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Up the Doon Hill

A circular walk in the footsteps of Robert Kirk, the minister who believed in fairies.

Distance 2 miles (3.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 220ft (67m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Roads, forest roads and well-surfaced footpaths

Landscape Pastures, hills and woods

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 365 The Trossachs

Start/finish NS 521009

Dog friendliness Suitable for dogs

Parking Car park in Aberfoyle next to tourist office

Public toilets Beside tourist office next to car park

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1 From the west end of the car park exit on to Manse Road and turn left. Immediately cross a narrow bridge over the River Forth and continue along the road to the cemetery. Enter through a pair of ornate metal gates and cross over to the remains of the church.

2 From here return to the main gate, leave the churchyard and turn left to continue along Manse Road. Go past some houses and pick up the signs pointing to Fairy Hill. Continue along the forest road and don't be surprised if you come across people with teams of huskies and sleds in winter. As you continue through a gate you will see a sign explaining that this is a Husky Training Route. Near the top of the hill there's a sign pointing to the left and the Doon Hill Fairy Trail Circular Walk.

3 Follow the steps of the minister to Doon Hill by turning left on to a well-surfaced gravel footpath. Follow it uphill, through the trees and up several sets of steps. Eventually reach the summit of the hill, which is covered in trees.

4 As you walk around the top of the hill, you will see coloured cloths, scarves, hats and other objects on the branches of the trees. These are offerings to the fairies from visitors. Some messages are attached, mostly asking the fairies to help them.

5 Returning from the summit, take the opposite path from the one you came up. But look back as you leave at the tallest and most prominent tree on the hill. That's where the Revd Kirk is supposed to be incarcerated. Leave the hill and follow the path downhill to rejoin the forest road and turn right. Retrace your steps back to the car park.

By modern standards the Revd Kirk would be regarded as barking mad but in the 17th century a belief in fairies was not considered strange, even in the local minister. It was the Revd Kirk's daily practice to walk to the top of Doon Hill, known as the fairy knoll and, according to tradition, the home of fairies. The Revd Kirk, himself, was the seventh son of the minister of Aberfoyle, something in itself believed to endow a person with magical powers like the second sight.

Up on Doon Hill the Revd Kirk studied the fairy people and found out all about their habits, homes, superstitions, work and food. He talked to anyone who claimed to have met the fairies. When he had collected enough information he wrote a book about them called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. It was written in 1691, eventually published in 1815 and is still being studied by folklorists today.

Legend has it that this telling of tales incurred the wrath of the fairy folk, who were displeased by the fact that mortals could now find out all about them. They spirited the minister away and imprisoned him for eternity on Doon Hill. In reality he died of a heart attack in 1692, on the summit of the hill. He was buried in his own churchyard but again tradition has it that the fairies substituted a changeling for the burial and that the Revd Kirk is imprisoned in a tree on the hill.

Walk round to the rear of the remains of the church and look for a carving with what looks like a dagger crossed with a hook. Decide for yourself whether this marks the burial place of the Revd Kirk or whether, as any local will tell you, he is elsewhere.

Back at the church entrance, you'll see two heavy iron objects, shaped like coffins, standing on either side of the doorway. These are mort safes and if you try to lift them you will find them almost impossible to move. They were placed over the coffins of the newly deceased and kept there until the bodies were judged as being decomposed. This was for fear of raids by grave robbers. It was at a time when medical science was advancing and anatomists in the great medical schools of Edinburgh and Glasgow needed a constant supply of fresh cadavers. They were prepared to pay handsomely with no questions asked. The grave robbers were called Burkers after the notorious Burke and Hare, the Edinburgh grave robbers and murderers of the early 19th century.

Where to eat and drink

The Forth Inn near the car park, offers a full menu and specials in the restaurant.. Delicious home-made soups are served with fresh crusty bread. In good weather you can enjoy your meal outside at the picnic tables.

What to look for

Look out on Manse Road for a large oak tree, called the poker tree. This refers to a story in Scott's Rob Roy where Baillie Nicol Jarvie enters an Aberfoyle inn in defiance of warning to keep out. A fight ensues with the inhabitants and the Baillie, finding his sword rusted in the scabbard, grabs a red hot poker from the fire and uses it, setting a Highlander on fire.

While you're there

Take the ferry from Port of Menteith and visit Inchmahome, the largest of three islands on Lake of Mentieth. It contains the ruins of the 13th-century priory used by Mary, Queen of Scots to hide from the English in 1547. A walk around the island take about half an hour.

Glasgow

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