken in assuming that all of the townspeople are employed in the tourist sector. Aberfoyle is a convenient place from which to commute to the nearby cities, a great many locals find work in forestry, while the internet allows an increasing number to work from home. Aberfoyle is an attractive location, with more than one might expect from a town its size and more in its surrounds than one would have the right to expect from any town.