Brilliant fruit harvest at Shandon Farm and Appletree Cottage, Loch Lomond
Apple trees at Appletree Cottage
The fairly high iron content in the soil has resulted in apple varieties such as discovery turning out stunningly large red apples.
Prior to us planting apple trees on the farm in 2014 the land was used for mixed dairy and beef farming. It has taken some time to get the soil into good shape for apple growing.
Some of the apple trees on the farm have been so heavily laden with large fruits that the branches break under the weight. We have had to prop up many branches with sticks to prevent further breakage.
We now have in excess of 200 trees in the ground at Shandon Farm and have another 200 waiting to be planted in the new year.
Varieties include a large number of popular and lesser known Scottish apples including Os.lin, James Grieve, Stirling Castle East Lothian Pippin, Lass O'cowrie, Scotch Dumpling, Clydeside and Bloody Ploughman
The Bloody Ploughman has a tale about it passed down through generations. It involves a ploughman who stole some apples and taking them home. The ploughman's wife disgusted at the harsh treatment of the ploughman for his misdemeanour threw the apples onto the compost heap. From one of the apples grew the Bloody Ploughman tree - with apples which are veined through with red when ripe - a bit like raspberry ripple ice cream - although obviously a bit different!
itOne of our favourite trees is the Lass O'Gowrie which is not only beautiful and wispy in appearance - not unlike some of the trees in the orchards painted by Vincent Van Gough - but produces very tasty fruit. it is one of the earliest to ripen and is now due for harvest.
Did you know that if you plant an apple seed from an apple you will not get the same tree as the apple came from - it will be a new variety. The way to maintain a variety is to take a scion (cutting) from an existing tree and graft it on to root stock of another apple tree.
Scions can also be grafted onto an existing tree - meaning that that tree will have two varieties within it. We have heard of a chap in the south of England who has grafted 100 varieties onto the one tree! Great if your short of space and can't make up your mind!
We have grafted scions every year and now have over 200 trees in our nursery on various rootstocks awaiting planting in the new year.
This year we planted another fifty trees from stock which we had grown in our nursery. For the first couple of years we pinch off the blossom to help the roots to grow in the soil. In two or three years they should start to bear fruit - although some varieties take longer than others.
In addition to the apple trees there is much other fruit around the farm. We planted some blue berry bushes which have given us our first crop.
The hedges around Appletree Cottage and the farm are full of brambles and blackberries, plumped up by our fantastic summer weather.
To create bit of variety and also by way of experimentation we have have planted some Medlar trees. The unusual fruit from this tree we are told tastes best when nearly rotten. The accuracy of this information we hope to test later in the year.
We have also put in some Damsons and Greengages and are looking forward to their harvest
We'll report back later in the year but in the meantime guests staying at Appletree Cottage are very welcome to a guided tour of our orchards. He hope to see you there!
A day out from Appletree Cottage to visit the Inchmahome isle and Priory on Lake of Menteith
Our jouney to Port of Menteith takes us just under half an hour.
Leaving Appletree Cottage we drive down to Croftamie village and then along the A811 past Drymen. At Ballat crossroads we turn left up the A81 towards Aberfoyle. Shortly before Aberfoyle at the roundabout next to the Rob Roy Hotel we turn right along the A81 to Port of Menteith.
Port of Menteith is a small hamlet beside Lake of Menteith.
Once in Port of Menteith hamlet we take the right hand turn onto the B8034 (towards Arnprior), past the excellent Port of Menteith Hotel, past Lake of Menteith fisheries (where you can hire fishing boats and tackle by the hour) and park a few hundred yards down this road on the right in the car park signposted “Inchmahome Priory”.
From the shore by the car park two small boats, each seating up to 12 people, regularly ferry visitors to the island of Inchmahome and its famous priory during the summer months.
We board the first boat which is waiting and take our seats.
We don’t part with any money at this stage as payment is taken once on the island. The enterprise is run by Historic Environment Scotland. Charges are £7.50 per adult – but many membership cards are accepted – including English Heritage cardholders who go free.
It is a beautiful day and the waters are like glass with the occasional fishing dingy dotted here and there.
The name "Inchmahome" comes from the Gaelic Innis MoCholmaig, which means Island of St Colmaig. The priory, founded in 1238 by the Earl of Menteith, Walter Comyn, for a small community of the Augustinian order (the Black Canons is said to replace an earlier structure on the island.
The buildings are in a semi ruinous state but the remains and the surrounding grounds around them have been beautifully maintained and are in pristine condition. Information boards around the buildings give visitors a guide as to what the various sections were used for and some artistes reconstructions are interesting.
