Gaelic was a native spoken language in The Trossachs until at least the 1950s and is still evident in the place and house names in the area. The name Tigh a’ Mhaide means ‘house of the timber’ and may have been coined because of the sections of tree trunk used to support the porch at the front of the oldest part of the house.
The familiar English names of some of the most popular places to visit in the area derive from Gaelic names which are often wonderfully descriptive of the location or feature. For example:
Ben A’an comes from the Gaelic name Am Binnein meaning the pinnacle or apex. It’s easy to see why the familiar triangular peak earned its name.
Loch Achray comes from Loch Àth a’ Chrathaidh which has the intriguing meaning of Loch of the ford of the shaking.
Ben Venue comes from A’ Bheinn Mheanbh meaning the small mountain and though it may not feel like it on the long walk to the summit, Ben Venue is a mere 729m high compared to neaby Ben Ledi at 879m, or local munro Ben Lomond at 974m.
Loch Venachar’s name is from Loch Bheannchair meaning the horn-shaped or tapering loch and a look at a map shows that it’s a good description.
Gaelic may no longer be the usual native spoken language of people living in The Trossachs, but it remains an important part of the landscape and much else in the local environment and wider culture of Scotland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Driveswith 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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.