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.
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.
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?