Starry, starry nights

One of the joys of living in, or visiting, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is the chance to see just how many stars are visible to the naked eye in the night sky. Simply looking up on a clear night can offer some fabulous views. In urban areas, around 100 stars are visible at night. In contrast, in rural areas of the Park, where light pollution is minimal, 1000s of stars can be seen.

The bright star near the centre of this image looking north-east is the star Vega, which is part of the constellation Lyra (The Harp). The Earth’s axis is not constant and so, thousands of years ago, Vega was the North Star. In about 12,000 years from now, Vega will again be the North Star, replacing Polaris.

Other locations are out of bounds for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown, but a recent spell of good weather with clear night skies has been a great opportunity to star gaze at Tigh a’ Mhaide. Despite our woodland setting, it is still possible to see some well-known constellations and even catch of glimpse of the Milky Way.

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A walk on Lendrick Hill

The first few weeks of the new decade have been mostly wet and fairly miserable so a brief spell of fine weather and sunshine recently was the perfect excuse to get outside. And what better way to blow off the cobwebs than with a short hillwalk around the village on a route that offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

For guests at Tigh a’ Mhaide, the Lendrick Hill walk begins at the door. Turning east on to the road through the village, the walk follows the pavement as far as it goes before continuing along a path and crossing the A821 at the eastern edge of Brig o’ Turk. Once on the north side of the road, the path divides and boardwalks lead both right and left. Here, our walk turns right and follows the signposted path for Lendrick Hill and the Woodland Trust for Scotland (WTS) visitor gateway.

For most visitors, the Lendrick Hill walk begins when they park beside the WTS visitor gateway but guests at Tigh a’ Mhaide can walk there. Lendrick Hill rises behind the gateway.

The cylindrical shape of the wood-clad visitor gateway reminds me of an iron-age broch, though, given it was created by the Woodland Trust, perhaps the allusion is intended to be to tree trunks. The gateway is open from April to October. In addition to leaflets, maps and information about the Trust’s work in the area, it offers a children’s play corner and toilets.

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Inversnaid: waterfalls and wars

Inversnaid, on the east shore of Loch Lomond, is the site of a magnificent waterfall. Its Gaelic name is Inbhir Snàthaid. Inbhir means a confluence of rivers, estuary or the mouth of a water course and is common in place names. Inbhir Nis (Inverness), Inbhir Aora (Inveraray), Inbhir Uaraidh (Inverurie) and Inbhir Chluaidh (Inverclyde) are all well known examples.

The Snàthaid element of the name means ‘needle’ and it’s easy to see why Inversnaid was named as it was. The waterfall plunges from the narrow Arklet Water into Loch Lomond many feet below. It is spectacular, especially after a spell of wet weather which happens regularly. Seen from the loch, this torrent of falling water could certainly look like a needle.

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The Duke’s Pass: What’s the story?

The Duke’s Pass connects Aberfoyle with Loch Achray and gives access from the south to Loch Katrine and Brig o’ Turk. Now a public road forming part of the A821, The Duke’s Pass is a popular route for cyclists and is often considered to be one of the country’s most scenic drives. The road featured in the BBC’s series Britain’s Best Drives with actor Richard Wilson.

The modern road follows one built in the 19th century by the landowner Douglas Graham, the 5th Duke of Montrose, to improve access around his estates and to the slate quarry above Aberfoyle. Originally little more than a track suitable for horses, the road in the pass between Ben Venue and the Menteith Hills was improved to accommodate the influx of carriages as Victorian visitors flocked to The Trossachs following the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. In 1931, after the land was acquired by the Forestry Commission, construction of a public toll road began as part of a scheme to provide work for unemployed miners.

Travelling south to north, Ben Ledi comes into view as the Duke’s Pass begins its decent to Loch Achray.
Loch Drunkie is visible far below from the Pass.

The road remains popular with visitors to the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It is the route to the Three Lochs Forest Drive, and features regularly in cycling races. It provided the Queen of the Mountain challenge at Stage 2 of the inaugural Women’s Tour of Scotland cycle race this summer and features as the hill climb in the annual Duke’s Weekender cycle event.

The climb up from/decent to Aberfoyle is steep and winding making it a favourite for cycling hill races.
A number of walking paths, replete with wild flowers in spring and summer, cross or lead off the Pass.

Passing below the aptly-named Creag Mhòr (big rock), the road winds up from Aberfoyle towards the Lodge Visitor Centre. The Lodge was originally named after David Marshall, Chairman of the Carnegie Trust and the prime mover behind the building of the Lodge in the 1950s. The Trust gifted the Lodge to the Forestry Commission in 1960. Beyond, the road passes within sight of the quarry which produced slates, including those on the roof at Stirling Castle, from the 17th century until its closure in 1954. The ridge above the quarry is said to be the site of a violent clash between cattle reivers (thieves) from Lochaber and their local pursuers. A dozen men are thought to have died in the fight.

Near the top of the pass and the entrance to the Three Lochs Forest Drive, is Creag Mhadaidh (Wolf Rock). Wolves were hunted to extinction with official records dating the killing of the last wolf to 1680. However, reported sightings of wolves continued for a further 200 years. Could the intriguing name mean that wolves were spotted at Creag Mhadaidh?

A walk by Loch Drunkie

There are 22 major lochs and numerous smaller lochs and lochans in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Among the smaller freshwater lochs is Loch Drunkie which lies to the south of Loch Venachar and is accessible from the Three Lochs Forest Drive off the Duke’s Pass between Aberfoyle and Loch Achray. The loch is the starting point for three walks.

Loch Drunkie is visible below from the Duke’s Pass

The loch’s name is a curious one and its origins are obscure. Drunkie is an anglicised version of the loch’s Gaelic name, Drongaidh. The name dates from at least the 15th century and may simply refer to the physical characteristics of the loch which lies in a hollow or depression in the landscape.

The first glimpse of Loch Drunkie in the distance from the Forest Drive
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Local peak among top views in Scotland

Visit Scotland has ranked the view from the top of local peak Ben A’an at number five on its list of top 12 iconic Scottish views.

Ben A'an from Loch Achray

Ben A’an is a popular walk with visitors to The Trossachs. At 1491 feet (454m), it’s not the highest hill in the area but is a favourite with visitors because of its accessibility and stunning view. Its distinctive triangular peak towers above the Trossachs Kirk on the shores of Loch Achray and from the top, there’s a panoramic view over almost the entire length of Loch Katrine with Ben Lomond beyond to the west. Ben Venue is directly opposite to the south and to the east are Lochs Achray and Venachar.

The view from Ben A'an

Seen from the peak of Ben A’an, Loch Katrine stretches away into the distance. Image credit: J S Cox

You can see the full list of 12 iconic Scottish views on the Visit Scotland website here and there’s a detailed description of the Ben A’an walk on the excellent Walk Highlands website here.