Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is one of my favourite day trip destinations if I fancy a scenic ramble. Scotland’s first national park is where the Highlands and Lowlands meet. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and is easy to reach from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Earlier this month Mr G and I decided we were long overdue a day trip. After poring over maps and studying the weather forecast we settled on Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond has inspired many artists and writers over the years and it’s even been immortalised in a famous song. Sing along, you know the words. “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore you.”
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Leaving Edinburgh, we drove west towards the eastern shore of the loch. Loch Lomond is huge (24 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point), so it’s best to concentrate on one area if you’re day tripping there.
We decided to spend the day in and around the village of Balmaha. Our plan was to island hop, eat and hike.
Arriving in Balmaha we parked at the visitor centre car park. The centre is staffed by park rangers who’re a brilliant source of information and inspiration (if you arrive with no fixed plans).
There are 22 islands and 27 islets in the loch. On them you’ll find a restaurant, self-catering accommodation, historic ruins, an ancient clan burial ground, long abandoned dwellings reclaimed by nature, wildflowers, mature woodland and wildlife (including a colony of wallabies). I first island hopped on Loch Lomond many moons ago when I kayaked over to Inchmurrin during a school trip.
A boat trip to Inchcailloch island
We decided to make the short ferry crossing from Balmaha Boat Yard to Inchcailloch, an island that lies just offshore.
The ferry to Inchcailloch sails regularly between Balmaha Boat Yard and the island. Return tickets cost £5 and dogs travel free.
We purchased our tickets and were sent off down a long wooden gangway to look for Elizabeth.
It turns out Elizabeth was our boat. Built in East Lothian in 1947, she’d spent her whole working life on the loch. At 72 years of age, she was still going strong.
The boy found himself a good vantage point aboard and waited patiently for our skipper to arrive.
Our crossing to the lush, green island of Inchcailloch took five minutes.
We had a couple of hours to spend there, before returning to Balmaha for lunch.
Inchcailloch is a National Natural Reserve in the care of Scottish Natural Heritage. The island is unoccupied and has no running water (thankfully it has some eco loos).
There are two walking routes on Inchcailloch – Low Path and Summit Path. They can easily be done in a couple of hours (or longer if you prefer to take things at a gentler pace), incorporating a few stops and short detours along the way.
We set off along Low Path. We had the woods all to ourselves – bliss. The trees were alive with the sound of birdsong – we recognised the distinctive sound of the cuckoo, owl and woodpecker.
After a short distance we reached an optional detour on the trail.
St Kentigerna and Inchcailloch
It led us to an overgrown burial ground and the remains of Saint Kentigerna’s Church, which dates to the 13th century. The church was the Inchcailloch parish church until it was abandoned in 1621.
Inchcailloch means island of the old woman or cowled (hooded) woman. Saint Kentigerna, an Irish princess and mother of Saint Fillan lived on the island in the 8th century (she died on it too). It’s possible the cowled woman the island is named after was a nun.
The cemetery was the traditional burial ground of the Clan MacGregor of Rob Roy fame – his cousin is buried in it. Many Clan MacFarlane burials can be found there too. Both clans were notorious cattle rustlers. Although Saint Kentigerna’s Church was abandoned in the 17th century, the burial ground continued to be used until 1947.
Leaving the burial ground we rejoined the Low Path.
The boy was in his element exploring. There were ground nesting birds on the island, so we kept his lead on to prevent him from unwittingly trampling on any nests.
Port Bawn to Summit Path
The Low Path eventually led us to Port Bawn near the southern end of Inchcailloch. It was a pretty spot with a jetty and a small sandy beach.
There were a number of people pottering around Port Bawn, including some twitchers with binoculars poised. I love watching wildlife but patience and the ability to keep quiet aren’t things I’ve been blessed with. For those reasons my binoculars rarely see the light of day.
Strolling along the beach we spotted some ducklings swimming in the loch. We stopped to watch them and I oohed and aahed like a crazy lady. Effortless wildlife watching with maximum cute factor – my favourite type of wildlife watching.
After saying goodbye to our adorable feathered friends we took the Summit Path. It was steep, so we gained height quickly as we zigzagged up through the trees. The boy loves a good incline – he powered on making the hike look effortless.
