It was neither the high road, nor the low road but a winding one that cab driver Graham took us along to those famous bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond. And an hour or so’s stretch from the bustle of Glasgow Central Station, too. But it didn’t seem long before this Scottish city’s suburbs gave way to open expanses of hills, moorland, and ….round the final bend, our first, breathtaking glimpse of the loch itself; sparkling its welcome in late afternoon sunshine.
A cab for that distance was an extravagance: but we’d been lucky enough to win first class rail tickets in a prize draw, so decided we’d do the whole journey in style before braving the great outdoors. In all honesty, unless you’re there to follow the West Highland Way, or happy enough to stick to one loch-side location and an infrequent bus service, your own transport would help you get the most out of this place. There are serious walkers, runners, cyclists and climbers here, but there are people just enjoying the scenery and relaxing too. That said, you can’t go far before ambling turns into rambling, so it pays to pack a pair of walking shoes and be ready for all weathers.
For us, this was a three day break straddling late March and April. The plan? To take time to drink in the perfect panorama of hills and glens surrounding this magical lake: a gentle palette of mossy greens and softest mauves; time for strolls by the water’s edge and tougher clambers up and above the loch to get a completely different perspective. And to fuel those sorties with the best locally produced food we could find.
We were in luck: the place that we’d picked was The Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha. It’s just steps from a jetty overlooking the loch, its waterfowl and the odd boat moored close by. Across the road from the Inn is a car park leading to a network of paths, steps and routes to guide or challenge hill walkers of all abilities. Head out early and you might just spot a dog walker or two; or an ultra keen, lycra clad fell-runner. Apart from that it’s you, a babbling brook…the crunch of your boots….and birdsong. Forty minutes at a steady and manageable pace and you’re half way up Conic Hill. The view back down over Loch Lomond, its little islands and its moody mix of sky and cloud takes your breath away..if the climb hasn’t got there first. Even later in the day or at weekends when the vista’s dotted with dozens more visitors in neon-bright kit, there’s space to stand, stare and share.
Back lochside, the Inn’s own sharp mango sorbet was the perfect antidote to weary legs… sitting outside with walking-booted feet stretched out, closing our eyes against the weak spring sunshine. In the evening, hearty Scottish food – Buccleuch steaks and haggis with clapshot – complemented the hunting lodge style interior and provided inner warmth to match the glow we felt from the log fire. Although not whisky fans, it was fascinating to watch the barman wax lyrical to interested punters about the very best of his single malt collection.
By the end of an all too brief stay, we’d walked, climbed, been fed and watered well and slept like logs. We’d been drenched in sharp spring showers, dried out by a roaring fire, and strolled in T-shirts, kissed by that enthusiastic, if not totally convincing, late afternoon sun. We rolled out of Balmaha, with Graham once again our driver. Amiable and interesting, his guided commentary was only half listened to, as we silently and wistfully plotted to visit this beautiful countryside again soon.