Glorious Glen Finglas

For those living in the Central Belt of Scotland the countryside is never far away. Despite being the area with the highest population density in Scotland (3.5 million out of 5.4 million), it doesn’t take long to reach the clean air and open spaces of the countryside.

For many of us, heading north or west leads to the Trossachs, an area of woods, glens and lochs that lies within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. And right in the middle of this expanse is glorious Glen Finglas.

Made famous by Walter Scott (as with so much of this part of Scotland), Glen Finglas has never lost its popularity, and today is managed by the Woodland Trust for Scotland. But it’s also part of ‘a forest in the making’, the Great Trossachs Forest, a long-term project (200 years!) that aims to create 160 square km of native woodland across this area. This innovative and far-sighted venture is the brainchild of the Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Woodland Trust.  Described as a ‘forest for the future’, the Great Trossachs Forest is also the largest National Nature Reserve in the country. Quite an achievement.

A cottage in the village of Brig O’Turk, Glen Finglas

While this work is being carried out in the present and will provide great benefits for the future, Glen Finglas has a long and varied past. And it’s this past that has shaped the landscape we see here today.

In the current issue of iScot magazine I’ve written about the past, present and future of Glen Finglas under the headings found on the unusual stone compass that’s set into a rocky hillock up the glen. Carved into the stone are three mottoes: Enjoy the Present, Sense the Past, Ensure the Future. It’s a wonderful encouragement to get out and walk (or cycle), to learn about the people and events that have gone before and to discover what is planned for future generations.

To find out more about what this all entails, get hold of a copy of September’s iScot and then be inspired to pay a visit yourself!

iScot magazine digital editions

 

 

Time out in the Trossachs 2: it’s BLiSS out there!

The LookOut mirrored cabin on the shores of Loch Voil and Loch Doine

On a dreich day in February getting out-of-doors might not be uppermost in your mind! On the other hand, it can be a time to think about, and plan for, trips in the not-too-distant future. A favourite place of mine is one of the innovative Scenic Routes installations in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park: The LookOut on Loch Voil.

Strictly speaking, it’s not on Loch Voil, but sits in a flat meadow between the head of Loch Voil and its smaller neighbour, Loch Doine.  Here the stretch of water between the two lochs is so short and narrow that the south bank is barely yards away and accessible by stepping stones for the brave!

Even the puddles are reflected in the LookOut cabin!

To reach the LookOut you follow the twisting single-track road that runs through Balquhidder Glen along the beautiful north shore of Loch Voil, until you come to Monachyle Mhor farm restaurant and hotel, where you can leave your car and walk down to the shore.

The LookOut is a Tardis-like mirrored cabin, that reflects different views of the landscape in which it stands. Depending on the light, it can be almost invisible as it blends in with the surrounding meadow, hills and lochs: so much so that it can be easy to miss, only to come as a surprise as you begin to see yourself approaching!  In a curious way it can make you feel that you’re part of this beautiful landscape.

Balquhidder is also on the BLiSS (Balqhuidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans) Trail: a community extension of the Scottish Scenic Routes project. Gordon Watson, Chief Executive, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park welcomed BLiSS, saying: ” I wanted to say how impressed I am at your efforts to extend the success of the Scottish Scenic Routes initiative through the launch of the BLiSS Trail.  I was delighted to see the coverage that the launch attracted. Your dedication to improving the visitor experience in the area is a real credit to the National Park, so thank you.”

Monachyle Mhor farm restaurant and hotel

The BLiSS Trail is in Rob Roy Country and it’s hard to miss that Balquhidder Glen is very much MacGregor territory!  On the approach to Loch Voil you come through the village of Balquidder, with its tiny church and the graves of Rob Roy and his family.  While across the water from the LookOut is Monachyle Tuarach, a working farm and a comfortable hostel today, but once home to Rob and his wife before his final move in 1722 to Inverlochlarig, at the head of the glen, where he lived peaceably until his death in 1734.

If you’re feeling adventurous, it’s possible to drive to the end of the public road at Inverlochlarig, where there is a small car park and picnic area, and from here you can take to the hills!  But what is a dead-end to us today was once the ‘Coffin Road’ from Glen Falloch to Balquidder Kirk.  Take a look at a map and find Bealach nan Corp – Pass of the Corpses – and it’s amazing to think that coffins were carried for such a distance and over such wild and high terrain as this.

