HOLIDAYS AMONG SCOTLAND’S HILLS AND WATERS
When you are planning a trip around Scotland, what are you looking for during your travels?
You can find yourself canoeing quietly along deserted shores or cruising our lochs (I should probably at this point highlight that a Loch is in fact a Lake in Scottish), camping in the wild, sitting in front of a fireplace in a cosy old pub or meandering through the beautiful glens and gardens. There are so many ways to enjoy Scotland’s West Coast and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
We have spent almost 15 years travelling the length and breadth of Scotland from the Scottish Borders to Mull of Galloway and the far north mainland around the North Coast 500 (well before it became famous for that!), along with visiting several of the beautiful islands you will find up and down the Scottish coastline.
In this blog as part of Visit Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 #YCW2020, I hope I can give you a little inspiration to explore Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which was in fact Scotland’s first National Park and was established in the year 2002, only three years prior to us settling in Scotland. The National Park stretches from Balloch in the South, to Callander in the east to the Cowal Peninsula in the west and Tyndrum and Killin in the north.
If you are travelling from Glasgow, Loch Lomond itself is within easy reach and only about 45 minutes drive. Or if leaving from Edinburgh I would allow around 1 hour and 30 minutes, this is based on driving, but options to use public transport are also available. If you are planning a trip without a vehicle, I’d recommend you check out my friend Kay’s blog as she does not drive, but she does however explore the length and breadth of Scotland on public transport. Careful as you are going to get drawn in by her amazing photos from her travels The Chaotic Scot If you’re into exploring by bicycle and love our Scottish history, you should definitely check out my friend David’s journey as he explores all of Scotland’s castles Castle Hunter
Whether you are visiting from Scotland or further afield and going for a day trip or longer, I have included some of my favourite activities and a few suggestions to get you started…
Some of my favourite locations around Loch Lomond include the quaint village of Luss, with its beautiful little Cottage Café’s and setting on the shores of the Loch, it is somewhere I have been known to just wander to take in the sheer beauty of the village.
Another place is the village of Balmaha on the eastern shore of the Loch at the foot of Ben Lomond, which I will come to at a later stage. Here you will find a visitor centre, a memorial to Tom Weir, who was a famous Scottish walker, and the Old Oak Tree Inn. This is a favourite of mine if stopping for a refreshment or having a lunch by the big open log fire.
If you have time, I’d highly recommend you take a trip with the Royal Mail Boat, this is a wonderful and unique way to explore the Loch. We were fortunate enough to try this out and got off at one of the many islands and proceeded to have lunch at the top of the hill overlooking Loch Lomond.
At the bottom of the Loch, you’ll find the slightly larger town of Balloch with many local activities, including the Sea Life aquarium at the Loch Lomond Shores, plus many other local shops and activities. A favourite of mine in Balloch is the (now retired) Maid of the Loch, which is currently undergoing restoration, in hope to one day once again have her sailing visitors around Loch Lomond.
As you travel up the west shores of Loch Lomond, a stop by ‘An Ceann Mòr’ at Inveruglas, which is an unusual viewing point, would be recommended. Just south from there you will find Tarbet, one of several Tarbet’s across Scotland, and from here why not hop onto one of the cruises by Cruise Loch Lomond to enjoy the Loch and it’s spectacular surroundings from the water.
If you are one to walk or hike, you are spoiled for choice around the whole of Loch Lomond. From the West Highland Way, which is Scotland’s longest dedicated walking route, to iconic hills and mountains such as Ben Lomond which sits on the banks of Loch Lomond on the eastern shores by Balmaha and is perfect for an active day out. Or head up the unusual hill named the Cobbler, which is a short drive west from Tarbet, and another wonderful climb with very scenic views back towards Loch Lomond and beyond.
If you are looking for a little more inspiration, why not head over to my friend Neil’s blog on Exploring Loch Lomond
Heading further north I recommend a visit to the beautiful Loch Katrine, where you can enjoy sailing on the 118-year-old SS Sir Walter Scott Steamship, or climb the hill Ben A’an, or potentially visit GoApe outdoor tree climbing venue in Aberfoyle, which are all perfect for a day out with family and friends.
