October is often a great month to visit Scotland and autumn 2015 was no exception, with fine settled conditions prevailing; effervescent morning mists dissolving away to leave clear skies and dramatic low angle sunlight. It was great to be back on home turf and to spend a few fine days around Loch Lomand and the Trossachs National Park, with a base at the beautiful Leny House Estate just outside Callander.
There was a distinct Rob Roy theme to our excursions. Rob Roy was a Highland outlaw who lived around the turn of the 18th Century and is famed as being the “Scottish Robin Hood”. He was born in 1671 at Glengyle at the head of Loch Katrine and went on to fight in the Jacobite uprisings in support of the cause of King James II. Later on, after being outlawed, he became involved in cattle rustling and the organisation of protection rackets for herdsmen, though he was also noted for his good deeds and generosity of spirit. He was later romanticised by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.
We made the walk along the West Highland Way from Inversaid to Rob Roy’s Cave along the banks of Loch Lomand, following the rough path up and down through the beautiful lochside oakwoods. These woods were once extensively coppiced to provide bark for the leather tanning industry. In spring there is a beautiful carpet of bluebells, wood sorrel and primroses to delight visitors.
The cave is tucked away and the entrance can be quite hard to find requiring some scrambling to get there which makes a great adventure for kids. On the way we encountered a somewhat threatening looking wild goat crouching in another small depression under a rock. Although, the overpowering smell can give away the goats presence from quite a distance, they can still appear pretty threatening when all you see is two glowing eyes staring back out of the darkness.
Although the Cave is credited with Rob’s name, it is not clear whether or not he actually hid there (though why spoil a good story !). It is also suggested that the Cave might have been used by another famous fugitive, Robert the Bruce after his defeat at the battle of Dail Righ in 1306. Apparently the ancestors of our wild goat protected the entrance of the Cave for Bruce to deter his would be captors. Whatever the case, the location makes for a great wee excursion over rough terrain with wonderful views across the waters of Loch Lomand to the soaring, majestic peaks of the Arrocher Alps.
Rob died in Balquidder in 1734 and is said to be buried in a simple grave in the churchyard there, marked by the words “MacGregor despite them”, along with his wife and two of his sons. The old churchyard is a peaceful, atomspheric spot and an excellent starting point for a walk up the dramatic Kirkton Glen.
Just a little up the path beyond the village is the superb vantage point of Creag an Tuirc which is traditionally known as the rallying place of the Clan MacLaren, one time rivals of the MacGregors. From the crag is a super, uninterrupted view up the Glen towards peaceful Lochs Voil and Doine, the mixed woodlands which clothe the hillsides, resplendent in autumn hues.
Later on, down in the woods, we were surprised to find another monster staring back at us from the side of the path; what a super piece of homemade art (and far superior to the many pieces of pretentious nonsense, sometimes commissioned at vast expense by the public purse). It would be great to know who the talent behind the monster project was. To my mind this is how art should really be; organic, ephemeral, fun and spontaneous.
Our wonderful few days around the Trossachs passed all too swiftly. It was great to enjoy the Scottish outdoors again at its best and to rediscover old haunts which I visited at a child (and to show these places to my own children). To me, Scotland remains one of the most beautiful and picturesque locations in the World. Furthermore it’s still relatively uncongested, uncommercialised and on a scale which is easy to explore; long may it remain this way.