A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, northern Scotland including the Highlands and islands.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
In between the main western urban belt of Scotland and the Highlands proper lies the incredibly picturesque area around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
Loch Lomond can be accessed from the A82 north from Glasgow. The loch is 23 miles long and up to 620ft (or 190 metres) deep. That’s the equivalent depth of four Nelson’s columns, as deep as the North Sea. Tarbet has a harbour for pleasure boat trips on the loch. From there you can cross to the Inversnaid Hotel. Queen Victoria visited here many times in her later years, with her equerry Mr Brown! Her daughter, Princess Louise, married the local lord to become the Duchess of Argyll. The Tarbet Hotel is a recommended stop for refreshments. Loch Fyne Oysters is a fine place to eat near Clachan on the A83. Loch Fyne gave its name to a national chain of seafood restaurants. Inverary Castle (A83) is in the heart of Campbell country. During the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, it repulsed an attack by 2,000 Highlanders under General Gordon of Achentoul.
One of the main approaches to the Trossachs is via the A84 from the M9. Along this road is the town of Doune. Just on the outskirts of the town is Doune Castle which is well worth a visit. Built in the late 14th century, it has historic links to Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who used it as a Jacobite stronghold and, of course, Sir Walter Scott, as it featured in his novel Waverley. But of interest to many visitors is that it was used in the cult 1970s comedy movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Indeed, Terry Jones of the Monty Python team narrates the fun commentary on the audio-guides. It was also used as a location for the hit TV series Outlander. Nearby on the B824 is the David Stirling Memorial. He was the founder of the elite military operations squad, the Special Air Service (SAS).
Trossachs means the ‘bristled land’. The A84 from Doune to Callender is signposted as the Trossachs Trail, although the real Trossachs Trail runs along the A821 from Callander to Loch Katrine. It’s a scenic route passing Loch Venachar, Loch Achray and the 2300ft high Ben Venue, and is said to be enchanted by fairies and spirits, encouraged by the 17th century tales of the Rev Kirk of nearby town Aberfoyle.
Loch Katrine was the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s poem the Lady of the Lake. This poem was published in 1810. It’s the story of a hunter who falls in love with a girl he sees rowing on Loch Katrine. She is the daughter of one of the outlawed Douglas clan who is fighting King James V, and is hiding out on Ben Venue.
The hunter pledges his ring in love. He is captured by the Douglas rebels who mean to kill him. But he is rescued and turns out to the king himself. Scott’s poem found immediate fame. The Austrian composer Schubert put three verses from the poem to music. One of them, Ellen’s third song, became better known as one of his most famous works Ave Maria. The poem was a major commercial success too. 25,000 copies sold in the first few months. It brought a 500% increase in visitor numbers to the Trossachs in the following year. You can cruise on Loch Katrine aboard the steamship SS Sir Walter Scott or the cruiser the Lady of the Lake.
Taking you further up the Trossachs, the Devil’s Pulpit, aka Finnich Glen, off the A809 near Killearn, is a secluded 100ft gorge. Local lore says that Satan preached from the top to the local monks below.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs was traditionally the home of Clan MacGregor. Their symbol was a crowned lion as they claimed descent from the royal family. An old legend gives us an example of how the clan system worked. The Campbells of Glenlyon demanded rents from the MacGregors. To pay their debts, the MacGregors stole from the Colquhouns. In the early 1600s, fearing exposure of their crimes, the MacGregors massacred up to 400 of the Colquhouns. Royal forces under the Duke of Argyll hunted the MacGregors throughout the Trossachs. But they proved elusive, becoming known as the Children of the Mist. However, the MacGregor surname was outlawed by royal decrees until 1784.
Along the A84 from Callender toward the Highlands, after you pass Loch Lubnaig, take a right for Balquhidder, passing back under under the A84. A 10-minute drive will take you to Balquhidder Kirk. Here you will find the grave of Scottish legend Rob Roy. It’s worth a diversion. Robert MacGregor was born in 1671 near Loch Katrine. As his surname was illegal, he took his mother’s maiden name Campbell. He became a cattle trader living in Inversnaid. In 1713, through rustling, taxation and property problems he became an outlaw. He sought refuge in enemy Campbell country and took the name Rob Roy, becoming Scotland’s equivalent of Robin Hood. He operated with a band of men on the Highland borders, often robbing the rich to help the poor. In 1715, he allied himself to the Jacobite rebellion and held the bridge at the Battle of Sherriffmuir. He then made a daring escape at Balvaig river from the clutches of the forces of his enemy the Duke of Montrose. In 1719. He led an attack against the royal forces at the Battle of Glen Shiel. He died in 1734 aged 63. Sir Walter Scott claimed a family friend had his cattle ‘protected’ by Rob Roy, and his 1817 novel was very loosely based on his life. The 1995 movie starring Liam Neeson was even looser.
Further along the A84 you will pass Lochearnhead, full of stags, deer and highland cattle. Here, the A84 becomes the A85. The church of the Holy Rood is worth a quick peep. It was founded in 1129 and rebuilt in the 16th century after a fire. Killin, on the A827, just off the A85, is regarded as the absolute centre of Scotland. At Crainlarich, the A85 becomes the A82. Take the southern route to return to Loch Lomond, perhaps stopping at the Ancient Drovers Inn near the waterfalls of Falloch. Here you also will see forests of Caledonian pine, oak, birch, hazel, rowan, as this is one of the centres of the Scottish timber industry. Take the northern route for Tyndrum (from Tyne drum, meaning the House on the Hill). Here the road splits again. Carry on along the A85 for the atmospheric ruins of the 15th century Kilchurn Castle. Take the A82 north for the gateway to the Highlands.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs: rustling leaves, murmuring fountains, and bonny, bonny banks!
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Lowlands/Midlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)