Marloe Watch Company’s first home in Scotland was perfectly adequate. It was positioned beside the River Tay, overlooking the sand flats at the river’s edge upon which an occasional heron would stand, as still as a statue, just waiting to spot a tasty treat.
Oystercatchers and the occasional curlew, bringing much excitement, used our roof as a perch, pip pipping their thoughts into the carpark before lifting off and wheeling in the skies above the river. In the middle of the river towered the wooded hillside of Moncreiffe Island. It would have been quite a lovely scene, were it not for the fact that it was situated slap bang in the middle of an industrial estate, next to a large waste disposal tip which gave the air its signature tang. As a base, it sufficed; Gordon spent an extremely busy year alone there, working tirelessly through the pandemic, while he and Oliver made plans for a more permanent - and more fitting - home for Marloe Watch Company.
After many months of planning meetings, site visits, and building anticipation, on September 20th 2021 we moved into our new office, on Orwell Farm on the banks of Loch Leven, Kinross. What used to be a cattle milking shed, just a stone shell and a mass of rubble when we first saw it, was slowly transformed with exceptional skill by Studio LBA, who have managed the project from start to finish, and who we now are honoured to have as neighbours and friends. The Orwell Farm creative hub will play host to numerous creatives and small businesses, offering flexible working space in stunning open countryside; and there’s not the merest whiff of tip air - in fact, it’s some of the finest air that one could hope to breathe. From our windows we can watch the golden sun, stormy grey skies, mists and rainbows adorn Bishop’s Hill. Across the road are the Orwell standing stones; mysterious stones dating from 2000 BC, marking a burial site. Standing casually in a field, there’s not a single piece of signage or ceremony about them; but they’re an extraordinary thing to see on the daily commute. Our HQ is a very special building, on a very special site, and it feels like home.
Just a short walk away are the shores of the stunning Loch Leven, which has Loch Leven Castle as its centrepiece; the very place where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and from where she famously escaped with the assistance of her jailer and his family. This renowned nature reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife, including red squirrels, roe deer, white-tailed eagles, rare whooper swans and a huge population of pink-footed geese whose distinctive cries and v-formations fill the skies above Kinross and the surrounding areas. In the winter, thick ice forms along the outer contours of the Loch, and snow more often than not blankets the hills and woodland around its borders. In the summer, swimmers, boaters and fishermen make ample use of the Loch’s waters - algae allowing, as unfortunately, the Loch isn’t immune to the country’s rising temperatures and toxic algae blooms are becoming more frequent and copious with every year that passes. Regardless, it’s an idyllic place to be; the sunrises over the Loch, with the distinctive swoop of Bishop’s Hill in the background and the wake-up songs of the geese echoing in the still air, are a sight to behold. You may, in fact, unknowingly possess a map of the area; our latest shipping box design features the contours of this very site.
Our closest neighbour, aside from the other residents of the Orwell Farm hub, is Loch Leven’s Larder. It’s a sprawling farm shop, cafe, bakery, play park, base for beautiful walks and all-round gem. ‘The Larder’ as the locals fondly refer to it is situated in the heart of a family-owned vegetable farm, and it’s probably the most family-friendly place in the entirety of Kinross; there’s space to roam, delicious foods for every taste and requirement, and a true farm-to-fork ethos which assures that every visit is supporting local businesses while ensuring you’re consuming the most fresh, local, seasonal and natural produce possible. It’s a must-visit if you’re ever in the area - the perfect place for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea once you’ve stopped in to see us here at our HQ. They also have an impressive selection of booze, which doesn’t go unappreciated here at Marloe.
Just 5 minutes along the road is Kinross town itself. It’s just off the motorway, but feels worlds apart. Built around its charming, partially cobbled high street, the town is now as sprawling as any commuter town; varied modern housing developments spring up at regular intervals around tiny historic winding lanes.
Houses are seemingly built one on top of the other, cobbled streets abrim with mysterious little doors and colourful floral window boxes leading to unexpected courtyards and sudden open green spaces. The high street is remarkably well-occupied, despite the existence of a large Sainsburys just a 2-minute drive away; an independent butcher, fish shop and corner shop enjoy steady trade, which is an increasingly rare sight on British shores. The small but perfectly formed Long Spoon Larder offers a delectable range of local produce, freshly baked treats and seasonal delicacies, and just across the road is a charming shop named Skeins and Bobbins, selling everything that a knitter could ever dream of. Next door is probably the narrowest building in Perthshire (a fact which I am making up, but of which I feel fairly confident) The Dog House - a pet shop which wouldn’t look out of place on Diagon Alley - and it is stacked wall to wall with everything that man’s best friend could want, and then some.
