A recent cold snap has seen temperatures of minus seven degrees centigrade.
Clear skies and sunshine have brought a touch of magic to our area:
A short journey through Croftamie and onto the old military road that runs towards Balloch produces some spectacular scenery..
Beautiful clear days and bright sunshine make all the difference...
We drove from Croftamie via Killearn to Fintry where we picked up some rolls in the excellent Fintry Sports Centre. Back in the car we continued heading east along the B818 taking a left turn shortly after leaving Fintry signposted Denny (still the B818). After about 3.75 miles / 6km (from Fintry) we reached the Carron reservoir on the right hand side of the road where there was ample room to park.
Up into the hills we walked, a constant gentle rise. In the adjacent fields herds of handsome looking cows looked on with interest, apparently regarding walkers passing by as some major calendar event.
A descent in the road led to another bridge over the Endrick Water – looking still narrower, then a climb again. We had passed through several gates – all of which were fixed open and although the road had no tarmac the surface was well made and even.
After a long gentle ascent the road started to veer over to the right over the shoulder of the hill (Cringate Law). In the distance we could see ruined farm buildings of the former Burnfoot Farm. Just at that point on the left hand side, next to what looked like a passing place was a single post with a broken disc on it and an arrow on the disc. The arrow pointed across open moor to the north west and we struck off into the banks of rushes heading down hill.
Soon we came to a gate and next it a style over the fence. We crossed the style, still making our way down hill. At the bottom of the hill, next to an old dry stone wall was a new looking bridge over a burn.
Close to this bridge is the confluence point of the Burnfoot Burn and the Backside Burn – the latter being the bottom one. Where the two waters of the Backside and the Burnfoot meet is the start of the Endrick.
The bridge over the Burnfoot Burn turns out to be quite important. Funded by Scotways with a grant of £22,800 from the Brown Forbes Memorial Fund (BFMF) and £4,600 from Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER and support from Scottish National Heritage the bridge was the “missing link” connecting existing paths to form the first off-road walking route across Central Scotland, linking the villages of Kippin and Kilsyth. Built by The Conservation Volunteers it provided a safe crossing on this route from 2014. For more information about the walking route follow this link: https://www.scotways.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=342:heritage-paths-in-the-campsie-fells-a-new-bridge-for-central-scotland&catid=1:news&Itemid=69
We could see a ruin up on the hill on the other side of the burn so we crossed the bridge and made our way up through the sometimes boggy ground to what turned out to be an old abandoned farmhouse. The roof appeared to have been off this building for many years and the rubble built stone walls were crumbling rapidly. An old swinging pot hook remained in place on the internal fireplace.
This was the remains of Burnfoot Cottage, a former small steading.
We have been (reliably?) informed that as part of the deal for permission to install Earlsburn Windfarm it was agreed that the village of Fintry would benefit financially. The income from one of the wind generators would go directly to the village. This financed the building of their excellent sports centre. It may be this fact requires further investigation.
A rough track leads north from Burnfoot Cottage leading eventually down to the village of Kippen. It would have been a long journey in the days of horse and cart - and very few if any other inhabitants to meet on the way.
One other dwelling in this valley is marked on the 1890Ordinance Survey map - Backside Farm about one mile to the north. Little now remains of that particular dwelling.
After exploring Burnfoot we followed the track north for a few miles and in the distance up on a hill to the west we managed to glimpse the Spout of Ballochleam. But conciouscious of the short hours of daylight we turned back and returned to the car the way we had come and left the exploring of the Spout of Ballochleam to another day.
A very pleasant stop on the way home was the Fintry Inn with their warm fire, local beers and excellent food. A great place to put your feet up and relax after a long walk.
The festival is held annually at Loch Lomond Shores which is a loch-side development next to Balloch on the south bank of the Loch Lomond.
The journey from Appletree Cottage took us about fifteen minutes.
After parking the car we walked the short distance to the shores of the loch.
Balloch Steam Slipway Engine
Our attention was quickly drawn to the hooting sound of a steam engine's whistle. Following the noise we discovered that Balloch Steam Slipway steam engine was fired up and in operation. It had opened for the weekend to raise funds for the ongoing restoration of the nearby Maid of the Loch paddle steamer.
