Monks, marauders and madmen

The fascinating tale of Inchmurrin’s exciting past is told in April’s iScot magazine

There’s something really rather appealing about alliteration, something that lends itself to article titles. They’re memorable. They’re snappy. They tell a little story of their own. Although it’s only an indication of what else there is to come: a taster of the treat that’s in store when you read the whole story. And if you haven’t visited Inchmurrin Island on Loch Lomond, then there is indeed a treat awaiting you!

An old sea dog!

It combines a boat trip, with good food and an island with a ruined castle to explore. Shades of an Enid Blyton adventure – but with grown ups! We tend to think of islands as being far away, out in the Atlantic or other great oceans. But here in Scotland we’re blessed with islands of every shape and size, some of them literally within minutes of our front doors. Yet despite being near at hand they’re still islands and that magical ferry trip, no matter how long or how short, makes them special. Loch Lomond is awash with islands. Twenty-two of them have names and Inchmurrin is the largest, not only on this loch but in any freshwater loch in Britain.

We were there recently with visitors over from Canada. The island ferry fetched us from the Burnfoot Jetty at Arden, just north of Balloch, and took us over to the island: though there are other ways to get there.

Looking up the loch from the ruins of 14th century Lennox Castle

The views up and down the loch on the short crossing are wonderful, and being in a small boat, sitting low in the water gives a real feeling of being at sea! Lunch was in the island restaurant, run by the Scott family, who own and farm the land and thanks to them guests are free to roam the island.

To the north-west lies mature woodland, especially alder and holly. To the south-west the ruins of the 14th century castle built by the Earls of Lennox when they fled the plague, abandoning their castle in Balloch. Although chiefly used as a hunting lodge, the castle nonetheless saw its fair share of murder and mayhem, and in the early 18th century was raided by Rob Roy during his lengthy conflict with the Marquis of Montrose. There was also a chapel dedicated to St Mirren – hence the island’s name.

Chirpy island residents!

The island sits along the Highland Boundary fault line and is rich in history and archaeology and makes for a delightful day out. There’s a great deal more to tell, but as this is just a taster, I’ll stop now. Though the full article is available in this month’s excellent iScot magazine.

So if a day out on the water appeals, then head for Inchmurrin. And be glad that you don’t have to go far in Scotland to find an island!

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