Up the Doon Hill

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

NEAREST LOCATION

Aberfoyle

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

2 miles (3.2kms)

ASCENT
220ft (67m)
TIME
2hrs 30min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Medium
STARTING POINT
NN521009

About the walk

By modern standards the Reverend Robert Kirk would be regarded as absolutely barking mad but in the 17th century a belief in fairies was not considered strange, even when held by the local minister. It was  Kirk’s daily practice to walk to the top of Doon Hill, known locally 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 and that was something believed to endow a person with certain magical powers like the second sight.

The minister made a detailed study of fairy people and found out  about their habits, homes, superstitions, work and food. He also talked to anyone who claimed they had met fairies. When he had collected enough information he wrote a book about them called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. He wrote it in 1691 but it was not published until 1815 and continues to be studied by folklorists to this day. But legend has it that this telling of tales incurred the wrath of the fairy folk, who were displeased by the fact that mere mortals could now find out all about them. By way of revenge they spirited the minister away and imprisoned him for eternity on Doon Hill.

It’s a lovely wee story but the truth is that he died of a heart attack in 1692 and was buried in his own churchyard. Here again though legend kicks in and it is said that the fairies substituted a changeling for the burial and imprisoned the Revd Kirk in a tree on the hill. In the churchyard there are a set of heavy iron mort safes standing on either side of the ruined church door. These date from a later period when grave robbers would dig up newly deceased bodies and sell them to the great medical schools in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The went by the name of Burkers after the notorious Edinburgh grave robbers Burke and Hare who were active in the early 19th century. By placing the heavy safes on top of the coffin the robbers were prevented from gaining access. The safes were removed after the corpse had had sufficient time to decompose to a point where it was of no use to the scientists.

 

Walk directions

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

Walk from the door to the rear of the church and look for a carving with what looks like a dagger crossed with a hook. This marks the burial place of the Revd Robert Kirk, one of Kirkton’s ministers. Return from here to the main gate leave the churchyard and turn left to continue along Manse Road.

Go past some houses and pick up signs pointing to Fairy Hill. Continue along a forest road and don’t be surprised to meet teams of huskies pulling sledges. There’s a sign explaining that this is a Husky Training Route.

Near the top of the hill look for a sign pointing left to the Doon Hill Fairy Trail and Circular Walk. Follow the minister's footsteps by turning left onto a well-surfaced gravel footpath. Follow this uphill through the trees and up several sets of steps to eventually reach the tree-covered summit.

Walk around the top of the hill and look at the pieces of coloured cloth, scarves, hats and other objects attached to the branches of the trees. These are offerings to the fairies from visitors. Some have messages attached, mostly asking the fairies to use their magic powers to help make various wishes come true.

Return to the summit and take path opposite to the one you came up on. This is marked by a green waymarker. As you leave, look back at the most prominent tree, for that’s the one in which the Revd Kirk is allegedly incarcerated. Follow the path downhill, turn right onto a track marked by a green waymarker then turn right onto the forest road and head back to the start of the walk.

Additional information

Roads, forest roads and well-surfaced footpaths

Pastures, hills and woods

Suitable for dogs

OS Explorer 365 The Trossachs

Car park in Aberfoyle next to tourist office

Beside tourist office next to car park

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