The enormous pistons were turning the gearing cogs making it easy to understand and visualise how easily a ship could be drawn out of the water by such enormous machinery. There were some great photos on display and a good book stall in the engine shed. We took the opportunity to toot the hooter for a 50p donation towards the restoration of The Maid of the Loch.
All this was very impressive. We decided to move further round the shore to inspect The Maid of the Loch where we could hear a band playing.
The Maid of the Loch
The Maid of the Loch was the last paddle steamer to be built in the UK. Commissioned by the British Transport Commission in 1950 the vessel was built on the Clyde by A&J Inglis of Glasgow.
The Maid as she is known is unusual in being a "knock down" boat. That is, having been constructed in the shipyard, she was then taken to pieces again and transported by rail to the loch side at Balloch. There she was reconstructed and eventually launched on Thursday the 5th of March 1953.
Operated latterly by Caledonian Macbrayne (now known as Calmac) she operated as a pleasure boat, ferrying passengers up and down the loch calling at the various piers like Ardlui and Inversnaid.
One used to be able to take one of the electric trains from the centre of Glasgow to the little station on the pier at Balloch. From the train it was only the shortest of walks across the platform the the steamer.
The railway line to the pier is long since gone and The Maid of the Loch took her last passengers up the loch on 31 August 1981
Following her withdrawal from service the ship lay in an increasing state of disrepair exacerbated by wonton vandalism until Dumbarton Council came to the rescue in 1992. Three years later In 1995 the council supported a rescue plan by a group of enthusiasts formed as The Loch Lomond Steamship Company and passed the vessel into their care.
By 2000 The Maid had been restored enough to become a floating bar and cafe = helping raise further funds.
The next key to the paddle steamers salvation was, with the aid of a lottery grant, the restoration of the Steam Slipway. In June 2006 the newly re-opened slipway was used to lift the boat out of the water. This allowed repairs and restoration to begin on the hull.
Now back in the water the renovation continues and the aim of the charitable trust is to return the venerable vessel to service in 2018.
If you feel the urge to find out more about this great ship or contribute to her restoration more information is available at: http://www.maidoftheloch.org
on to Loch Lomond Food and Drink Festival...
After exploring the paddle steamer we wandered over to the food and drink festival itself. Very popular with both tourists and locals the festival is one of two food festivals throughout the year, the other one being in the Springiest - usually in early April.
Today a long line of stalls selling all types of food and drink filled the promenade and more of the Loch Lomond Shores development. In some years vendors travel from as far away as France to sell their sausages and other delicacies.
There are many hot food outlets of all sorts and music is provided by a programme of bands set up on a stage with nearby seating.
Drinks are available both from stalls near the music area or if you prefer a tipple can be taken on the first floor balcony of the permanent bar with a terrific view across Loch Lomond.
After watching the haggis eating competition (as you do) we noted the large number of Segways for hire and also the popularity of the boat trips on offer.
Loch Lomond Shores itself is an interesting place. Opened in 2002 a collection of upmarket retail outlets (Jenners, Hawkshead, Thorntons, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Ashtins Aromatics and Loch Lomond Jewellers to name but a few) form one side of an attractive terrace with the waters of the loch lapping at the other. There is also a Sea Life Centre with the unusual attraction of a walk through tank with sharks swimming in it. It has proved popular with children who bring their sleeping bags to camp out for the night in the centre of the tank whilst sharks and other sea creatures swim all round them, staring out through the thick glass.
Loch Lomond Shores website can be found at: http://www.lochlomondshores.com and Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre is at::https://www.visitsealife.com/loch-lomond
Eventually, after another great day and having had our fill of a variety of fast food we made our way back to Appletree Cottage
Visit to Doune Castle - 26 Aug 2017
We decide to head off to vistit DOUNE CASTLE about half an hour’s drive away. A favourite stop on the filming locations trail for the hit TV series Outlander the castle was also the set for many scenes of the 1974 hit film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Leaving Appletree Cottage we head west along the A811 stopping briefly at east end of the village of Bucklyvie for some excellent refreshment at the newly opened roadside café.
