Hogmanay is a great day for reflecting on the year past and the new one to come. As the first dry day for ages, it was also a welcome opportunity to get outside and stroll along to Loch Venachar through the Great Trossachs Forrest.
Low cloud, ice-fringed water and snow on the hills made for chilly, monochrome views but there was some colour in the landscape in the shape of a pair of intrepid canoeists exploring the loch from the water.
Two years ago, Scotland was in festive lockdown and the usual Hogmanay celebrations could not take place. Instead, a light show with drones and poetry marked the end of a difficult year and the hope for a new and better one for us all. While much of life has returned to normal, many of these sentiments are just as valid now, so here is another look at the wonderful Hogmanay Light Show of 2020 with words by poet and former Makar Jackie Kay, music by Niteworks and readings by some very well known voices including Siobhan Redmond and David Tennant.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?