The road along Balquhidder Glen

Balquhidder Glen had long been of spiritual importance and legend has it that St Angus, who brought Christianity to the area in the 8th century, recognised it as a “thin place”, a spot, the Celts believed, where Earth and Heaven, the earthly and the spiritual, are very close.

St Angus is said to have spent the rest of his life in Balquhidder and to be buried somewhere near the site of the original first church there: Eaglais Beag, the Little Church. Clach Aonghais, the Angus Stone, which once covered his grave, can today be found in the church.

Looking down Loch Doine

So, if you’ve not yet been to the LookOut, or followed the BLiSS Trail, put them firmly on your to-visit-list. And when you reach the LookOut, make sure you take a photo of yourself reflected in its mirrors. Designed by Daniel Tyler and Angus Ritchie, this scenic viewpoint is one that, quite literally, puts you in the picture!

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Rob Roy Country : Bliss Trail

Scottish Scenic Routes

Time out in the Trossachs 1: An Ceann Mòr on Loch Lomond

‘An Ceann Mòr’ or ‘The Great Headland’: the dramatic new pyramid-shaped viewing platform at Inveruglas on Loch Lomondside

Ask most people to name a place in Scotland that they’ve heard of and chances are they’ll come up with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. What Walter Scott set in motion all those years ago with his poem The Lady of the Lake continues today. And with good reason. A National Park since 2002, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is possibly one of the best-known areas of Scotland. Natural beauty, lochs and mountains, hills and glens –  the Park has them all: and a-plenty.

When the Scottish Government launched its first Scenic Routes competition, there was a wealth of entries. Young architects from all over submitted pland for special installations, designed to enchance particular areas in the Park. The four winning entries were duly built and have become popular and much-loved sites for visitors.

‘Stargate Loch Lomond’ – Loch Lomond’s very own pyramid!

It’s not often you associate the Scottish countryside with pyramids, but Loch Lomond now has a splendid one!  An Ceann Mòr, Gaelic for the Great Headland, is one of four installations that marked the inaugural Scottish Scenic Routes project.  Funded by the Scottish Government, the four new landmarks were specifically designed to highlight features of much loved areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The challenge to take a beautiful and much-loved spot and succeed in enhancing it has been at the heart of the Scenic Routes competitions, and it’s a challenge  talented young architects have risen to with resounding success. The winning designs are all very different, but have one thing in common; they make you stop, think and see a familiar scene in a new way.

Our first stop was the striking pyramid, An Ceann Mòr, which sits high above the loch close to the Inveruglas Visitor Centre, with stunning views down towards Ben Lomond and over to the Arrochar Alps. But that’s not all you’ll see as you stand on this beautiful wooden structure. You’ll find your eyes drawn to another distinctive landmark, the Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric power station. How often do we drive past it without giving it a second thought? And yet its construction was part of one of the most progressive and far-reaching engineering projects in the world.

Loch Sloy information board

Completed in 1949 and officially ‘switched on’ in 1950, Loch Sloy produces hydro-electricity, and in a country of rivers, lochs and plentiful rain, that supply is likely to be inexhaustible! The history of its construction – which included the tragic loss of 21 lives – is a revelation.  In fact, the massive scale of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Scheme was unprecedented, but succeeded in bringing ‘Power to the Glens’ in a way never before imaginable. By 1963 90% of the Highlands were attached to the grid, more than twice as many as when the scheme began just after the Second World War.

The Hydro Board was the led by the Scottish politician Tom Johnston and over three decades the ‘Hydro Boys’ and the ‘Tunnel Tigers’ created generation and distribution schemes that became renowned the world over. Their achievements are all the more remarkable given the harsh conditions and often unforgiving terrain they had to work in. However, this ‘Power from the Glens’ ultimately changed the face of rural Scotland and the benefits continue to this day.

Hopefully An Ceann Mòr will be long-lasting too. It was designed by three young architects Daniel Bar, Stephane Toussaint and Sean Edwards from BTE Architects in Glasgow.  Eight metres high and with 31 steps, it is made from sustainable timber, wood which the young architects have chosen especially as it will gradually weather to a more muted silver-grey colour, blending in naturally to become part of the surrounding landscape.