From Bucklyvie we continue along the A811. We see Gargunnock village some distance away on the hill to the right. Then we turn left by Gargunnock Sawmill (B8075 signposted Doune)
To get to the castle we drove through the village and turned right (signposted Doune Castle) at the end of the main street.
We made our way along the single track road and soon the castle came into sight. It was a Saturday and parking was tight but we managed to find a space in the small carpark.
The exterior of the castle was clearly recognisable both as the factional Leoch Castle, the seat of the McKenzie clan in the Outlander TV series and multiple locations from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We entered through the huge open oak doors and bought our tickets. (£6 for Adults and £3.50 for children at time of writing.
Free with each ticket is a headset guide to the castle narrated mostly by Python Terry Jones with a couple of notes form Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser in Outlander.
Terry Jones’ notes are particularly interesting.
A brief history...
Doune Castle is situated on high ground and defended by rivers on two sides where the Ardoch Burn meets the River Teith. It is thought that the Castle was built in the thirteenth century on a site previously occupied by some other fortification. Following damage in the Wars of Independence the castle was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany sometime in the late 14th century. Albany who was Regent of Scotland (1388 - 1420) and was the son of Robert the Second of Scotland.had great plans for the enhancement of the castle but did not survive to see them through.
Occupying one of the main routes to the highlands the castle was of strategic importance.
There is a good story of how, after the Battle of Falkirk in 1746 (part of the Jacobite uprising) the Jacobites took several prisoners back to Doune Castle and incarcerated them in the upper storey of the Castle's kitchen block. Among the prisoners was a minister calledJohn Witherspoon and being a young (23) and enterprising chap tore up some material and knotted it together to use as a rope and escape to the ground. Shortly after this Witherspoon emigrated to the America and became the only clergy member to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Inside Doune Castle
After passing through the entrance tunnel we were in the courtyard withi its well in the centre. The courtyard was used as the interior of Swamp Castle for the wedding massacre scene (the exterior was Bodiam Castle in East Sussex) The large wall of the courtyard (the one without any windows) was used as Guy de Loimbard’s Castle from which livestock was catapulted onto the unsuspecting seekers of the Holy Grail.
A flight of steps from the courtyard leads up to the Kitchens, Servery and the Great Hall.
The kitchen has a hugely impressive seventeen foot wide fireplace – large enough to roast an entire ox. Serving hatches allowed food to be passed to servants who would distribute it to those feasting in the main hall.
In The Holy Grail the kitchens were used as Castle Anthax where Sir Gallahad is unwillingly rescued from Zoot and her girlfriends. The Great Hall was the location of the Knights of the round table song and dance routine.
Doune Castle is a fantastic castle to explore. A medieval labyrinth. There are lots of narrow passages, stairways where you least expect them, many bedrooms, halls, cellars, minstrels galleries, nooks and crannies.
Most of the castle is open to the public so you are free to roam as you wish. The height of the doorways serve as a reminder as to how much smaller the human form was four hundred years ago!
Upstairs in the Duchess' hall is the setting for a famous scene from Swamp Castle in the Holy Grail - "One day lad, all this will be yours....!"
A gift shop in one of the cellars of the castle sells both OUTLANDER and MONTY PYTHON souvenirs including Outlander Tartan Shawls, Outlander Cookbook and half coconut shells for the Python fans!
As well as Outlander and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Doune Castle has been used by other productions as a filming location including Game of Thrones (Winterfell) and
Ivanhoe (BBC) as well as featuring in Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley (1814)
After two very satisfying hours we returned our guide headsets and left through the entrance through which a Trojan Rabbit was once dragged!
Conclusion: A great family day out and well worth the money.
Another fine day at Appletree Cottage and today we explore the peninsula immediately north of Sallochy Bay on the east side of Loch Lomond (about 15 minutes drive away)
Sallochy Bay is a beach with a Forestry Commission run campsite beside it. It is clean, the water clear and the beach fine white pebbles where it cost us £3 to park the car for the day.
Setting out across the bridge
Fork in the road...
Also out at this time of year are the blaeberries (or wild blueberries) which grow in abundance by the side of the path. Our fingers are soon a deep red colour from the juice as we pick them.
The heathers are also in full bloom in shades of purple.