For those of us who require caffeine to function, Kinross plays host to a few renowned spots where you can get a cup of the good stuff. Perhaps the most highly regarded is Unorthodox Roasters; the product of a 10-month expedition of all the major coffee-producing countries in South and Central America. It’s a highly regarded roastery with its own little shop for merch and all the equipment you’ll need to recreate their famous cupfuls at home - and the smell it lends to the high street is heavenly. Just across the road is No 98, home to Scotland’s Best Toasties - again, I’m making that up, but I welcome hearing of any challengers who might change my mind. For meat and dairy eaters there’s grilled brisket and black garlic grilled cheese, or cheese, honey and thyme on home-made bread, along with gluten-free and vegan options.
Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself here, sampling all the delectable things you can consume down that end of Kinross, you may need a beverage to compliment the experience; so head uphill, enjoying the walk along the high street until you come across what used to be a small public toilet. Bear with me. Loch Leven Brewery, who now occupy this ex-lavatory space, are among the smallest breweries in Scotland but produce four beers to rival the biggest in terms of quality. With every beer being both vegan and gluten free, it’s a beer-for-all kind of place and in my humble opinion, their IPA is particularly good. Once suitably imbibed, you can step outside the brewery right onto the golf course, or onto one of the many trails around the Loch and surrounding woods to continue your perambulation.
If beer isn’t your thing and you’re more of a spirits person, you are in for a treat. Lindores Abbey Distillery is the spiritual home of whisky, owing to the earliest written reference to that amber nectar being written about the Abbey itself. In 1494, the Exchequer Roll records “To Friar John Cor, 8 bolls of Malt, wherewith to make Aqua Vitae for King James IV”. ‘8 Bolls’ of whisky amounts to around 500kg in modern terms; that’s about 400 bottles, or enough to keep our own Mr Gordon Fraser going for a couple of years. The Abbey itself is steeped in history - from the knights of Robert the Bruce gathering there to vow to protect their warrior King, to William Wallace himself staying within its walls - but it was 523 years from that first record of whisky-making until the copper stills at Lindores Abbey gurgled back into life. The first single malt was released in 2021, made with barley grown in the surrounding fields which would have once been part of the Abbey grounds; a young, sustainability-focused whisky, with ancient history and a particular favourite of many whisky enthusiasts with whom we keep company. It’s the perfect, fresh approach to centuries of learning the fine art of distilling whisky, the balanced fusion of old and new. Lindores Abbey - now existing as a stunningly well renovated site - offer distillery tours and tastings, and given that they’re only a 20-minute drive away from our HQ, it would be rude not to pop in for a true taste of Scotland, should you be in the area.
If history is your thing, the intrigue of this patch doesn’t start and end with the castle, or the Abbey nor the standing stones. For a small area, Kinross is incredibly rich in history, myth and legend. Even seemingly innocuous features are often remarkable; such as the Lecker Stane. This large slab of stone, situated at the side of the road just a couple of minutes drive outside of Kinross on the B918 road to Carnbo, is set upon some smaller rocks to form a sort of crude table. Back in the day, when somebody from the rural areas surrounding Kinross died, it was necessary for their families to carry them, and their coffin, along the road into Kinross itself to hold a funeral and burial. It could be a long and weary walk, and thus it became tradition - and necessary - to stop, to lay the deceased person upon the Lecker Stane, and to take a rest or have somebody else take over the carrying duties. Because it was ‘back in the day’, and because we are Scottish, it was also customary to seize every single opportunity to have a drink of liquor; and thus, the Liquor Stone - or Lecker Stane, in the local tongue - was christened.
There’s another famous stane locally; the Bunnet Stane. A bunnet is a Scots hat; flat, wide and brimless, so it’s not hard to see why the Bunnet Stane is named thus. This remarkable, mushroom-like formation is due to natural weathering of the exposed outcrop of calciferous sandstone. It’s around ten by twenty feet across, teetering on the thin stalk of rock beneath it in an almost cartoonish manner. Below the Bunnet Stane is a small man-made cave which wouldn’t look out of place in Hobbiton, named the Maiden’s Bower. Local legend tells that a young maiden fell in love with a young man from a rival family. The forbidden lovers carved out the small room beneath the Bunnet Stane, up on the wild, windy, rocky hillside so that they could be alone, and they met there every night. But one day, the maiden’s father’s men ambushed her young lover as he made his way up to the cave, and they murdered him. Heartbroken, the maiden vowed never to leave their special spot again, and spent the rest of her days there, mourning and crying out for her lost love. When the wind howls and shrieks across the hillside, it’s quite easy to let the mind wander and to start hearing things.
