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Issue 44 - Stirling, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs – Scotland's heart

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 44
April 2009


This article is 9 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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Stirling, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs – Scotland's heart

Charles Douglas explores Stirling, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. An area with a varied landscape and boundless history.

The recently designated City of Stirling has stood at the heart of central Scotland since a confederation of Pictish tribes amalgamated to fight off the Roman invaders more than a millennium ago. With its medieval castle strategically squatting on the foothills of the Ochils, Stirling has for centuries served as a defensive and trading gateway between Scotland’s lush Lowlands and the unruly, often impenetrable, Highlands.

Although the approach roads from the south, either the M9 from Edinburgh and bi-passing the surreal industrial skyscape of Grangemouth, or the M80 from Glasgow, skirting the 62-year old “New Town” of Cumbernauld, today provide a striking reminder that Scotland is a thrusting, modern nation, the past is inescapable.

Momentous acts of history have been played out both beneath and within the defensive walls of Stirling Castle. King Alexander I of Scotland died here in 1124. It was occupied by the English, reclaimed by the Scots, re-taken again by the English, restored, then re-taken, and so on. At the time of the decisive Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, it was held by the English, but, the battlefield being outside canon range, the castle occupants had a minimal impact on the ensuing drama.

Stand on the Castle Esplanade, however, and gaze across towards the National Wallace Monument on distant Abbey Craig, and time stands still. Completed in 1869, this Victorian Gothic tower commemorates Scotland’s 13th century renegade hero Sir William Wallace, who defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1296. Although the monument was only completed in 1869, it embodies the spirit of Scotland’s independent nature, especially when you discover that among those who contributed towards its funding was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great Italian resistance leader.

Bad things and good things have taken place in Stirling Castle. At a banquet held in 1452, the young James II stabbed to death the equally young 8th Earl of Douglas whom he accused of plotting against him.

Over the ensuing two centuries, both exteriors and interiors were lavishly embellished by James IV and James V. On 29th July 1567, James VI (later James I of England) was crowned King of Scots at the nearby Church of the Holy Rude and thereafter, for his safety, was brought up and educated within the castle confines.

Alas, after his departure to London to become King of England in 1603, the castle was largely abandoned (see p34-37 for more on the castle).

The town, however, owing to its location, continued to prosper and has grown into a modern city with fine arts and leisure provisions, a major university, and superb shopping facilities. At the commercial centre are the Tolbooth Theatre; the Changing Room, a contemporary art space; the Albert Halls, a thriving venue for concerts and conferences, and the Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, a pioneering cultural hub. With its imaginative programme of dance, music and theatre, it comes as no surprise to learn that the MacRobert Arts Centre, on the campus of Stirling University, has gained an international reputation.

From the lower reaches of the River Forth and stretching across central Scotland to encompass the romantic shores of Loch Lomond, the region colloquially known as the Trossachs comprises Stirlingshire, the lower reaches of Perthshire and embraces East Dunbartonshire where it forms the Loch Lomond National Park, an amalgam of scenically breathtaking woodland, rivers and small lochans.

Take the A811 from Stirling towards Drymen, situated on the lower stretches of Loch Lomond, and your journey passes through the pretty villages of Kippen and Buchlyvie. Travel on the A84 towards Port of Menteith and Aberfoyle and you pass Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park located in the grounds of a country estate once owned by a Glasgow tea baron.

This is not exactly where you might have expected to encounter giraffes, zebras and elephants, but it certainly adds to the diversity of the area. Press on, and you reach the docile village of Doune on the River Teith. Here, the imposing fortress of Doune Castle was built in the 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, who effectively ruled Scotland for his brother Robert III. Nearby, is the Deanston Scotch Malt Whisky Distillery.