After a while the path splits. The West Highland Way route is to the right, up a series of steps climbing the hill. We opt to continue straight ahead on the level.
There is also a good selection of attractive flora still out at this time of year
We continue along the shoreline, climbing over fallen branches, ducking under low boughs until eventually we reach a little rocky promontory. Bog Myrtle abounds – a shrub like green plant with a fantastic smell if you rub the leaves – fragrant with a hint of eucalyptus.
Unable to follow the shore any further round we head inland following another very rough path through high bracken and heather. The path leads us quite a distance inland and up hill to the centre of a coppice and then disappears. We are now lost, without a path to follow.
As it is near the end of a damp August, come across a few interesting fungi..
Spotting the sun and keeping the hills to the east in view we make a direct line, or as direct as we can, through quite rough undergrowth and young birch trees until we eventually (and happily) join the West Highland Way again.
We’ve rejoined the West Highland Way at the top of a hill and follow the path downwards until we reach the flight of steps we saw earlier in our walk. We descend to the shore line and once again follow the path, this time back to the car park.
This walk would have been a lot easier if we’d stuck to the paths!
A lovely day with a little bit of a breeze and occasional cloud. Perfect for walking.
The plan was to walk from Arrochar at the head of Loch Long and follow the northern end of the Cowal Way up to Loch Sloy
Leaving Appletree Cottage we drove to Balloch and then up the western shore of Loch Lomond. At Tarbert, about half way up Loch Lomond we continued straight on towards Arrochar and Invararay.
Arrochar was only a couple of miles further on and we drove through the village and parked in the car park immediately before the bridge at the head of the loch.
There was a sign saying there was a charge of £1 per day for parking at the time of our visit (although the machines were still being installed and were wrapped in plastic bags - hooray!)
Walking out from Arrochar
From the car park we crossed the main road and followed a narrow road up the south side of the river (we did not ever cross the river) After about quarter of a mile (1/2km) there was a sign to the right saying “Cowal Way” . We followed the track up about 100 yards and turned left, away from the loch and continued along this for about a mile when it eventually became a path.
The walk was relatively easy, very peaceful and unspoilt. Mostly on the level there was the occasional small hill or mound which the path would contour up. It was easy to see where we were going and the path, though rutted in places with some loose rocks on the inclines, was generally well maintained.
After about 4 miles (6.5 km we skirted round the side of and entered a wood of tall handsome trees. Emerging eventually in open country and through a gate at the end of the path.
We had a choice to turn left or right (as signposted) across a small wooden bridge and up onto there dam service road (tarmac) where we turned left.
It was only about another mile to Loch Sloy Dam as the road climbed gently up the hillside.
About Loch Sloy Dam
Loch Sloy is the largest conventional hydroelectric plant in Britain. Its water flows from Loch Sloy along 3km tunnels cut through Ben Vorlich, to power the station on the shore of Loch Lomond below. Four huge pipes are clearly visible from the Loch Lomond shore carrying the water on its final journey to the generating station next to the main road.
Construction on the Dam commenced in May 1945 and was completed in 1949, the official opening ceremony being on 18 Oct 1950. Initially prisoners worked on the construction but when the war finished workers came from as far away as Cornwall to join the project. At its
peak the workforce exceed 2,200 men. The tunnelling was hard and 21 men lost their lives during construction.
The dam doubled the lengh of Loch Sloy and raised its water level by 47 meters.
The complex is used as stand-by power to the national grid and can be at full capacity (152mw) from a standing start in only five minutes.
For more detailed information about Loch Sloy Dam visit http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=1014
At the Dam
The road had been gently climbing since we joined it and after about half a mile we got our first glimpses of the dam. Looking dark, menacing and somewhat satanic in the day’s light.
It grew larger and larger as we approached and the bold designs of architect Harold Ogle Tarbolton’s now A listed structure became clearer.
As we arrived at the foot of the dam the stillness of the air and the silence in the hills, with not another person in sight served to exaggerate the presence of this enormous structure.
We walked up the road to the west end of the top of the dam and through the short tunnel which obviously serves as a shelter for sheep on the wilder days. We were free to walk across the top of the dam and through the gate at the eastern end. From there led a set of stones set in the hillside as a staircase. The interesting thing about this staircase was that it could only be seen from above as not clue to its existence could be discerned from below.
