Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: Scotland’s Playground!

Most visitors to Scotland will be keen to travel the castle trail, the whisky trail or visit the many historic sites and areas or soak up the culture of the big cities. Many will be keen to immerse themselves in the highland landscapes and possibly seek out those places their ancestors came from. There is nothing wrong with these activities – many visitors will have a wonderful time exploring Scotland.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/But what about the native Scots? What do they do, where do they go for their ‘staycations’? Well, one of the most popular areas in the west of Scotland is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomond lake (the largest loch in Britain by surface area) is Scotland’s premier water sports location.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Yachting, power boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, water skiing and angling (both game and coarse fishing) can be had on the loch and anglers can be sure of a varied catch with Loch Lomond fishing since Loch Lomond has more species of fish than any other loch in Scotland). And to answer a fairly common question from non-Scots, on whether the Loch Ness monster is found in Loch Lomond – the answer is no. It is said to be found in Loch Ness and you can read about that here.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond contains about thirty islands (a few of which are seasonally inhabited) and boat excursions are available around some of them. Balloch, a town on the southern shore of the loch, has a large marina and is the base for several boating tours which range up and down the loch. It is also the place to go for boating enthusiasts who simply wish to admire the huge range of small pleasure craft which use the marina.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Balloch is also where you will find the ‘Maid of the Loch’, a paddle steamer which used to sail Loch Lomond but is now moored at Balloch Pier whilst funds are raised to, hopefully, return it to its previous life carrying passengers and sightseers up and down the loch. In the meantime she serves as a restaurant, bar and events venue. If you’re in the area and feeling a bit peckish you could do worse than visit her.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Getting around Loch Lomond is surprisingly easy since a waterbus service runs on the loch. If you need to get from one place to another or just want to take in the views, the waterbus allows you to enjoy a relaxing journey and also have time onshore to enjoy a scenic lunch stop. Scheduled services depart from various piers and pontoons strategically placed on the loch allowing you to take in the stunning scenery at your leisure – and feel free to bring your four-legged friends along for the trip!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Of course not everyone is into water sports but don’t despair; Loch Lomond lies within the 720-square-mile Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Established in 2002 this was the first of Scotland’s national parks and it covers a large portion of the western part of the southern highlands. It is the fourth largest national park in the British Isles.

Included within its boundaries are many other lochs (although none as large as Loch Lomond) and no less than 21 of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) one of which is Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro, which towers over Loch Lomond from its eastern side and, if you have the energy to reach its summit, is a magnificent viewpoint for the entire 22-mile length of the loch.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The entire area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor adventures. Apart from the water sports there are opportunities for mountaineering, hill walking, orienteering, mountain biking and more and the range of wildlife to be seen in the park both on Loch Lomond itself or around its shores and in the wider park is astounding – the water birds alone make for spectacular sights both summer and winter.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/After visitors have indulged themselves in their favourite outdoor activities there is also the opportunity to try some indoor activities. At the southern end of the loch, close to Balloch is Loch Lomond Shores. With excellent views over the loch this upmarket shopping experience is a relaxing way to unwind after a hard day’s exploring.

The nearby Drumkinnon Tower is home to the Loch Lomond Aquarium whose 26 exhibits contain mainly native Scottish species. It features touch pools, ray tanks and a tropical ocean tunnel. Drumkinnon Tower also has a 350-seat cinema and a cafe. Don’t forget to visit the National Park Gateway Centre where lots of information about the park can be found including its history and the background into its establishment in 2002.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and the wider area of the Trossachs National Park is also easy to reach from most of the central belt of Scotland making this one of the most popular ‘staycation’ destinations in Scotland. Surely it’s worth a visit if you happen to have a day or two to spare?

For those who do decide on a longer stay the area has a plethora of hotels and guest houses ranging from small and cosy to big and beautiful and there are numerous camping and caravanning sites available so you’re bound to find something to your liking.

Loch Lomond Map and Information:

YouTube Video: Watch a video of the Loch

One of the most famous Scottish songs is about Loch Lomond. Here is a beautiful version of it.

The song itself is about a Scottish soldier who is to be executed. Legend has it that the spirits of Scots who die abroad return to Scotland by the “Low Road” and the singer says they will return by the “low road”.

Inverness – The Hub of the Highlands

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Inverness

Although it is the most northerly of Scotland’s ‘cities’ Inverness isn’t hard to reach. With the four major roads which span the Scottish Highlands converging on the city, its own airport and a railway station and bus station, both of which are travel hubs for the east coast of Scotland, Inverness is well located as a great starting (or finishing) point for any trip to the Highlands.

