Keep right on to the end of the road…….

I don’t know about you, but I have a fascination with dead-end roads, especially in the countryside. In some ways the sign we use can be a bit disappointing, or even intimidating….’Not worth going down this road’…’There’s nothing to see’…….. ……’Better to turn round while you 7559_signs[1]have the chance’……you know what I mean.

However there usually is something to see…a beach, a loch, a little pier, a house, an old church, and often they have a lovely view. Someone obviously thought that it was worthwhile building and maintaining a road for good reason.

And so it was that yesterday, along with two of the ladies in my life, we set off for one of the loveliest dead-end roads in the west of Scotland. Skirting the historic City of P1010551Stirling, you take the A84 and A873 through Thornhill. There you will find the excellent restaurant ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ where you could stop for excellent refreshment. Continuing to head west and joining the A81, you pass  (or stop to admire), the only lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. It is tiny, but the village is called  Port of Menteith, and it feels quite proud of its watery neighbour, and the Inchmahome Priory.

Just as you come to Aberfoyle, you enter the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and head on the B829, which has the afore-mentioned ‘dead-end’ sign . The B designation is a good indication that this road is not for the faint-hearted driver, as it is single-track with passing places. P1040845But we managed to stop and pick some blackberries on the way, on the side of Loch Ard.

I should say here that it was not me driving, as medical advice was that I should not get behind a wheel for a little time yet. So it was the Lady of the House, who was in control. (She is, of course often in control when I am driving!) Daughter was in the front passenger seat helping with the negotiation of this nasty but lovely road.

Wonderful country houses abound along here with the sweeping drives, and gardens which would have engaged a number of full-time gardeners at one time. Lovely it must be to live in such locations, but what about the winter? 4WD vehicles would be more suitable than a flash car when the snow comes, or trees fall over the roads, or accidents block roads.

When you are able to stop to admire the vistas, Ben Venue, Ben P1040838Vrackie, and Ben Lomond all offer great views, so a camera, and binoculars are advised on this trip.

Water is not normally in short supply here, and so several lochs have been dammed and channelled to provide water for Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. Besides Loch Ard, where got the berries, Loch Chon also is beside the road, and both offer boat fishing. The water here and ultimately fed to Glasgow is very pure and no lime-scale is produced in kettles or washing machines…….and it is lovely to drink, especially in a glass of amber liquid!

As we move northwest, we are travelling between two large lochs….Katrine (Glasgow’s main water supply) and Lomond (known the world over for the Bonnie banks). At a T junction you can turn right to Stronachlachar (an awkward-sounding word for non-Scots), with a Pier-head Tearoom.

P1040851However we were turning westward past the lovely Loch Arklet heading to the village, or more-correctly, the clachan of Inversnaid.

This is probably the most awkward part of the road as it drops sharply to the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and indeed the Banks are Bonnie as promised in the song. Suddenly, from a narrow country road we descend into a large car park, beside the massive Inversnaid Hotel, and situated beside the pier for boats cruising Loch Lomond.

So, you may ask, why has this large Hotel beenOld Photograph Inversnaid Scotland[1] built here in a remote area, and is obviously popular, with high-occupancy rates? The old photo shows how long it has been operational.

It was built in 1790 by the Duke of Montrose as a quiet hunting lodge. It achieved exposure to the world, when Queen Victoria visited there several times, for privacy. Whether the impropriety involved with John Brown, her ghillie, occurred here I do not know. It has obviously been extended over the years.

We had a very tasty meal in the hotel, chosing the Inversnaid Burger, which consisted of P1040865chicken, bacon and cheese. Afterwards, we went to examine the waterfall just beside the hotel. There has been no appreciable rain recently, so no  great torrent of water, which was a bit disappointing. There are lots of little walks in the area, which we could not explore due to time restraints.

The pier is a place of constant activity during the day, and P1040858no doubt, there is a fair bit of freight brought in by boat. Looking across the Loch, you can see the village of Inveruglas, and the large pipes of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station on the hillside. They have a Visitor Centre about the area, so is well-worth visiting.

Two other facts about the area…….

Firstly……The local primary school was, in 2010, the most expensive/pupil in education costs, in the UK. It is said it was £54,000 per pupil! Presumably some may have been accommodation costs for those who could not commute each day, in the scattered community.

Secondly……The famous Rob Roy was basically an outlaw involved in castle-rustling, and in the Jacobite rising. He hid in a cave, close to the Hotel, and which can be only approached by water, and was well-hidden. No doubt the locationis pointed-out to all those on the cruise boats.