Part of the landscape, but also a feature that makes us take more notice of that landscape than ever before. And that’s no bad thing at all!

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Stoneymollan Road: the Coffin Road from Balloch to Cardross

Once upon a time there were old tracks the length and breadth of Scotland. Before the advent of trains, buses and cars, the majority of people had no alternative but to walk. Tracks went up hill and down dale, often taking the most direct route possible from one place to another. However, over the years many of these old tracks have disappeared; become overgrown, built over, ploughed up, forgotten. But a few still exist, and have been incorporated into the growing number of newly-created walks and trails.

One of these is the Stoneymollan Road, an old track that runs from Balloch, at the foot of Loch Lomond, to the burial ground at St Mahew’s Chapel in the clachan of Kirkton, not far from Cardross. It may seem strange to us today, but this route was once an old coffin road. Why such a curious name? The answer to that goes back centuries. In Medieval times only certain churches had burial rights and these churches were often few and far between. Rural settlements were scattered and often remote from a church. As the population grew and spread, new settlements appeared, and people were often faced with a long trek to the nearest cemetery. And the coffin had to be shouldered and carried the whole way!

The tracks became known as coffin roads, though there were many other names too: corpse roads, funeral roads, lych-ways, burial roads, coffin lines, bier roads, church-ways and more. These coffin roads were often long and across difficult terrain. Imagine having to undertake the journey in the snow, or torrential rain!

Over time, numerous eerie superstitions, some very ancient, others newer, became attached to these old tracks: the coffin must not touch the ground or the deceased’s spirit would return to haunt the living; the corpse’s feet must face away from their house or they could return to haunt their former home; the coffin bearers must not step off the path onto neighbouring farmland or the crops would be blighted; spirits liked to travel in straight lines, so the paths often meandered; spirits could not cross running water, so the paths crossed burns; you could lose a following spirit at a crossroad, so the route would have a crossroad! Spooky!!

The crumbling shell of Woodhall House

However, as communities grew more churches were built and the need for these coffin roads declined and finally died out altogether. So instead of being a route for coffin bearers, the old Stoneymollan Coffin Road is now part of both the Three Lochs Way and the John Muir Way and links Loch Lomondside with the Firth of Clyde (and vice-versa). And the people you’re most likely to meet today will be walkers, joggers and even cyclists!

Setting off from Balloch we noticed the crumbling remains of Woodhall House, with an array of rusty iron gates, nearly invisible under shrubs and trees: almost like the hedge of thorns that grew up around Sleeping Beauty. This area used to be full of such grand houses even though the settlement at Balloch itself was small. But Balloch had its pier and boats regularly plied the waters of Loch Lomond. Later came the railway, which for many years ran right up to the pier, until that spur was closed in 1986.

The hidden gates to Sleeping Beauty’s palace?

The track goes upwards and the higher the track, especially atop Stoneymollan Muir, the better the views back over Loch Lomond. When you reach the highest point a spectacular panorama opens up westwards, over towards Cowal and, if you’re lucky with the weather, sometimes even as far as Arran. There is a tremendous sense of space and openess on this track: a real sense of freedom.

Then it’s downhill all the way to St Mahew’s Chapel in Kirkton. This lovely old building was restored in the 1950s, but it’s history goes back to at least 1467, and it’s possible that there may have been a Christian missionary building on this site from the early sixth century onwards.  For almost two centuries the building served as a school prior to its restoration, but the site was one that had long been held sacred, and is so again today.

When you come Cardross at the end of the walk you can take the bus or train back into Glasgow. While if you walk the route from Cardross to Balloch (ie west to east and sometimes easier in the prevailing westerly wind), you can likewise take the bus or train from Balloch back into town: but don’t forget to check the timetables. Alternatively get a friend to pick you up from whichever end you arrive at!

Boo!

But watch out for any spirits that might just still be lingering along this old coffin road!

Stoneymollan Road

Three Lochs Way

St Mahew’s R.C.Church

St Mahew’s Chapel at Kirkton

A bright start to the New Year by Loch Lomond’s Shores

The ‘Maid of the Loch’ with Ben Lomond behind

January 1st 2017 – New Year’s Day – the sun shone and skies were blue. So what better way to start the year than by heading north to Loch Lomond.  We parked at Lomond Shores then set off to walk along a short stretch of the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path. This section of the cycle route is also part of the John Muir Way and takes you onto the Old Luss Road.