Among its many prominent visitors the priory was one of many hide-away places for Mary Queen of Scots as she sought to escape the clutches of Elizabeth 1st and her court.
Besides the Priory ruins there are other interests on the island. Some of the trees are said to be over 500 years old. We came across an interesting sweet chestnut tree. A large area of the land is covered with brambles which are very nearly ripe. They taste so much better than the common blackberry which is easy to mistake as bramble.
A path leads around the entire perimeter of the island. After exploring the priory we walk along the western shoreline. Trees dip into the water and the ripples glisten in the sunshine. In the distance the fishermen sit poised on their craft whilst here and there a trout leaps.
Just to the west we can see the tiny island of Inchtalla . Although appearing as a mass of trees, lost within the undergrowth lie the ruined remains of Talla Castle. More information about this can be found here: https://canmore.org.uk/site/24064/lake-of-menteith-inch-talla-talla-castle
We decide it is time to take the return ferry (they run regularly until late afternoon) and so make our way to the peir. As we near the pier on the mainland we get a good view of The Lake of Menteith Hotel on the shore. Beautifully situated next the ancient church the hotel serves excellent food and makes an ideal stop for lunch or dinner.
Soon we are safely ashore and back in the car and heading back to Appletree Cottage, having had a thoroughly magical time on this mystical island.
From Appletree Self Catering Cottage to Luss
Luss is a pretty estate village on the western shore of Loch Lomond. There is little traffic and a wander through the village is very popular with tourists.
From Appletree Cottage we drive to Croftamie then along the A811 to Balloch. We travel straight through Balloch and up onto the A82 towards Crianlarich. After another fifteen minutes we see a turn off to Luss on the right. Shortly after this on the left is a single track road signposted Glenn Luss. We turn into this single track road and park on the right - just opposite the Faerie Trail experience (A fairy forest trail for younger children, website at: https://www.lochlomondfaerietrail.com)
Close to where we parked (no charge) and on the same side of the road is the beginning of a path to Ben Dubh with a signpost pointing the way.
The first part of the path is a brief gentle ascent through pasture, shortly after followed by a meandering trail through a young birch wood with high bracken on the upper reaches.
,After about ten minutes we were clear of the birch trees and the land opened out into heather and grass land. As we climbed the views across Loch Lomond grew more spectacular with the definition of the many islands becoming clearer. We could see the pretty village of Luss nestling on the shore below us.
In the picture below the small island just off Luss is Fraoch Eilean. Tradition has it that if you caused trouble you could end up on Fraoch island. In one map of 1792 plan of Dunbartsontshire Fraoch Eilean is marked as "Luss Prison"
On our best behaviour we continue our steady climb upwards. The path is well established and easy to follow. It is obviously a popular route but even though we are walking during the peak of the summer holidays, on a weekend and in clear sunny weather we encounter only a handful of people during the entire expidition.
After a couple of false summits we reach the cairn at the top of Beinn Dubh (black hill) From there the views are fantastic. We can see Glasgow to the south, Loch Lomond and its many islands with the distinctive Conic hill to the east with the towering magnificent mountain of Ben Lomond further up the loch. To the north we can see some of the famous “Arrochar Alps”.
Looking west from the summit of Beinn Dubh we can see an enticing horseshoe of hills. A glance at the map showed us that a walk across to Beinn Ruisg then round to Balcnock and descending via Craperoch could be achieved with minimal rise or fall. However, also to the west we can see some dark rain clouds creeping in from the distance so decide to make our descent back to Luss with a plan to tackle the horseshoe another day when we were better prepared.
We make it back down to the bottom of the hill, safe and dry. Fortunately the rainclouds did not affect us.
All in all a fantastic and relatively easy peaceful walk with fantastic views throughout – and now back to Appletree Cottage with plans for a return trip another day!
Strathendrick Golf Club near Appletree Cottage
Another beautiful day at Appletree Self Catering Cottage Loch Lomond and we decide to have a game of golf at our local Strathendrick Golf Club course on the banks of the Endrick Water.
This very attractive nine hole course is only three minutes drive from Appletree Holiday Cottage. Nine holes but quite challanging none the less. The club welcomes day visitors and the very reasonable green fees are payable in an honesty box at the front door of the charming period clubhouse. A selection of hand trolleys are available.
The course is a par 66 and immaculately groomed. The first hole The Whins is a very satisfying par 3. There is a small gorge / ravine running across three of the holes and this makes its first appearance on the second hole: Beanie's Dink a nice par 4 down to the bottom of the hill. Next is Gow's Gully another par 4 heading back up hill. At the green there are terrific views of stunning surrounding countryside as far as the Luss Hills on the far side of Loch Lomond, the Campsie Hills to the south and the peak of the mighty Ben Lomond to the north. Dalnair is next, so named after the massive victorian pile on the far side of the Endrick. Built in the Scottish Baronial style it towers over the Endrick Water. Clinton's Creek has a steep beginning, levelling out towards the green at the top of the hill. Then our favourite hole: Castle View a beautiful par 5 right across the top of the course.