……so there you are, a true end-of-the-road journey, which provided on a very-pleasant autumnal day, a lot of visual excitement with the gorgeous scenery,  a trip on narrow roads, a pleasant meal, and plenty of blethering!…….

And the day was complete on our way home, as we popped-into a tearoom in Aberfoyle………pleasure complete……

P1040875P1040876P1040877

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A secret corner of Scotland…

Lady of the House achieved yet another birthday last week. Nothing unusual about that, and we usually go somewhere quite conventional for a nice meal…you know the kind of place….a country house hotel, a specialist Italian restaurant, the place where we first had a meal when courting, or have a meal in-house. But this year was different. However I’m getting ahead of myself……

You will already know of our great love of the County of Argyll in the west of Scotland. There is no question that within a travel distance of about 90 minutes from our house, some of the most dramatic and interesting scenery, along with travel-friendly roads, is available. We’ve travelled most of these roads before, but some were when the children were small (a not-inconsiderable time ago) or on business (when the minimum time required to transverse said roads was important)

Now that retirement is reached, and the weather is brilliant, time takes-on a new dimension. It is something to be enjoyed because of what it allows you to do, and permits seeing scenery with new eyes. A measure of how little I took in many of our previous experiences was the number of times Lady said we had been at a certain tea-room with the children, or stopped at a certain view-point for a picnic, but it had failed to make a lasting impression because of the haste with which such weekend visits were made. We now had more time just to enjoy doing things with no need to entertain others in the process.

We left Lenzie, and curved round the south end of Loch Lomond, past Duck Bay, over the A818 hill to Helensburgh. Once a thriving seaside/holiday town, the seafront shops have been blighted by the council up-rooting the main road so it is difficult to stop there…so we passed through without stopping, and all the small shops suffer!

Because of the deep water Gare Loch  in the lower reaches of the Clyde, there are military establishments in this area. The first is the Faslane Submarine Base where nuclear subs are serviced, opposed by the Faslane Peace Camp. The construction is spectacular and secretive, and therefore  photography near the base is not exactly encouraged! Travelling further north on the A814 we meet the township of, (not surprisingly) Garelochhead and turn southwards into a peninsula, one of the hidden gems of Scotland. with a lovely narrow road (B833) which hugs the coast, down to the area of Rosneath. It has an attractive centre and Church, and the views of the Gare Loch across to Greenock are spectacular.

We ate, on the advice of locals, at (perhaps, surprisingly) the local caravan site http://www.rosneathcastle.co.uk/. SAM_0311We are not caravaners by nature or practice, but the welcome at the bistro, the courtesy of the staff, the quality of the food and the walk we did round the impeccable site might have swayed us a little! We even had a mother duck and six little ducklings accompany us on our walk. The photo shows the lovely view from the Caravan site, across Gare Loch to Rhu and Helensburgh.

Heading clockwise through Kilcregan and Cove, (again with beautiful views) we came upon another great surprise. The houses here are built on a grand scale….many are colossal! Some take on the image of castles. Most of them were founded on the proceeds of the tobacco trade, at which Glasgow excelled. The owners were known as Tobacco Barons and fortunately the present owners seem able to keep the buildings in a good state of repair. It is difficult to drive safely around here as wonderful new sights are pointed-out as they appear round each corner.

Further north up this little road is RNAD Coulport, where nuclear warheads are stored in the Coulport Roundabout - geograph.org.uk - 160841.jpghillside, and docking is provided for visiting submarines. All a bit spine-chilling, especially as you are in this idyllic setting. The photo shows the roundabout at the gates. In order to transport this rather strange cargo from the midst of the country-side, a brand-new road was built to the centres of population, and luckily there were suitable stopping-places provided to view the vistas.

There is a debate about what would happen to both Coulport and Faslane bases (with repercussions on the employment of the indigenous population) should Scotland demand, and be given, independence.

Our trip ended by returning through west Dunbartonshire’s Gartocharn, Croftamie and Dumgoyne. Any enquiry via Google will show all of these places to be delightful villages. We are SO lucky, to have all this on our doorstep!

Iona

It is some 1450 years since St Columba landed on the beautiful island of Iona, just off the west coast of Scotland. I was speaking after Church this morning to John Bell who is a well-kent face in the Church Music world, as he has penned many beautiful hymns and music. I was recounting to him that we first met at the end of 1992 on Iona.

