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(Issue 351, April 2008)    Article: Felicity Martin

Work on building phase 3 of the trail, along the east side of the loch between the Pow Burn and Levenmouth Wood, began last month with cutting back brushwood along the line of the path. This was done before birds started nesting to minimise disturbance to wildlife.

While the final section of path is being laid, work is continuing apace on the interpretation aspects of the trail, which have included the installation of carved handrails on the Levenmouth Bridge.

Levenmouth Bridge
If you haven´t yet visited this part of the trail, it is worth going down to Findatie and taking the bridge across the cut into Levenmouth Wood, where spring flowers are now appearing. As you cross the bridge, you will see words that encapsulate the story of the River Leven Cut. A team of three artists created the handrails that bear this text.

Creative writer Michael Glen wrote the words. His six phrases concentrate on key points of Loch Leven’s history: the lowering of the loch, which created more arable land; the replacement of the river by the digging of the cut that then served mills downstream; and – most recently – the construction of the bridge.

Calligrapher Susie Leiper was asked to design lettering for the bridge that would be appropriate to the messages conveyed and the bridge´s setting in the environment. She produced letterforms based on those by Ralph Beyer, an architectural letterer who worked on cathedrals, churches, universities and public buildings, including Coventry Cathedral, in the latter half of the 20th century.

Lower case lettering is combined with very blocky, visually intriguing letters that highlight the "title" of each phrase. There is a lovely repetition of names associated with Leven – bridge, cut, loch etc. – and the contrasting upper case letterform highlights these names.

Michael and Susie´s ideas were turned into concrete form by carver Roger Hall, who painstakingly hand carved the lettering into each of the oak handrails.

The Watchtower
The original plan for the Loch Leven Heritage Project included the renovation of the Washhouse beside the Well at Scotlandwell. However, as well as being costly and at some distance from the trail, this has proved unsuitable because no purpose could be agreed for the restored building. Instead the focus has turned to the Watchtower at the extreme east end of Kirkgate Park.

TRACKS asked Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) to look at the Watchtower and the feasibility of improving it and its environment. The building, which is owned by Perth & Kinross Council, is a listed building although its origins are rather a mystery.

The Watchtower is popularly believed to have been constructed as a building to house a watchman guarding fresh burials in the adjacent graveyard. However, since it bears the inscription "Erected AD MDCCCLII" (1852) this seems unlikely as the grim trade of the Resurrectionists – who stole bodies for medical dissection – effectively stopped some twenty years before this date with the passing of the Anatomy Act.

An 1827 survey by Alexander Martin and Ebenezer Birrell that is reproduced in David Munro´s book "Loch Leven and the River Leven – A Landscape Transformed" (1994) shows a small structure on the edge of the "burying ground" in the position of the Watchtower. So was the original building replaced in 1852 by a folly – a higher tower designed to be a feature in the landscape?

More recently, before Historic Scotland moved the ferry embarkation point from Kirkgate Park to the Pier, the Watchtower was used as a waiting room for visitors to Loch Leven Castle.

PKHT have suggested a number of measures that would significantly enhance the important medieval graveyard, Kirkgate Park and the Heritage Trail. These included removing the sea of tarmac that leads up to it, so that only a small area of parking is left at that end of the park. Other improvements outlined involved work to walls, railings, gates and fences, and the installation of interpretative signs to outline the historical and cultural heritage, which includes the Bruce Mausoleum in the graveyard.

It is envisaged that The Friends of Kirkgate Park would hold the key to the Watchtower. If a small flagpole were installed on the roof, they would be able to signal when the upper room, which has splendid views over the loch, is open to visitors. A further touch could add to the spirit of the place. That is the installation of a solar powered, time-clocked lamp to burn at night in the upper room – it would be seen as a tiny glimmering light on the peninsula.

TRACKS are discussing these proposals from PKHT with several stakeholders: The Friends of Kirkgate Park, Kinross Estates Company, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and Perth & Kinross Council. The project team hope to agree details so that the work can be done this year while the trail is being finished.

If you have information or suggestions about the Watchtower, or can shed light on its background history, please contact Andrew Driver at PKHT: email ACDriver@pkc.gov.uk or telephone 01738 477082.

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