Loch Lomond. Likely you know the song — it has been sung by rock stars, folk singers, vocal ensembles from Scotland to Mexico to China, played on bluegrass banjo, and become a regular feature of choirs and solo singers of all sorts. What do you know of the loch itself, though?
Loch Lomond lies in the west central region of Scotland. The southern shores of the loch are about an hour’s drive north of Glasgow and readily reached from other parts of the country as well. From that southern shore the waters stretch northward for more than twenty miles, taking you from the more visited areas of Balloch and Lomond Shores with their shops and cruise ship docks up to, at the far north end of the loch, much quieter landscapes.
You can camp along the shore of Loch Lomond, you may take cruises of various sorts out on the waters, along the eastern (and somewhat less visited) shore of the loch you might follow part of the iconic walking route known as the West Highland Way. As you do any of these things, you might think a bit about the geography and the history you of the landscapes you are passing through. Archaeology tells that people have been coming to the shores of Loch Lomond since the stone age at least. It has been a passageway, a source of sustenance, a place of refuge and many other things across Scotland’s long history.
This loch is also a primary feature, the romantic heart some would say, of one of Scotland’s best loved national parks, a park which is in fact called Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. The park encompasses some seven hundred twenty square miles. Within it you may find remote highlands, historic places, sea lochs, quiet roads and busy shopping areas, wildlife and town life, and of course, the waters of Loch Lomond.
There are four main areas in the park: to the west of Loch Lomond are the sea lochs of Cowal and the forests of Argyll, along with twisting mountain roads which open to outstanding views in high ground known as the Arrochar Alps, and among other things, the Wee Kelpie in Helensburgh, which has several times been voted Scotland’s best takeaway for the quality of its fish and chips.
Loch Lomond and its shores and nearby communities form another part of the park. In Balloch you may find shops and eating places in plenty as well as lodging, a marine life aquarium, and a bird of prey center. The loch itself the largest expanse of freshwater in Great Britain. In its south there are many islands, while to the north the waters narrow as mountains meet shores. You’ll not soon forget the site of Ben Lomond, its heights covered with snow most of the year, rising above the waters.
To the east of Loch Lomond are the forests and glens of The Trossachs. There are smaller lochs, as well, including Loch Katrine, the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s epic Lady of the Lake. In the forested roads of The Trossachs you will see and feel the landscape change as as you pass the town of Aberfolyle and begin climb into the Highlands. In these forests — other areas of the park, as well — you might come across red squirrel and roe deer, grouse, and perhaps capercaille, as well as other sorts of wildlife.
The rising country leads you to northern area of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, called Breadalbane. There is clan history here, as well as history going back to prehistoric times when this area marked intersections of Pict, Gael, and Briton cultures. From cattle droving tracks to Iron Age settlements, Breadalbane and indeed the whole of the park area have long played part in the story of Scotland’s history. Rob Roy MacGregor, for instance, was born — and died — in Breadalbane, and there is a museum about him in Callanader in the far eastern part of the park’s lands.
Indeed, prehistoric folk, early Christian era saints including Kentigern and Kessog, Viking sailors and settlers (a Viking cemetery has been found near the shores of Loch Lomond), Mary Queen of Scots, William Wordsworth, Walter Scott, and clanspeople including those from clans MacGregor, Campbell, MacFarlane, MacNab, Colquhoun and Buchanan have all played their parts in the cultural history of Loch Lomond and the central part of Scotland. That said, this part of Scotland is also part of the twenty first century story and landscape of the country, filled with fine places to explore.
Back to the song Loch Lomond: the melody is one that came over from Ireland back in the mists of time, and the words you may know best (there are several versions) come from around the time when Bonnie Prince Charlie was about, in the mid 1700s. There’s more about the history of the song in this story at Journey to Scotland. Two of my favorite versions of Loch Lomond are by the Celtic folk rock band RunRig from Skye and classical violinist (and native Scot) Nicola Benedetti.
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