Things to do with a weekend in the Trossachs
It seems really quite farcical that one of the most beautiful regions in all of Scotland is reachable within an hour of its biggest city. The psychological process I go through when travelling to the Highlands generally involves mentally preparing myself for a long and challenging drive. To jump in the car and to have within minutes cleared urban congestion is an absolute delight, and seems a wee bit like cheating. But that’s the huge advantage of the Trossachs – spectacular Highland scenery within touching distance of the Central Belt. I see it as a perfect candidate for weekend breaks and here is my look at some of the top attractions to get up to during your visit.
This post is unapologetically slanted towards the outdoors as this is where the Trossachs really excels. Top of the list is a walk up Ben A’an, one of my favourite walks in all of Scotland and right at the pinnacle of the effort vs reward mountain hierarchy. Climbable in around two hours return, the views from its summit are absolutely magnificent. Looking down over Loch Katrine and a panorama of the whole region, I really rank it as one of the finest views in the country on a clear day.
Don’t be alarmed by the apparent insurmountabity of the rock in the photo above, it is considerably easier than it looks. Although there are occasionally steep bursts to the climb, this is a walk frequently done by families young and old and is certainly one of the easiest Bens to bag. That being the case, the climb is a very popular one so if you are looking to have it to yourself (or close to it) you’ll have to avoid weekends and the peak season. For a longer climb, neighbouring Ben Venue will take you roughly double the amount of time to complete, offering equally generous rewards.
With that image of Loch Katrine having snuggled itself contentedly into your memory, the logical next step is to make your way down to the Trossachs pier where you can jump aboard the SS Sir Walter Scott. Named after the famous writer and poet that I have spent much of the past month admiring after our Scotlanders visit to Abbotsford House in the Scottish Borders, the steamship provides a luxurious way to appreciate Loch Katrine up close. One of Sir Walter’s most famous novels was of course Rob Roy (more about him later) which was set in the Trossachs. The steamship itself has been delighting visitors for 115 years and is the last pleasure steamer left in Scotland. Excellent value at only £16 for a 2 hour cruise, the views looking up at both of the aforementioned Bens in particular are magnificent.
It’s not all about the outdoors in the Trossachs though as it is an area steeped in history. My favourite spot is the impossibly relaxing Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith. Idyllically placed on an island in the middle of the lake (accessible by boat only) the Priory was home to Augustinian canons in the 1500’s. Inchmahome also served as a hideaway from the English for a young Mary Queen of Scots. Although popular as a picnic spot for families, the island is the very definition of serene most of the year. A lonely stroll around its short perimeter followed by an exploration of the priory ruins is a great balance to the more strenuous activities that the Trossachs has to offer.
My previous mention of Rob Roy is highly significant. This is of course the legendary Scottish warrior Robert MacGregor, who led the powerful Macgregor clan in the 18th Century. The Trossachs were very much his turf. It’s fair to say Rob Roy made himself a bit of a nuisance to the authorities and was outlawed, hunted, imprisoned, re-imprisoned and eventually pardoned in an eventful life spent mostly on the run. A formidable swordsman with Jacobite leanings he has been romanticised by Sir Walter’s work and the self-named film with Liam Neeson (he gets all the good roles). A visit to the little town of Balquhidder brings you to his gravestone where he is buried alongside his family. The stone dramatically proclaims ‘MacGregor Despite Them’ (added in 1981) in reference to the government attempts to outlaw the clan name.
After a reflective moment or two at the beautifully placed Balquhidder graveyard, my final suggestion for a weekend in the Trossachs is a low level walk to Kirkton Glen. The route starts directly beside the graveyard and snakes into a heavily wooded path. After around ten minutes take the signed turning to the right to get to the glorious viewing spot at Creag an Tuirc and feast your senses on the below image looking up Loch Voil.
The slight diversion for that view adds maybe twenty minutes to your journey time but I hope you’ll agree is well worth it. The journey to Kirkton Glen continues by working your way back down to the main path and following the easy route to the glen. The whole journey takes in the region of 2 hours to complete and is a straightforward alternative to the Bens.
The Trossachs are also the stuff of dreams for cyclists and the massive Lochs and Glens Cycle Route running between Inverness and Glasgow goes through the likes of Killin, Balquhidder, Callander and Aberfoyle. Cyclists can jump in to whatever part of the route they wish, it’s very hard to go wrong.
A word about the practicalities, then. Although hugely popular and generally teeming with visitors, Callander is probably the lead candidate for where to base yourself. Lots of accommodation choice and with numerous food, drink and supplies facilities it is well placed for all of my chosen activities. Just outside of town is the Lade Inn, one of my favourite stops for a pint and some dinner after a tiring day out and about. Another one needing a mention is the Falls of Dochart pub in little Killin, at the north eastern boundary of the Trossachs. If you make it this far north (and the weather is behaving), enjoy an Avalanche ale overlooking the Falls and contemplate extending your weekend with a jolly to explore the best of Perthshire. There’s a story for another day….
To help with the scale of my suggestions you can refer to the map below. Zoom in and out and get directions to each by clicking on the icons.