The village of Milnathort can be found a mile north of its larger neighbour Kinross and not far from the north-western corner of Loch Leven. There was a time when Milnathort stood at the crossroads of the road between Edinburgh (via the ferry) and Perth and the main road between Stirling and St Andrews. This all changed with the building of the M90, which bypassed Milnathort and Kinross in 1972. The motorway effectively took all through traffic out of the village, leaving it the highly attractive (and still fairly busy) place you find today.
One result of its bypassing is that it is no longer necessary for anyone to visit Milnathort who doesn't actually want to. Yet the village provides a fascinating diversion that proves that Scotland can, sometimes, do "pretty": while if you have the time, following the line of the old road through the Ochil Hills north of Milnathort is a much more pleasant alternative to the motorway.
Milnathort has a long history. There are standing stones in the surrounding landscape dating back as far as the stone age, while others reflect the rather more recent Pictish heritage of the area. Half a mile east of Milnathort is Burleigh Castle, whose origins date back to 1446.
There are a number of burns in the area and it seems that by 1600s several water powered mills had been established in what at the time seems to have been know as Mills of Forth. Hand weaving was also taking place on a large scale. By the mid 1800s the village was being referred to as Milnathort and was home to some 1,300 people working in a number of textile mills, a brewery and a distillery. By then Milnathort also had a gas supply and was an established stop on the main coaching route north.
The town hall whose tower dominates the centre of the village was built in 1855, and the railway arrived in 1858. A number of steam powered mills were built in the 1860s. The railway had closed by the end of the 1960s, and the motorway arrived a few years later.
Today's Milnathort amply repays exploration. Both the main through roads and quiet back streets are attractive. The focal point is the Town Hall tower, while nearby are a number of inns and hotels: though when we visited the old Royal Hotel stood empty. Those with an eye for detail will love Back Loan. Here one pair of terraced houses offer three widely separate lintel dates, of 1698, 1730 and 1892. As the houses were obviously built at the same time, we assume the lintel dates, each flanked by initials, reflect the dates of marriages of owners of the property, rather than building dates.
Milnathort received unwanted publicity in 2006 when the Back Burn, which flows through it, burst its banks after heavy rain and flooded the village. A major flood prevention scheme was put in place, but this proved unequal to the task and there has been more flooding since. Further measures are being put in place to prevent future flooding.
There are a number of theories about the origin of the name of Milnathort. The name first appears to have been used in that exact form in the early 1800s. The most straightforward explanation is that it was a simple corruption of Mills of Forth, which found use on some early maps: though this is complicated by our being unable to find any trace of the "Forth Burn", which the name is said to come from, on any map. It is also complicated by a reference in a charter dated 1411 to the Eapi de Elnathorte, which is usually translated as the "Stone of Milnathort" and seems to refer to a boundary stone found in the area. This would suggest Mills of Forth might itself be a corruption of Elnathorte, whose origins remain unresolved.