I had designed and installed a new sound and loop system at the Abbey, and was going over to check it out again whilst some of my staff were working on a church in the neighbouring island of Mull. I was invited to stay at the Warden’s house, with his family and join them for dinner, and was pleased to do so. Composer John Bell was also a guest and we all passed a pleasant evening with a little of the amber liquid to fight off the cold blast.

Next morning I was at the ferry early to get the 6 o’clock boat to Mull, and since it was winter-time, I had my headlights on. As the ferry came in he courteously flashed his lights at me, so I flashed back in return. When he berthed, the captain came up to me and asked what I thought I was doing!

Apparently my headlights were blinding him, and he had flashed to me to indicate that I should put them off! He was almost unable to berth safely, and I might have had a hefty repair bill from Caledonian MacBraynes, the operators!…..silly me!.

European friends…

It was just about a year ago that we were on holiday on Lake Como, in Italy. Sad to say the weather was worse there than it had been in Scotland, and the hotel and food left a little to be desired. Luckily it was a secondary holiday, so we were happy to make the best of it.

There was a wide range of nationalities represented, as you can imagine, and I always enjoy speaking a foreign language. The difficulty arises when you catch short snatches of what is obviously not English, but are unable to identify it. I once had a long chat in German with a gentleman at the Mozartblick viewpoint in Austria, and only when we asked each other where we lived did I discover that he came from London, and of course I was from the west of Scotland! Red faces and laughter were evident in equal measure!

And so it was at Lake Como. Staring out at the rain, I sensed a Germanic conversation drifting towards me from a couple. I was in the midst of commenting on the weather in German, but was informed that ‘We are not Germans’ in German, and then repeated in an undistinguishable lingo. It turned out they were from the Netherlands, and from such a rather unfortunate start, we grew to be regular conversationalists in English which they both spoke very well!

Over the relatively-few days when our holidays overlapped, we found a bond developing, and since they had never been in Scotland, they were invited to come to our house to see some of the best of our wonderful country. Such offers and acceptances are easily made, and just as easily allowed to lapse. But we felt there was something in this one, and exchanges of Christmas cards, and the arrival of a Dutch-English Dictionary, seemed to weld the friendship together, and eventually dates and provisional plan were agreed.

It was probably at this time that a few minor thoughts crossed the minds of both families…..we didn’t know each other well, would they like our food, could they manage English for a solid eight days?, what if it rained all the time? would they be comfortable staying in someone else’s house? what about their political views?, could I learn a few words of Dutch? We were also having a large party at our house at the same time, for Son’s 40th birthday, so how would they manage in a large crowd?

Suffice to say that all went perfectly. From the meeting at the airport we felt we were in the presence of lovely friendly people, who settled well into our house, and seemed comfortable to be with. The weather was unbelievable, and trips to Aberfoyle,the Trossachs, Dunoon, Inveraray, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Crail went well. Unfortunately there are so many great places to be seen that they could only visit a few. The eventual parting was accompanied by a number of tear-stained faces, and many hugs!

We have seen how two different cultures can get along so well in the intimate spaces of a house and car, such that even possible disagreements in culture or politics do not have to prevent people from being part of a friendly human race. We are now saving our Euros so that we can make a return trip, but I must try to get my tongue round some of their very strange-sounding words..because they’re not German, you know!

Maybe I should retire here!

Headed-up recently into Argyll…yet again! A previous post was about a long weekend break when we could explore the side roads. However this time it was a quick day trip along roads familiar to tourists wanting to see the wonderful scenery. We used the A828 road between Glencoe (of massacre fame) and the Connel Bridge. A few miles south-west of Ballachulish there is a little hamlet called Duror which features in the history of the Stewarts of Appin.

 If you want to know more about the area, I am assured that the book ‘Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson gives all the lowdown on the bloodthirsty history.

But this wasn’t the reason for our visit. It was to visit a little Anglican Church, which is so small that it could be missed behind the trees on the road. If you Google Street the phrase ‘Duror Argyll’ you will be right at the spot where the church is.

It has a delightful organ which was made in Germany (it is believed) in approximately 1683. If so, it is probably the oldest church in regular use in Scotland!  There is also a belief that perhaps George Frederick Handel had played it, but it is probably impossible to verify it at this distance in time. The present organist, Kerr Jamieson, temptingly suggests that the connection may have more to do with the fact that there is still a working handle to pump the air for the bellows!

They have a Community Choir, and with such beautiful countryside no doubt photography and rambling are all part of the life up here. It gets more enticing every day……maybe another long weekend is called-for!

