At school, we sang a song about taking the high road and low road to get to Loch Lomond. We didn’t really understand what was special about it and it was many years before it became clear to me.
For too long, I had sped past on my way north to the Highlands and Hebrides. Despite passing Arrochar and its Alps, the lure of the north held me in thrall. It was several years before I finally made it to the summit of the most spectacular peak Ben Arthur, better known as The Cobbler.
However, with my fascination for the Cairngorm mountains, the area dropped off my radar. Interest soared when the West Highland Way was opened but waned after a long weekend plagued by midges.
It was the establishment of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in 2002 that turned my vague interest in the area into proper appreciation – a destination rather than a refreshment stop. It was reinforced by hearing a reference to its ‘complex habitat’ during a radio programme on ‘Adders of Loch Lomond’ which brought the area to life.
First stop is always the National Park Visitor Centre in Balmaha. In this dynamic area, things are changing all the time, so it’s useful to check current info and events whilst also picking up new ideas. The island of Inchcailloch is a short boat ride away and certainly worth at least one full day’s visit to explore its oak woodland.
It’s easy to focus on the lochs and just see the land as the context but that would be a mistake. The two form a complete and complementary landscape where both can be appreciated in their own right and from each other’s perspectives.
For my own part, it’s been fun to travel on the water buses across and along Loch Lomond (services run from spring until late autumn) and also to walk on the many trails looking down from the relatively modest heights.
Of course, Lomond is not the only loch and on foot is not the only way to explore. Scenic road routes cross the area with well-positioned stopping places to savour the views.
On Loch Katrine, the steamship Sir Walter Scott made her maiden voyage in 1900. It’s wheelchair accessible with sailings leaving from Trossachs Pier for Stronachlachar on a daily basis and is a personal favourite.
Like me, you may prefer to use to public transport to get around. The national park is well-served both internally and in reaching it and is an environmentally-friendly way to explore.
Every time I leave the car behind it takes a wee while to adjust to not being in control before the liberating feeling of no responsibility for safety and parking takes over.
The hop on/hop off circular bus services are a real boon, encouraging spontaneity and a sense of adventure. Great, too, to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer.
Aberfoyle is a lovely village with two great attractions nearby. The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is a resource that offers a wide range of activities and events. High on a hill with commanding views across to Ben Lomond, the Lodge is a striking building which is worth a visit to see for itself.
Unsurprisingly, most activities are based around walks and wildlife in line with the forestry centres throughout the UK. I like the combination of things to do, to see and to share with a good café to revive energy.
The road that runs from Aberfoyle to Loch Katrine, passing the Lodge, is known as The Duke’s Pass and is often referred to as one of Britain’s top drives. Though only about seven miles long, it’s well worth it for the superb scenery and access to the Three Lochs Forest Drive.
If you feeling energetic and love an adrenalin rush, then take to the trees here on a high wire forest adventure with Go Ape! Two of Britain’s longest zip wires, each stretching over 400m long, fly thrill seekers 150ft above the ground and across a 90ft waterfall. If you prefer to keep both feet on the ground, then watching is great fun.
The Sealife Aquarium at Loch Lomond Shores by Balloch is a fascinating rainy day option for adults as well as children allowing visitors to get close to many endangered sea creatures that have been rescued but can’t be freed or form part of the centre’s conservation project.
My favourite memory of the area? Watching an osprey – unforgettable!
Walkers, campers and anybody active outdoors should check for ticks at the end of the day and have a tick remover to extract the insect; even better, check regularly.
National Park at a glance
- The National Park covers 720sq miles
- There are 21 Munros (mountains above 3,000ft), 19 Corbetts (mountains between 2,500ft and 3,000ft)
- There are two forest parks: Queen Elizabeth and Argyll
- There are 22 lochs, 50 rivers and large burns
- Loch Lomond is the largest area of freshwater in Britain – 24 miles long
- At its deepest, Loch Lomond measures 623 feet; the equivalent of 45 double decker buses and deeper than the North Sea in some areas
- 39 miles of coastline around three sea lochs – Loch Long, Loch Goil and the Holy Loch
- Loch Lomond contains more species of fish than any other in Scotland, including trout, salmon, sea-trout, pike and powan
- Ospreys frequently nest on the islands on Loch Lomond
- Species including otters, red squirrels, black grouse and water voles are all indicated as priority species in Wild Park 2020
- The National Park has healthy red squirrel populations in Argyll, Callander, Lochearnhead, Aberfoyle and throughout the Queen Elizabeth and Argyll forest parks.
- Ben Lomond at 3,194ft is Scotland’s most southerly Munro
- Balquhidder was the home to Rob Roy MacGregor and his grave can be found in the local church
- The West Highland Way is Scotland’s premier long distance route is 96 miles and runs through the National Park following the shores of Loch Lomond
© John Traynor – from the Journeys of a Thousand Words series