Towns / Cities Visited: 118
Countries Visited: 23
Steps Taken Today: 8,173
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,087,085
A luxury in and of itself, we indulged whole heartedly in a sleep in before tumbling out of bed for the days adventure. We’d had grandiose plans to go hiking, but with the heavens dousing this land, once again, in a heavy blanket of rain, we decided to drive to our first destination and assess the weather when we arrived. Rain or not our day was to be loaded with lochs. First up on our day of exploration within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park was the largest of them all in this fair country, by surface area at least; Loch Lomond. Now, fun fact for those off you interested in linguistic origins, ‘loch’ is Gaelic for ‘lake’, and ‘lomond’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘laomainn’ meaning ‘beacon’, in reference to Ben Lomond, the mountain which looms over the lake on its eastern side. For those of you who are instead interested in the geological formation of this loch, and those surrounding it, that can all be traced back some ten to twenty thousand years ago when great glaciers scarred the earth with their force, leaving a thin indent in the harder rock of the highlands, but spreading to a much wider cut when it reached the softer soils of the lowlands. The small undulations left by the glaciers now serve as islands in the lower part of the loch. Eventually, said glaciers disappeared as the earth warmed and the sea level rose, and these picturesque places were once, for a short time at least, connected to the ocean which now lays quite some distance away. When you look at the grand timeline of these prehistoric bodies of water, our existence really does seem rather inconsequential.
At the suggestion of our gracious Airbnb hosts, we had decided to marvel at the beauty of the lake from its shores in the quaint little town of Luss on the western bank. An hour later we were pulling into this sleepy little village, and by the grace of whichever old Gaelic gods control the weather, the rain had let up, if only for a moment. Overshooting the carpark saw us having to do a loop through the rabbit warren of one way streets off the main motorway, dodging the seemingly oblivious wandering of locals and tourists alike, and being stuck between admittedly gorgeous little stone houses while a truck and a van blocked the way for us and the line of cars to our rear. After a solid five or ten minutes, one of the drivers decided that we had made enough stern and rather frustrated eye contact with them and shifted his van to clear the way. Car parked, rain coats on, and packed lunch in hand, we soon became a pair of the aforementioned wandering visitors, and were soon standing on the gently lapping shores. As we gandered across the water; past the speckle of bobbing boats, nonchalant seagulls, and the prismatic arch of a rainbow; our eyes reached the misty mountains, and I couldn’t help but think that I had not seen such a sight since we were on the shores of Lake Geneva all those months ago.
With the clouds holding onto their moist contents for the present, we perched on a bench and took a moment to eat our lunch amidst this breathtaking scenery, as we lazily watched the ferries shuttle tourists from the pier to Inchmurrin, the largest of the islands gracing the safety of the lake. Although we would not be joining them, we did take a wander down the pier, if only to stop at the ice cream shop. I don’t care what anyone says, there is never a time when it is too cold, too wet, or too dreary for ice cream.
We were pleased to discover that, although a proper hike may have been off the table due to questionable weather conditions, there was a walking trail which looped out from the town, and thus we trotted off down the lake side path, only turning back inland when it veered towards the small, ageing parish church. With time on our hands, we decided to explore said church, and as such we wound through the collection of moss covered tombstones and inside. Despite there being a Christian presence on the site for some 1500 years, the current building only dates from the mid 19th century, but something about the way the almost constant barrage of dampness has weathered its exterior, it appears far older. The interior has your usual biblical stained glass but its most striking feature is its looming beamed wooden roof, which manages to make you feel as though this house of god was pitched beneath the upturned hull of some wayward Viking ship, or to the more religious amongst you, I imagine it to be more akin to the ark.
Our dabble at church was done and we were soon back on track, weaving our way between the trees, across the surging river that emptied into the loch, and along into a peaceful field just as a little blue sky and sunlight peeped through the clouds, illuminating the massive Celtic cross which seems to have fallen into place here.
As we passed along, surrounded ever presently by the misty mountains, we soon found ourselves stepping onto a trail quite aptly named, the faerie trail. For anyone interested, faerie is simply a more archaic spelling of the more common, fairy; although there does seem to be a rather heated debate as to whether there is other differences and meanings between the two. Now given the almost otherworldly beauty of our surrounds, and the abundance of rainbows which seemed to be gracing our stay in Scotland, it is unsurprising to discover that the existence of faeries in this land has long been a rather convincing belief held by many for as long as anyone can remember. Due to this, Luss has taken it upon itself to incorporate everything faerie along its walking track, for the pleasure of children, and those of us who are still young at heart. From spell books, to faced trees; positive affirmations, to wee houses perched on branches or built into trunks; it is faerie mania at every turn. It may seem a little juvenile at times, yet there is still a tiny voice in everyone’s head that has seemingly led them to leave those coins outside the faerie’s door, for fear of magical retribution. Then again, it may be the slightly Liam Neeson-esque threat carved above one of said faerie homes that keeps people in line.
Entertained, but none the richer, we were soon heading back to the car. We had seen Loch Lomond, but this national park has two name sakes, and thus we were soon on our way to visit the other; The Trossachs. This refers not only to the small wooded glen that lies at the centre of the area east of Loch Lomond, but also the larger surrounding area of braes and lochs which dot this section of the national park. Given that the skies had been raining lightly on and off, we decided to see what we could by car, and as we made our way along we stopped several times to take some photos of the stunning scenery and the lakeside castle, Tigh Mor, which functions as a collection of holiday apartments and which I would very much like to reside in. After an hour or so of driving, we reached Loch Achray (Loch Àth Chrathaidh in Gaelic, meaning ‘Loch of the ford shaking’) and turned left, driving until we reached the tip of Loch Katrine (Loch Ceiteirein in Gaelic, possibly meaning ‘dusky loch’). We paused momentarily and gleefully watched the almost Willy Wonka-esque ferry bobbing alongside the dock.
The day was growing old however, and we soon bundled back into the car, driving along Loch Achray and Loch Venachar (Loch Bheannchair in Gaelic, meaning ‘horn-shaped loch’), stopping spontaneously to skip stones on the placid waters, then continuing until we reached Callander. A quick rest stop, and a moment of watching the swans and their cygnets (or swanets, as I like to call them), and we were sadly heading home for the night as dusk drew nigh.
Another evening in and another home cooked meal later and our bed was soon calling. As I drifted off to sleep my mind wandered to the words of the Irish poet William Allingham’s famous work ‘The Fairies’; ‘Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we daren’t go a-hunting, for fear of little men’. They are words I had read many times from the pages of a compendium of fairy based poems I had been gifted in my mystical loving youth. However, it was only now, having visited the lands this man wrote of so long ago and laying in the midst of one not too dissimilar to it, that the words portrayed their full emotion. As we moved through the national park today, gliding through its mist shrouded vistas, it was suddenly not far fetched at all to consider that perhaps fantastical creatures are concealed beneath the shrubs here, or betwixt the rolling hills. It might seem strange that Scotland’s national animal is mythical, but as we explore this land I am beginning to believe that if a unicorn was to gallop past, it would scarcely seem an oddity at all.
As a young child I was obsessed with fairies, and even in my teen years and early twenties a somewhat more adult fairy poster graced my bedroom walls; a delicate pale feminine figure, wrapped in a wispy white gown, with a tangle of auburn hair, and crimson autumn leaf shoes worn as though Mother Nature herself had taken up fashion design as a part time hobby. Something within my ageless heart wanted, and in fact still wants, to believe that there is something magical in the world, something hiding just beyond the range of our peripheral vision, if only we were wise and swift enough to see it.