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Issue 78 - Loch Lomond and Dunbartonshire

Scotland Magazine Issue 78
December 2014


This article is 3 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 and Dunbartonshire

Local history, where to go, what to do...

With its close proximity to Glasgow, it is inevitable that Loch Lomond and the surrounding wilderness areas of glens, hills, mountains and lochans should have become one of Scotland’s finest open air playgrounds, seasonally supplying a wealth of out-of-doors leisure diversions ranging from hill-walking, cycling, sailing, horse riding and river and loch fishing to mountain climbing.

Situated on the Highland boundary fault above Glasgow, and being the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles, Loch Lomond, next to Loch Ness, is probably Scotland's best known expanse of inland water. And of course, some of its universal popularity must be attributed to the traditional Jacobite ballad of the same name.

However, there are three sides to Loch Lomond that should be explored: the lower southern shore where the road runs between Balloch and Drymen; the lesser known wilderness territories of the eastern shores tracking to Inversnaid and Ben Lomond, and the western banks where cars and caravans race up the lochside toward Arrochar and into Argyll and western Pershire.

Established by the Scottish Government in 2002, the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park encompasses 720 square miles of unrivalled scenery and is divided into four sections: Breadalbane, Loch Lomond, The Trossachs, and Argyll Forest Park. The terraine incorporates 21 Munros (mountains over 3,000 ft) which include Ben Lomond, Ben Lui, Beinn Challuim and Ben Mor, and there are two peaks named Ben Vorlich.

In addition, there are twenty Corbetts (mountains of 2,500 to 3,000 ft in height), the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, stretches from the east shore of Loch Lomond to Strathyre, and the spectacularly scenic Argyll Park.

From the summit of Ben Lomond, on the north eastern shore of the loch, can be seen much of the route of the West Highland Way, the ninety-six mile long footpath that wends from Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, to Balmaha and the forest and village of Rowardennan. Another long-distance footpath, the Rob Roy Way, was opened in 2002, and runs the 92 miles from Drymen to Pitlochry in the north.

At its southern end, Loch Lomond accommodates a handful of small inhabited islands, once integral to the great deer park established in the 14th Century by Robert I - notably Inchmurrin, Inchcailloch, Inchfar and Inchlonaig. From Alexandria, in the Vale of Leven in West Dunbartonshire, the A811 road runs into Scotland's central belt which heads towards Stirling.

At Balloch is the Loch Lomond Shores complex, a substantial and superb visitor centre which incorporates an aquarium, luxury shops and restaurants. Throughout the summer season this is the perfect hub for exploring the surrounding countryside, shopping in the impressive range of upmarket retail spaces, or just sitting in one of the restaurants and drinking in the scenery.

This region was previously part of the district of Lennox, ruled over by the Stewart earls and dukes of Lennox. That particular dynasty came to an end in the 17th Century and their lands were dispersed, mostly passing to a handful of their supporters and retainers in the Dunbartonshire and the surrounding area.

Until the 18th Century, the use of ‘M’ and ‘N’ in the spellings of the town and the county were interchangeable but with the creation of Dunbartonshire County Council under the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1889, the spellings of ‘Dunbartonshire’ for the area, and ‘Dumbarton’ for the town, were officially adopted and more recently recognised by the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1947.

However, in more modern local government times, the county is now divided into two council areas of Scotland: East Dunbartonshire, with its administrative headquarters at Kirkintilloch, and West Dunbartonshire, with its administrative centre at Dumbarton. Kirkintilloch, a former royal burgh in East Dunbartonshire, is on the Forth and Clyde Canal, about eight miles northeast of central Glasgow.

The first known settlement here was of Roman origin, a fort established in the mid-2nd Century, and it was certainly one of the northernmost posts in Roman Britannia.

And to emphasise the point, it was through this village that the Antonine Wall was routed. Not necessarily as defensive as its counterpart, Hadrian's Wall, over the Scottish Border, it continues to this day through the centre of the town, although much of it lies below ground.

A castle was built here by Clan Comyn in the 12th Century and thereafter became an important staging post for traffic travelling east and west and north. During the Wars of Independence, an English garrison was established and commanded by Sir Philip Moubray, later to become Governor of Stirling Castle. Kirkintilloch Castle was unsuccessfully attacked by the Scots in 1306 and later dismantled on the orders of Robert the Bruce.

But it was during Scotland's industrial revolution, that Kirkintilloch once again rose to prominence, notably with the textile industry. By 1790, there were 185 weavers at work in the area.

With the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal through the town in 1773, and the establishment of the railway in 1826, Kirkintilloch developed further as an important transportation hub, inland port, and production centre for iron, coal, nickel, and even small ships.

Recognition of the importance of the town's industrial heritage lives on with its designation as the ‘Canal Capital of Scotland’, and in the redevelopment of the canal and surrounding former industrial sites that have taken place recently.

Ironically, Kirkintilloch was a ‘dry town’ for much of its recent history, with the sale of alcohol on public premises banned from 1923 until 1967. Ironic because it was the birthplace of Jessie ‘Rita’ Cowan, a local doctor's daughter, who in 1920 married Masataka Taketsuru. It was Taketsuru who back in Japan helped to launch Suntory, established the company Nikka, and is credited with being the father of Japan's Whisky Industry.