But the city shouldn’t be regarded as a mere waypoint on a greater journey. It has much to offer those who may wish to linger awhile and explore what Inverness and the surrounding area has to offer. There is a great selection of hotels, B&Bs and guest houses both within the city and nearby so finding suitable accommodation shouldn’t be a problem.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

River Ness

The River Ness runs through the middle of the city and the numerous hotels and cafes on its banks and the attractive bridges across the river give both wonderful views and the opportunity for visitors to simply sit and people watch as the world goes by as well as sample what culinary delights the city has to offer.

Inverness is the cultural heart of the Highlands with museums and art galleries dedicated to local history and culture. Various guided tours of the city are available pointing out places of interest and giving an insight into the history of the area – fairies, slaves and rebellion feature large!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/ https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Victorian Market

For dedicated shoppers Inverness has a Victorian Market and a large, modern shopping centre as well as numerous small shops selling all kinds of items from souvenirs to kilts and other tartan clothing. If you search diligently you may even be able to purchase a haggis!

Inverness is also associated with that iconic piece of clothing, said to have been worn by Sherlock Holmes – the Inverness Cape. This is a sleeveless coat, with an over cape. Many bands, including pipe bands and those with accordion players use the Inverness Cape as part of their uniform, as it gives good access to their musical instruments, unlike coats with sleeves that can be restrictive. Coachmen, who drove horses and carriages, also used to be clothed in an Inverness Cape for the freedom it provided to control and handle the horses.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Inverness Cathedral

Inverness Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew, has an important place in Scottish religious history and is currently the seat of the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It is a magnificent building and well worth a visit. Inverness Castle is a wonderful sight from across the river towering, as it does, over the city and the river and is another place not to be missed.

Caledonian Canal

For those of a nautical bent Inverness lies at one end of the Caledonian Canal, that 60-mile-long diagonal slash through Scotland which offers an interesting opportunity to sail peacefully from one side of Scotland to the other. Several companies hire motor cruisers on the canal and it is possible to cruise from Inverness to Fort William passing through some magnificent scenery along the way. As you traverse Loch Ness, look out for the Loch Ness monster!https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Dolphins Cetaceans and Porpoises

Dolphin watching trips out in the Moray Firth can be taken where a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins can often be seen frolicking in the waves. Other cetaceans can also be spotted including harbour porpoises and even, occasionally, minke whales. If your sea legs aren’t the best then stay on shore and go to Chanonry Point – the best of several places on the Moray Firth from where these creatures can be seen.

NC500

The city is also the starting point for the NC500, that 500-mile long road trip which takes you up the east coast, along the north coast and down the west coast of Scotland returning to Inverness by a cross-country route cutting through some magnificent scenery on its way.

Only a couple of miles from Inverness you may be interested in visiting what is one of Scotland’s most iconic historical sites. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the last pitched battle fought on British soil and resulted in the defeat by an English army of the rebellious Jacobite forces under the command of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. The site of the battle is preserved as much as possible with a visitors’ centre including a 360-degree theatre which puts you right in the middle of the battle and a museum which displays artifacts which have been recovered from the battlefield.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Inverness Castle

Inverness also has a castle, which acted as a place of corrections for many years, after being rebuilt in the nineteenth century on what was originally a defensive site, overlooking the River Ness. Inverness castle is no longer the site of the Sheriff court but the grounds and North Tower are open to visitors, with a wide view of the River Ness and many historical artifacts. When acting as a defensive site, it was associated with Mary Queen of Scots, though was later blown up by Bonnie Prince Charlie, as it was taken over by a clan who supported the English forces.

No matter what you decide Inverness will make you welcome. By the way, Inverness is said to be the place in the British Isles where the clearest English is spoken!

 

More On Inverness

Information on INVERNESS

THINGS TO DO AND MAPS Of Inverness

 

The (Rail) road To The Isles On The Harry Potter Jacobite Train

‘’It’s by Shiel water the track is to the west,
by Ailort and by Morar to the sea.’’

These lines are from a well-known traditional Scottish song ‘’The Road to the Isles’’ describing a weary travellers’ journey and the long road he must travel to reach his home on the Isle of Skye. You can hear this song in a video at the bottom of this article.

Today that journey is far easier and perhaps the best way to see what is surely the most scenic part of that long road home is to take a different kind of track – a railroad track – from the west highland town of Fort William to the west coast fishing port and ferry terminal of Mallaig.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The West Coast Railways Jacobite steam train will take you in comfort from the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, to the mouth of Europe’s deepest sea loch. The only timetabled steam rail journey in the UK, the Jacobite passes picturesque coasts, mountains and glens on its spectacular 42-mile journey west.