At Port of Menteith is Scotland’s only lake as opposed to loch. On Inchmahome Island are the ruins of Inchmahome Priory, where the child Mary Queen of Scots, was sent for safety during the period known as the “Rough Wooing” when her uncle Henry VIII of England had determined to marry her off to his son, the future Edward VI. At Aberfoyle, Doon Hill and the Old Kirk will forever be associated with the Reverend Robert Kirk who in 1691 wrote The Secret Commonwealth in which he claimed that fairies genuinely existed on Doon Hill. Certainly, it has a supernatural feel about it and a visit to its wooded summit is highly recommended. Make sure that you look into the Scottish Wool Centre.

Another recommendation is to divert to Loch Katrine and take a cruise on the steamship Sir Walter Scott. Loch Katrine was the inspiration for the great novelist’s 1810 poem Lady of the Lake. It also features in his 1818 novel Rob Roy, based on the renegade cattle smuggler who was born at Glen Gyle on the loch’s western tip. Queen Victoria loved the area so much that she had a house build on its shores, and, in 1859, the loch was enlarged to become the first reliable piped water supply for the city of Glasgow. In its praise the celebrated Dundee poet William McGonagal wrote; And as I gaze upon it, let me pause and think, How many people in Glasgow of its water drink, That’s conveyed to them in pipes from its placid lake, And are glad to get its water their thirst to slake.

Callander is a small Highland town on the A84 and popular for hill walkers, bird watchers, water ski enthusiasts, fishermen and sailors. A charming distraction for children here is the Hamilton Toy Museum which incorporates dolls, model soldiers and model railways. Make sure you stop off at the Kilmahog Woolen Mill and the Scottish Real Ale Shop.

From Callander, the A84 travels north to Strathyre and Lochearnhead, passing the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and cutting through the Strathyre Forest with Ben Vorlich to the east. The village of Balquhidder at the head of Loch Voil (you have to turn off the A84 to the east) is where Rob Roy MacGregor, who died in 1732, is buried with his wife and two sons.

On the south eastern shore of Loch Lomond are the popular sailing resorts of Rowardennan and Balmaha. Inland from here, but only really accessible on foot, is to be found the most spectacular and genuine wilderness countryside with echoes of the ancient clan conflicts between the MacGregors and Colquhouns reverberating through the landscape. In 1603, a battle fought between these two clans at Glen Fruin culminated in the name of Macgregor being banned by Royal command. The Chief and 30 of his followers were caught and executed in Edinburgh, and for 171 years, anyone using the name could be shot without recrimination.

At the southern tip of Loch Lomond, the villages of Balloch and Alexandria have almost merged, and, yet again, this location has become a popular yachting resort. In 2002, the upmarket Loch Lomond Shores complex opened its doors, and a major attraction is the Drumkinnon Tower which incorporates the Loch Lomond Aquarium.

On the western shore of Loch Lomond at Alexandria, is the luxurious De Vere Cameron House Hotel set in a complex of time share homes, a great favourite of the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti when he sang in Glasgow. Further along the A82 at Luss is the exclusive Loch Lomond Golf Club which is housed at Rossdhu, ancestral home of the Colquhouns of Luss.

Be prepared to gasp at the sheer beauty of the towering landscape as you pass beside the Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond, and spare a thought for the condemned Jacobite prisoner in Carlisle Castle whose last defiant gesture was to write one of the most beautiful songs of all time.

