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Issue 32 - The car's the star (Trossachs)

Scotland Magazine Issue 32
April 2007


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The car's the star (Trossachs)

Join Jeremy Head for a tour of the Trossachs at the wheel of a classic British motor car

There is something about the light among the lochs and glens of the Trossachs. Under the partially cloudy skies of spring, the muted greens, browns and blues burst into life as a shaft of sunlight hits them. Ancient lochs are a mirror-flat sheen of gun-metal grey; the heather and firs on the hillsides a range of purples, browns and greens that Dulux would kill for.

When the Scottish Parliament decided to create National Parks in Scotland, it was no surprise that the first one should be designated here. Yet too often visitors head straight for the more well-known Highlands and miss out on this beautiful hinterland, a short drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh.

This is not to say that the Trossachs do not get their share of tourists. Sir Walter Scott set his famous books Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy here, and in summer finding accommodation can be a challenge. So the spring is a great time to visit. The days are getting longer, the colours brighter; but for now the roads are quiet and the bed & breakfasts have vacancies. And why not supercharge your stay a little?

How about seeing the lochs and glens from behind the wheel of a classic British motorcar? The hills here are not as steep as in the Highlands. The roads have more space and are perfect for putting pedal to metal and feeling that old V8 roar.

Aberfoyle is a good first port of call if you have driven your Aston, Jag or Morgan up fromEdinburgh or Glasgow. There is a useful tourist information centre stacked with helpful staff and lots of maps and guides.

They can also find you somewhere to stay if you have not booked ahead. Once you have got a bed sorted, jump back behind the wheel and take a leisurely purr along lochs and round winding lanes towards Loch Ard.

While it is great to be motoring, this area is also full of fantastic walks. If you fancy stretching the legs a little go for a walk towards Ben Venue from Kinlochard on the shores of the loch. It is a long tramp to the top – too far for a stroll – but the footpath starts gently through centuries-old oak forests, bubbling brooks and tinkering waterfalls.

The views back to Loch Ard get better as you climb. The tiny teashop at Kinlochard has the best name in Scotland – how could anyone not stop to sup a cuppa and munch a scone at the Wee Blether Tea Shop?

From Aberfoyle you can take the scenic road on towards Callander. It climbs steeply out of town and winds its way across high moorland, fantastic for changing up and down the gears. You can swap car for boat if you take the fork up to Loch Katrine. The lovely old steam ship Sir Walter Scott has been puffing its way serenely across the loch for over a century. You can just enjoy the gentle rhythm of the steam engine and the glassy views of red-brown heather and dark green firs reflected in the pure waters or else hire a bike before you board and hop off at Stronachlachar.

From here you can cycle back around the lake. It is a 14-mile ride which takes two or three hours and the path is well maintained.

If the weather is good it is a delightfully scenic pedal.

Back behind the wheel of your great dame and onwards towards Callander, the road runs through delightfully named Brig o’Turk. Here you can wander trails through Glen Finglas’ ancient royal hunting forests or stop off at the Byre Inn, a perfect pub for a pint in front of the fire. The town of Callander itself has lots of options for accommodation and several snug pubs for a pint before bedtime.

This part of Scotland is Rob Roy country.

His ancient clan, the MacGregors used to rally at a viewpoint above Loch Voil an hour or so further north.

From here it is a bracing drive from Callander, with some nice straights where you can put your foot down and hear the old cylinders rumble and roar. The road follows the course of Loch Lubnaig, affording great views of shiny waters and dappled trees.

The road out towards Balquhidder is more winding and you will have to take your foot off the gas, but the views and the isolation are fantastic. You will find the tombstone of the legendary outlaw himself in the ancient church yard at Balquhidder. His wife is buried alongside. From behind the church, marked tracks lead off up the hill. There is a noticeboard with details of the trails; none are particularly taxing.

Twenty minutes along fir-lined tracks brings you to the viewpoint at Creag An Tuirc. This is where Roy’s clan would meet to plot their next move away from the gaze of the authorities. Creag An Tuirc means Boar’s Rock and it became the clan’s fearsome rallying cry. The views across Loch Voil are truely spectacular. From the viewpoint, you can return the way you came or, for a longer stroll, continue up the rough track across a small bridge over a gurgling stream and back down the other side.

It is worth walking to work up an appetite too, as at the far end of Loch Voil, another six miles down the winding lane, is a boutique hotel, Monachyle Mhor. It has 11 stylish designer rooms in a converted old farmhouse, complete with flat screen televisions and log-burning stoves. But it is the food here that people really rave about.

Owner and chef Tom Lewis serves up a fantastic fresh gourmet experience in the cosy restaurant. The taster menu is particularly good. All produce is locally sourced and many of the herbs and vegetables come from the farmhouse’s own garden. They can even offer a personal guide if you go for a wander. Midnight, the farm’s friendly black Labrador, makes the perfect walking companion.

Alas, the time will come when you will have to return your trusty stead to its rightful owner. The only thing quintessentially Scottish that is missing in the Trossachs is a whisky distillery. But do not despair. There is one almost on the way back to Glasgow or Edinburgh, so drop in for a dram (just the one mind). The Glengoyne Distillery is a half hour south of Loch Lomond, and it is one of Scotland’s most beautiful. It has been producing its award-winning smooth single malts since 1833. The informative half hour tour includes a free dram. With the boot full of bottles for all the gang back home , you can set your wheels finally for home.

Useful Info
Getting there: Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are served by direct flights from most UK cities and from New York, Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia in the United States

Getting Around:

McKinlay Kidd, tel: +44 (0)8707 606 027 offers a range of carefully maintained classic cars for hire.
Organised touring breaks with accommodation are also available

Staying there:
Monachyle Mhor, tel: +44 (0)1877 384 622 Rooms from £95 per night including breakfast.
Dinner from £44 per person.
Brook Linn Country House is a friendly B&B with lovely views in Callande, tel: +44 (0)1877 330 103

Useful websites:
Trossachs National Park
Driving itinerary for The Trossachs highlights/tour6.htm
Glengoyne distillery

Further info:
Tourist information centres at Aberfoyle, tel: +44 (0)1877 382 352 and Callander, tel: +44 (0)1877 330 342).
The VisitScotland website is also packed with useful information