Founded in the 5th Century, the town of Dumbarton lies on the northern bank of the river Clyde where the river Leven flows into the Clyde Estuary. This was once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde which stretched from Edinburgh in the east and far down the western coastline into Wales. Tucked into the slopes of an outcrop of volcanic rock overlooking the waterfront is therefore Dumbarton Castle, with a recorded history reaching back 1,500 years.

At that time, the hill was known as Alt Clut, ‘Rock of the Clyde’. Later it became known by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’, from which the name Dumbarton is taken, and in the Middle Ages it became the castle and was given royal status.

However, when it was built c.1220, the frontier of colonial Norwegian/Viking power lay less than ten miles away downriver and Dumbarton Castle was inevitably preoccupied with keeping the enemy at bay. The Scandinavian threat finally ended with the Battle of Largs in 1263, but it was soon replaced by the menace of English invasion.

In the centuries that followed, therefore, and as recently as World War II, Dumbarton Rock served as a garrison fortress, defending the Clyde Estuary. It’s time it was considered to be as important a defence fortification as Edinburgh and Stirling.

To the west of Dumbarton lies the Overtoun Estate where a fine mansion house built by the White Family dates back to 1859. The grounds are open to the public and provide a variety of landscapes, from wooded glens and gorges to rolling parkland and exotic gardens, with colourful species collected in the Himalayas. A curious and rather disturbing statistic is that dogs are known to leap to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge with startling regularity.

A popular visitor attraction in the town is the Denny Tank Museum which celebrates the glorious days of Clyde shipbuilding and features examples of Victorian design with a working ship model testing tank. Dumbarton, incidentally, is the production hub of Ballantine's blended Scotch Whisky, today owned by the drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

Along the length of Loch Lomond's western shores is a string of idylically positioned fine baronial mansion houses built in centuries past and now transformed to meet the requirements of the 21st Century.

West of Drymen is Buchanan Castle, the abandoned former seat of Clan Graham and its chiefs, the earls and dukes of Montrose, and this is flanked by the Buchanan Castle Golf Club. Such spectacular locations provide an insight into the Victorian era and reflect the exclusive rural idyll afforded by the wealth generated from Glasgow and the River Clyde at its zenith. Today, that rural idyll is accessible to everyone.

Balloch Castle, early seat of the earls of Lennox was rebuilt in the early 19th Century for a member of the Buchanan family is now sadly derelict but the country park surrounding it, is well worth a visit. Nearby is Cameron House, former home of the Telfer Smollet Family, and today a five star, 128 bedroom resort with four restaurants, an 18 hole Championship golf course, and a luxury resort spa with rooftop infinity pool.

To the north is Arden House, built in 1868 for Sir James Lumsden, Lord Provost of Glasgow, and not long ago divided into residential apartments. Finally, at Luss, there is Rossdhu House, once the family seat of the Colquhoun Clan and now serving as the club house centre of the prestigious Loch Lomond Golf Club.

The Colquhouns have been established in their lands at Luss since 1368, when Sir Robert de Colquhoun married the heiress of the Lord of Luss, and during the minority of James II, Sir John Colquhoun was appointed Governor of Dumbarton Castle.

Alas, the unfortunate Sir John was murdered during a raid on Inchmurrin in 1439, and in subsequent centuries the family feuded with increasingly intense ferocity with their neighbours, who were the Clan Gregor and Clan Macfarlane.

In 1603, the chief of Clan Colquhoun was granted a royal commission to suppress the Clan Gregor and Alasdair MacGregor, the MacGregor Chief, aided by Clan Macfarlane, marched into Colquhoun territory. Four hundred men with 300 horses were assembled and advanced into Glen Fruin to repel the Highland raiders.

It was ultimately a disaster for all concerned and culminated in the Colquhouns being driven into the Moss of Auchingaich where over two hundred of them were killed. Such was the outrage that this caused, that with encouragement from Clan Campbell in the north, James VI and the Scottish Privy Council issued an edict banning the absolute use of the name MacGregor.

Alasdair MacGregor was caught and hanged at Edinburgh's Mercat Cross in 1604, and in the years that followed anyone of the name MacGregor could be aprehended on sight and shot. To avoid arrest, many Clan Gregor followers adopted surnames such as Murray, Graham, Stewart, and Grant and indeed, some even chose Campbell.

The MacGregor surname was not fully restored to legality until 1774. About that time, the Chiefs of Clan Colquhoun and Clan Gregor met with one another to formally shake hands in friendship.

Nowadays, the hills and glens surrounding Loch Lomond on all sides are of a more pleasant and less violent nature than in the first three quarters of the last millennium and you are much more likely to encounter walkers, cyclists and wildlife than murderous clansmen.

Time moves on, but it is hardly surprising that the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, who stayed at Rossdhu in 1773, should have announced that he was “much pleased with the Loch Lomond scene.”

