top of page

Exploring Glen Finglas Dam and the Bicycle Tree

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

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 house on 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 descend 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, which starred 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:

Returning 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 (55 km) 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

​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: (courtesy of

It all came about when the critic John Ruskin sprang to the defence of a small group of painters who had called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They believed that the imitation of nature was the highest form of art and disliked what they saw as the influence of the artificial, mannered style and the classical poses characterised by the work of earlier European artists such the Renaissance painter Raphael. The upshot was various dialogues between the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais and John Ruskin. Millais was encouraged to create a great work with both wild scenery and a portrait as its subject, a painting that would revolutionise British landscape painting and portraiture at one and the same time. Ruskin was later to say that "mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery". At the same time, he himself would feature in the portrait! At the time of this artistic debate, Scotland and the Trossachs in particular were very fashionable, thanks in many ways, to Sir Walter Scott who one of Ruskin’s favourite authors. Ruskin was also a champion of the painter JMW Turner, especially his paintings of Swiss Mountain scenes. It was decided that Millais would accompany Ruskin and his Scottish wife Effie Gray to the Highlands in the summer of 1853. Ruskin would be painted amid Nature’s wild grandeur. They found the scenery they were looking for in Glen Finglas in the Trossachs, where the Finglas Burn cascades through tough metamorphic rock in a series of rapids waterfalls and pools. Ruskin wrote to his father: "Millais has fixed on his place, a lovely piece of worn rock, with foaming water, and weeds and moss, and a noble overhanging bank of dark crag and I am to be standing looking quietly down the stream..." With the Ruskins in a cottage in the glen and Millais in the inn at Brig o’ Turk, the scene was set for a creative summer. Ruskin’s enthusiasm was intense: ‘We shall have the two most wonderful torrents in the world, Turner’s St Gothard and Millais’ Glenfinlas’ (referring to a picture that Ruskin had actually commissioned from Turner). Millais pitched a tent by the painting spot and whimsically painted the words ‘Pre-Raphaelite Emporium’ on it! The work went forward all through that summer though the actual figure of Ruskin himself was not started until Millais returned to his London studio in the autumn. Millais even returned to Glen Finglas in the spring and early summer of the next year to do more foreground work, not completing the portrait till the end of 1854. (Ruskin’s father paid him £350 for it and thought it a good likeness.)


bottom of page