We emerged from the trees onto a rocky clearing with a beautiful view.
The summit of Inchcailloch was the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the beauty of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
After a short rest we started our descent back to ground level. We were hungry and lunch was beckoning us back to Balmaha.
Lunch – The Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha
The garden of Balmaha’s Oak Tree Inn is lovely for a spot of al fresco dining when the weather plays ball.
It was overcast but dry, so we found a table and ordered some drinks as we perused the menu. Our coffees came served with a piece of Scottish tablet. I devoured mine in seconds and was a tad put out when Mr G ate his too. I was certain he didn’t like tablet. Generations of Scots have grown up loving the sugary treat. My wee Nana was a dab hand at making it and lots of other traditional goodies. Thankfully, my mum was a dab hand at instilling the fear of god into me when it came to brushing my teeth, so they survived my sugar laden Scottish childhood cavity free.
For lunch we had a mug of lentil soup and a sandwich each. Goats cheese and red onion marmalade filling for me and coronation chicken for Mr G. He suggested we have half of each sandwich for a bit of variety. His was nice, but mine was delicious and I regretted my decision (especially after he’d dared to eat his own piece of tablet).
It started raining just as we were finishing lunch. Our afternoon plans had included a jaunt up Conic Hill. Conic Hill is a small, steep hill that looms over Balmaha – it’s exposed to the elements with nowhere to shelter from rain. The view from the summit is stunning, but it’s best bagged on a nice, sunny day. I checked the forecast and a large rain cloud was sitting over Balmaha. It showed no sign of shifting, so we hastily revised our afternoon plans.
The Ardess Hidden History Trail
We shook off the rain a few miles away at Rowardennan where it was cloudy but dry.
Parking the car at Rowardennan Car Park we headed north, skirting the side of the loch to reach the start of our walk.
The Ardess Hidden History Trail is a circular trail managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It’s only 1.5 kilometres long, but it feels longer as it covers rough terrain through woodland and across hillside.
Anyone fancy a BBQ?
At first glance the trail looks wild and undisturbed by humans, but when you look closer there’s plenty of social history hidden in plain site. A leaflet compiled by the NTS helped to bring the history hidden along the trail to life.
Pink rhododendrons, yellow bird’s-foot-trefoil and a variety of other wildflowers added a cheerful pop of colour to our walk.
While rhododendrons are undeniably pretty, they’re a non-native, highly invasive species which need to be controlled to help Scotland’s native flora to flourish.
The National Trust for Scotland have discovered a genius way to recycle the rhododendron bushes they’ve been clearing from the area around the Ardess Hidden History Trail. It turns out rhododendrons make great barbecue charcoal – who knew. So, if you’re camping locally and fancy a barbecue, pop into the Ben Lomond Ranger Base and pick yourself up a bag of rhododendron charcoal.
Fairy folk and traces of the past
Scotland’s woodland and hillsides are teeming with fairy folk, but they’re rarely seen by humans. We were in luck, as we bumped into a fairy living in a tree.
She apologised for not inviting us inside for tea and scones, telling us we were simply too big – even The Wee White Dug was considered a giant.
Our walk took us past crop furrows (now covered in grass), the remains of an iron furnace, turf and stone dwellings (a collection of scattered, mossy boulders).
It was amazing to discover (thanks to some help from the National Trust for Scotland) so much history hidden in such a small area.
And if history’s not your thing, there’s always the view.
Mr G had set off on the walk with a face like fizz. Sounds boring, too short and not my thing were mentioned in a tone a huffy teenager would’ve been proud of. His heart had been set on bagging Conic Hill again (mine had been too, but I was trying to remain positive).
By the time we finished the Ardess Hidden History Trail he was as happy as Larry. He’d rambled uphill, got a gorgeous view and seen a bonnie waterfall. I revelled in the smugness of always being right.
We left Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park absolutely buzzing after spending the day outdoors. Island hopping, hiking (20,000 steps banked), history and a nice lunch were the perfect ingredients for a fantastic day trip.
If you’ve enjoyed this post and fancy a virtual tour of the western shore of the loch, here’s a blog I wrote after a stay at Loch Lomond Holiday Park.
Until next time ………..