Where to Stay

The Oak Tree Inn
Balmaha G63 OJQ

Wood and stone pub with choice of accommodation. Impressive single malts.
Tel: +44 (0) 1360 870 357

Duck Bay Hotel
Arden G83 8QZ

On the banks of the loch. Great views from the marina restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 751 234

The Lodge on Loch Lomond
Luss G83 8PA

Luxury in a sandy cove. A great hideaway.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 860 201

De Vere Cameron House
Loch Lomond G83 8QZ

Stunning location with championship golf course. Varied accommodation.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 755 565

Rowardennan Hotel
Rowardennan, Stirling G63 0AR

Rooms with beautiful loch views and backdrop of Ben Lomond.
Tel: +44 (0) 1360 870 273

The Inn at Inverbeg
Luss G83 8PD

Traditional charm since 1814.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 860 678

Loch Lomond Arms
Main Road, Luss G84 8NF

A traditional inn in a lovely village. All the comforts.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 439 955

Rosslea Hall Hotel
Ferry Road, Rhu G84 8NF

A Victorian mansion with modern accommodation overlooking Firth of Clyde.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 439 955

The Rhu Inn
49, Gareloch Road, Rhu G84 LA

At the heart of the village of Rhu. Saturday night live music.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 821 048

The Milton Inn
Milton, Dumbarton G82 2TD

Family run inn with comfortable rooms and good food.
Tel: +44 (0) 2389 761 401

Dumbuck House Hotel Glasgow Road,
Dumbarton G82 1EG

A selection of en-suite rooms tailored for comfort
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 734 336

Premier Inn Dumbarton
Lomondgate Drive, Dumbarton G82 2QU

Well situated for exploring the surrounding countryside. Comfortable and reliable.
Tel: +44 (0) 8715 279

Where to Visit

Balloch Castle Country Park
Balloch G83 8LX

Spanning 20 acres, there are impressive views across Loch Lomond. The castle is now derelict.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 752 977

Loch Lomond Cruise
Tarbet G83 7DG

Relax on the water with a family adventure.
Tel: +44 (0) 1301 702 356

Loch Lomond Shores
Ben Lomond Way, Balloch G83 8QL

Multi-faceted leisure complex with shops and restaurants.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 751 035

Loch Lomond Aquarium
Ben Lomond Way, Balloch G83 8QL

Awesome sharks, huge Sting Rays & graceful Turtles.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 721 500

Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre
Ben Lomond Way, Balloch G83 8CL

An opportunity to get close to our wild feathered friends.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 729 239

Ardess Hidden History Trail
Rowardennan G63 OAR

NTS history trail exploring archaeology beneath the bracken.
Tel: +44 (0) 8444 932 217

Auld Kirk Museum
Cowgate, Kirkintilloch G66 1HN

A collection of around 13,000 items including Jessie Rita Cowan's kimono.
Tel: +44 (0) 1415 780 144

The Peel Park
Kirkintilloch G66 1HN

See section of Antonine Wall, the Hudson Fountain and the Perry Bandstand.
Tel: +44 (0) 3001 234 510

Scottish Maritime Museum
Castle St, Dumbarton G82 1QS

Ship model equipment tank as long as a football pitch.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 763 444

Dumbarton Castle
Castle Road, Dumbarton G82 1JU

Open daily. Medieval fortress commanding the Clyde.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 732 167

Geliston Garden
Cardross, Dumbarton G82 5HD

A wealth of horticultural delights.
Tel: +44 (0) 8444 992 219

Overtoun House & Garden
Milton, Dumbarton G82 2SH

Centre for Hope and Hearing with cafe and garden walks.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 742 544

Where to Eat

Dug Cafe and Canine Boutique
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire G83 8QL

Fresh food and dogs welcome.
Tel: +44 (0) 7540 599 886

The Kilted Skirlie Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
Balloch, Dunbartonshire G83 8QP

Wine and dine with views of the southern loch.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 754 759

Cafe Zest at Jenners
Balloch, Dunbartonshire G83 8QL

Loch views and friendly.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 722 200

Cafe on the Loch
Balloch, Dunbartionshire G83 8QL

Home baking, milk shakes and sundaes.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 751 035

Caffe at the Shores
Balloch, Dunbartonshire G83 8QL

Comfy sofas. A place to refuel.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 729 682

Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
Cameron House, Loch Lomond G83 8QZ

Superb French cuisine.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 722 504

Oak Tree Inn
Balmaha G63 OJQ

Restaurant, bar and shop all in one. A lovely retreat.
Tel: +44 (0) 1360 870 357

Inchmurrin Restaurant
Inchmurrin Island, Balmaha G63 OJY

Sumptuous food in a stunning setting. You need a boat to get there.
Tel: +44 (0) 1389 850 245

The Coach House
Church Road, Luss G83 8NN

Home made soups and snacks. A delight.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 860 341

The Village Rest
Luss, Alexandria G83 8NY

Lovely cottage bistro/bar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1463 674 252

The Stables
Glasgow Bridge, Kirkintilloch G66 1RH

Built to serve Forth & Clyde Canal employees. Great food.
Tel: +44 (0) 1417 776 088

River Bank Bar & Restaurant
West Clyde St, Helensburgh G84 8AW

Gastro-style pub with eclectic menu.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 674 252