One of the finest walks in the Lothians is by the side of Glencorse reservoir in the Pentland hills. The reservoir was built in 1822 to supply water to the city of Edinburgh. How many people know that beneath the reservoir are the remains of lost chapel of St Katherine’s-in-the-Hopes?
There are references to St Katherine’s chapel in thirteenth-century documents and it seems to have had some connection with Holyrood abbey inEdinburgh. There’s also a more fanciful story that it was built in the fourteenth-century by Sir William St Clair who had prayed to St Katherine to help him win a hunting wager with the king.
But who was St Katherine? The likeliest candidate is St Catherine ofAlexandria, famously martyred on a fiery wheel. At nearby Liberton, there was once a chapel dedicated to St Catherine and a famous holy well where the water had drops of oil in it.
St Katherine’s-in-the-Hopes is situated at the northern end of Glencorse reservoir, close to the Kirk burn and Kirkton farm. ‘Hopes’ is a Scots word meaning ‘a partly-hidden upland valley, often narrow and twisting’.
The remains of the chapel have long been submerged underneath the reservoir but periodically they re-emerge during an extended period of dry weather.
The Black Collection, which is held by Midlothian Council archives, contains several reports about the remains of St Katherine’s becoming visible in 1898, 1901 and 1915. The site became a popular tourist attraction and many people took the walk from Edinburgh to have a look at the ruins.
At this time, only the foundations of the chapel and a few small walls remained. The chapel measured approximately 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. The walls were built of local stone in rubble work. The outlines of the chapel grounds were also clear.
Interestingly, two ancient tombstones were still visible at this time. One was very large and had the date ’1623′ and some figures carved on it as well as the text ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth’, which is taken from the Book of Revelations. In 1898, it was reported that the tombstone was broken in places and some thoughtless people had chipped pieces off as souvenirs.
Some reports also state that there was another stone to the memory of James Glendinning and erected in 1666. It seems likely that some Covenanters would have been buried in the churchyard. On28 November 1666, there was a battle at nearby Rullion Green between the Covenanters and Royalist forces in which the former were routed and many Covenanters were killed.
Another report states that a local farmer used stones from the ruins of the chapel to repair dykes and walls in nearby fields. Supposedly, an urn containing several gold coins was discovered below the site of the altar, but where it is now is anybody’s guess.
The ruins of the chapel also became visible during a dry spell in the 1930s. Photographs suggest that by this time it was little more than a pile of stones.
The chapel and its tombstones still lie beneath its watery grave. Who knows when it will resurface again?