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Doon Hill and Robert Kirk

Doon Hill and the Old Kirk in Aberfoyle, will forever be associated with the Reverend Robert Kirk, who wrote the Secret Commonwealth in 1691. The book is an essay on the nature and social structure of supernatural beings or fairies. Robert was a seventh son, said to have been gifted with second sight. In tradition he did not die but entered into the fairy realm through the local fairy hill.

The first stop on the so-called 'Fairy Trail' from Aberfoyle is the ruined church (Kirk) where Robert Kirk spent his final years as minister. The church is now roofless and serves as an open-air mausoleum. It was rescued from total dereliction in the 19th century. Outside the old entrance to the church are two large mortuary weights, used to stop thieves from making off with freshly interred bodies to sell to medical science. Around the Southeast side of the church is memorial to Robert Kirk, which dates from 1793, over a hundred years after his death. In tradition his spirit is said to be imprisoned in a pine on the nearby fairy hill, in other tales he passed bodily into the fair realm, his body replaced with a changeling or stock.

According to the mix of legend and fact, Robert used to walk up Doon hill every day for exercise. On the 14th May 1692 he set of for his daily stroll but collapsed and died on the hill, his body being discovered later. The Reverend Patrick Graham, one of Kirk's successors in the early 19th century outlined what happened next. Apparently Kirk appeared to one of his family after his funeral and told him to go to his cousin, Graham of Duchray, and tell him that he was not dead. He had actually fallen in a swoon on the hill and been carried away to fairyland. His release could be obtained at the baptism of his posthumous child. He predicted that he would appear in the room at the baptism, and that Duchray should throw a knife over his apparition to release him from captivity. At the appointed time Robert Kirk appeared as predicted, but his cousin failed to throw the knife, either in terror or surprise, and Kirk left through another door. To this day he is said to be in the fairy realm, although others have suggested that he is now a mediator between the two worlds.

From the church a path leads to Doon Hill, where the reverend walked every day, the hill has a strange atmosphere and parts of it look man made, or at least man moulded.

Indeed there has been some suggestion that the hill once served as a fort during the Iron Age, although it has never been excavated. The walk up the steep path, through the twisted trees leads to a small clearing with a large ancient pine tree in the centre. The tree is known as the 'Ministers Pine', visible from miles around with its darker foliage, the tree is said to house Robert Kirk's spirit. The surrounding trees are festooned with pieces of brightly coloured material with votive messages. This stems from an old custom, were rags would be left to rot at holy places in the hope of cures, and as offerings to the local spirits. A similar practice is carried out at the Cloutie Well on Culloden Moor.

Directions: The Old Kirk is reached by crossing the Bridge over the river Forth from Aberfoyle car park. Doon Hill is reached by following the road further to a forestry track to Gartmore, which is marked as the Fairy Trail.

Image Copyright: 
Daniel Parkinson
Daniel Parkinson

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