End of a great day
After exploring the dam and taking in the surrounding views we made our way back along the route from which we’d come to return to our car.
As an alternative we did consider walking up to the dam from Inveruglas (where the four huge pipes come out the hill down to the generating station on the shore of Loch Lomond.
We decided not to do this as the parking in Inveruglas car park was £4 and there was quite a long walk (about ½ mile) beside the main road before beginning to ascend the service road to
Our route was moderate, about 10.5miles in lengh (17km) and thoroughly enjoyable.
Car journey – about 50 minutes from Appletree Cottage
Walking duration – about 5 hours with lots of stops.
One of the best walks we’ve had this year!
Places to visit
There are many great days out from here. Trips to places like Inveraray (with its 18th Century jail and courthouse) and Auchendrain, a highland village museum where you can see how people lived centuries ago.
On the way to or from Inveraray there is the excellent Loch Fyne Fisheries shop and restaurant supplying fantastic fresh seafood.
Another good trip is to drive to Colintraive (near the pretty village of Tighnabruich) and take the ferry across to the Isle of Bute. You can then explore Bute from north to south, see the ancient castle in the island capital Rothesay or visit the beautifully preserved Mount Stewart Castle (a magnificent house) on the south end of the island before taking the ferry across to Wemyss Bay on the mainland and driving back to Appletree Cottage.
Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond is worth a visit. It is a neatly laid out former estate village of cottages with a small pier. Boats go from Luss on pleasure cruises around the loch.
Pleasure cruises on Loch Lomond also go from Balloch and Balmaha. At Balmaha you can also catch a ferry to Inchcailloch, an uninhabited island nature reserve on Loch Lomond - a favourite of ours. If you're feeling fit you can carry on past Balmaha and go up to Rowardennan where you can climb Ben Lomond (4000ft) for fantastic views. But when I do this I sometimes find my legs are a bit wobbly the next day!
A day out in Oban is good too - more of a town than a village but with a couple of excellent fresh fish shacks on the pier. On the way to Oban you might want to stop off at Taynuilt and see the ancient Bonawe iron furnace (founded in 1753) where they made pig iron and cannon balls. The furnace is now preserved and in a beautiful setting. You can take the train from Helensburgh to Oban along the West Highland Line, one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world.
Another good trip we did recently was to drive up to Loch Katrine and take the boat to the far end of the loch to the tiny hamlet of Stronachlacher. We took our bikes with us and cycled back along the private road (virtually traffic free) that follows the shore of the loch back to where we started. Another fun thing to do is to drive to Gourock (about 40 mins) and take the car ferry across to Dunoon a nice little village on the Clyde estuary.
If you turn left when you get off the ferry you can get to Loch Striven which feels surprisingly remote. We saw some herring gulls there giving a spectacular diving display. Also a huge number of pheasants perched on the side of the road watching us! Someone must be breeding them there.
If you turn right at the Dunoon ferry you can take one of a couple of routes - all very pretty - through little villages - back to Tarbert on Loch Lomond and then back to Appletree Cottage.
Not a coastal village I know, but if it is raining there are a some good options - the Kelvingrove Museum and the Transport museum in Glasgow (40 mins drive) are a good option and are free. Stirling Castle and Wallace Monument (also by Stirling) are good wet weather cover. There's lots more. When you come we can lend you some large scale maps of the area so you can find your way about and view points of interest etc.
About Appletree Cottage and its immediate surroundings
Appletree Cottage is on the grounds of an old farm We built Appletree last year 2016 on the former site of an ancient barn which had been demolished before we bought the (semi derelict) Shandon Farm in 2013.
The farm itself we have found recently on a map dated 1746!
At time of writing (May 2017) Google Maps show Appletree Cottage nearly completed whilst Google Street View is still showing the old barn which the cottage replaced
Although there are a couple of houses nearby Appletree Cottage is not overlooked. You are not overlooked by the farmhouse either - there is a line of old stone barns between us.
The cottage looks out across open countryside which is home to some sheep, some cattle and wildlife. Recent visitors in April spotted 30 species of bird from the cottage. A roe deer and her foals have recently been seen wandering through the grounds and you may spot a large pheasant or two.
