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Issue 55 - Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

Scotland Magazine Issue 55
February 2011

 

This article is 6 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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Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

Your guide to what to see and do, and where to stay, in this majestic region

Eight years have passed since the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was created (www.lochlomond-trossachs.org).

Encompassing some of the most ravishing and romantic scenery that Scotland has on offer, it provides a wealth of diversion for walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers and campers.

The Trossachs and Breadalbane regions of the National Park are also widely recognised for their great golfing opportunities, with courses at Callander, Aberfoyle, St Fillans and Killin.

Situated above Glasgow, the western flank of the National Park embraces the great sweep of Loch Lomond, occupying 27.45 square miles and the second largest freshwater lake (after Loch Ness) in mainland Britain.

During the summer months, it becomes a maelstrom of sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, waterskiing and fishing activity.

It is sometimes said that the main glory of Loch Lomond can be measured in inches, because the word “inch” is incorporated into the names of its larger islands – Inchmurrin, Inchcailloch, Inchfar and Inchlonaig. The loch’s western shore was part of the hunting grounds of King Robert I, whose latter years were passed at Cardross, just over the hill on the banks of the River Clyde. Deer parks were established by him at Inchmurrin and Inchcailloch, and he ensured that Scottish archers of the future would always be able to manufacture bows by extensive yew tree planting on Inchlonaig.

Through its location, Loch Lomond forms the natural passageway of water from the western Highlands, and Ben Lomond marks the most southerly of the Scottish Munro peaks. It is always a conundrum that such spectacular and unspoiled scenery should exist at such a short distance from the bustling and constantly expanding city of Glasgow.

But then it has afforded Scotland’s largest city a wonderful wilderness playground which is virtually on its doorstep.

Of the powerful clans that once dominated this region, only the Colquhouns remain, their territory extending west to the shores of Loch Long and the Gare Loch. Gifted their lands by Humphrey de Kilpatrick, Earl of Lennox, in the reign of Alexander II, they over the ensuing centuries loyally supported both Robert the Bruce and the Stewart dynasty, but remained continually at odds with their neighbours, the Macfarlanes of Arrochar, and Clan Buchanan on the eastern shore of the loch.

To the north, Clan Gregor was being persecuted by the Campbells and forced into cattle raiding in order to survive.

In 1603, the MacGregors attacked the Colquhoun at the Battle of Glenfinlas. The skirmish resulted in sixty Colquhoun widows petitioning James IV at Stirling with sixty bloodstained shirts. In retaliation, the King sanctioned the Battle of Glenfruin, the Glen of Sorrow, which culminated in a further two hundred Colqhouns being killed. Outraged, James then outlawed Clan Gregor and hanged the Chief with eleven of his principal clansmen. This Act of Outlawry, which made it illegal to carry the name of MacGregor, was reversed by Charles II in 1663, later reimposed by William of Orange, and then finally repealed in 1775.

Several great mansions still dominate the western shore of the loch, notably the Grade-A listed Balloch Castle, early seat of the earls of Lennox, which has a visitor centre; Buchanan Castle Golf and Club House at Drymen, also an ancestral seat of the earls of Lennox, but latterly occupied by the Grahams of Montrose; Cameron House, a luxury five star resort with time share lodges; Arden House, the home of a Victorian Lord Provost of Glasgow and now divided into residential apartments, and the ancestral Colquhoun estate of Rossdhu, which has been transformed into a world famous golfing resort.

Approaching the top of Ben Lomond, to the north and on the opposite shore of the loch, it is possible to trace much of the route of the ninety six mile path of the West Highland Way, from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow, to the Loch Lomond shore at Balmaha. This traverses the land below the Campsie Fells to the south to reach Conic Hill, from where it follows the ridge of Loch Lomond before heading to the north.

The stretch from Rowardennan encroaching upon Queen Elizabeth Forest Park to the head of Loch Lomond is best in May before the bracken gets too high and the midges arrive in their millions. Late September and October can also be recommended for the red colours of the bracken and golden bronze of the oak trees.