The fairly easy climb to the top of Ben A’an rewards you with a majestic view over Loch Katrine and if you time it right you will be lucky enough get a glimpse of the SS Sir Walter Scott steamship. This was one of the first hills I climbed in Scotland and I really was taken aback by its setting. As we arrived at the top the mist that was covering the hill began to clear and we saw the steamship floating on the Loch below. I was speechless, and I think at that moment fell in love with hill walking in Scotland.
Traveling further north you will have the opportunity to visit the famous Rob Roy’s grave near Lochearnhead, but before there I’d always recommend you make a stop at Loch Lubnaig. Here you will find a small car park, with benches to sit and enjoy the view. If you arrive first thing in the morning, you are likely to enjoy some of the best loch reflections you can imagine. Continue onward to the old village of Killin, by the spectacular Falls of Dochart and depending on when you visit, the falls can either be calm and tranquil or a cascade of white water crashing over the rocks. You will find this quaint little village at the top of the National Park, a great place for lunch is at the Falls of Dochart Inn.
When travelling further west from Loch Lomond, you will pass the Rest and Be Thankful, which is always worth a stop and as it says, do rest and be thankful for the absolutely mesmerising views! Continuing onwards, you will arrive into the region that is Cowal with Loch Long at the east and Loch Fyne at the western shores.
Some of the top attractions in this region are the Benmore Botanic Garden and Puck’s Glen, both perfect as part of a day trip or onwards journey to the West Coast. When visiting the Botanic Garden, which is at the bottom of Loch Eck, I’d allow several hours for walking the grounds, and within the garden there is also a lovely café, making it ideal for a day out in the region. Within the area also known as the Argyll Forest Park, you will find several wonderful walks, which include the Glenbranter forest trails and the Ardentinny woodland trail which runs along Cowal’s longest sandy beach, great for your kids or even four legged friends to run off some energy.
Puck’s Glen is a hidden gem on the Scottish West Coast and famous for its cascading waterfalls and generally a place of natural beauty. We visited a number of years ago, so have not yet taken the kids, but know from experience it would be a perfect place as part of a family day out. My good friend Susanne has done an amazing write up about her visit and I’d highly recommend you give it a read The Fairy Legends of Puck’s Glen
Kilmun Arboretum is like much of Scotland’s countryside which is covered with trees. Here however you will find over 150 different tree species and there are several trails around this small forest. Kilmun Arboretum lies a short drive north of Dunoon and works perfectly as part of an onward visit to the likes of Benmore Botanic Garden or Puck’s Glen.
The walks listed above in Cowal are all within easy reach of Dunoon. We have visited Dunoon a few times over the years and its location is perfect for exploring the Cowal Peninsula and the Argyll Forest Park. Dunoon is easily reached by ferry from Gourock, which is a short drive west of Glasgow.
Within Dunoon you will also find the historic Dunoon Castle, along with several local water-based activities and tours to explore the region further. If you head further south you will find the beautiful Toward Lighthouse, which you would also see when you sail on the ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay.
WALKS AND HIKES
For ideas and planning walks around Scotland we have always made great use of the Walk Highlands website https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ Here will you will find details of pretty much all walks you can imagine around Scotland, from the Lowlands, to the Highlands, Islands and even walks in the city, over 2,000 of them. The walks are graded with distance and approx. time to complete. Under each walk you will then find a small description of each stage, with photographs of the route. You will also find links to the official OS Explorer Maps.
My tip to you is bring your walking shoes, outdoor gear, your camera and get exploring… As the famous Dane, Hans Christian Andersen, once said, ‘To Travel is to Live’ and when you come to Scotland this is certainly true in every way. After a visit you will feel full of energy, inspiration and that longing feeling to go back, so Haste Ye Back!
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