The cottage grounds extend to the edge of the patio on one side with lawn on two other sides. A new hedge is planted on the fourth side.
The farm and the cottage are on a quiet back road The road forms part of two leisure routes - Cycle Route 7 - a long and circuitous route which runs from Sunderland in England to Inverness in north Scotland - John Muir Way path which celebrates the man who founded the national park movement in the US. It runs from his home town Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Helensburgh in the west. So the traffic on our road consists of very occasional farm traffic, even more occasional groups of cyclists and walkers.
There is a cycle hire shop in Drymen 1.5 miles away if cycling takes your fancy. If the mood takes you there is a local village pub in Croftamie (12-15 minutes walk) which has outside seating for sunny days. There are other good pubs / restaurants within easy driving distance, and a local taxi firm if you want to leave the car.
There are also good walks from the cottage and the scenery is fantastic.
We hope the above gives you an idea of what to expect.
We look forward to meeting and welcoming you and your family soon
Murray and Alli
Group of Ornithologists spot thirty species from Appletree
Slightly further afield is Inversnaid on the remote eastern shore of Loch Lomond and home to some black grouse and golden eagles.
The spotting records our April visitors are detailed below...
Birds Spotted from Appletree Cottage 21-25 April 2017
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Birds spotted at nearby wildlife sanctuaries (in addition to those already spotted at Appletree Cottage). 21-25 April 2017
On a lovely clear day we drove north towards Aberfoyle from Appletree Cottage. Following the following the A809 heading north from Croftamie village we joined the A811 and followed it past Drymen to join the A81 towards Aberfoyle.
Once in Aberfoyle, having made use of their handy petrol station we turned right at the end of the main street up the steep hill to Dukes Pass (A821). The pass is a long , steep and winding road over desolate countryside with some spectacular views to enjoy. Near the highest point of the pass a nouse of the left is all that remains of the village which once serviced Aberfoyle Slate Quarries further up the hill on the left (west)
As we began to decend the pass we could see the pointed peak of Ben A’an across the glen with loch Achray glistening below.
At the bottom of the hill, just past Loch Achray hotel on the left we came to a T junction with Loch Katrine to the left and Callendar and Brig O’ Turk to the right. We took the right hand turn and followed the road for a couple of miles to the small village of Brig O’Turk
We turned left at the excellent Brig O’Turk tearoom (featured in the cycling sequence in the 1959 film The 39 Steps starring Kenneth Moore) and continued past the schoolhouse up the hill to a small car park at the end of the road.
From the car park we continued on foot up the remainder of the road (authorised vehicles only) and soon we saw Glen Finglas dam in the distance.
Just at that point, near to some picnic tables, there is an information board concerning the pre-raphaelite artist John Everett Millais portrait of John Ruskin. A path leads down to the burn and the point at which John Ruskin is supposed to have stood for this picture. (there is more on this below and at website: www.lochlomondtrossachs.org.uk/park-stories/glen-finglas-and-a-victorian-scandal)
Ruturning to the road we made our final climb up to the dam. An impressive structure constructed by Glasgow Corporation Waterworks as an extension to the nearby Loch Katrine water scheme which pipes water by gravity feed to the city some thirty four miles (55km) distant. The dam now also produces hydro generated electricity.
From the top of the dam there are great views across Finglas reservoir to the north with small islands dotted here and there. Flocks of birds abound in this remote corner of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
We made our way back to the car and back down the hill towards the village of Brig O’Turk. Nearby the old school and schoolhouse on the opposite side of the road is the famous “Bicycle Tree” . The tree can be seen from the road as can the remains of the bicycle which it has grown around, the rusting handlebars and forks clearly visible.
Back down at the excellent tearoom (which closes for winter) we turned right, back the way we had come. Just as we left the village a sign alerted us to the Byre Inn on the left. Set a little bit off the main road this cosy cottage pub offers excellent food and beers in front of a roaring log fire. More info at www.byreinn.co.uk
The round trip from Appletree Cottage took just under three hours and made for a nice easy winter stroll with a warm welcome at the end of it.
More about that John Ruskin portrait: