Quaint rural villages and historic towns beckon with a warm welcome at any time of the year, says UDAY K. CHAKRABORTY.
The ‘bonnie, bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond are renowned around the world for their spectacular beauty. Set in the very heartland of Scotland, Loch Lomond, Stirling and The Trossachs combine several of the nation’s best loved holiday areas, each with plenty to see and do. Quaint rural villages and historic towns beckon with a warm welcome at any time of the year. Comparatively easy reachable, once here you could not be better placed to reach out and explore the full, magnificent diversity of Scotland’s scenery, history and culture.
We ventured on a subarban train on Saturday morning from Glasgow to Balloch, a small town near the banks of Loch Lomond. As we explored the shores, we came to Balloch Castle. The castle is set on the country park of Balloch and has 200 acres of woodland, parkland, and ornamental gardens with pathways which go down to the shores. I walked up to Balloch Castle that offers green expanses and walled garden of Balloch Castle Country Park, pathways from which go down to the shore of Loch Lomond and its busy waterfront plays host to a flotilla of pleasure crafts. It was a beautiful, sunny, day and absolutely perfect for hiking and boating around the loch.
Loch Lomond is a freshwater Scottish loch lying on the Highland Boundary Fault. It is the largest loch (lake) in Great Britain by surface area and contains many islands, including Inchmurrin, the largest fresh water island in the British Isles. The lake is 36 km long and between 1.5 km and 6 km wide. The loch also has an average depth of about 121 feet and a maximum depth of about 620 feet (that’s where the mythical monsters live).You can experience the dramatic landscape of the Highlands to the north yet still enjoy the gentler, pastoral aspects of Lowland Scotland as they are reflected around the southern reaches of the loch.
Loch Lomond is a place to savour. Woodland walks will tempt you. Fishing will lure you. Water-sports will exhaust you (even to watch!). Bays, beaches and viewpoints on either shore will hold you. Loll on the beach on the eastern shore, gazing at purple mountains studded with rivulets and waterfalls.
Yet for a final, unforgettable memory, join one of the enthralling pleasure cruises, from Tarbet, Luss, Balloch or Balmaha and marvel at the constant interplay of sky, land and water. Wanting to get further out into the Loch, we decided we would go on a two hour Island Discovery cruise. Our cruise sailed past the luxurious Cameron House Hotel and world renowned Loch Lomond Golf Course. It continued through the islands opening up to panoramic views of Ben Lomond (a distinctive Scottish mountain) and the conservation village of Luss.
Like the islands, the necklace of delightful villages and hamlets are an abiding feature of Loch Lomond.One can visit nearby Alexandria with its crafts village or Antarex village famous for sheepskin making and the Thistle Bagpipe Works. Drymen, a charming village centred around a traditional square is associated with the original highland Robinhood, Rob Roy MacGregor.
Nearby is the sea freshness of the Clyde Sea Lochs, which penetrate far inland. Guarding these western approaches is the historic castle of Dumbarton, once the jewel in the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. Northwards, the sea lochs are coloured by pleasure crafts of every description. The backdrop is formed by shapely hills, sometimes rolling, sometimes steep and craggy.
The River Leven empties the fresh water of Loch Lomond into the Clyde Estuary at Dumbarton, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Dumbarton Castle, perched on its volcanic rock, has been an imposing fortress down the centuries, possibly from the Roman times. The maritime connection is naturally strong here. The Clyde was Scotland’s trading artery and birthplace of great ships including the Cutty Sark. The industry is remembered at the unusual Denney Tank Museum, where models of new ships were designed and tested. Now, a great center of the whiskey industry, Dumbarton’s modern face is evident in its shopping and leisure facilities.
If you want to see into Scotland’s soul, visit nearby Sterling and stand on the heights of Stirling Castle Rock behind any of the castle cannonades and gaze northeast to the Grampian Mountains, northwest to Stirling Bridge, or south to Bannockburn. Here, for centuries, was Scotland’s sole defence against any English invasion of Northern cities like Perth and the Highlands. Whoever controlled Stirling Castle controlled the only route north across the River Forth. Sir Walter Scots’ patriot Sir William Wallace and King Robert Bruce VIII – known to history simply as Bruce – had to hold the castle against the English to hold Scotland. They succeeded, though after years of intermittent battle, brave Wallace, actually Welsh by birth, was betrayed to the English and hung, drawn, and quartered in London. Since that time, all kinds of psychological and historical defence mechanisms against the English have become deeply rooted in the Scottish hearts.
While you’re there, it pays to adjust yourself to the pace of Highland life – which is among the most pleasantly civilised in the world. Follow the country pursuit of falconry, or take the opportunity to improve your golf in many golf courses. Freshly caught salmon from a Scottish stream or venison brought down from the hills provides a repast to satisfy the hungry and the wandering soul.