It passes through an area which many consider to be one of the most beautiful in the UK (beaches in this area have been used in several Hollywood movies).https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

From Fort William and Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in the UK) it passes the southern end of the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks (the longest staircase lock in the UK) allowing boats down to the sea at Loch Linnhe.

It then skirts the head of Loch Shiel with its monument https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/commemorating the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to begin the ‘45 rebellion and passes over the imposing 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct (which any ‘’Harry Potter’’ fan will instantly recognise) and on to the small hamlet of Lochailort where commandos were trained during WW2.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Next comes Loch nan Uamh where there is another viaduct to carry the railway over the road and, on the shores of the loch, sits the Prince’s Cairn which marks the spot from where Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France after the Jacobite army’s final disastrous defeat at the battle of Culloden in 1746.

A short distance further on is the village of Arisaig – another place involved in commando training and from where emigrants sailed to Canada and founded the small village of Arisaig in Nova Scotia in 1785.

Mallaig isn’t far now but before the Jacobite reaches it you can indulge in a little monster-spotting! Loch Morar, to the east of the railway line, is the deepest freshwater loch in the British Isles and is rumoured to have a rival to Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Named ‘’Morag’’ the Loch Morar monster, is just as much an enigma as Nessie. She has (allegedly) been seen several times but no evidence has ever been found for her existence. Maybe she and Nessie have eloped together!

Finally Mallaig at the end of the railway line is reached but that isn’t necessarily the end of your journey. Mallaig (once the busiest herring port in Europe) is a bustling ferry terminal as well as a busy fishing port and onward travel by ferry is possible to the Isle of Skye, the inner hebridean archipelago of the Small Isles (one of Scotland’s National Scenic Areas) or south to Inverie a village on the mainland which isn’t connected to the rest of Scotland by any road and is home to Britain’s remotest pub. The only way to reach it is by ferry from Mallaig – or a long 17-mile hike over the hills.

As scenic railway journeys go, this ‘’railroad to the isles’’ certainly ranks up there with the best of them and any visit to the west coast of Scotland would be incomplete without a trip on the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig but book early because it is understandably very popular!

Here is the song “The Road To The isles”, sung by Kenneth McKellar:

URQUHART CASTLE

Between Fort William in the east and Inverness in the west lies the geological fault of the Great Glen – a deep, diagonal slash in the land. 62 miles in length, it cuts Scotland in half separating the Grampian mountains from the northwest highlands.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Lying within this glen is Loch Ness and on the shore of the loch about halfway along you will find the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Close to the village of Drumnadrochit and located in a prominent position surrounded on three sides by water Urquhart Castle is famous for being the place from which the Loch Ness monster has most often been seen and photographed and, perhaps for this reason, it is one of the most visited castles in Scotland but the existence or otherwise of this legendary creature isn’t the only reason for visiting Urquhart Castle.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland the castle is steeped in history – there is evidence of a castle of some description on the site as far back as the reign of King Alexander II (1214-1249). One of the largest castles in Scotland in total area Urquhart Castle is easily accessible from the main A82 road which runs alongside the loch. The castle has witnessed some of the most significant chapters in the history of Scotland and, with a wild natural beauty and centuries of history behind it, offers a taste of the highlands at their most dramatic giving a glimpse of life in a medieval castle complemented by stunning views over Loch Ness.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Overlooking the castle and the loch and discreetly hidden by the sloping hillside below the main A82 a new, modern visitor centre was opened in 2002. Accessed from the car park by steps or elevator the visitor centre comprises three main areas: the shop, leading to the viewing terrace and the path to the castle; an exhibition area which includes a large model of the castle and an audio-visual theatre.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Be sure to visit the cafe for the views from the outside terrace are quite spectacular which is why it was once a popular wedding venue. Sadly, weddings are no longer conducted at the castle but happy couples are quite welcome to take photographs. Once into the castle grounds proper there is much to see including a full-sized replica trebuchet (a bit like a catapult), a fine example of a truly impressive siege weapon from a time before gunpowder.

Also in the extensive grounds you will find the remains of several buildings including those of the kitchens and the great hall. The Grant Tower, the best-preserved part of the castle, can be explored by a narrow and rather restricted spiral staircase. At busy times this can be quite congested and you may have to wait your turn but the view from the top over Loch Ness makes it worthwhile.

Even though there are many castles in Scotland larger or more complete than Urquhart Castle there are few with quite such a depth of history and even fewer located in such magnificent surroundings nor is there the possibility anywhere else, however unlikely, of taking a photograph which proves that a certain mythical creature does in fact exist. Can you imagine a wedding photograph with the Loch Ness Monster in the background?

More information on Urquhart Castle.

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All photographs on this page were sourced from Pixabay

And a Youtube video