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine that the road alongside Loch Lomond wasn’t classified until the 1920s or that much of it followed the line of the 18th century Old Military Road. These military roads – built by General Wade and Major Caulfeild (sic) – linked the Central Lowlands with fortified army barracks in the Highlands; barracks which had been established to quell the Highland population after the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715. One of the best known of these today is the old road between Glen Kinglas and  Glen Croe, the Rest and Be Thankful.

“REST & BE THANKFUL: MILITARY ROAD REPd BY 93rd REGt 1768 TRANSFERRED TO COMMRs FOR H, R & C IN THE YEAR 1814”

In the early 19th century the Loch Lomond route was surveyed and improved by the renowned Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford. Telford, a poor shepherd’s son, was born in Dumfriesshire in 1857, yet became the most outstanding canal- and road-builder of his time.  His system of road-building involved several layers of stone, topped by cobbles, coupled with adequate drainage, all of which made for hard-wearing, long-lasting roads: labour-intensive, but not high-tech.

The decade after the First World War saw car ownership increase rapidly and the 1920 Road Act highlighted the poor state of Britain’s roads. Road classification was introduced and high unemployment levels after that terrible war meant there was a ready pool of labour available for a widespread programme of new road building. But, in many parts of Scotland, I doubt Thomas Telford would have seen a huge difference between his roads and those a century later in the 1930s! And it wasn’t until the 1980s that the modern, widened road we know today was built between Balloch Roundabout and Tarbet.

Fortunately for walkers and cyclists a number of stretches of the older road still exist and these follow the shore of the loch more closely that the new road does. So we undoubtedly get the best views! And we certainly saw plenty of cyclists making the most of the good weather.

The stone trough on the Old Luss Road

Here and there are indications of older times: an old stone horse trough, a gate to nowhere, an old lodge house and crumbling gates to former estate buildings. And on one side of the road stone walls and beech hedges have been left to their own devices and morphed into strange hybrid shapes along the roadside!

On our return to Lomond Shores we tucked into a hot and tasty lunch in the cafe high up in the Drumkinnon Tower, while enjoying the stunning views over the the loch, to the paddle steamer the Maid of the Loch and towards Ben Lomond.  The aquarium below was full of visitors, mostly families with children who were full of excitement at the array of aquatic creatures they had just seen: from the family of otters – Lily, Pickle and Cub – to tiny seahorses, sharks and the cartoon-like cow-nosed rays.

The mighty Drumkinnon Tower at Lomond Shores, which houses the aquarium and a cafe with stunning views over the loch

For us this was a gentle day out, but for the more adventurous – and fitter – there’s always the Tree Zone, an aerial adventure course. And if you want a really great way to discover the park area, then go for one of Scotland’s Wild’s active tours. There really are so many different ways to discover and enjoy this wonderful part of Scotland.

And that’s a good thought for a brand New Year!

Maid of the Loch

Sea Life Aquarium, Loch Lomond

Lomond Shores

Lomond and Trossachs National Park

Scotland’s Wild for active tours of the National Park area

Tree Zone Loch Lomond

Inchcailloch: “A part of the world and a world of its own”

“Nights and days came and passed, and summer and winter and the rain. And it was good to be a little Island. A part of the world and a world of its own, all surrounded by the bright blue sea.”
― Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island

The Margaret at the landing stage on Inchcailloch with Conic Hill and the West Highland Way beyond

The Margaret at the landing stage on Inchcailloch with Conic Hill and the West Highland Way beyond

It’s little more than a ditty, but Margaret Brown’s poem sums up beautifully what it means to be an island: “A part of the world and a world of its own”. I suspect that also sums up the way many of us feel at times! An island offers that bit of distance, that apartness that we often need to slow down and deal with all that goes on in our busy, and all-too-often fraught, lives.

I’m exceptionally fortunate to live on the West Coast of Scotland and have islands all around. This week my son and I drove to Balmaha on the east bank of Loch Lomond, where we had lunch in the delightful Oak Tree Inn. We then took the little mail boat from Macfarlane’s Boatyard over to Inchcailloch. The ferry, the 1947 30′ long Margaret, plies back and forth throughout the day taking visitors to and from the jetty at North Bay on Inchcailloch. It’s only a few minutes sail away, but as soon as you step ashore realise that you’re in a different world.

