IF you’re looking for a stunning loch steeped in Scottish history, there’s no need to go all the way to the Highlands.

Loch Leven, just 40 minutes from Edinburgh and an hour from Glasgow, has wonderful walks, wildlife and fishing, not to mention a castle on an island that features prominently in the life of our most famous – and romantic – monarch.

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle in 1567, escaping a year later. These days folk go there by choice, to soak up the beauty of the loch and its tranquil surroundings.

They also visit Kinross, of course, the handsome and charming county town that sits on its banks.

Historical highlights

Capital of the old county of Kinross-shire, Kinross means “head of the point”. This relates to the site of the town’s first church, built in 1246, although the Picts had a fortress on Castle Island as far back as the fifth century.

The sheriffdom of Kinross-shire was created in the 13th century when the neighbouring parishes of Kinross and Orwell were taken out of Fife and brought together. Kinross became a burgh in the 1540s and retained its town council until 1975.

The still magnificent Kinross House, set in extensive and beautiful parkland and gardens, was built by Sir William Bruce in the 1690s, the first major house in Scotland not built as a castle.

Kinross grew as a staging post en-route to Perth, and has a proud industrial history that covers weaving, cutlery and shoemaking. By the 1980s and 90s the town was internationally renowned for its cashmere.

In the 1980s Kinross was also known for its legendary Sunday market, which attracted shoppers from all over Scotland. I have fond memories of mid-1980s trips to the market, and memorable purchases including an A-Team jogging suit and a polka-dot pink beanbag.

The T in the Park music festival was held in Balado, just outside the town, from 1996 until 2014, bringing tens of thousands of revellers and an annual economic boost.

What to do

Start your visit on the High Street, admiring the attractive eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture along the way.

The old town hall and library were recently converted into homes after having lain empty for some time. The clock tower is still a useful timekeeper, while the Cross Well Fountain is another local landmark.

A farmer’s market takes place on the High Street from April to October on the fourth Saturday of the month, bringing together produce from the fertile fields all around.

Those wishing to try their hand with curling stones and brushes should seek out Kinross Curling Rink, just off the High Street, home to 35 curling clubs, including the world's oldest, which goes back to 1667.

The Parish Church in Station Road was built in 1832, and cost £1,537. It was designed in the perpendicular Gothic style so popular with the Church of Scotland in the early 19th century and is still a working church, open to the public most days.

Kinross House, now a wedding, spa and events venue, can be glimpsed through its elaborate gates on Kirkgate.

The town’s main park is also accessed at Kirkgate and well worth a visit. As well as a great children’s play area and plenty of picnic tables, there’s a fantastic network of paths, some of which join the Loch Leven Heritage Trail.

The 12-mile trail is one of the loveliest and most accessible paths in central Scotland, taking in shoreline, woodland and marshland with magnificent views, plenty of picnic stops and a couple of nice cafes along the way. It’s gorgeous at any time of year, including in winter.

From April until October, a boat from Kinross Pier sails you in 10 minutes to Castle Island, where you can explore Mary’s prison and learn more about her dramatic escape, which happened with the help of her gaoler’s family. The castle was also the venue for one of her meetings with John Knox. Back at the pier, the dog-friendly Boathouse restaurant serves a tasty brunch and lunch.

Nearby you’ll find the RSPB Nature Reserve, the perfect place to spot birdlife all year round. Look out for the ospreys in summer and pink-footed geese in autumn. Recent winter spots include curlews, egrets, swans and just about every variety of tit you can imagine.

Says Jim McDade: "I often take the grandchildren to the reserve for a day out and they never tire of the place. So much to do and see."

Where to eat

Is there a better cup of coffee to be found anywhere in central Scotland than Unorthodox Roasters on the High Street? Possibly not. The owners spent a year learning their trade in Latin America, and it shows. A café and roaster in one, complete with its own Brew Bar, this place is a mecca for coffee aficionados. It also serves delicious sandwiches on sourdough toast – the grilled cheese and onion is moreish. The pancakes and ice-cream aren’t half bad, either.

Also on the High Street, the friendly Courthouse Bar and Restaurant serves great food all day and well into the night. The meat and cheese sharing platter is generous and tasty, and the wood-fired pizzas are excellent.

Susan Brown has been going to Le Jardin for more than 20 years. “Love this place. The soup is always tasty but my lunchtime fave is the bubbling hot macaroni cheese, followed by a piece of millionaire’s shortbread. There’s a full children’s menu, too. Always busy, particularly at weekends, so you might want to book ahead."

If it’s afternoon tea you’re after, you can’t beat Loch Leven’s Larder at Channel Farm, round the loch towards Kinnesswood. Sandwiches, scones and cakes to die for, not to mention delicious home-made sausage rolls – £25 for two people is a bargain. You’ll love the adjoining food hall and deli, too, which has a wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables, cheeses and chocolates, many from local producers.

For an evening treat head to the Grouse and Claret, a restaurant with rooms on the edge of the loch, with views to the Lomond and Ochil Hills. Cullen skink followed by grouse with black pudding mash makes for a memorable weekend dinner.

If you’d rather eat on the move, Central Fish and Chips on the High Street offers a tasty fish supper. Wash it down with a craft beer from nearby Loch Leven Brewery, on The Muirs, which has a tap room and shop selling local gin as well as beer.

Where to stay

Hole in one: Once an 18th century coaching inn, the Green Hotel is an institution round these parts. As well as two golf courses, there are gardens galore. From £62 a night.

Cosy: The Burnbank B&B offers imaginatively decorated rooms and a tasty breakfast. From £75 per room.

Home from home: The architect-designed Wee Bothy is an elegant, comfortable and well-equipped self-catering property with French windows out to a decked area with seating. Go to Airbnb for details.

What to do nearby

On your way to Loch Leven’s Larder, pull in and stop off at the Orwell Standing Stones, which sit serenely in a field that is easy to access in winter. A great spot to admire the Lomond Hills, too.

Ten-minutes’ drive from Kinross is the pretty village of Scotlandwell, where you’ll find the Holy Well that gives the place its name. Thought to be in use since the Roman times, the site was taken over by friars in the 13th century, becoming a hospital and pilgrimage for the sick, the most famous patient being Robert the Bruce, who sought a cure for his leprosy. The nearby Well Country Inn serves excellent food.

Do you have a suggestion for an Insider Guide? Email your recommendations for things to do and places to eat to marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk.