On The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond

Well not exactly but very close. For our holiday, we had booked Mill House Cottage Annexe, an old converted watermill on the banks of Endrick Water, a river running through the hamlet of Garness, about 15 miles north of Glasgow and 10 miles or so from Balloch at the southern tip of Loch Lomond. The riverside location is what attracted me and though I didn’t realise it until we got there, the waterfall known as The Pots of Garness was in the garden!

Pots of Garness Falls

Firstly though on the way up to our accommodation, we stopped off in Dumfries, just over the border from England, to break up our journey. The drive up had been horrible with rain most of the way so the stop was most welcome. The B & B we stayed in was called The Huntingdon and was a beautiful old house restored and decorated to a very high standard, comfortable room and bed and a good breakfast, I’d highly recommend it. We had a little wander around, down to the river and a walk over the ancient Devorgilla Bridge, a bridge has been on this spot since the 13th century. We spent a bit of time watching a heron trying to catch his supper on the weir before heading off to a local pub for our own.

Devorgilla Bridge, Dumfries.
Heron on River Nith, Dumfries

Saturday saw us heading further north to the town of Milngavie (pronounced Mull-guy), which was the nearest town to where we were staying and the nearest place with a large supermarket . The starting point of the 96 mile long West Highland Way is in the town so it can get very busy, we did see a few hikers with large rucksacks obviously setting off on the walk. We did some shopping and explored the pretty town centre before heading off.

Arrival at the cottage was a bit strange, the owner seemed puzzled as to who we were at first! However we were soon in and getting settled, unpacked and the beer opened. The garden was a delight being literally on the riverbank and we weren’t long before we had the garden chairs pulled up to the river bank and were sitting enjoying a beer.

Beer in the garden.

The cottage itself was clean and tidy but a bit dated and lots of mis-matched furniture and ornaments. It could have done with a bit of a make over, perhaps a riverside wildlife theme of pictures and soft furnishings. The worst thing though was the overpowering smell of a bleach-like cleaning product that must have been used on every available surface. The smell got right to the back of your throat and actually disturbed my sleep on the Saturday night. I think it was about Wednesday before it faded to an acceptable level. I get that in these scary times of Covid, cleanliness is paramount for businesses such as this but it really was over the top and unpleasant. There is a short video of the living room to the garden below.

On Sunday, we decided to drive to Balloch to visit the famous bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond! We enjoyed a nice walk in Balloch Castle Country Park and along the loch shore where we spotted this tree stump…or is it a dinosaur trying to decide whether or not to go for a swim?

Is it a dinosaur?
Balloch Castle Country Park

On Monday I was ready to drive further afield and had a little list of places I wanted to visit all around the loch. It was a tiring but really nice day taking in some beautiful sights. First up was the Falls of Drochart in the pretty town of Killin, north of Loch Lomond on the edge of LochTay. We spent a while clambouring over the rocks in the river, along with a whole lot of other tourists.

Drochart Falls

Next, a drive along the top of Loch Lomond took us to the wonderful viewpoint at Inverglus called An Ceann Mor, this being a wooden pyramid that we climbed to the top of and enjoyed the most amazing views down the loch. This was a wonderful place and of course I had to take the obligatory selfie – Patrick dislikes selfies but when you are on your own, it’s really the only way to get a picture of the both of you together so I take one wherever we go.

Top of An Ceann Mor with Loch Lomond in the background

Heading back down the west side of the loch, our next stop was the Falls of Falloch, with an art installation called Woven Sound, which was a kind of covered bridge made from woven metal rods, overlooking the falls. This was obviously a very popular spot for picnics and swimming and there were lots of families enjoying the uncommonly hot weather, picnicking on the rocks and swimming in the pool that the falls tumbled into. After spending some time watching some crazy teens jumping from a very high rock down into the pool, we found a spare bit of rock in the shade to sit and eat our lunch whilst watching a little grey wagtail flitting from rock to rock.

The Falls of Falloch

On the journey home, we decided it would be nice to find a nice pub garden to relax in, Patrick did the Googling whilst I drove and he found us the perfect spot. The Village Inn in the village of Arrochar on the banks of Loch Long had a lovely big garden overlooking the loch and we enjoyed a beer and a sit in the shade. We hit a traffic jam on the way back to the cottage, Highlands rush hour I guess. Patrick nodded off in the car which is an achievement when I’m driving it has to be said! It was a very tired me that parked up outside the cottage that evening but well worth it, what a lovely day out we’d had.

A few photos of the day below, hover over to see the captions.

Glasgow beckoned on Tuesday, my birthday. I had pre-booked the train from Milngavie to Glasgow along with an open-top bus tour of the city’s sights and entrance into the Kelvingrove Museum. It was a little disappointing as lots of places were still closed due to Covid restrictions, including the museum of Glasgow life, The People’s Palace, which was the main one I wanted to see. However we enjoyed a wander around the Kelvingrove and then lunch in a pub, the name of which escapes me now and then back on the bus to Glasgow Green as I wanted to see the Doulton Fountain and the former Templeton Carpet Factory, a beautiful building in the style of the Doge’s palace in Venice. We were going to have a drink in the beer garden of the West brewery which is housed in the Templeton building but decided to try and find the Scotia Bar for some decent cask ale instead. Before doing that though, I had to go for a walk over a bridge across the River Clyde to step into the Gorbals district where my dad was born and many of my Scottish ancestors lived most of their lives. In the name of progress, the original Gorbals tenements were demolished in the 1960s and have now been replaced by modern apartment blocks. There seemed little point therefore in wandering around as there is nothing left of what my dad would have grown up among so I just took a photo of a street name to show that I had been there.

Gorbals street sign – just to say I’d been!

Crossing back over the same pedestrian bridge, we then walked along the path at on the north side of the Clyde through the Green where there was a huge fans area for the Euro2020 football tournament. We didn’t say much, not wanting to give away our Englishness to several thousand Scottish football fans!

Following Google navigation walking directions is always a bit hit and miss and we have on more than one occasion found we are walking in the opposite direction to the one we need to. Feeling very tired and a bit irritable because of the heat of the day, this was just what we didn’t need on our quest to find The Scotia! We did eventually make it to reputedly the oldest pub in Glasgow, built in 1792 and these days renowned for a great atmosphere and live entertainment as well as good cask ales. Unfortunately for us, it proved a disappointment with no cask on the bar at all. The staff told us that due to Covid restrictions, they are still not busy enough to be able to sell enough cask to make it viable. I’m sure in the evenings, when the place is back up to full strength, it would be a great place to while away a few hours but we just had the one drink and were on our way.

We had intended finding somewhere to eat in Glasgow to round off my birthday day out, before heading back on the train but we were both tired, hot and sticky and due to our late lunch, not remotely hungry so we decided to travel back and eat in our cottage. All in all I must admit to being a little disappointed with the day. The tour bus showed us some fabulous architecture but like most cities, lots of rundown areas. I think I expected to ‘feel’ something due to my family history interest but perhaps it was because of the heat of the day, I just couldn’t much be bothered to wander around. I just didn’t plan the day well enough sadly and we ended up wandering a bit aimlessly at times. As usual, I took a few photos, some of which are in the slideshow below. I’m really disappointed about the photos I missed, the Templeton carpet factory, I took a couple but they were rubbish, the Scotia Bar, I completely forgot to take a photo, the River Clyde, just couldn’t find a spot that I wanted to photograph. Anyhow, here are the ones I did take.

The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park was our chosen destination for Wednesday’s outing, chuck in going the wrong way and driving 15 miles along a single track road with no turn offs…

The day started really well, our main plan was to do the Three Lochs Forest Drive, a 7 mile one way drive within the forest park which takes you past three lochs believe it or not. Firstly though we stopped off at the park visitor centre with the intention of walking one of the way marked trails in the hope of seeing some Scottish wildlife.

With high hopes, we started out but soon realised that it being so busy with people and excited, shouting children, we weren’t going to see much in the way of wildlife on our walk. There were some lovely spots though, some ethereal mirrored statues standing within the woodland, some very, very tall trees and a monument to the Lumberjills, a group of land army girls during the war who took on forestry work whilst the men were away fighting.

The lady in the visitor centre had recommended we visit the wildlife hide for our best chance of seeing red squirrels so that was where we headed. We weren’t disappointed, a great variety of birds on the feeders and at least three different red squirrels, who were definitely more interested in what was in their feeding stations than in us idiots fighting off flies and midges to watch them. I got some great photos of the squirrels but wasn’t so lucky with the birds.

Red squirrel from the hide in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Stirling

Leaving the hide and continuing along the trail, we decided not to go straight back but to incorporate another trail to lengthen our walk. This was much quieter with not so many people and we soon happened across what looked like Gandalf in rabbit form, alas it was just a couple of tree stumps but for a moment there….

Leaving the park area, we continued to the entrance to the Three Lochs Drive. We were both expecting a bit more from this, actually most of it was a bit boring, although I think we should have stopped at more places as there are various walking trails which we missed! The road was a dirt track through mostly a mostly wooded area so not a lot to see until the lochs came into view. We did stop at two of them, the first one was Loch Reoidhte which was small, not much to see so we continued to find somewhere else to eat lunch.

Loch Reoidhte

We pulled off the road to a little parking area which overlooked Loch Drunkie, there was a picnic table, the view was spectacular so we decided this was a good place for lunch.

Loch Drunkie

We sat an enjoyed the view for some time before Patrick decided to wander off and returned looking like this…the question has been asked if it is one long cone going all the way through! 😀

Patrick being silly!

We continued along the drive, met one stupid person driving the wrong way round it and stopped one more time for a little wander before heading off to our next intended destination, Loch Katrine.

Turning out of the exit of the forest drive, Google navigation hadn’t kicked in so we unwittingly turned the wrong way. A catalogue of errors followed, Patrick put Loch Katrine into Google and it pointed us towards a long road just through the town of Aberfoyle. This turned out to be 15 miles long, single track with no turn offs except one, which did in fact go to Loch Katrine but the other side of the loch where there was nothing much to see! We missed that turn though and continued along the never ending road, which did of course end eventually, at the Inversnaid Hotel. I honestly cannot believe that people actually drive here by choice! It was the most traumatic drive ever and when you get there, that is it, nowhere else to go except turn around and go back the same way you came. Inversnaid is a very small community with a nature reserve, woodland, and a pretty waterfall and it is popular hiking country, as evidenced by the plethora of rucksacks and walking boots in the foyer of the ‘walker’s entrance’ round the side of the hotel, but I can only think that most visitors arrive by the waterbus and not by car, there weren’t many cars in the huge car park come to think of it.

Waterfall at Inversnaid

After a beer, a wander to the waterfall and the excitement of watching a helicopter ambulance circling but then not needing to land afterall, we were ready to head back. I gratefully accepted Patrick’s offer to drive as I wasn’t relishing repeating the experience. On the way back, we did take the turn off we had missed on the way down and it lead to a kind of pier at Loch Katrine. It was deserted (no flipping wonder, in the middle of nowhere) and although we stood and looked over Loch Katrine for a few minutes, it wasn’t very exciting. We made a stop in Aberfoyle to shop at the Co-Op, it looked to be a pretty little town with pubs, cafes and shops, that would have been nice to spend a couple of hours in. If we hadn’t spent so long driving to and from Inversnaid, we would have had a wander and maybe drink and bite to eat but we were tired and ready for home by now.

Sheepy reflections in Endrick Water – view from the cottage garden

By Thursday we were feeling the effects of being up and at ’em everyday and lots of walking in the heat so we decided to have a day around the locality. There were some pretty wildflowers growing on the riverbank which I have since identified as Monkey Flowers and Perennial Cornflowers.

Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana)
Monkey flower (Mimulus guttata)

We had part of the West Highland Way long distance path crossing over the end of our driveway so decided to have a little wander down there before spending the rest of the day in the garden relaxing. In hindsight, I would have preferred to spend a bit of time stopping and photographing the fantastic variety of grasses and wildflowers along the path rather than just hiking along. We were not heading anywhere, it is a linear route and we were just going to do a mile or so and turn back, so I really don’t know why I didn’t slow down and spend that time doing what I enjoy doing and wanted to do. Instead I rushed my photos, just grabbing quick snaps so that I could keep up with Patrick who was walking ahead of me. It’s not his fault, he didn’t know what I wanted to do as I didn’t say anything, I didn’t ask him to wait or tell him to go ahead without me. So we hiked along a while and then turned back. I took loads of photos but sadly most were absolutely rubbish so I feel a sense of dissatisfaction now that I wasted that opportunity. In the past couple of years, I’ve developed a fascination with the huge variety of different grasses I see whilst out walking, along with the love I have always had of wildflowers. I enjoy photographing the grasses and flowers so I can try to identify them later. Unfortunately few of the photos I took today are worth sharing but here is a small selection anyway, click the images for larger versions if you’re interested.

