The main reason I came to Garelochhead: Loch Lomond! The only downside is that that song has been playing in a loop in my head. Ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak the low road And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.. Dammit! Did you know, by the way, that the song was written by two Jacobites after the 1745 rebellion, who were to part because one was going to be executed for treason and the other let go? Scottish history, man, it will bum you out.
But Loch Lomond! Truthfully, it would have been a lot easier to get around in the Trossach national park with a car. It’s something like 7 km from GareL to Loch Lomond as the crow flies, but it was an effort to get there by public transport. There is only one direct bus from GareL to Balloch, on the southern end of Loch Lomond, but that only goes once or twice in the morning, and there is no return service. It took about 40 minutes if I recall, but then I was on the bonny banks of Loch Loooomond. Dammit!
There was a 1 hour circular boat tour departing in half an hour, and I happily bought myself a ticket. From Balloch town you can’t actually see the loch, even though it’s just there. The trees block your sightline. The boat heads out a short distance along the river Leven, and then the loch opens up in front of your eyes. I had scored a seat on the front row on the top deck of the boat, so I had the best view. And the weather was glorious! I had kept a weather eye (heh) on the forecast and had picked Saturday for my Balloch adventure on purpose.
The tour doesn’t venture very far on the loch but the views are amazing. There are grand manors and castles peppering the shores on both sides, and Ben Lomond looms to the north. Ben Lomond the most southerly of the Munros, named after the guy who mapped them all, and they are a collection of peaks over 3.000 feet (914 m). It’s very distinctive with a sharp triangular peak with wide even shoulders, and can be spotted from miles away.
After my boat tour, I headed to Balloch castle on foot along the eastern shore. We had seen the castle from the loch and it wasn’t a long walk from town to the castle grounds. You can’t actually see the loch that much from the castle grounds due to trees and other vegetation blocking your view. The early 19th century castle is not open for entry, which may change once the ongoing renovations are finished.
From the castle I walked past the Japanese gardens along a path that sloped a roundabout way down to the shore. The thickets were dense along the shore as well, but there were occasional openings with small beaches along the way. These were popular with families and couples, having a picnic, but as it was still early, I managed to find a spot or two where I could sit by myself.
The shore nearer to town was just swamped, especially at a spot with a cafe and a swimming beach. Ugh, too many people! I headed to walk to the other shore, but got sidetracked by the Maid of the Loch, an old paddle steamer permanently moored a short distance from the Balloch train station. The Maid is moored on the west side of the mouth of the river Leven with great views all around. It was built around the same time as the Royal Yacht Britannia, at a nearby shipyard. The Maid is not in good a nick as the Britannia, though, but there is a project ongoing to get the Maid seaworthy again. There is a restaurant and a cafe onboard, you can visit the engine room as well, but I didn’t see any cabins on my circuit at least. Yet, there must have been pretty spiffy cabins as the queen herself sailed on the Maid twice, last in 1971.
The last excitement of the day was seeing a small plane land on Loch Lomond. I just managed to catch a photo of it, already flying low, through a gap between trees (right), but alas, it came down somewhere behind the Maid so I missed the landing.
I did try and find a route to the western shore, but the Loch Lomond Shores shopping hell defeated me. I couldn’t find a way back to the shore, so in the end I set about getting back to GareL. There were no suitable buses at that time of the day, so I ended up taking a train to Dumbarton and another train from there directly to Garelochhead.
The northern part of Loch Lomond would wait for another day!