Ye canna whack it!

Scotland: Argyll and Bute

Anyone who keeps even an occasional eye on these pages will know of my love-affair with Argyll! Well, at the weekend I indulged that affair (along with the Lady of the House, of course!).

In just over an hour from our house we are within a very-diverse countryside with awesome hills (including what are known as the Arrocher Alps), frightening crags, steep gorges, marvellous uncluttered roads (where people will actually drive into passing places to let you go on your way un-delayed), deep clear lochs, water tumbling down rocks, tea-rooms with friendly staff and cakes to die for!

We have travelled the main roads around here many times, but this short break was to give us the opportunity to explore some of the side roads, many of which are single-track but well-kept.

Our accommodation was at the Creggans Inn at Strachur where we found excellent food (including scrambled-egg and salmon for breakfast), a large room with a wonderful view, and local beers! It once was the house of  Sir Fitzroy Mclean, but now it is run by an imaginative young couple, the McLellan’s who are certainly providing a place in which to rest from the day-to-day worries of life.

 However, we didn’t go there just to laze about! On Saturday morning we headed south along the western bank of Loch Fyne, to Kames, a sleepy little village on the outskirts of Tighnabruaich (pronounced TIN-A-BREW-ICH). Close by was the ferry terminal Portavadie, and I knew that it had a history of a disastrous Government plan to develop it in 1975. £11M of our money had been ploughed-into digging a large dry dock, which was never used.

We went to see the collapsing accomodation which was still there but were wonderfully surprised when we came round the corner to see a split-new marina…..certainly a great improvement, and it is privately-funded! I found out that the BBC did a report on it some years ago and you can see it on the following link….. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/8113213.stm

For those who like to ‘mess-about’ on posh boats, they can get more details on moorings and their apartments, on their web-site… http://www.portavadiemarina.com/

After a run to one of the highest points in the area, to see again the Kyles of Bute, we went down to Colintraive, and were lucky-enough to see the Waverley, the last sea-going paddle-steamer in the world, still proudly carrying passengers around all the ports of the western sea-board of Scotland.

http://www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk/

Next day we ventured down Hell’s Glen, a very steep road  into Lochgoilhead  which has a reputation for its holiday homes which are tastefully set into the hillside and provide relative freedom for those who spend most of their life in towns.

Another 6 miles down a single track road took us to Carrick Castle where they were busy preparing for a Summer fair…..and they were rewarded by beautiful weather. However, our day was not yet over, as we had to visit a little renovated smiddy (or smithy) and had the chance to knock nails out of old horseshoes in a smoke-filled forge. ….and all for 50p each person!

We then spent a very pleasant hour in the local tearoom with coffee and apple and cinnamon tart with ice cream, chatting to three lovely ladies, whilst the owner tried to persuade us to leave by brushing under the tables, as it was after closing time!

Rain is never terribly far off in Argyll and this was true this weekend. What is does do, however, is give an ever-changing vista. No two photos taken from our room window were similar.

All good things have to come to an end, however and we had to head homeward today. We diverted to the town of Inverary, the home of the Duke of Argyll,   and saw inside All Saints’ Episcopal Church with the famous Bell tower which can be seen for many miles. have a look on the link for more info.  http://www.inveraraybelltower.co.uk/

If you like fresh sea food you would find it difficult to beat www.lochfyne.com which is a restaurant and smoke house, and much of what is sold is caught within Loch Fyne waters. We always call in for some smoked salmon and maybe kippers. It hit national headlines a few years ago, when Gordon Brown and John Prescott met here to start the plot (allegedly!) which ended Tony Blair’s reign as Prime Minister. None of the staff is available for comment.

Our last visit was just along the road, and is a micro-brewery, where relatively-small amounts of (rather-strong, hic,) beers are brewed. Not surprisingly their web-site is called www.fyneales.com !!

We got a dozen bottles and again helped the local economy a bit!

I hope that this has given you a brief look in at a small part of the most beautiful country in the world…..but why not come and see it for yourself!!

What do you expect?

It’s the west of Scotland, it’s the middle of July,  it’s the start of the Glasgow Fair fortnight, and Lady of the House and I are going for a few days, to Strachur in Argyll, which is arguably one of the loveliest bits of Scotland…….. but it’s raining, and you can’t see the hills! So get out the wellies and umbrellas!

However, it may produce some startling pictures, perhaps including a rainbow….so here’s hoping!