So, we come to the end of our week. You can’t go on holiday to the Trossachs and Loch Lomond national park without doing a loch cruise can you? We’d left it to the last full day of our time in Scotland and were a bit worried as the first rain of the week was forecast! However, although not as sunny as earlier in the week, there was no rain thankfully and we set off to drive to Luss on the western bank of the loch, where the Island Explorer cruise set off from. The cruise was 45 minutes each way with a stop for a few hours on the island of Inchcailloch. The island is a nature reserve managed by the national park so has walking trails, none of which are long, it is only a small island. The cruise itself was really nice, we managed to get a seat up top in the open so it was easy to see the sights that the captain was telling us about in his commentary. I have to say that the highlight of the trip for me was seeing an Osprey nest, complete with mum and two chicks, on one of the uninhabited islands. There is an exclusion zone around the island to avoid disturbance to the birds but our captain took us as close as was legal and Patrick and I loved seeing the nest through our binoculars. I managed a photo but it’s not the best, you’d need a better camera than mine from the distance we were viewing from.

Osprey Nest on Loch Lomond

Inchailloch is beautiful and was surprisingly busy with holiday makers swimming off the small beach, the sun had come out by now and the loch did look very inviting I must say. There are two piers, the cruise boats and waterbuses dock at Port Bawn and there is a shorter ferry from Balmaha to the North Pier. The Island is now uninhabited, it wasn’t always so and there are ruins of a farm and a church with graves in the churchyard. People from the mainland used the church up until 1770 and the last burial in the graveyard was 1947!

There are three walking trails to choose from and we decided to walk the summit trail, the longest and most strenuous apparently. It wasn’t too difficult but a climb all the same, the view from the top was well worth the effort though. I took some photos and we sat for a little while to catch our breath and then set off down the other side which led us to North Pier. Several people were waiting for the ferry to Balmaha so we found a tree branch on the little bit of narrow beach and sat there to eat our lunch in the shade. We paid a visit to the churchyard on the return journey and there was a good information board to tell you about the people buried there, We then took a steady walk through the woodland back to Port Bawn to await our cruise boat back to Luss.

We were a bit stupid for the return boat journey as despite being the first ones on the pier, we had hung back to allow the disembarking passengers to pass safely, before we knew what was happening, we were at the back of the queue, so missed out on an outside seat on the boat. Inside was stifling and I was a bit grumpy, we did stand outside at the stern for a while when the captain once again stopped for us to see the ospreys so that cheered me up.

Arriving back in Luss, we had a little wander around to take some photos, it is an incredibly pretty village which was created in the 18th century to house the workers of the slate quarries. It was quite busy with tourists even with the current Covid restrictions and I’d hate to live there in the high season!

For our last evening in Scotland, we had booked a table to eat at The Clachan Inn in nearby Dryden. We decided to push the boat out and booked a taxi to take us so we could both enjoy a drink. I’d spoken to the taxi driver, given him the address and said that we would wait at the end of the drive for him, at no point did he give any impression that he didn’t have a bloody clue where the cottage was! It started to rain just before we were due to be picked up so we put on our rain jackets and walked up the drive, long story short but after me phoning him twice more and him still being unable to find us I told him not to bother and we went to get the car out. Having to drive didn’t spoil it for me though, we had a lovely meal and a nice finish to our holiday.

All in all, we had a lovely week and the weather was spectacular, if a little bit too hot. We visited some beautiful places and enjoyed some nice walks. The cottage was in a stunning setting but possibly a bit too remote, it wasn’t possible to walk to anywhere really and so apart from our last evening, we didn’t go out at night. I’d love to go back to the Trossachs area again sometime as there was still a lot to see and do but I think I would choose a cottage in a village. The midges were a huge problem though, even I was bitten quite badly and poor Patrick was almost eaten alive! I suppose a cottage next to a river in full midge season was a bit of a daft idea thinking about it now. We were restricted with Covid though, otherwise I might have chosen May….next time eh!