From Alexandria, where there is a motor museum and the familyowned Loch Lomond Distillery, the A811travels east through the pretty villages of Gartocharn, Drymen, leading to Buchlyvie, Kippen and Gargunnock. In 1891, a local man, Duncan Buchanan, planted a vineyard at Kippen with one of the vines covering 5,000 square yards becoming the largest ever recorded.

It became a famous tourist attraction, but unfortunately closed in 1964.

Take the A81 north and it leads to Aberfoyle, the A821 through the Achray Forest, and continues east to Port of Menteith and Thornill. At Aberfoyle, a major visitor attraction is Doon Hill and the Fairy Knowe.

In the late 17th century, the Reverend Robert Kirk became Minister of Aberfoyle Kirk.

Distinguished for translating the Psalms into Gaelic, he also penned a book entitled The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Every day he would set off for a stroll on to Doon Hill, and one day in 1692, he did not return. Nobody knows what became of him, but a pine tree which still stands on Doon Hill is said to contain his trapped spirit. Believers in the Small People are invited to leave modest offerings for the invisible inhabitants of the surrounding woods.

Eminently suggestive of mystical folklore, the beautiful territory that lies between Ben A’an to the north, and Ben Benue, to the south, with Loch Katrine to the west and Loch Achray to the east, is generically referred to as the genuine Trossachs, before taking in a far wider area of wooded glens and scenic hills to the east of Ben Lomond. It was in the the early nineteenth century that the verses and novels of Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy, launched the Trossachs as a fashionable Victorian tourist attraction. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin and the pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais followed, spending a memorable summer together at Glenfinlas.

Every winter, Scotland’s curlers wait in excited anticipation to see if the Lake of Menteith will freeze over to a depth of seven inches, which would allow them to participate in a Bon Spiel, or Grand Match, an outdoor curling tournament such as the one that last took place here in 1979. Sadly, the match planned for 2010 was cancelled on health and safety grounds.

The Lake of Menteith is not the only stretch of water in Scotland to be known as a lake instead of loch, but the story goes that it was so designated in the thirteenth century after the betrayal of Sir William Wallace to the English by its owner Sir John Menteith.

At Doune are the remains of Doune Castle which were built in the fourteenth century for Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany.

Regent of Scotland and brother of the Wolf of Badenoch. The town was once famous for the manufacture of pistols. Allegedly it was a pistol forged in Doune that fired the first shot of the American War of Independence.

From Doune, it is worth making a diversion to the Deanston Distillery which is located on the nearby River Teith. Originally built as a cotton mill in 1785, it was converted as recently as 1960 and is today owned by the distillery company Burn Stewart Distillers.

Follow the A84, and it takes you to Callander which serves as a north eastern gateway to the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The Rob Roy Centre, housed in the former St Kessoc’s Kirk, serves as a visitor information office for the area and sits on the Trossachs Birds of Prey Trail. Be sure to look in on the two excellent woollen mills which sit just west of Callander at Kilmahog. The Scottish Real Ale Shop, which stocks bottled Scotch beers, is another inviting prospect.

After Callander, turn off the A84 and onto the A821 which leads to the celebrated Loch Katrine, made internationally famous by Sir Walter Scott in his poem The Lady of the Lake, and his novel, Rob Roy.

Here, glorious scenery entraps the imagination on all sides.

A dam and aqueducts were built at the eastern end in 1859 to provide a main water supply for Glasgow, and “Royal Cottage”, was built overlooking the loch as a holiday home for Queen Victoria. However, it was never used by the Queen and became accommodation for Scottish Water’s employees instead.

Nevertheless, such was the publicity generated, that a steamer service was launched for visitors. Its successor, the SS Walter Scott, continues to provide loch cruises to this day (www.lochkatrine.com), and there can be no finer finale to a visit to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.