Welcome to the island!

Welcome to the island!

Up the steep and twisting stone steps and then through the woods we went. Oak trees abound here, providing a rich habitat for animals and plants. Alders too, those water-loving trees that thrive in damp conditions and help fight erosion. Rowans, or Mountain Ash, are there in plenty as well. With their rich red berries they were believed to have magical properties for combatting evil and were often planted beside cottage doors to ward off malign spirits.

The sun shone through the trees and dappled the path in front of us. Our first stop was the old burial ground, where ‘saints and sinners’ alike lie buried. The island’s original Gaelic name is Innis Caillich, which means the Isle of the Old Women, or Cowled Women (ie nuns). This ties in with the tradition that St Kentigerna, the daughter of an Irish King, settled on the island and then established a nunnery here. She is believed to have died in 733 AD.

With such sacred associations the island became home to a 12th century chapel dedicated to St Kertigerna’s memory, with a later parish church and burial ground used by people living in the small scattered communites around the shores of Loch Lomond. Islands were often favoured spots for graveyards as they were safe from scavenging wolves and other wild animals that might be on the lookout for fresh bones! So far, the earliest gravestone discovered dates back to the 13th century.

Foxgloves

Digitalis or Foxgloves

Before there was a pier at the North Bay, boats beached on the shore below Ballach an Eoin, the Gaelic for Pass of the Birds. Almost everthing that arrived on the island, or was transported from it, came this way, and that included the coffins for burial in the graveyard. It’s not unusal to find Coffin Roads or Coffin Glens in Scotland, and this was one of them.

Over the centuries Inchcailloch was many things: a hunting ground for kings and queens, where deer could roam safely away from predators (other than human ones!): while for centuries there was farming on the island until the landowner ended agriculture in favour of the (for him) more profitable planting of oak trees, which became important as a rich source of timber and bark for tanning.

Today it’s a peaceful place, carefully managed by Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, there for both people and nature to enjoy.  And this little “world of its own” is just waiting for you to come and visit!

 Useful Links:

Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park

Balmaha Boatyard

Oak Tree Inn

Scotland’s Wild, Tours of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

 Camping on Inchcailloch

Getting back to our roots – walking among the tall trees

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
–  John Muir

Scots pines rise majestically around Dornoch Bay

Is there any one of us who hasn’t, like Maria from The Sound of Music, ‘climbed a tree and scraped a knee?’ Or swung from a rope tied to a sturdy branch? Or tried to build a tree-house? Or collected conkers?  Or looked tree-wards to listen to birdsong?

Trees are all around us and there’s not much that they don’t give us – or our planet. They help our climate by removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under their protective canopy animals and plants thrive. They help combat erosion. From time immemorial they have given us shelter and shade. Timber to build our homes. To build ships for fishing and exploring. Wood for the fires to cook our food and to keep us warm. And think of all the fruit trees that give us nourishing, healthy food.

Trees can outlive any other living thing. Ancient and wise, patient and long-suffering, they have inspired awe and reverence. Like springs and pools they have long been regarded as sacred.  Myths and legends have grown up around them.  Folklore is full of them.

In the Bible God plants The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. In Norse mythology Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree, sends its roots and branches off to other worlds. In many cultures trees are believed to have their own individual spirits. For centuries they have inspired the works of poets and writers: even today appearing as characters in films, as any of us who have watched The Lord of The Rings trilogy will know!

Benmore Botanic Gardens, Cowal, Argyll

The landscape of Scotland has changed many times. The fortunes of our trees and forests have waxed and waned. And there’s no doubt that there have been times when Scotland’s forests and woodlands have indeed suffered at the hands of John Muir’s fools!

Today, however, more and more of us understand the need for a vision for our forested landscapes.  Attitudes have changed and work is now underway to actively protect, extend and restore our forests. And thankfully we have greater freedom to enjoy them than ever before.

They fuel our imaginations. They bring us pleasure. They bring us health, peace and relaxation. They are ours to enjoy and to protect and to grow.  Go find a nearby forest – or even a single tree – and discover just how much our trees have to offer!

