“Near the western extremity of the lake, on the left of the road, appears the neat little Gothic structure of the Trossachs Church, recently erected, and a little westward on the right we reach the magnificent Trossachs Hotel.... This inn was erected two years since by Lord and Lady Willoughby d’ Eresby.”
Both were completed during 1849 and still stand among the scenes of grandeur which inspired their erection. The little church unchanged, the inn much extended and now called Tigh Mor Trossachs. Tour buses and countless cars have replaced the coaches and horses of the writer's era. Their occupants could still record the same view of the church on the knoll beside Loch Achray. That Lady Willoughby d’Eresby, who selected the site, considered it “the loveliest spot in rural Scotland in a magnificent setting of mountain, loch, forest and meadow.“ One hundred and fifty years later, few would disagree with her.
Trossachs Kirk was opened for worship on the 14th of October 1849, by the Very Reverend Dr Simpson, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The people of the glen and their visitors had at last a comfortable place of worship after the passing of around thirteen centuries. Achray is believed to be derived from old Gaelic, meaning the field of devotion, a place of worship in the open air. Kessog, a Celtic saint or missionary preacher is reputed to be one who brought the Faith to this land during the sixth century. A knoll bearing his name, by the River Teith at Callander, became the site of the early parish kirk, centuries before the town was built.
Old records tell of an ongoing tradition of clergymen preaching in the open air at different places in the Trossachs and of one basic building in the earlier part of the 19th century. “There is a preaching station or chapel, but Painting of Trossachs Church it is in very bad repair, capable of containing about 200 persons, at Bridge of Turk, about seven miles from the parish church, where the minister is in the habit of preaching about five times in the year.... He is also in the habit of preaching twice in the year, in the open air, at Lorachan, about 14 miles from the parish church.... The minister thinks it would be very desirable were a mission or church established somewhere in that remote district of the parish.”
Some years later, on the 24th of August 1847, a petition was presented to the Presbytery by the people, with the parish minister’s full approval, requesting a church. It was warmly received and remitted to the appropriate department in Edinburgh. The next step was to approach the landowner for a site and possible support.
For centuries, both Callander and the Trossachs area had been part of the vast estate of the Drummond Earls of Perth. Very positive people, they had a long tradition of improvement around Callander. The last of the line, Lady Clementina Sarah Drummond, by marriage Lady Willoughby d’Eresby, was a generous benefactor to all worthy causes in the area. Her reply to the proposed new church could not have been more positive. Her secretary wrote from Brighton on the 13th April 1848.
“I have great pleasure in informing you that Lord Willoughby and myself will contribute fifteen pounds a year towards the maintenance of a missionary in the following proportions, Lord Willoughby five and myself ten. It affords me great satisfaction to accede to the application for a site for the intended Chapel of Ease to the Established Church of Scotland in the parish of Callander, which Mr Kennedy will select when he goes to Scotland. Towards the expense of building the chapel and small dwelling house, Lord Willoughby will subscribe ten pounds myself thirty-five. The place for the chapel will be fee gratis.” The help of the Drummond Estate was to go much further in contributing to the project which paralleled their own one of building the Trossachs Hotel. The factor was an especially able one, Lewis Kennedy, who was a professional landscaper. His son and successor, G P Kennedy, was an architect. Their influence is to be seen in the great garden at Drummond Castle. Father and son, factor and architect, have also left their mark in the Trossachs.
Travellers to the Trossachs continued to increase. Some stayed to sketch the scenery of Scott’s epic poem. One such was Sir John Everett Millais during 1853. Providentially he attended Church and sketched the service in progress. The pews faced the opposite of the present. A precentor led the praise. Millais also recorded his visits in writing. “How well I remember our going to the little Kirk, arrayed as well-turned-out Highland men. The service was to us somewhat comical, and we could hardly stay it out. The precentor was a little very bow-legged old man, with the wheeziest of voices, and sang the first line of the ‘paraphrase‘ alone, whilst his little shaggy terrier, the image of his master, joined in the piteous howl. The other lines were sung by the congregation assisted by a few collies. I afterwards tackled the little precentor, and asked him why he didn't have an organ. ‘Ah, man, would you have us take to the devil’s band?’ was his answer.”
Collies still come at times today but are left in the cars. To his horror, the wee precentor would find an organ played professionally. The devil would be driven to distraction by the melodies which precede the actual advent of worship. He has lost many good tunes.
Twenty-two years after Millais met the wee precentor, a harmonium was installed. On April 30th 1893, an American organ was ‘inaugurated’. The substantial contemporary cost of £63 was raised by public subscription. That day there was also ‘inaugurated’ the great stained glass window on the east wall. Two years later the pews were reversed and the pulpit and communion table resited. The cost of the window and the reversal was met by the Dunsmures. They were the first of many who gave generously to beautify the sanctuary.
Trossachs Kirk, with its own pastors, remained under the minister of Callander Parish until 1866. From then until 1954, it was independent. With the retiral of the Reverend Martin MacRae, the fate of congregation and building was in doubt. One of the Callander clergymen offered to add it to his charge. The Reverend Malcolm MacCorquodale’s generous act set a pattern carried on by all who joy to hear prayer, preaching, and praise in this beautiful building set in such a lovely landscape. People of many branches of the Christian Faith come from near and far to be married within its wall. In 1985 Trossachs Chuch became part of the congregation of Callander Kirk and its future as a significant place of worship is assured.