Bluebells, wild hyacinths and harebells

This is my favourite time of year; the days are getting longer and it’s already light well into the evening, there are often warm and sunny spells of weather, and our woods are carpeted with beautiful blue flowers.

Most people would call the flowers in the image above bluebells, but in Scotland they are also known as wild hyacinths because Scottish bluebells are a different flower altogether. The blue flower that appears in ancient woodland in spring is the Hyacinthoides non-scripta (below, left). The Scottish bluebell is Campanula rotundifolia which flowers in the summer and is also known as the harebell (below, right). If this leaves you feeling somewhat confused, you are not alone. A public poll conducted by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh found the ‘Scottish bluebell’ was second only to the Scots Pine as the nation’s favourite plant but sparked debate about which species of flower voters actually meant.

Large colonies of bluebells (wild hyacinths), comprising millions of bulbs, are particularly associated with ancient woodland because they take many years to become established.Traditionally, bluebell sap was used as an adhesive, in making arrows and in the book trade, while crushed bulbs were a useful source of starch for stiffening cloth. Bluebells have magical associations too. Anyone picking bluebells risked being spirited away by fairies and hearing a bluebell bell ring was said to herald a visit from a malicious fairy. Perhaps more usefully, a garland of bluebells was thought to compel the wearer to tell the truth.

Nowadays, bluebells are a protected species and the concern is more about their loss as a result of damage to woodland from development and trampling feet than their use by fairies to trap the unwary … but still, better not pick them, just in case.

Winter wonderland

January in Scotland is frequently cold, dark and dreich. Sometimes it snows, often it rains. It can be stormy too. It is the middle of winter after all, so none of this is a surprise. But when the clouds clear and the sun shines, the winter landscape is spectacular, especially on crisp, frosty days. Our local Ben Venue below, for example, looks majestic cloaked in snow rising above the blue waters of Loch Venachar.

Not convinced? Then have a look at this wonderful short video of the beautiful wintery Scottish landscape from rewilding charity Scotland: The Big Picture. (Did that mountain hare just wink?)

You can find out more about Scotland: The Big Picture online here.

Boathouses at Loch Ard

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Loch Ard is one of the 22 lochs in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. A few kilometers west of Aberfoyle, Loch Ard is about 20 minute drive from Tigh a’ Mhaide and is a good choice for walking or cycling with some 16 miles of trails to explore and plenty of wildlife to spot. But one thing that sets Loch Ard apart from others in the area is its abundance of boathouses. Here’s a brief tour of just a few at the eastern end of the loch.

These two boathouses face each other across the water just before the River Forth flows out of the loch towards Aberfoyle.
This jetty and the boathouse opposite are popular subjects for local and visiting photographers.
Keeping the boat secure.
Moving west along the loch shore, this collection of boathouses nestles in a sheltered bay close to the road through the Pass of Aberfoyle.
Some of the boathouses have seen better days.
The final boathouse on our tour is tucked away under the trees at a point where the land descends steeply to the waterline.

The delights of Loch Ard are many and varied, from sculpture trails to water sports. But for us, the boathouses are one of its finest attractions.

The difference a day makes

Walks around Brig o’ Turk are many and varied and the ever-changing weather simply makes things more interesting. Two walks around Loch Venachar, on consecutive days, were quite different experiences.

Walk 1, Loch Venachar’s north shore
Walk 2, west of Loch Venachar

Walk 1 was a waterproof and welly-boot walk with mud and snow the order of the day. Walk 2 was dry, crisp and icy so that walking boots – and sunglasses – were essential. The best advice we can offer visitors planning a walk in this particular Park (Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park) is to come prepared for everything. 😉

Describing the landscape

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.

Ben A'an from Loch Achray
Ben A’an rises above Loch Achray

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.

Ben Venue in the distance beyond Loch Venachar

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.

Tìoraidh an-dràsta! (Bye for now!)

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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