Great Trossachs Forest

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Forestry Commission Scotland

Woodland Trust Scotland

Landmark Forest Adventure Park

Benmore Botanic Gardens

 Scottish Wildlife Trust 30 Days Wild

“If you go down to the woods today…” The Lochan Spling Trail

“If you go down to the woods today…”

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir (1838 -1914)

Wise words from a wise man, and as true today as back then. If fact, probably truer today than ever before. A survey undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in 2014 reported that 90% of people found that visiting the outdoors helped them to relax and reduced stress, while 80% felt that being outdoors not only improved their physical health, but also left them feeling both energised and revitalised.  No mean achievement! We are very fortunate that Scotland is rich in forests and forest walks: so just what awaits us if we go down to the woods today?

The aptly named Old-Man's-Beard

The aptly named Old-Man’s-Beard

Lichen abounds in the fresh, clean air of the forest

Lichen abounds in the fresh, clean air of the forest

For a start fresh, clean, unpolluted air. Take a look around and marvel at the abundance of lichen draped over the branches of trees: in particular the aptly named Old-Man’s-Beard!  Then there are all the wonderful smells and sounds of a forest.  Birds and bird song all around, the glimpse of animals through the trees, while strange mushrooms and toadstools thrive on fallen trees. A forest creates its own world, its own rich eco-system from the top of the tallest trees to the smallest creepy-crawlies and strangest looking fungi! A gentle poke in the undergrowth will quickly reveal all sorts of life – much of it scurrying hastily away!

Weird and wonderful growths

A grumpy looking fungus!

A grumpy looking fungus!

At the weekend we set out from Aberfoyle, ‘the gateway to the Trossachs’, along the Forestry Commission’s Lochan Spling Trail.  Spling is a strange name and may come from the Gaelic word splàng, which means to sparkle. In Sunday’s sunshine, with its welcome warmth, that certainly seemed an appropriate name! As we walked through the forest and across the Duchray Water we met other walkers and cyclists, as well as groups of young people learning outdoor skills through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

The Lochan Spling Pike

The gigantic Lochan Spling Pike

Reaching the lochan, we suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with some very unexpected, and very out-sized, creatures! The Lochan Spling Pike, Dragonfly and Osprey were all created by artist Rob Mulholland in 2008 and form part of the Loch Ard Family Sculpture Trail, which runs not only around this delightful lochan but also along the shores of Loch Ard, Little Loch Ard and Lochan a’ Ghleannin. The three we saw are quite remarkable objects and reflect the creatures that live in the lochan and surrounding forest.

The Lochan Spling Dragonfly

The Lochan Spling Dragonfly

There is so much to see, do and enjoy in a forest, and at the same time it is so good for us. Like John Muir, Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, was also keenly aware of the benefits of taking time to be outdoors, and in particular walking, until our problems take on a more manageable perspective. In 1847 he wrote: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Coming from the man widely regarded as the world’s first existentialist philosopher, that’s good advice indeed!

All of which just goes to show that if you go down to the woods today you really will find plenty of surprises, plenty to enjoy and come back feeling refreshed and revitalised! And that’s got to be a good thing!

Links:

Lochan Spling Trail: Forestry Commission Scotland

John Muir, Scottish environmentalist and naturalist, and ‘Father of the US National Parks’

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Brig O’Turk Tearoom – a unique restaurant in a village with three names

The world-famous Brig O'Turk tearoom!

The world-famous Brig O’Turk Tearoom in the heart of the Trossachs

What’s in a name?  Plenty, when it comes to the village of Brig O’Turk in the heart of the Trossachs! This small rural settlement has two older Gaelic names; Ceann Drochaid (end of the bridge) and Aird cheannchnocain (the height at the end of the hillock), while the present-day name of Brig O’Turk, despite how it may sound, has no connection with a distinguished Turkish gentleman!  Instead it combines the Scots word brig (bridge), with the Gaelic word torc (wild boar) to give the dramatic sounding Bridge of the Wild Boar.

Just some of the appetizing dishes on offer at the tearoom!

Just some of the appetizing dishes on offer at the tearoom!

But however many names the village has, it boasts one very unique eating establishment! And that is the delightful Brig O’Turk Tearoom, well-known both for its wonderful food and as a key location in the 1959 remake of John Buchan’s classic The 39 Steps. Starring Kenneth More, much of this version was filmed in and around the Trossachs with the fictional tearoom bearing the name The Gallows Cafe. It’s portrayed as a popular stopping point for cyclists (as it was in reality), and it’s from here that we see our hero make his escape by peddling off, hidden amongst a group of other cyclists, dressed in rather improbable cycling gear!

