Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
The Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park ensures protection for what is not only Britain’s largest freshwater expanse but also one of its most celebrated. West of Loch Lomond are the steep Arrochar Alps towering above Loch Long, while to the east are the Trossachs – a delightful landscape of forests, lochs and hills with easy access from the visitor hubs of Aberfoyle and Callander. The less explored side of the National Park is the remote but enchanting Cowal Peninsula.
This guide features 40 family-friendly walks that pick their way through the best this part of Scotland has to offer – from the famous heights of Ben Lomond and The Cobbler to delightful hidden glens and shady woodland trails, as well as glorious shorelines and riverbank strolls.
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Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Its ‘Bonnie Banks’, as celebrated in the romantic ballad, are clothed with native oakwoods, a fantastic habitat for wildlife and ideal for family walks.To the east are the Trossachs, a compact huddle of rocky hills, dense forests and jewel-like smaller lochs that have been dubbed the ‘Highlands in Miniature’. It was Sir Walter Scott’s poem Lady of the Lake, set on Loch Katrine, and his novel based on the life of Rob Roy that first made the area famous, and it remains a favourite on many itineraries of Scotland. West of Loch Lomond, the scene changes; here, clustered around the head of Loch Long, rise a group of mountains so steep and rocky that they have become known as the Arrochar Alps.
The Rest and Be Thankful pass gives access to the Cowal Peninsula, now somewhat neglected but once a favourite for holidaying Glaswegians who came here in the age of the steamers.
Together these landscapes make up Scotland’s first National Park, recognising the importance of this natural breathing space so close to Glasgow and yet so apart, and the need to protect it from the pressures of visitor numbers and insensitive development.
How to use this guide
This guide contains 40 short to moderate walks, most of which can be undertaken in half a day, exploring the area’s varied terrain. With good connections to Glasgow and Stirling, many of the walks are accessible by bus, although timetables should be checked at the local tourist information centre or online at traveline.org.uk as school holiday and last-minute timetable changes are possible. Ferries and pleasure boats on Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine make a pleasant alternative to road transport; there is even the chance to hire your own boat from Balmaha Boatyard to visit Inchcailloch Island. Many of these walks are on forestry tracks or prepared paths, and mention is made when the terrain is particularly boggy, steep or rocky. However, bear in mind that ground conditions can be as changeable as the weather and most of the walks will require waterproof footwear.
The higher peaks can often be snow covered in winter, making their ascent a much more serious proposition. While a sketch map accompanies each walk, it is always useful to have an OS map with you, even perhaps on waymarked trails, in case you stray from the route or need to shortcut to safety. Waterproofs should be carried on all except the shortest routes, and the mountain climbs require full hillwalking clothing, a map and navigation skills. Due to the rugged terrain, only a few of the walks are suitable for all-terrain baby buggies and these are highlighted at the start of the relevant route. However, there are a number of walks which are especially child friendly, with the inclusion of a boat trip (Loch Katrine, Inchcailloch Island, and Inversnaid RSPB Trail), the chance to watch red squirrels and birds from the comfort of a wildlife hide (Glenbranter, Puck’s Glen, and the Lime Craig Circuit), or a hunt for sculptures and other riddles hidden in the forest (Loch Ard and Lochan Spling). Many other walks provide perfect picnic spots and the chance to cool off with a paddle in lochs or burns.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave walkers the right of access over most Scottish land away from residential buildings. With this right comes responsibilities, as set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: these include respect for other land users and responsible access, especially on farmed and grazing land. In particular, dogs should be kept on tight leads during the spring and early summer to stop them disturbing ground-nesting birds and livestock. Dogs should also be kept well away from sheep with lambs at all times. Deer stalking takes place on the hills between 1 July and 20 October, but this should not usually conflict with any of the walks described in this guide as long as you stick to the recommended route. Ticks and midges can sometimes be a hazard during the summer months: the best precautions are to cover up, wear light-coloured clothing, use insect repellent and check and remove ticks each day.
The area has a rich history and landscape which has in turn inspired writers, artists and poets. The outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor became famous in his own lifetime. Born near the head of Loch Katrine, he lived for many years by Balquhidder. Along with his father, he took part in the Jacobite rising and was badly injured at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719. His family were evicted from their lands and their house burnt to the ground by the Duke of Montrose, driving Rob Roy to live as an outlaw, waging a personal feud against the Duke and passing into legend as the Scottish Robin Hood. His public popularity meant that although imprisoned, he was eventually pardoned by King George I just before he was due to be transported to the colonies. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on 28 December 1734.
Sir Walter Scott later penned a bestselling novel based on Rob Roy’s story in 1817, and Wordsworth wrote a poem entitled ‘Rob Roy’s Grave’ during a visit to the area in 1803. These events heralded the romanticising of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs as artists such as Millais and the critic John Ruskin also drew inspiration from the landscape. By the mid-1800s, the area was a firm feature on the Grand Tour.
Recreation of a different type was gaining pace on the other side of Loch Lomond, as the Arrochar Alps became popular as a climbers’ playground from the 1890s on. Traditionally the preserve of well-to-do gentlemen, by the 1930s a new group of climbers, the unemployed and the working class from the shipyards and factories of Glasgow, came to the area by bike, foot, bus and train to hone their climbing skills on the many peaks, sleeping in howffs under boulders, with the rockfaces of the Cobbler becoming a firm favourite.
The natural environment
This area lies across the Highland Boundary Fault, a wide crumple-zone caused by two different types of rock crashing against each other. The north and west is made up of hard metamorphic rock, with softer sandstones, conglomerates and sedimentary rocks making up the south and east. The faultline was particularly active 400-500 million years ago when the region was rocked by regular earthquakes. The geology has since settled down, but the fault still forms a dividing line between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland: one of the best views of the effect of the faultline can be seen from the summit of Conic Hill by Balmaha. It is this geology which gives the Trossachs its distinct character. Also described as Scotland’s Lake District, the area is divided by small wooded peaks and hills with many picturesque lochs dotted in between. The bustling settlements of Callander and Aberfoyle, important wool-trading markets in the past, in addition to smaller villages often with cafés or inns, make this an ideal area for pleasant touring without having to travel many miles each day. Newer industries have taken advantage of the geography, with forestry becoming very important in places. Two expanses of forestry dominate – the Queen Elizabeth and Argyll Forest Parks – which stretch from the east side of Loch Lomond to Strathyre and across much of the Cowal Peninsula respectively. In addition to timber harvesting, both have been developed for public recreation since the 1950s and now provide many walks, mountain bike trails, wildlife hides and other attractions. There has been a more recent move towards increasing the biodiversity here, with some plantations felled to allow natural regeneration of mixed native woodland.
In parallel with this development has been the surge in public interest and enthusiasm for bird- and wildlife-watching and for botany. All the walks in this guide present the opportunity to spot wildlife and appreciate the changing seasons. Particular highlights include the chance to see feeding ospreys on the lochs and on CCTV at the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre near Aberfoyle. Red squirrels are abundant at Glenbranter and Ardentinny, and if you can visit Inchcailloch Island during late spring, the bluebells are outstanding. The variety of different woodland with the backdrop of freshwater and sea lochs make the autumn a particularly vibrant time to appreciate the tree colours.