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Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Published
February 17, 2023
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AFTER visiting the Outer Hebrides, I caught the ferry back to Skye, where I had parked my car, and drove to a town called Inveruglas on the banks of Loch Lomond.

Inveruglas, in the low sunshine

Loch Lomond is more than 30 km long and is the largest lake in Great Britain by surface area. It is really beautiful: narrow, and steep-sided in the north and with many islands toward the southern end, which is wider and lies in gentler terrain.

A broken tree on the banks of Loch Lomond

There’s a good view of Loch Lomond from the top of a mountain called Ben Lomond.

Loch Lomond from Ben Lomond, looking toward the southern end of the lake. Photograph by Colin, 17 August 2015, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A mountain in Aotearoa New Zealand that yields a similar view over Lake Wakatipu is also named Ben Lomond. For a Kiwi, it’s fascinating to learn where names like that come from!

The southern end of the lake is only a short distance from Glasgow and is held to lie in the Lowlands, the traditional term for the gentler and more densely populated part of Scotland.

Loch Lomond, identified by an orange pin. Map data ©2023 Google, north at top.

The steep and narrow northern part of the lake is held to be in the Highlands: the more romantic part of Scotland. Thus, by heading up Loch Lomond from the south you enter the Highlands.

A closer view of Loch Lomond. Map data ©2023 Google, north at top.

Loch Lomond is also at the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The Trossachs are mountains to the east of Loch Lomond, long popular with hikers. To the west of Loch Lomond, the national park includes most of the great Argyll Forest.

The official website of the national park is lochlomond-trossachs.org.

North of Loch Lomond, two Highland valleys called the Glen Falloch and the Strath Fillan meet at a historic crossroads town called Crianlarich.

Crianlarich Information Sign

Glen means a narrow valley, and Strath a wider one. The two valleys are each named after their respective rivers, the Falloch and the Fillan.

The Fillan Railway Viaduct, in the Strath Fillan near Crianlarich

Here’s a video I made of the banks of Loch Lomond in the perfect early morning, and then of the Strath Fillan, followed by a return to Loch Lomond and a complaint about rubbish!

Lots of people have heard the sentimental song ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’, with its chorus,

O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

The low road means a journey through the spirit world, much as in the Māori legend by which the spirits travel north via Cape Rēinga to Hawaiki. In the same way, a Highlander who has died in England — in the original, a rebel executed by the English— has his spirit race north, leaving his true love to trudge home more slowly.

The area around Loch Lomond, even as far as Crianlarich, has been visited by tourists for hundreds of years as it is not all that far from Glasgow. But it really took off as a tourist destination after the railways were extended to this part of Scotland in the 1870s.

Some more information about the history of Crianlarich

Crianlarich Railway Station today

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs remain among Scotland’s main tourist destinations to this day. There are lots of campgrounds and also many hotels, some of which were built in Victorian times such as the Tarbet Hotel, first built in 1850 and then upgraded in 1880.

The Crianlarich Hotel

Another picturesque inn in the area

The Tarbet Hotel, Tarbet, which looks very Victorian indeed

The main road in the area, from Old Kilpatrick on the outskirts of Glasgow through Balloch and up the west side of Loch Lomond via Tarbet and Inveruglas to Crianlarich and then northwestward to Fort William, is called the A82.

At Inveruglas, I camped in an award-winning campsite between the A82 and Loch Lomond, the Loch Lomond Holiday Park.

Another campsite that caught my eye was the Beinglas Farm Campsite, at the foot of a hill closer to Crianlarich and accessible from the A82 via what the British call a weak bridge, 3 tons max, over the Falloch.

Beinglas Farm Campsite

Inveruglas is on the Three Lochs Way, one of several major hiking trails in the area. It runs between Loch Lomond and the two seawater lochs to its west, Loch Long and Gare Loch. The others include:

· The John Muir Way, a Lowlands, coast-to-coast route named after the famous Scottish conservationist John Muir, who is actually best known for championing the wild nature of California, creating Yosemite National Park, and founding the Sierra Club. This trail, the longest in the region at 134 miles, runs through Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond.

· The West Highland Way, perhaps the most famous of these routes, but also fairly rugged in its northern parts. Its southern section runs up the eastern side of Loch Lomond, and it passes through Crianlarich.

· The Loch Lomond and Cowal Way, which runs westward into the Argyll Forest from Inveruglas.

Some mobile apps are under development for the Three Lochs Way, so that is worth keeping an eye out for on the website.

There are several marinas on Loch Lomond, from Ardlui at the northern end to Balloch at the southern end, and you can do loch cruises if you don’t have a boat of your own.

Ardlui

There’s a small loop track called the Drovers Loop. I did the local Woodland Walk, and got photos of that too.

Drover’s Loop Sign

Crianlarich Community Woodland and Woodland Walk

The whole area around Crianlarich was quite reminiscent of Arrowtown, with barren mountains looking down on fragile forests through which trails meandered.

The Woodland Walk

Another photo taken on the Woodland Walk

A further view on the Woodland Walk

I had to pinch myself to remember that I was not back home in Otago.

I also had some really interesting conversations. A person who worked in a local Youth Hostel told me that whereas, before, they had hired out dorm beds, with the impact of Covid and Brexit the hostel was keeping itself afloat by hiring out entire rooms to smaller numbers of wealthy tourists.

So, people who walked off the West Highland Walkway used to stop in at that Youth Hostel without a reservation, but now they had to turn away drenched and wet hikers and didn’t like having to do that.

The hotel-like standards required by the wealthier travellers also made more work for the staff who were, ironically, now fewer in number because of Covid and Brexit.

Along with the actual campsites and other formal accommodation, you can freedom camp, or wild camp as they call it locally, by the Falloch and maybe by other rivers as well.

But Scottish law, traditionally tolerant of wild camping, has changed somewhat of late. There has been so much rubbish left behind at Loch Lomond, and careless lighting of fires, that they have managed camping areas now. Many of those responsible for the annoyance were locals from Glasgow.

So, wild camping is allowed in some areas but not in others. But there is still some, luckily.

These restrictions might be a summertime thing. In the Scottish National Parks, the rangers are only there from mid-June to the end of October, I believe.

(Even with global warming, the summer is still quite short in these parts.)

I wanted to get up to part of the West Highland Walkway. But it was hard to find for lack of signage. Another person I spoke to said that they were lobbying for the improvement of the signage.

The person from the Youth Hostel said that Scotland was not ready for independence because it did not have enough infrastructure. Maybe the lack of signs for the West Highland Walkway was evidence of this.

Though ironically, the two national parks in Scotland, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the Cairngorms National Park, did not even exist at all until 2002, when they were voted into existence by the devolved Scottish assembly at Holyrood.

Even though Scotland has lots of nature and lots of tourists, it seems as though all this tourism may have been done on the cheap in the days when the country was ruled directly from England, and so there is still a lot of catching up to do. But that’s just my guess.

After Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, I crossed the border into England at Carlisle.

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