The 29 Steps, 1959, with Kenneth More and Taina Elg

The 29 Steps, 1959, with Kenneth More and Taina Elg

There are wonderful cycle and walking routes all around this area, up through Glen Finglas and along the new Great Trossachs Path, which was opened in 2015. The Path links into the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way, and runs from Kilmahog, just outside Callander, to Inversnaid on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, passing en route the lochs Venachar, Achray, Katrine and Arklet.

The Great Trossachs Forest is a vast, long-term woodland regeneration project, devised jointly by the RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust Scotland, and offers a growing number of routes, with something for every age and ability, and is packed with information about the history of this ancient landscape.

Built in 1923 , the tearoom retains its original feel

Built in 1923, the tearoom retains much of its original atmosphere, and has food to climb a mountain for!

And sitting right at the heart of all this wonderful countryside is the Brig O’Turk Tearoom, run since 2011 by Csaba & Veronica Brünner. The couple have brought new life – and many new tastes – to this much-loved tearoom.  So take to the hills, follow in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, Effie Gray, John Everett Millais and his Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Jules Verne and very many others and come and explore the Trossachs. Then reward yourself with a visit to the Brig O’Turk Tearoom!

Links:

The Brig O’Turk Tearoom

Glen Finglas and the Great Trossachs Forest

The 39 Steps Trossachs Locations

 Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Glen Finglas and the Great Trossachs Forest

A cyclist pauses to take in the view on the Great Trossachs Trail

A cyclist pauses to take in the view on the Great Trossachs Path

From medieval hunting parties to whisky smugglers, cattle rustlers and those incredible dam-building pioneers of renewable energy, the Hydro Boys, Glen Finglas has seen its fair share of excitement and change.  And that’s continuing today through the work of the Woodland Trust Scotland and the ongoing development of the Great Trossachs Forest.

Woodland Trust Scotland visitor centre at Lendrick Hill car park

Woodland Trust Scotland visitor centre at Lendrick Hill car park

A new information centre, the Glen Finglas Visitor Gateway, has been built at the Lendrick Hill car park and is the starting point for a whole range of walks; anything from half a mile to 15 miles. There’s also an option to follow the Great Trossachs Path itself, which runs for 30 miles from Callander all the way to Inversnaid on Loch Lomond.

Glen Finglas walks map

Glen Finglas walks map

What is it makes this area so interesting? In the early 19th century that founding father of Scottish tourism, Sir Walter Scott, immortalised both the Trossachs and Glen Finglas in his epic poem ‘Lady of the Lake’ and the ballad ‘Glenfinlas’. From that point on visitors flocked to the area, drawn by the rugged natural beauty of the hills, lochs and glens.  But also by the romantic tales and legends associated with the wild landscape. This notion of the romance of the wild saw many writers, artists and poets among the visitors, including the renowned naturalist, philosopher and social critic John Ruskin, one of the most influential men of his day, and a frequent visitor to the Trossachs. I was pleased to discover that it’s once again possible to go and stand by the rushing waters of the burn at the spot where Millais painted his famous portrait of Ruskin in1853.

Through the woods above Glen Finglas dam

Through the woods above Glen Finglas dam

The Great Trossachs Forest project is not a ‘quick fix’, but an inspired and inspiring long-term plan to regenerate natural woodland and habitats. We took the Lendrick Hill and Dam walk, which, at its most northerly point, looks down on the gentle curve of the dam built in the 1960s as part of the massive Scotland-wide hydro-electric scheme.

The walk ends at the delightful Brig O’Turk Tea Room, well-known both for its wonderful food but also as a key location in the 1959 remake of John Buchan’s classic The 39 Steps. Starring the debonair Kenneth More, much of this version was filmed in and around the Trossachs.  In one scene our hero makes his escape by peddling off, hidden amongst a group of other cyclists, whilst clad in a rather improbable fashion! The cyclists we saw that day were anything but improbable and it was great to see so many people getting real enjoyment from a trip to Glen Finglas.

The world-famous Brig O'Turk tearoom!

The world-famous Brig O’Turk Tea Room!