Monday, 11 April 2011
Loch Katrine-Aberfoyle Circuit.
No Alex.He`s still resting his sore paw for a week longer. When I`m on my own I prefer cycling to walking so this is a classic easy day cycle tour on a perfect Sunday at the start of April.
Depending on number of rest stops and speed of bike the full circuit takes between three to six hours in an area stuffed with history.Three hours is a fast time, most will take four or longer.I was steady paced at four.
Parked in the large main car park beside Loch Katrine pier head in the heart of the Trossachs and paid my £3 meter fee.There are other suitable laybys en route but on this day they were all empty,secluded and looked easy pickings for any car thieves if a car was left unattended for hours alone.I was happy to pay a little extra for security and peace of mind in a more populated car park.
The tourist season had yet to start and the Sir Walter Scott steamship was tied up getting an engine check and makeover ready for the spring crowds who would soon be descending.
This amazing ferry was launched here in 1899 after being floated up Loch Lomond from its birthplace in Dumbarton then carried in sections overland by heavy horses to here. Its still a very popular trip and all the ferries based on the loch are packed solid with visitors during the peak summer months.
At the other end of the loch the small hamlet of Stronachlachar mainly exists as a place for the ferry to visit with its own pier,tearoom ,toilets,holiday cottages and large estate house.This was where I was heading now only by road.
Popular with families cycling as its quiet and fairly flat a private water board road snakes round the northern shores passing wooded islands and small bays with views of high mountains behind.Ben Lomond dominates the scene,its shaded northern corrie still covered in snow.
It was a brilliant day and I made good time,only a few tidy hill farms reminding me that this was not unpopulated wilderness.Considering tourists have been coming here for hundreds of years it is remarkably unspoiled,and indeed this was the birthplace of Scottish tourism when Sir Walter Scott set his "Lady of the Lake" here in 1810 inspired by the still recent tales of Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734).
Almost forgotten now this poem was very famous in its day and had a diverse influence on other works of the time.
One of the strangest is that a few lines in it describing the practice of a raised burning cross sometimes used as a beacon to alert the clans in times of war was then changed and reborn many years later in the early silent film " The birth of a nation." which in turn was then adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in America soon after!
How weird is that. A symbol taken from a romanticised poem about Scotland considered far too unrealistic,sickly sweet and long winded for modern tastes.Also the highland cross was not of the Latin KKK type but more probably the St Andrew,s Cross.The same type used in the flag of Scotland which has a claim to be the worlds oldest flag.
Anyway,The lands of the MacGregor`s stretched from here to the edge of Perthshire covering many different glens but this was where that most famous of clan sons grew up and lived.This present day abode still stands right on the site where he was born and raised.
Probably a bit grander now than the building he would have known in his day.Both the MacGregors and the neighbouring MacFarlanes across Loch Lomond in the deep glens around Arrochar had a reputation for being "troublesome".
In other words they were good at stealing cattle, fighting,drinking,quarreling and general mayhem and pillage.All the highland clans did the same of course,forming alliances and blood feuds as the mood took them but these two being nearer the fertile and farm rich lowlands were particularly good at it.They seemed to have had some kind of understanding with each other if only respect for each clans fighting abilities.
Both clans shared a common graveyard on Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond where the clan chiefs were buried on separate sides of this walled enclosure.Its still very beautiful today and a visit there then a walk round this wooded island is a fantastic day out (ferry or boat hire from Balmaha) as is the nearby island of Inchmurrin.(ferry from Arden area).They also both fought in the Wars of Independance against the English Intruders.
