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

 

 

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

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!