The last three holes are all par threes. First is The Corner with a passing acquaintance to that ravine again. Then Broon's Brawest again over the ravine to the bottom of the hill. This hole can be a little shorter than expected!. Finally Endrick Bend ends as one would expect at the green adjacent to the club house.
There are another 15 golf courses within half an hour's drive from Appletree Luxury Self Catering Cottage, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park - so happy golfing!
Appletree Self Catering Holiday Cottage, in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
Appletree Self Catering Cottage now has 33 Five Star Reviews - which is great news considering the short time this Luxury Holiday Lodge has been open.
Nearly every review has referred to the warm comfortable spaciousness of the house which was especially built (in 2016) for holiday rentals for eight people..
Many guest in their reviews refer to the stunning views whilst others mention the fact that all bedrooms are en-suite and well appointed. The underfloor heating, wood burning stove and private patio are also a big hit.
At night the skies are dark (no street lights nearby) and on a clear evening the heavens sparkle with stellar constellations. If you are in an upstairs bedroom it is possible to lie in bed and watch the stars through the roof window. For those who prefer a dark room to sleep in there are full black-out blinds on these windows.
Appletree Self Catering Cottage can be booked directly at our website (www.lomondappletree.co.uk), via Airbnb or Owners Direct or Tripadvisor.
And we still have a few dates left in May and over the summer if you hurry!
May 26 - The Drymen Show (about 3 minutes drive from Appletree Cottage)
The following is from the Show's website: www.drymenshow.com
"Drymen Show is a fun filled family day out on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
On the day there is a wide range of entertainment and educational attractions representing the best of our local farming and rural communities.
There will be judging of some of the finest livestock including: Clydesdale Horses, Highland Ponies, Light Horses, Cattle and Sheep.
There will also be numerous other attractions including a fun fair, helicopter rides, trade stands, main ring attractions and pet and craft tents.
We also have classes and competitions to see in our rural and school tents, including our very own "Drymen Show Bake Off" .
Come along and join us for a fabulous family day out"
June 2 Helensburgh and Lomond Highland Games
(about 30 mins drive from Appletree Holiday Cottage, Loch Lomond)
The show's website is www.helensburghandlomondgames.co.uk from which the following is taken:
"The Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games are run by local people on a voluntary basis who give up their time to put on a spectacular event of traditional sport and dance. Helensburgh Highland Games go back to the 1889, but the more modern version was started in 2008. Although in its infancy, it is already establishing itself as a popular local event for both local people and visitors to the area. In 2011, it even featured on the BBC's flagship evening programme, The One Show.
Traditionally Games linked to a Scottish Clan but Helensburgh is unique in being linked to two local Clans; the Colquhoun's and MacAulay's (whose tartan adorns the bottom of this website) and who's Clan Chiefs alternate the duties of Games Chieftain. Included in the games are the Heavies competition with events such as Tossing the Caber. The Heavies competition is now becoming a regular for the best Heavies in the UK There is also Highland Dancing and Athletics. The wonderful part is that both young and old alike can take part and because of the handicapping system for some races, different age groups can race against each other. The main events are open to all comers and have prize money for those taking part"
June 9 Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games
(about 30 minutes drive from Appletree Self Catering Cottage, Loch Lomond)
"The Bearsden & Milngavie Highland Games has 42 years of history behind it. What started as a small fundraising event in 1974 has developed into the biggest single day out in East Dunbartonshire. This family orientated event is immensely popular with the local community of Milngavie, Bearsden and the surrounding areas. We also attract visitors from all over the world.
THE EVENT IS FREE TO THE PUBLIC
Included in the menu of events throughout the day are all the usual traditional Highland Games events; Wrestling, Pipe Bands, Heavies, Arm Wrestling and Scottish Dancing. On top of that we have the Haggis Hurling World Championship. And great family events like Jellympic Games and Water Wars. There are fairground rides, bouncy castles and shows; on-site catering and beverage, as well as exhibitors and trade stalls.
June 17 The Trossachs Ton (cycling)
(Dukes pass and Aberfoyle are about 20 minutes drive from Appletree Self Catering Cottage Loch Lomond)
the following is from the website:
"The Trossachs Ton offers the mighty Double Duke; two ascents of the Duke's Pass on the Champion route. It's one of the best ride outs in Scotland in an area of outstanding beauty with mountains and forests, making this bike ride such a pleasure despite the hills.
