“I to the hills will lift mine eyes…” The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre, Aberfoyle

Womens Timber Corps 1942-1946There are days when things seem to wrong from the word go. The weather is lousy, the car won’t start, the bus is late, you’re caught off guard and hurt by an unpleasant remark from a bullying colleague or an unjustified mocking jibe on social media.  Then there’s the infuritaing call-centre that never answers the phone no matter how important they claim your call to be. Or the angry customer who vents his frustration on you. Or the delivery you waited in all day for that never came. Irritation after irritation.

Some days the list can seem endless! None of it your fault, but rather circumstances and people around you that seem to conspire to make you feel bad. To feel worthless. To feel invisible. Some days it can be an uphill struggle to retain you equilibrium.p1250113

We all have different ways of dealing with life’s ups and downs. For me, the very best way of dealing with the effects of upsets and hurts, and for putting life back into perspective, is to take to the hills.

Here in Scotland we are blessed to be surrounded by hills, lochs and forests. Yesterday we headed to Aberfoyle and on up to the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre run by the Forestry Commission Scotland.  If you should go there, stand on the terrace, breathe deeply and savour the marvellous panorama that unfolds before you: Loch Ard Forest, Loch Achray Forest, Ben Lomond, the Lowlands in front of you, the Highlands behind – it’s undoubtedly one of the very best spots in the Trossachs.the-lodge-aberfoyle-500p

And as you look across the wide expanse of countryside that surrounds you, the world takes on a whole new perspective. The view is magnificent. The air is fresher and cleaner: the encircling trees ‘breathing’ in our dirty air and ‘breathing’ out the clean oxygen that fills our hearts and lungs and makes us stand up straighter, bringing a new sense of calmness in its wake.

You’ll soon notice that all around the Lodge are tracks and trails that lead off and away into the forest, inviting you to follow them. Who could fail to be drawn onto a path as it disappears into the woods? Who wouldn’t want to go sit “Under the Greenwood Tree” as did Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Orlando, or Thomas Hardy’s characters? There is something primeval about forests and we respond to that. Our curiosity and desire to explore are awakened and off we go!

p1250063The trail to the waterfall is a delight. Running steeply downhill, it twists and turns, with strange sights awaiting! Turn one corner and there are the two young deer startled into motionlessness. Turn another and you come across the Magic Tree. Turn a third and you’re faced by the strange ghostly figures that stand so very still and silent among the trees – ethereal and alien looking, yet at the same time reflecting back strange visions of ourselves.

Then, turn one further corner, and come face to face with a force of nature: the waterfall crashing and roaring through the gorge, thundering over rock and down the cliff face as the swollen burn races in torrents past your feet. After heavy rain the might of the water is unmistakable. Magnificent – and a little bit terrifying too!

It would be hard not to be drawn into the beauty of this natural landscape. Nature heals and soothes. And as that happens you’ll find nothing seems as bad as it did before. You’re not worthless, nor are you invisible. A sense of proportion returns. Your physical and mental wellbeing improve.  Body, mind and soul.  Not a bad outcome from a walk in the hills!the-lodge-aberfoyle-burn-500p

Forestry Commission Scotland

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

Scotland’s Wild Tours of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH): Scotland’s People and Nature Survey

Søren Kierkegaard and John Muir on the benefits of Nature

“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

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!