Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Trossachs

Scotland's outdoor playground

Where do lots of Scots and many, many visitors to Scotland go for a fun adventure time in the great outdoors? The Trossachs - or, more precisely, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park - of course!

It was the first national park to be established by the Scottish Government (in 2002) and covers an area of 720 square miles. Its main attractions for those who love the great outdoors are the wildlife, the scenery and the many miles of walking routes for all abilities - from the 21 Munros within the park boundary to the many lesser (but no less interesting) hills scattered in profusion throughout the area.

There are also lots of low-level walks for all ages and abilities from short 15-minute strolls to longer but still easy routes.

Map of Scotland showing the location of the Trossachs
Map by Eric Gabba (Sting)/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 4.0
Located just to the north of the central belt of Scotland the area known as the Trossachs is contained within the national park and is bounded (roughly) by Loch Lomond in the west and the towns of Callander in the east and Crianlarich to the north and the bottom end of Loch Lomond and the Campsie fells to the south.

This puts it virtually on the doorstep of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, and within easy reach of much of central Scotland and just 1½ hours drive from my home in the Ancient Kingdom of Fife, on the east coast, which makes it one of our favourite destinations for a day trip and an area my wife and I know well.

View from the Duke's Pass
By John Gibson/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0
We usually start off at the town of Callander (known as The Gateway to the Highlands) where we often stop for lunch before continuing north out of the town for a short distance then turning left onto the road which leads to the Duke's Pass - which climbs high over the hills and down again to the town of Aberfoyle (our alternative lunch stop). Care should be exercised when using this road for it is narrow and twisty in places and is well used not only by cars but by cyclists, RVs and tourist buses. This road takes you deep into the heart of the Trossachs and it can be very busy at times.

A view of Loch Vennachar with Ben Venue in the distance
Photograph by Colin Smith/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0
Loch Vennachar (above) is one of the scenic lochs this road passes and there are plenty of off-road parking places to stop and admire the views or set up a picnic (we have picnicked on the shores of this loch several times). Further along the road you will come to the turn leading to Loch Katrine which is the main public water supply for the city of Glasgow but the loch is also well used for recreational purposes.

Its main attraction for most tourists is the steamship Sir Walter Scott (named after the 19th century poet and author) which offers cruises on the loch during the summer months and it's a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours (if it rains there's a very cosy bar below deck!).

The SS Sir Walter Scott tied up at the pier
Photograph by Richard Sutcliffe/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0

The SS Sir Walter Scott shares the loch with another steamship The Lady of The Lake - which takes its name from the poem of the same name written by Sir Walter Scott and, apparently, inspired by Loch Katrine.
The steamship The Lady of The Lake
Photograph by Ian Murfitt/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0
Continuing over the Duke's Pass (beware of tourist coaches coming the other way) reveals some stunning views of the forest which cloaks a large part of the Trossachs before dropping steeply down to the town of Aberfoyle.

Ordnance Survey Map of the Trossachs
OSGB Map of the Trossachs
On the way over the pass you will find many off-road parking areas and walking routes all of which are worth exploring if you are so inclined - although to explore them all would take a lifetime!.

These paths are well signposted and surfaced but even so it is highly recommended that you don't attempt any of them unless you are suitably equipped with decent walking boots and warm, waterproof clothing (even in summer - Scottish summers can be unpredictable).

If you intend to do any amount of serious walking in the Trossachs you should invest in a suitable map of the area. The Ordnance Survey of Great Britain publish an excellent map for the main area of the Trossachs including the Duke's Pass.

For more specific route detail the OSGB also publish a comprehensive range of outdoor maps covering the whole of Scotland. For more details on OSGB maps read this article:  Ordnance Survey paper maps - are they still relevant?.

Once you are in Aberfoyle you are in the heart of the Trossachs. The town has a large car park (very busy in summer) and, like Callander, has a good choice of places to eat. One attraction you must see is the ''Quack Commandos'' a sheepdog trial with a difference - instead of herding sheep the dogs herd ducks! It takes place in a compound next to the car park.

You will also find a bird of prey exhibition nearby where you can handle the birds and have your photograph taken with raptors ranging from a little owl to a huge eagle owl! Watch this short video:

Head north out of the town and you will find yourself on an increasingly narrow road running past farms and some big houses in spectacular locations as well as several very nice hotels (our daughter was married in one of them) and smaller private properties.

This road eventually leaves civilisation behind (look out for deer crossing the road) and continues north for some miles to a T-junction where, if you turn right, you will come to Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine, where the steamships cruising the loch call, and turning left leads to the Inversnaid on the shores of Loch Lomond where you will find a hotel and a pier from where it is possible to catch a ferry across Loch Lomond to Inveruglas on the opposite shore.

Scotland's premier multi-day walking route, the West Highland Way runs along the shore of the loch here and the area is noted for its feral goats which can, apparently, be smelled long before they are seen (I have seen them but they didn't have any detectable odour to me). There is also a quite spectacular waterfall near the hotel.

Inversnaid Hotel, boats tied up at pier and a waterfall
Photograph by John Fielding/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0
A well-known early 18th century Scottish outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor is reputed to have used a nearby shoreline cave as a hideout from the authorities. The cave can be accessed from the shore but it is awkward and dangerous and I've never been brave enough to attempt it! It is best seen from a boat on the loch (there is a Waterbus service which cruises Loch Lomond during the summer months).

At the southern end of Loch Lomond you will find the town of Balloch where Loch Lomond Shores, a large retail park and visitor centre which offers upmarket shopping and restaurants and information about the Trossachs and the local area is situated (the waterbus terminus is there). There is much to see and do at Loch Lomond Shores and it's worth a visit if you are down that way.

Hiking, Munro-bagging, wildlife spotting, water sports and more are all available in the national park and if you're not in a playful mood then simply go for a drive and marvel at the spectacular scenery in and around the park from the mountains to the lochs to the wildlife. Find a small cafe or restaurant (there are some absolute gems hidden away in odd corners) have a coffee, relax and steep yourself in the atmosphere of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park - Scotland's outdoor playground!

Watch this short video of my Wingman and I hillwalking on Ben Vane (821m, 2694ft) which lies in the heart of the Trossachs:

Sources: Wikipedia, in-text links, personal experience


  1. Your park and the mountains looks a lot like here, Alabama USA. I would visit because I like this type of setting, the tree`s and wildlife.

    1. It can be a very rough area to hike in but always enjoyable.

  2. When I read your posts, it's like you are a tour guide! The photos are exquisite, I love the waterfall. I think I would be a big hesitant to check out the cave also. I enjoy reading about your places of interest.

    1. Thank you. There's a lot more I would love to write about Scotland - it's just finding the time to do it.

  3. Enjoyed this thank you for sharing

    1. Thanks for visiting the Trossachs with me!

  4. When I read your posts and see your wonderful photos, I'm glad I have a bit of Scotch blood in me. I'd love to see the places you write about.