The recent publication of The Place-Names of Kinross-shire (Shaun Tyas 2017) has served to highlight the fascinating macrotoponomy of the former county of Kinross, an area of Central Scotland surrounded by hills with Loch Leven as its chief water feature. An additional set of names derived from maps and documents held in Kinross (Marshall) Museum, as well as the knowledge of local fishermen, reveal a unique microtoponomy that comprises nearly 100 names relating to areas of the loch and its surrounding shoreline. These names form the subject of this paper.
Extending over 13 km2, Loch Leven is the largest lowland freshwater lake of its kind in Britain. With an average depth of only four metres, it is a nutrient rich loch that for centuries has been noted for its plentiful supplies of fish, most notably its famous Loch Leven brown trout.
In the early 1830s the loch was reduced to three-quarters of its original size when the water level was lowered by 4½ feet as part of a major land reclamation scheme promoted by the Kinross Estate. This scheme resulted in the disappearance of one island – Paddock Bower – which now forms part of the peninsula on the west shoreline known today as the Kirkgate Point. The name Paddock Bower is captured on the 1808 pre-drainage Plan of Loch Leven by the Edinburgh land surveyor John Bell.
For many years Loch Leven was leased to fishermen who set large nets in the loch and pulled in their catch towards the shoreline. This practice is noted as early as 1319 in a document relating to the perambulation of the marches of the lands of Lethangie and a first hand account of the setting of these nets is to be found in Robert S Young’s About Kinross-shire and its Folk (Milne, Tannahill & Methven, Ltd. 1948).
Robert Burns Begg, a grand-nephew of the poet Burns, mentions in his book The Loch Leven Angler (George Barnet 1874) a Sketch of Loch Leven Fishings produced in evidence during a legal case held in Kinross Sheriff Court in which the tacksman of the fishings on Loch Leven made a claim for damage to his fishing as a result of the lowering of the loch. Drawn in 1840 from an earlier, now lost, original survey by Ebenezer Birrell, this plan, for the first time, delineates and names 22 fishing ‘sets’ which include Clay Hill Sett, Powmouth Sett, North and South Weavers Nook Setts, Inch Long Sett, Powmouth Sett, Green Myre Sett, Gairny Mouth Sett and Queichie Mouth Sett. Other names include Vain Fishing (off Vain/Vane Farm), Frazer (off the Kirkgate Park) and Hole (also known as Hole o’ Inch), a deep area of the loch between St Serf’s island, or Inch, and the south-eastern shoreline.
Invaluable sources for additional names are the diaries kept by David Marshall (1831-1902), the last tacksman of the Loch Leven net fishings. Compiled between 1847 and 1862, there are many references in these diaries to fishing sets not recorded on Birrell’s sketch plan. Additional names mentioned include Little Kittle, Old Portmoak, Johnstone, White stane on the Vain, Inch Black and Brown, Gingle Dike (Jingle Dyke) and Jamecky (also Jummocks Deep).
Net fishing on Loch Leven came to an end in 1873 when David Marshall retired and the lease was passed to the Loch Leven Angling Association. Anglers, more interested in drifting across the best fishing sites, rely on both shoreline reference points as a means of navigation and hydronyms that reflect the sub-surface topography.
Reference points range from distinct boundary walls such as the Jingle Dyke and Vain Dyke to individual trees such as the Dudgeon Tree, an alder tree shaped like a dagger that was eventually felled in the 1970s. Although Burns Begg retained most of the ‘set’ names on his anglers map of the loch, the majority of these names disappeared from maps like the popular Angling Map of Loch Leven, produced for many years by William Robertson and James Harris. In their place, amongst 62 names, there appear topographical hydronyms such as The Shallows (on the east side of the loch), The Hems (loch side boundary of The Shallows marked by buoys) North, Mid and South Deeps (glacial kettle holes), Horn Bank (shallow area NW of St Serf’s Island), Horse Shoe (cut into The Shallows between East Buoy and east shoreline) and Black and Brown (water colour change indicating transition to exceedingly shallow fringe adjacent to peaty east shore).
While some names such as Carden Point, a promontory on the south shore, are to be found on almost all maps dating back to Blaeu (1654), new names frequently appear. For example, the name Johnstone mentioned in Marshall’s diary refers to a fishing area off the south-east shore of the loch where the farm of Johnstown, later renamed Levenmouth, was created in the 1830s following the lowering of Loch Leven. Harry’s Pier on the edge of the Kirkgate Park, one of 60 names to be found on a 2013 on-line anglers map dates from 1965 when the pier was built to transport summer tourists to Castle Island. The first ferryman was Harry Hoy.
The hydronyms and shoreline toponyms of Loch Leven, most of which are sourced from 19th and 20th century maps and documents, have been created and kept very much alive by the fishing community right up to the present day. Willie Wilson, who has managed the Loch Leven Fisheries since 1962, is an invaluable source on the origins of names which are still used daily during the summer fishing season both as an aid to navigating the loch and to recording the locations where fish are caught. A favourite drift, when the wind is from the west, takes fishermen across the Thrapple Hole, a bay just south of the mouth of the South Queich. This name, according to Willie Wilson, is derived from various bits of anatomy that were said to have floated into the loch from an abbatoir at the foot of Kinross.
While some names, like the Dudgeon Tree, no longer survive, both old names and names coined more recently are in common usage. The end result is a unique and very dynamic corpus of names kept alive by those who fish the waters of this lowland Scottish loch today.