Loch Katrine has long been recognized as a romantic locality; indeed, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, it was arguably the most romantic locality of them all. The story of its evolution as a premier tourist attraction describes a major cultural transition in the sorts of pleasures open to the contemporary traveller. From being viewed at the end of the eighteenth century increasingly in visual and generic terms, as a romantic landscape which conveniently melded the sublime, the beautiful and the picturesque, Loch Katrine came by the second decade of the nineteenth century to function as a quintessential romantic locality, charged with specific, unique and local meaning. By the middle of the twentieth century, this meaning had decayed and the area was rapidly dwindling back into landscape, perceived as merely a rather pretty, rather out-of-the-way place.
These successive transformations were bound up with the critical and commercial fortunes of Sir Walter Scott's narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. The publishing sensation of 1810, it grew into a Victorian popular classic, before becoming increasingly unreadable and unread, whether by general readers or scholars, from about the mid-twentieth century. Its six cantos were prefaced with a brief ‘Argument’ stating that ‘The scene of the following poem is laid chiefly in the vicinity of Loch Katrine, in the Western Highlands of Perthshire’ which fixed the name of the remote lake that had previously been known variously as Ketturan, Ketterin, Cateran, Catheine, Catharine and Catherine, and, in providing what amounted to a basic map-reference for an ‘enchanted land’, inaugurated an unprecedented tourist-boom.