In turbulent times its not always a good idea to be so feared and dreaded by your neighbours however.Neighbouring lands used to pray for cloudy skies as the full moon was known as MacFarlane,s Lantern.A time when cattle raids and killings usually peaked. For this and other perceived crimes both clans were hunted , and executed relentlessly over many decades,earning the MacGregors the title "children of the mist "when they were driven into the higher hills by the invading government armies of the day, aided no doubt by other rival clans and powerful landowners.This time around it was not an advantage to be so close to the lowlands as it made them easier to reach.It was even an offence to bear the name MacGregor during this period and the surviving MacFarlanes ended up escaping to Ireland then America. Rob Roy MacGregor lived to a fair age for the times though and died peacefully in his house at nearby Balquidder.There is now a long distance path in his name The Rob Roy Way passing through former clan territory he would have known well as it runs from Drymen to Pitlochry.
It was quiet and peaceful now though in this glen and a terrific morning.As you go round the far end of the Loch trees fade out ,the ring of mountains close in and on a dull day it would look grey and forbidding.So thought Dorothy Wordsworth anyway when she visited with brother William noting that this end resembled a bleak version of Ullswater.Must have just been the weather that day as It was magical enough on my trip.
Around here an army of toads crawled all over the road in full breeding frenzy....
Unfortunately even on a quiet road like this one soft bodies and traffic don't mix well.It was obvious a few cars had passed.Hope this one had a happy time with a partner before this sudden demise.
Come to think of it I looked something like this after my most painful, face first road smash.Unlike this poor wee croaker I survived to dent the ground again.No wonder I like cycling on sand! Forth the gallant multi tarmac smacker!
I had lunch at the Hamlet of Stronachlahar where the ferry calls in.The public road starts from here, the still quiet B829 which runs past Loch Chon and Loch Ard to Aberfoyle.I always look foreword to this section as its a long easy downhill where you can sit and admire the views without effort.
Large flocks of Canada geese honked and munched grass in the flat green meadows around Loch Ard.
They are very vocal birds and I remember getting chased here by a pair paddling furiously after me for a considerable distance during the mating season.Must have been near a hidden nest.This is also a great loch to explore in a kayak with a slow twisting river section,deep clear pools and wooded islands with a surprise on both.
Aberfoyle is soon reached where hotels, pubs,shops and meals may be had for those inclined.I pressed on though keeping my money rationed for other trips.
The Dukes pass lay ahead- the biggest climb of the route.Whatever way you climb this its a brute.I normally just walk up the road to the top pushing bike to save the legs but this time due to heavy traffic I took the safe route on tracks through Queen Elizabeth forest park.I`m not a big fan of conifer forests and found the track up tedious ,long and boring with zilch views but it did have a few points of interest.
Some nice small waterfalls,and this sculpture grove of polished metal figures that almost disappear when viewed from certain angles due to them reflecting the surroundings.Maybe inspired by the children of the mist stories?Very unusual project.
The last highlight was seeing the treetop go ape course getting a pre opening safety check. They were going to erect one of these in Pollok park in Glasgow but it is better out here where folk wanting solitude on their walks can more easily escape the shouts of excited children draining their parents pockets.Good fun but its not cheap!When you see the level of maintanence involved thats no surprise.Years ago children just climbed trees the normal way for adventure.Now ,somehow, unless its safe,regulated and supervised ( and costs money) its not seen as an exciting thing to do by children and parents alike.
As a wee history footnote.... after the great highland clearances and the dismantling of the entire clan system ,replacing people with sheep, a huge number of the dispossessed driven out of their homes and lands both here but also in the Scottish lowlands and Ireland emigrated to America where they came in very useful as a resilient buffer zone between the" troublesome"Native Americans (Indians) and the more peace orientated settlers in the flat fertile valleys and plains.All along the great Appalachian mountain chain of the Southern United States these old world dispossessed fought the new world dispossessed for control of the wooded hollows and valley foothills.Ironic or what!
Eventually,after many hard years they began to prosper and flourish (admittedly at the expense of the even more marginalized Indians),bringing their music ,clan values ,traditions and whisky stills with them.Clan and kin still mattered.
For a while all was good........
Then the American civil war happened and it was all back to normal again..Fighting ,killing stealing cattle etc :o)
Ah well ...they say a change is as good as a rest!