Kenmore. Lying on green knolls where the broad smooth Tay issues from its great loch, under the long wooded hog's-back of Drummond Hill, the white houses, white hotel and kirk of Kenmore, all tastefully grouped around a wide 'place' amid ancient trees, seem to speak of settled peace and serenity--by no means the normal impression of this challenging, vehement if beautiful land. Charm, a much misused word, is one that might decently be applied here. The village of Kenmore might appear to have been dropped down here as from some altogether different, softer and non-Highland ambience.
Yet Kenmore's history and background conflicts notably with this aura of peace. And always has done. It could hardly be otherwise, with the principal seat of the great and turbulent house of Campbell of Glenorchy, later Earls of Breadalbane, close by. And long before the Campbells came, in the 5th century, the area had been prominent. For, off the north shore of the loch near by is the tiny wooded islet of Eilean nan Bannoamh, the Isle of the Female Saints. Here died Queen Sybilla, daughter of Henry I of England and wife of Alexander I of Scotland, in ii 22. In memoriam, Alexander founded a nunnery thereon, which became famous. Only once a year its nuns were allowed to emerge from the isle's seclusion, oddly enough to attend one of the six annual fairs which kept Kenmore in a stir. One wonders who got most out of this recurrent liberty? But sanctity did not save the Priory at the Reformation. Campbell fortified it as another of his many castles; it was besieged by Montrose; and later held by General Monk.
With Taymouth Castle so near it would hardly have been thought worth Campbell's while. This enormous blue-stone pile, now government property and standing in its vast policies, after being put to a number of uses, dates only from the early 9th century, succeeding a much less grandiose but authentic 16th century fortalice called the Castle of Balloch. To consider it now is as good as a sermon on the vanity of human ambitions This was the vaunted nerve-centre of one of the greatest feudal empires in the land. From Taymouth, the later Earls of Breadalbane ruled over a single estate of 437,696 acres, as much as the three Lothians put together, a property 00 miles long. Today all is dispersed. Presumably, however grand, successive Earls failed to take after the first of them, Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy (1635--1716), the doubtful Jacobite, described as 'grave as a Spaniard, cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, and slippery as an eel'. The building is at present used as a co-ed school for the children of Americans in Europe.
It was the 3rd Earl who built the handsome bridge over Tay in 1774, with the equivocal inscription proclaiming the great generosity of King George who subscribed a large sum towards the cost out of the fortified Jacobite estates. It was the view from this bridge which inspired Robert Burns to write his poem, in pencil, on the chimney-piece of the Kenmore Inn, now the Hotel, part of which runs:
The Tay meand'ring sweet in infant pride,
the palace rising on its verdant side,
The lawns wood-fring'd in Nature's native task,
the hillocks dropt in Nature's careless haste,
The arches striding o'er the newborn stream,
the village glist'ning in the noontide beam
Some have hailed this as the Bard's best exercise in English heroics. I wonder?
The church on its green hillock is attractive, and dates from 1760 --the work of the same well-doing 3rd Earl, replacing one of 1579. The kirkyard here used to be part of the green and market-place, the previous burial-ground being about a mile away to the northeast, at the pre-Reformation church site of Inchadney.
Much, much older than all this, even than the English princess's death on the islet, is the very fine stone circle at Croftmoraig, on the Aberfeldy road 3 miles to the east, one of the most complete groups of standing-stones.