Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park - Scotland
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
We only had two days to explore Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park in Scotland. We couldn’t do much in such a limited time but we wanted to do a little hiking (to Scots it's called "hillwalking"), and afterwards take a cruise on Loch Katrine in a steamship - a very touristy thing to do, but we love cruising on a historic steamship so we take advantage if the opportunity presents itself.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is one of the two national parks in Scotland (Cairngorms is the other, which was established in 2003). Although The Trossachs was a popular leisure destination even years ago, it was only given national park status in 2002. In the United Kingdom, it is the second largest national park covering 720 square miles. Plenty of outdoor activities and very tempting to explore more of the area, but we had to stick to our plans.
HIKING BEN A'AN
There are many hiking trails in the park, but alas, we only had one day and a short hike was what we wanted. The Ben A’an trail with spectacular views from on top fit the bill. It was a chilly day but partly sunny, ideal for hiking, but the blowing wind gave us second thoughts at first. We can take the cold - but the wind? That was something we had to simply accept - or call off the hike. We were thankful it was not raining that day, otherwise we would have had to skip it.
The name "Ben A’an" may have originally been called Am Binnean which means "the pinnacle" or "the small pointed peak" in Gaelic. It's a well-deserved name as you can see from the photos. The pointed peak looks like a mountain, but to the locals it is a small hill - the Scots are tough, I might say. But don’t get intimidated - it is actually an easy hike, probably due to its low elevation which is around 1,512 feet at the summit.
But how easy it is, or not, depends on a person’s physical condition. The trail has some steep sections starting at the foot of the hill. No warming up! But then it gets easy until you reach the last ascend to the top, which is also very steep.
A little scrambling up, but you will be rewarded at the end. The spectacular view is well worth it despite the blowing wind at the top. It overlooks Loch Katrine, Loch Achray and Ben Venue, a higher peak on the other side of the valley. But goodness! It seemed the wind would blow you away to "kingdom come", literally. We wanted to stay longer at the summit so we could enjoy the view for a while, but the unrelenting wind was unbearable!
You will notice in some areas where trees had been cut down. We thought it was a logging site but found out later that it is a deforestation area with the intention of replacing non-native trees with native trees.
The trail is 4.5 miles return, or round-trip, so if it’s not enough for you there are other trails in the area that you can combine it with, all in one day.
There is a small car park a little way down across from the Tigh Mor Trossachs hotel. A fee is required to park here but the machine was not working, so free parking for everyone that day.
For those who like to combine climbing Ben A’an with other hills or mountains in the area; there’s a trail to Ben Venue and Ben Ledi, the highest hill in the Trossachs. I bet the views are spectacular as well.
CRUISING LOCH KATRINE
Loch Katrine, an almost nine-mile fresh water loch is located in the heart of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It is one of the largest lochs in the Trossachs, first created by glaciers and then developed to provide fresh water to the city of Glasgow. The completed water project which started in 1855 was opened by Queen Victoria herself during her visit to the loch in October of 1859.
Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist, poet and historian, popularized the loch in his works including the “The Lady of the Lake”, a narrative poem inspired by Loch Katrine. The loch was also linked to Rob Roy MacGregor, a “Scottish Robin Hood” turned legend, born on the northern shore of Loch Katrine. His life was popularized in a fictional novel by Sir Walter Scott.
There are two cruise ships that you can take - the MV Lady of the Lake and the famous 118 year-old classic Steamship SS Sir Walter Scott.
The SS Sir Walter Scott was commissioned in 1899 and is the only steamship operating on the loch today. It still uses its original engine which you can view through an opening in the deck. My husband, Hermann, was so fascinated by it that he kept going back and forth between looking at the landscape and the engine room. If they would allow people to go down into the engine room, he would be down there in seconds I’m sure.
It was an enjoyable and relaxing ride even though a bit chilly. The landscape was so beautiful we didn’t want to stay inside for protection from the wind. The cruise takes about one hour, just enough to relax, enjoy the view and have a drink from the bar.
BALLOCH CASTLE COUNTRY PARK
Before leaving Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, it's worth checking out the Balloch Castle Country Park, on the "Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond", which became part of the National Park in 2002. We visited this park on our way to Cairndow, mainly to see the castle. This park hosts the Loch Lomond Highland Games every July and even hosted several major music events.
The Balloch castle is closed to the public and is showing a little neglect, but the setting is quite nice. The surrounding park is well maintained and quite serene, an ideal place to have some quiet time while enjoying the view of Loch Lomond, or walking and exploring the estate gardens. Unfortunately, the rainy and chilly weather prevented us from doing that, so we just took a few pictures of the castle and the view and drove to our next destination.
Balloch Castle was built in 1808 from the stones of the nearby ruined castle dating from 1238. Like the old castle, the present castle changed ownership until Dumbarton District Council leased the estate in 1975.
The estate was officially designated as a Country Park in 1981 and the castle was used for the offices of the Dumbarton District Council Countryside Ranger Service. It is also the headquarters of the local division of the Nature Conservancy Council. The estate is included on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.