Since we are talking of anguished women on Kinross hillsides, it would be rude of me not to mention perhaps the most infamous of them all; Carlin Maggie. The name might ring a bell, as Gordon placed a small reminder - or warning - of her presence on our shipping box. On Bishop Hill, the iconic vista which provides the backdrop for our HQ, there is a strange rocky outcrop on the west-facing slope. It’s a 10 metre high pillar of dark grey rock which looks like several boulders of decreasing diameter placed carefully one on top of the other. A Carlin is a lowland Scots word for a hag or witch, and Carlin Maggie was as witchy as they come; she lived on the hillside with her daughter, reportedly consorting with warlocks and faeries and all the magical folk who were rumoured to have inhabited the shores of the loch and the surrounding hills. Greatly feared, she was renowned for conspiring with the worst of the worst; the devil himself. Determined to prove how fearsome she was, Maggie challenged the devil one fateful night on the Wind and Weather Line; the wild brow of Bishop’s Hill, where howling winds which are scooped and swept up the hillside meet the mists, and where it’s nigh on impossible to stand, most times of the year. In a show of strength, Carlin Maggie summoned up fearsome lightning, cracking the night sky wide open, while screaming gales whipped up the waters of Loch Leven and the residents of Kinross cowered in their houses below. Maggie’s daughter clung to her skirts, watching this epic battle of force and power; and once it was over, for a moment, all was quiet and calm. Carlin Maggie, thrilled at apparently beating the devil, cackled with delight; but then, from the skies above, came tumbling huge black boulder after huge black boulder. Unable to stop the devil’s onslaught of rock from the sky, Maggie was entombed in a pile of boulders, and the devil vowed that there she would stay, until wind and weather freed her. And there, indeed, Carlin Maggie did stay; until one fateful and unnerving night in the 1980s when an icy frost paired with a prolonged, bitterly cold winter caused her head to fall off; the topmost boulder coming free and tumbling into the quarry below. Soon after, and from that day on, there have been numerous reports of a headless woman roaming the hillside and the quarry; the ghost of Carlin Maggie had been freed. Maggie’s daughter remains in the rubble around her mother’s stony prison, awaiting her own release, while her mother searches not just for her beloved child but for her own head - and for revenge. It’s only a matter of time before Warner Brothers decides to make a horror film out of this tale, and it’s one which is liable to strike a little chill into the heart of even the most scientifically-minded of locals when on that darkening hillside, in the shadow of Carlin Maggie.
If you prefer your history with a little less hear-say and a lot more historical accuracy, or if you’re into your winter sports, Loch Leven holds the title of home of the oldest curling club in the world. There is a tiny island on the loch named St Serfs Inch, and on this island are the remains of an old stone priory, one of the oldest Christian sites in Scotland. Built in 838, St Serf’s priory was home to a community of Augustinian monks, and in the cold, long winters, when the loch froze over, they would play games skimming large stones over the ice. It became a continued tradition, with more rules and ways of playing added each year, crafting the rocks into smooth polished stones until their pastime had evolved into the sport we know today. To this day there is a thriving and successful curling club in Kinross; although sadly now the members can very rarely can play outdoors, let alone on the loch itself, due to global warming - the ice is rarely thick enough to hold anyone’s weight any more.
Our local patch isn’t untouched by the pressures of the modern world, but it is a special place. I have barely touched on the many facets of this little town which make it so special; it’s a glorious mish mash of nature, history, people and place, and it’s our home. I hope that, should we be lucky enough to welcome you to our HQ at some point, you will leave enough time to do a spot of exploring. The poet Michael Bruce, a Kinross native born in 1746, wrote the following poem centuries ago, but despite the ever-expanding urbanisation of the area, despite the climate changing, despite us humans making our marks, good and bad, on this little patch, it could have been written today. Kinross truly has a timeless charm, and we hope to see you here soon.
Thine, gentle Leven! Green on either hand
Thy meadows spread, unbroken of the plough,
With beauty all their own. Thy fields rejoice
With all the riches of the golden year.
Fat on the plain, and mountain’s sunny side,
Large droves on oven, and the fleecy flocks,
Feed undisturbed, and fill the echoing air
With music, grateful to the master’s ear.
The trav’ller stops, and gazes round and round,
O’er all the scenes that animate his heart
With mirth and music. Ev’n the mendicant,
Bowbent with age, that on the old gray stone
Sole sitting, suns him in the public way,
Feels his heart leap, and to himself he sings.