Stirling Castle
Formidable fortress dating from
the 15th century, with a long and
dramatic history.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 450 000
Loch Venachar
For fishing, boating and all kinds
of watery activities.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 011
David Marshal Lodge
Visitor Centre
The best place from which to
start exploring Queen Elizabeth
Forest Park. An impressive
building with great views, also
the location of the Go Ape! high
wire adventure course.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 383
Bannockburn Heritage
Learn more about the battle in
this exciting exhibition or take
time to have a coffee and browse
in the gift shop.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 812 664
Stirling Smith Art Gallery &
Featuring exhibitions on natural
history, arts, heritage and culture
within the Stirling area.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 471 917
Stirling Old Town Jail
Find out what life was like in a
Scottish prison 150 years ago.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 450 050
Inchmahome Priory
Lake of Menteith
Remains of an Augustinian Priory
where the child Mary Queen of
Scots was once hidden.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 385 294
Cruise Loch Katrine
Sailing from Trossachs Pier
Summer timetable (one hour
scenic cruise): depart 11.30am.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 332 000
Agaty Red Kites
Near Doune
Central Scotland’s only red
kite feeding station. Enjoy
these beautiful birds of prey at
close quarters.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 841 373
Breadalbane Folklore
Beautifully restored mill with
working water will, giftshop and
historical exhibitions.
Tel: +44 (0)1567 820254
Loch Lomond Shores
A hugely impressive visitors’
centre including an aquarium,
extensive shopping and dining
facilities. A great starting point for
exploring the Loch.
Tel: +44 (0)871 222 6935
Hamilton Toy Collection
A museum of dolls, model
soldiers, tin toys, teddy bears,
Die Cast vehicles, model
railways and more besides.
A place to relive a wealth
of memories.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 004
The Scottish Wool Centre
A four star attraction offering
shopping and displays of
working dogs, sheep shearing
and much more.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382850
The National Wallace
Near Stirling
Explore the life of William Wallace
at this world-famous landmark.
Stunning views from the top.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 472 140
Blair Drummond Safari
& Adventure Park
By Stirling
Wild animals and a great day out
for the entire family.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 841 456
The Old Back Restaurant
Nice coffee shop in the heart of the town.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 651
The Harbour Café
Loch Venachar
Good food and excellent views. Live music
on Thursdays.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 011
The Lade Inn & Restaurant
Á la carte menus, bar meals and an on-site
microbrewery producing some excellent
Scottish ales.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 152
Callander Meadows Restaurant
Local restaurant very highly acclaimed. Also
offers three ensuite rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 181
The Inn & Bistro
A family bar with bistro dining and a
terraced beer garden.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 384 224
Gray’s Restaurant
Good value restaurant offering a kids menu
and traditional Sunday roasts in a
comfortable relaxed atmosphere.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 339 215
Hermann’s Restaurant
Scottish menu with an Austrian twist. Very
close to the castle.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 450 632
Rowardennan Hotel
Loch Lomond
Two bars and an excellent restaurant. Also
offers 13 rooms on a B&B basis. From £85.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 870 273
Lodge on Loch Lomond
Four star family run hotel on the
shores of the loch itself. Award
winning restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)1436 860 201
Loch Lomond
Waterfront Lodges
Eleven luxury self catering lodges
right on the edge of the loch.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 870 144
Ardvorlich House
Comfortable B&B with ensuites
and light, airy sitting rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1301 704 258
Inchmurrin Hotel
The only hotel located on the
islands of the loch. Recently
refurbished, offering a lounge bar,
dining room and self catering.
Tel: +44 (0)1389 850 245
The Inn at Inverbeg
Stylish four star hotel, excellent
whisky bar and restaurant
offering excellent traditional fish
and chips, fresh seafood and
Buccleuch steaks.
Tel: +44 (0)1436 860 678
DeVere Cameron House
Loch Lomond
A five star resort with 96-
bedrooms on the peaceful
southern shores of the loch.
Tel: +44 (0)1389 755 565
The Hungry Monk
Gartocharn Village
Traditional and comfortable three
star hotel with an emphasis on
good food.
Tel: +44 (0)1389 830 448
The Waverley Hotel
Fresh locally sourced food and a
superb collection of whisky and
cask beer.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 245
The Shore House Inn
Comfortable bed & breakfast
accommodation right on the
loch. Prices from £70 per room.
Tel: +44 (0)1301 703 340
Winnock Hotel
Winnocks Merlin Restaurant
offers atmospheric dining with
exposed stonework and original
beams. Or choose Ptarmigan
Bar, a cosy pub and lounge
offering bar meals.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 660 245