Scotland: Self-driving the Trossachs

There’s something about the light among the lochs and glens of the Trossachs. Under the partially cloudy skies of spring the muted greens, browns and blues burst into life as a shaft of sunlight hits them. Ancient lochs are a mirror-flat sheen of gun-metal grey, the heather and firs on the hillsides a range of purples, browns and greens that Dulux would kill for. When the Scottish Parliament decided to create National Parks in Scotland it was no surprise that the first park should be designated here. Yet too often visitors head straight for the more well-known Highlands and miss out on this beautiful hinterland a mere hour or so’s drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh.   This isn’t to say that the Trossachs don’t get their share of tourists. Sir Walter Scott set his famous books Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy here and in summer finding accommodation can be a challenge. So spring is a great time to visit. The days are getting longer, the colours brighter; but for now the roads are quiet and the B&Bs have vacancies. And why not supercharge your stay a little? How about seeing the lochs and glens from behind the wheel of classic British motor car? The hills here aren’t quite as steep as in the Highlands, and the roads have more space. Perfect for putting pedal to metal and feeling that old V8 roar.   Aberfoyle is a good first port of call if you’ve driven your Aston, Jag or Morgan up from Edinburgh or Glasgow. There’s a useful tourist information centre stacked with helpful staff and lots of maps and guides. They can also find you somewhere to stay if you’ve not booked ahead. Once you’ve got a bed sorted, jump back behind the wheel and take a leisurely purr along lochs and round winding lanes, towards Loch Ard. Whilst it’s great to be motoring, this area is also full of fantastic walks. If you fancy stretching the legs a little go for a walk towards Ben Venue from Kinlochard on the shores of the loch. It’s a long tramp to the top – too far for a stroll – but the footpath starts gently through centuries-old oak forests, bubbling brooks and tinkering waterfalls. The views back to Loch Ard get better as you climb. The tiny tea shop at Kinlochard has the best name in Scotland – how could anyone not stop to sup a cuppa and munch a scone at the Wee Blether Tea Shop?   From Aberfoyle you can take the scenic road on towards Callander. It climbs steeply out of town and winds its way across high moorland, fantastic for changing up and down the gears. You can swap car for boat if you take the fork up to Loch Katrine. The lovely old steam ship Sir Walter Scott has been puffing its way serenely across the loch for over a century. You can just enjoy the gentle rhythm of the steam engine and the glassy views of red-brown heather and dark green firs reflected in the pure waters or else hire a bike before you board and hop off at Stronachlachar.   From here you can cycle back around the lake. It’s a 14-mile ride which takes two or three hours and the path is well maintained. If the weather’s good it’s a delightfully scenic pedal. Back behind the wheel of your great dame and onwards towards Callander, the road runs through delightfully named Brig o’Turk. Here you can wander trails through Glen Finglas’ ancient royal hunting forests or stop off at the Byre Inn a perfect pub for a pint in front of the fire. Callander itself has lots of options for accommodation and several snug pubs for a pint before bedtime.   This part of Scotland is Rob Roy country. His ancient clan the Maclarens used to rally at a viewpoint above Loch Voil an hour or so further north. It’s a bracing drive from Callander with some nice straights where you can put your foot down and hear the old cylinders rumble and roar. The road follows the course of Loch Lubnaig, affording great views of shiny waters and dappled trees. The road out towards Balquhidder is more winding and you’ll have to take your foot off the gas, but the views and the isolation are fantastic. You’ll find the tomb stone of the legendary outlaw himself in the ancient church yard at Balquhidder. His wife is buried alongside. From behind the church, marked tracks lead off up the hill. There’s a noticeboard with details of the trails; none are particularly taxing. Twenty minutes along fir-lined tracks brings you to the viewpoint at Creag An Tuirc. This is where Roy’s clan would meet to plot their next move away from the gaze of the authorities. Creag An Tuirc means Boar’s Rock and it became the clan’s fearsome rallying cry. The views across Loch Voil are trulty spectacular. From the viewpoint, you can return the way you came or for a longer stroll continue up the rough track across a small bridge over a gurgling stream and back down the other side.   It’s worth walking to work up an appetite too, as at the far end of Loch Voil another six miles down the winding lane is boutique hotel, Monachyle Mhor. It has 11 stylish designer rooms in a converted old farmhouse, complete with flat screen TVs and log-burning stoves. But it’s the food that people really rave about. Owner and chef Tom Lewis serves up fantastic fresh gourmet food in the cosy restaurant. The taster menu is particularly good. All produce is locally sourced and many of the herbs and vegetables come from the farmhouse’s own garden. They can even offer a personal guide if you go for a wander. Midnight, the farm’s friendly black Labrador makes the perfect walking companion.   Alas, the time will come when you’ll have to return your trusty stead to its rightful owner. The only thing quintessentially Scottish that’s missing in the Trossachs is a whisky distillery. But don’t despair. There’s one almost on the way back to Glasgow or Edinburgh, so drop in for a dram (just the one mind) on your way home. The Glengoyne Distillery is a half hour south of Loch Lomond and it’s one of Scotland’s most beautiful. It’s been producing its award-winning smooth single malts since 1833. The informative half hour tour includes a free dram. With the boot full of bottles for all the gang back home you can set your wheels finally for the airport.  

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