Starting out from Stirling with a choice of two distances, the Classic 75 mile route offers a nice ride with Crow Road and a single Duke pass whilst the Champion route at 106 miles is ideal if you’re an experienced sportive rider.
Expect a great day in the saddle raising funds to help sick and disabled babies and children on this cycling event with first class support throughout the day.
June 24 Lorne Highland Games (Oban).
(a bit further away this one - 2 hours drive from Appletree Cottage, Loch Lomond. However, you could take the train from Helensburgh Upper to Oban along the very scenic West Highland Railway for a great day out.
Helensburgh Upper is about 30 minutes from Appletree Self Catering Cottage Loch Lomond - see previous blog)
"Join us on 24 June 2018 for a fun filled day out
Staged in the town of Oban at Mossfield Park, the games are locally called The People’s Games.
The games has all the favourite elements of a good Scottish Highland Games including caber tossing, hammer throwing and tug o’war - action you’d expect from a top event. You can even take part in the track and field events or just relax and enjoy the Highland Dancing Competition or Pipe Band Display.
July 7 Doune and Dunblane Agricultural Show
(about 30 minutes drive from Appletree Holiday Cottage, Loch Lomond)
July 14 Loch Lomond Highland Games (Balloch)
(about 15 minutes drive from Appletree Self Catering Cottage, Loch Lomond)
"Loch Lomond Highland Games are a traditional Scottish Highland Games situated in the village of Balloch at the southern end of Loch LomondThe games were started in 1967 by a group of local business men with an outlay of £500 to promote tourism in the Balloch area and now has prize money of over £15,000.
We are now a Private Limited Company and this year obtained Scottish Charity status.
The games are now one of the top three Highland Games in Scotland hosting the Scottish Highland Games Association World Heavyweight Championship and the 80 metre Scotttish Sprint Championship.
This did not include a further 350 competitors competing in other events throughout the day such as pipng, athletics, wrestling, cycling, dancing and all the usual heavyweight events.
So join us for a great day out on the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.
July 17 Inveraray Highland Games
(about 1 hour drive from Appletree Self Catering Cottage, Loch Lomond)
The following is copied from the website:
"World Caber Championships
The games start with a pipe band parade at 10.45am from Inveraray Town Centre. Admission prices are Adults £8, Seniors £5, Children £3 and a Family Ticket £20 available on the day at the gate. Free parking is available at the games. Well behaved dogs on leads are allowed on the field. The games are well sign posted from Inveraray.
We look forward to welcoming you to the grounds of Inveraray Castle, the venue of the Inveraray Highland Games. The Games celebrate our rich culture and heritage with field and track events, piping, highland dancing competitions and heavy events including the world championships for tossing the caber. You will also find a good selection of local Scottish food and drink stands as well many trade and charity stalls. Trade and Catering enquiries can be sent to email@example.com. There is also childrens entertainment including fair rides."
Highland dancing consists of three dances; the Highland Fling is said to mimic Red Deer on the hill, the Sword Dance and the Seann Triubhas which is a celebratory dance for the reintroduction of the kilt after its proscription in 1746.
PipingBagpipe music has come to symbolise the highland games and Scotland itself. As well as the solo piping competition which runs the whole day, pipe bands play many crowd-pleasing favourites. The piping competition takes most of the day.
Heavy & Light Events
The heavy events are the highlight of any highland games and the Caber World Championship will be contested again this year at Inveraray. Other events include the hammer throw, weight throw, weight over the bar and the stone putt. Light events include running, cycling, long jump, high jump and wrestling. The heavy and light events take most of the day.
Inveraray & district is where you will find the very best of Scotland. It is the traditional county town of Argyll and ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, who founded the town in 1745, alongside his new dwelling, Inveraray Castle. There is lots to do and see in Inveraray, the gateway to the Highlands and Islands. It offers access to national parks, mountains, glorious gardens and beautiful islands."
August 5 Bridge of Allan Highland Games
(about 40 minutes drive from Appletree Holiday Cottage Loch Lomond)
the following is taken from the website:
"Imagine the scene: Colourful pipe bands, elegant highland dancers, huge strongmen tossing the caber. A multitude of other events, stalls and entertainments spread out in a picturesque and historic setting. Bridge of Allan is one of Scotland’s premier Highland Games, attracting crowds of between 8,000 and 10,000 people. The games field nestles between Stirling Castle – Scotland’s grandest historic attraction, the beautiful Ochil Hills and the National Wallace Monument, made famous by the blockbuster movie, Braveheart.
The games themselves offer a packed programme of traditional cultural and sporting events. Crowd-pleasing heavyweight competitions, almost two hundred highland dancers and more than a thousand pipers are just some of the highlights of the day.
You can also enjoy running, cycling and wrestling, browse among trade stands and craft stalls and enjoy a wee refreshment or two as you go. For the young ones there’s more thrills to enjoy in the popular funfair, adjoining the Games field.
Whether you live in Scotland and you’re looking for a fascinating day out or you’re visiting on holiday, you can’t fail to be impressed by such a concentration of traditional Scottish events and entertainment. The climax of the day – the massed pipe bands – is one of the most inspiring and emotional sights of Scotland.
Bridge of Allan Highland Games is run to professional standards by dedicated local volunteers. We look forward to meeting you in August!
August 17&18 World Pipe Band Championships on Glasgow Green
(about 45 minutes travel from Appletree Vacation Rental Cottage, Loch Lomond)
"Scotland is the perfect stage for events and as a long-standing supporter of the Worlds, EventScotland looks forward to welcoming spectators and performers back to Glasgow next year for another exciting year of the Championships."
As well as the best Pipe Bands in the world, the event also hosts Highland Games, Highland Dancing and a great showcase of Scottish food and drink.
This year, the Worlds, as they are affectionately known, are part of the celebrations for Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. The World Pipe Band Championships are being supported by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland's Events Directorate."
August 18 Stirling Highland Games
(about 35 minutes drive from Appletree Holiday Cottage Loch Lomond)
the following is taken from the website:
"Stirling Highland Games is one of the City of Stirling’s signature annual events welcoming visitors from around the world to central Scotland to see our traditional Highland games competitions.
Our games field is located behind Stirling Sports Village and offers spectacular views over to the Wallace Monument, Cambuskenneth Abbey and Stirling Castle. We have a full programme of traditional Highland games competitions on offer including Running, Youth Running, Cycling, Highland Dancing, Heavyweights, long jump and triple jump. We will also showcase several Piping Performances throughout the day.
We look forward to welcoming you on Saturday 18th August 2018 and have made sure there is plenty to see, do and taste. Our Traders Village will showcase a delicious range of food and coffee servers, craft and whisky stalls and activities to take part in. We also have an onsite bar so you can enjoy refreshments throughout the day whilst enjoying Games Day with friends.
Tickets can be bought at the gate on the day or at a discount in advance through our online shop.
August 23 The Argyllshire Gathering
(about 2 hours drive from Appletree Self Catering Cottage Loch Lomond. Or you could take the train from Helensburgh Upper (30 mins from Appletree Cottage) to Oban along the very scenic and famous West Highland Line - see previous blog for more information)
the following is taken from the website:
"Welcome to the Agyllshire Gathering’s Oban Games website. You will find all the latest news here about the next Oban Games which is on Thursday 23 August 2018
Exhilarating, flamboyant and colourful, Highland gatherings provided an opportunity to renew clan contacts, declare loyalties and settle scores. However they were also politically significant with chiefs and chieftains meeting to discuss important issues of the day.
Today, they enable the clans to get together to socialise and entertain their friends. At Oban, we are fortunate that our President, The Duke of Argyll, is there on the day to preside over events and present prizes. In addition, several other clan chiefs are always to be seen enjoying the fun."
August 25 The Great Scottish Swim, Loch Lomond
(About 15 minutes drive from Appletree Self Catering Lodge, Loch Lomond)
the following is taken from the website:
If you’re keen to try an open water swim, but don’t know where to start, then why not have a go at our brand new Great Scottish Swim250 event?
What is it?
250 metres (the equivalent of 10 lengths of a standard 25 metre pool) of open water swimming/splashing/doggy-paddling in the beautiful waters of Loch Lomond.
When: Saturday 25 August 2018
Where: Loch Lomond, Scotland
Who: Anyone aged 8 years old and over, suitable for all abilities
How much: £20 per entry (junior), £15 per entry (individual)
Great Scottish Swim250 is the ideal event for new or nervous swimmers, families, and children aged 8 and over, where you can literally test the water and get a feel for swimming in the great outdoors.
Wetsuits are compulsory and every child aged 12 and under must be accompanied by one adult (per child). Anyone aged 18+ years old is classified as an adult.
For children aged 8 - 12 years old the entry payment is £20, which includes the entry of one adult per child. For anyone aged 13 years old and over the entry is £15 per entry.
Places are limited for this fun, family-focussed event so make sure you secure yours today!
Please note: Entries are now closed for the Scottish Swim 250 - Junior aged 8-12.
In March we took the train from Helensburgh Upper to Oban for a day out. from Appletree Cottage (see previous blog)
When we arrived at Oban in the late morning we walked round onto the Railway Pier which is adjacent to the railway station and found the famous green seafood shack.
This stall has existed for quite a number of years now and over that time has expanded to include some appropriately designed alfresco seating.
The choice and quality of the seafood is amazing. Lobsters, crabs, crayfish, prawns, scallops and much more. Whilst we were waiting for our order we noticed a Japanese group who had ordered lobster and crayfish. They were kind enough to allow us to photograph their choice!
Our selection was a little smaller but none the less tasty - freshly cooked scallops in garlic and butter with brown bread
The view from the alfresco dining space is right across Oban bay. We watched ferries to the islands and fishing boats come and go whilst we enjoyed our excellent seafood.
After our scallops we wandered along the seafront to the North Pier (the red roofed pier) where we had a fantastic fish meal in Ee Usk.
Oban is only a couple of hours away from Appletree Holiday Cottage Loch Lomond but has much to offer - especially for enthusiasts of fish and seafood!
We left Appletree Cottage at 0820 and drove to Helensburgh Upper station to catch the 0907 train north. The journey to the railway station took just over thirty five minutes but we had allowed a bit of extra time for road works.
The route to the station was very easy. We took the A811 to Balloch, drove through Balloch and joined the A82 north. About a mile after the Cameron House and Duck Bay Marina turnoff we turned right at a roundabout and took the A818 to Helensburgh.
Shortly after we entered Helensburgh town and could see the river Clyde ahead in the distance, we found Helensburgh Upper station on the right hand side of the road with free parking immediately outside the entrance.
(Note: Helensburgh Upper station should not be confused with Helensburgh Central Station, trains from which go to Glasgow)
Soon the train arrived and we quickly located our carriage and climbed aboard to find our seats. We had booked our tickets on the internet a couple of days before (www.scotrail.co.uk) and had been lucky enough to reserve seats with a table. This meant that we could open out our Ordinance Survey maps and follow our route as we made our journey to Oban.
Our carriage was only about half full for although this was a Saturday it was still out of season. The first sign of real business for the line would not be for a couple of weeks when at Easter visitor numbers would noticeably increase.
Having taken our seats the doors slid shut, the engine revved and we were off and gently glided out of the station.
We had had a light breakfast before leaving Appletree Cottage but none the less found the comestibles availed by the onboard catering trolley enticing with its teas, coffees and large choice of snacks.
With our hot drinks in front of us we settled back to enjoy the journey.
The first section was high along the shores of the Gare Loch. Below we could see the Kilcreggan Peninsula and the village of Clynder on the far side of the water.
This was an ideal time of year to travel this route as the leaves were not yet on the lineside trees meaning that views were not obstructed by greenery. Our day was made even more special as the previous night there had been a light fall of snow which was still lying on all the high ground providing spectacular and unforgettable views.
The West Highland Railway has repeatedly been voted amongst the most scenic in the world and today we were seeing it at its very best. Excellent!
Soon we arrived at our first station – Garelochhead. Like many stations on the line the station was built as an island platform with access provided by a subway and stairs from the road. This design was a cost preference at the time of construction as only one set of station buildings are required on an island platform. (With a platform either side of the tracks buildings required duplication – waiting rooms, toilets etc.
After a short stop we are on our way again. We leave Gareloch and head over an inland summit to descend high above another body of water – this time Loch Long. We can easily make out the entrance to Loch Goil on the far shore. The mountains are all higher than the ones in Gairloch and look tremendous with their snowy summits.
We travel high above the shores of Loch Long the famous Ben Arthur slowly glides into view. More commonly known as The Cobbler the rocky crags on the peak have been supposed by our ancestors to resemble a cobbler bending over his last (a last is a mount onto which a cobbler puts a shoe on when making and repairing)
The Cobbler is the southern most of a range of Munros known locally as the Arrochar Alps. A Munro is a hill over 300ft in Scotland and the hills of the Arrochar Alps provide some of the best climbing and are only 40 minutes drive from Appletree Cottage Holiday Home.
On the shore opposite the Cobbler, immediately below us we can see the roof tops of the village of Arrochar.
Soon we were at our next station – Arrochar and Tarbet. This station, as the name suggests is half way between and shared by Arrochar and Tarbet villages. Whilst Arrochar is on Loch Long, Tarbert is on Loch Lomond. Tarbet from the Gaelic means isthmus or narrow pass o land. There are several Tarbets or Tarberts in Scotland (spelling varies) and they are all situated on narrow strips of land between two bodies of water.
Soon we are on our way again and within a couple of minutes we are above the shores of Loch Lomond with the mighty Ben Lomond (3196ft or 974m)
The views to the south looking down Loch Lomond are quite amazing in the ever changing light.
We continue our journey now heading due north along the western shore of Loch Lomond and over the only stone built viaduct on the West Highland section of the line. The story has it that the viaduct had to be built of stone at the land owner’s stipulation as he was concerned that the railway should blend into the landscape.
The next station is Ardlui. Ardlui (Àird Laoigh in Gaelic meaning the high ground of the calves) is a small hamlet on the banks of the loch. It boasts a hotel, a small marina, a railway station and a few houses. This is a popular stop for hill walkers at the beginning and end of the day as the hills rise directly up from the station and provide spectacular views from their peaks.
After Ardlui we travel through the wild and lonely Glen Falloch which virtually no habitation visible. On the hills however glimpses can be seen of the remains of the ancient Caledonian forest which originally covered swathes of Scotland.
we The train snakes around the tortuous curves climbing all the way to our next destination Crianlarich at the northern end of Glen Falloch.
Crianlarich is a neatly laid out station some imagine to be Swiss in appearance is complete with original North British Railway engine shed which houses the snow plough and the famous platform tea room. Often trains will stop long enough for passengers to pay a quick visit to the tearoom to purchase home made cakes etc.
Although we had eaten at Appletree Cottage we found that there is always room for cake!
Crianlarich is the point at which the train divides and after a bit of jiggling to and fro the Oban section (which on our day of travel comprised the front two coaches) was released.
The Oban line from Crianlarich is reached via a spur curve descending off to the west of the station. The West Highland Line continues straight on via a bridge over Strathfillan.
As we leave Crianlarich we begin to pick up speed. The line is fairly level and much straighter than that on which we have travelled up until now. As we hurry down Strathfillan we can see the line to Fort William and Mallaig rise up the contours on the other side of the valley.
After a few minutes we arrived at the village of Tyndrum (Gaelic spelling Tigh an Druim meaning house on the ridge. Although a tiny village Tyndrum boasts two railway stations – Tyndrum Upper on the north side for trains to Fort William and Mallaig and Tyndrum Lower for trains to Oban.
Tyndrum Lower was for a number of years in the 1870s the terminus of the Callander – Oban line whilst the promoters tried to raise funding for the continuation towards Oban. In that period travel the journey further west had to be completed by horse and coach.
Tyndrum does not do things by halves and in addition to its two railway stations the village boasts a gold mine. The mine at time of writing is being re-opened having lain dormant for a number of years. Originally opened in the 1800s and producing Gold and Lead the mine fell into disuse. The relatively recent rise in the gold price has once again made the profitability of the mine seem possible and although situated within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park permission has been given to redevelop the mine.
The journey from Tyndrum to our next stop Dalmally is achieved at relative speed. The jointed rails provide the traditional railway beat of da da da dum, da da da dum as the wheels cross the rail joints. This sound has now vanished from trunk routes as the rail sections have been replaced with continuous rail. On the road running parallel to the railway the cars appear to be racing the train as we thunder down Glen Lochy.
From Dalmally it is a short journey down hill to the shore of Loch Awe. Looking westward out to the loch we see the dramatic outline of the ruin of Kilchurn Castle. This castle is well worth a visit since the access to the building has been substantially improved in recent years with internal wooden walkways and guide plaques providing a great visitor experience.
Soon we arrive at Loch Awe Station right down on the loch side. From this station small steam boats would ferry visitors around the loch. A hotel directly above the station has commanding views across the loch. Now largely a stop for hikers and walkers the station was also a destination for workers tending the large pumped storage dam (only one of four in the UK) on Ben Cruachan above the station. The idea of this dam is that in off peak times surplus electricity is used to pump water from Loch Awe to the reservoir dam 1299ft/396m up on the hill. In times of peak electricity demand the water in the dam can be released through the generating turbines and full generating capacity of 440MW achieved within 5 minutes.
The guided trip inside Ben Cruachan power station is well worth a visit. A bus takes you deep into the heart of the mountain where massive turbine generators lie within the cavernous depths - very like a James Bond set!
From Loch Awe station we travel along the shore of the Loch and through the Pass of Brander.
This is a narrow pass with steep valley walls festooned with huge boulders. As we travel through the pass we see the pairs of semaphore signals on the water side of the track. These signals set at clear (upwards) position are connected to a series of wires strung between posts on the hill side of the track. The idea of this is that should a boulder dislodge and come bouncing down the hill the boulder would come into contact with the wires and trigger the signals to danger. The system was installed in the late nineteenth century when the line was built and is still in use today. It is known colloquially as Anderson’s Piano because it was devised by the lines main backer and activist John Anderson and also because when the wind catches the wires they can sometimes vibrate to create a humming sound.
After the Pass of Brander we start to see the shores of Loch Etive and across the water the massive cliff face of Bonawe Quarries – reputedly one of the highest quarry faces in the uk.
The train began to slow as we entered the village of Taynuilt.
The countryside has become a patchwork of small farms and green rolling hills with mountains as a distant backdrop.
Taynuilt is perhaps the largest settlement we have visited since leaving Helensburgh – and it is still just village.
On the north side of the village are the well preserved remains of an iron furnace which was founded in 1753 by Cumbrian iron masters attracted by the abundant trees in the area for making charcoal. At its height the furnace produced 700 tonnes of pig iron some of which was used as cannon balls in the Napoleonic Wars.
From Taynuilt we head westwards along the shore of Loch Etive. On the far side we saw the ancient buildings of Ardchattan Priory where the last gaelic speaking parliament held court. Ruins and gravestones survive from these days and beyond.
Connel Station is a shadow of what it used to be. Still known as Connel Ferry this station was the junction for the line which ran over the massive cantilevered Connel Bridge up the coast to Ballachullish. The line closed in 1966 but much of its remains still survive – most notably the bridges crossing Loch Etive and Loch Creran.
Connel Station at one time had four platforms, two signal boxes, a footbridge and station buildings. Now it has one platform and a bus shelter type of protection against the wind and rain.
Connel Ferry is the last station before Oban which is only five miles distant. First of all we climb, away from the water and up into the hills to the top of Glen Cruitten. On crossing the summit we make a steep winding descent into Oban finally arriving at the station on the railway pier two hours and twenty minutes after leaving Helensburgh Upper and three hours after departing Appletree Cottage, Loch Lomond.
The last few days have seen heavy snowfalls here at Appletree Cottage. About 30cms with drifts rising much higher.
It is certainly the heaviest snow we've had in Croftamie since we moved back to Scotland from London in 2013.
Snow consistency was very light and powdery so not ideal for making snowmen or igloos!
About Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National park is an area of outstanding beauty in Scotland covering 720 square miles (1,865 sq. km.) Stretching from the west coast to the edge of the central belt the area was designated a national park in 2002 in recognition of its stunning scenery and unspoiled natural habitat. The park contains one of the UK's largest nature reserves
Wondering where to base your stay in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park?
The Loch Lomond section of the park (particularly the southern end) is the most popular. Not just because of the outstanding and varied scenic beauty but also due to this area of the park, offering the greatest variety of activities – both indoor and outdoor for the holidaymaker.
This list of activities includes: Angling, Boating, Canoeing, Clay Pigeon Shooting, Climbing, Cycling, Fishing, Golf , Hiking, Kayaking, Pony Trekking, Tennis, Walking, Water Skiing whilst wet weather cover is within easy reach: Castles (Doune Castle, Stirling Castle and Dumbarton Castle) Indoor swimming pools and spas (Drymen and Balloch) Dumbarton maritime Museum, Balloch Sealive Centre, Stirling Museum, Wallace Monument at Stirling, Glasgow museums (Museum of Transport, Kelvingrove Museum and Huntarian Museum) and four excellent distilleries: Glengoyne, Deanston, Auchentoshan and Lomond Distilleries.
Wet weather cover is within easy reach: Castles (Doune Castle, Stirling Castle and Dumbarton Castle) Indoor swimming pools and spas (Drymen and Balloch) Dumbarton maritime Museum, Balloch Sealive Centre, Stirling Museum, Wallace Monument at Stirling, Glasgow museums (Museum of Transport, Kelvingrove Museum and Huntarian Museum) and four excellent distilleries: Glengoyne, Deanston, Auchentoshan and Lomond Distilleries.
And if you're not too exhausted after all that there is a great variety of eateries and pubs in which to relax afterwards
Despite the popularity of the southern end of the Loch Lomond the area does not feel busy or crowded in any way. There are many secluded spots to be explored and discovered with tranquillity and beauty always close by.
When choosing a holiday destination it is always good to take into account the closeness of facilities like shops, restaurants and inns. The ideal place for us when we’re booking our vacation is somewhere peaceful, away from a main road, but within easy reach of these ameneties..
Make sure you get a great view
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National park is full of natural beauty and wonderful wildlife. Selecting a base with a terrific view is a must as it adds so much to the visitor experience. Even better is to get a great view with wildlife in it. A peaceful location will encourage the wildlife to show face.
After all what is the point of travelling to this magnificent area and not being able to see it at its best out of the window of where you are staying?
Self catering accommodation is best in