The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine

You take the High Road and I’ll take the Low Road to the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond

An overnight stop near Inveraray near the end of one of the long long fingers of the Firth of Clyde.  We  explored the ruins from the explosion at the Powder Mill and Inveraray Castle. At our B&B at the Powdermill ruins there was a poster of the regions of the Scottish Clans- amazing number and complexity. Our hosts were named Campbell – the Clan that owned the entire half of the Loch. We also met a Rose – that tiny area right near Culloden that somehow remained neutral. He said his ancertors had hosted the heads of both English and Scottish armies in the days before Culloden.  I see the region of the MacNabs around Loch Tay where they had island strongholds in that scenic region of the waterfalls. I see the region of the Fraser’s west and south of Inverness.  I have relatives named Fraser who emigrated from that western region to South Carolina during the time of the “clearances” in the English backlash against Culloden. I’m hoping life will slow down so I can find time to look into that more.  Having experienced the harsh, remote and rugged terrain with transport challenges even today, one can see how the English had trouble controlling the clans. 

Then on to the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. We had a tiny but adequate place near the lake. They were very friendly and allowed us to check in early, so we had time to take a long ride along the River Leven that carries the massive outflow of Loch Lomond to the River Clyde at Dumbarton.  The River Clyde is yet another of the long long fingers of the Firth of Clyde extending to the heart of Glasgow one of the great ports and shipbuilding centers. We explored Dumbarton Castle perched on top of the Great Rock.  It was a beautiful ride along a perfect trail on the banks of the Leven – deep clear water rushing impatiently to the sea.

One of the highlights of the trip – on Saturday day we made the long and excessively winding and hair=raising journey up into the Trossach mountains to Trossachs Pier on Loch Katrine.We learned it’s pronounced like Cathryn (KAtrin not like kaTRINE). A remote long skinny pure and scenic lake made famous in Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake”.  There we took the old SS Sir Walter Scott steamship to the north end of the lake at Stronachlachar. The 123 year-old Sir Walter Scott is the oldest steam screw drive ship still in operation in the world and the views of the old engine were fascinating.  After a lovely lunch in the warm sunroom of the café at Stronachlachar we headed off on the stunningly beautiful (sometime hair-raising) ups and downs of cycle path back to Trossachs Pier.  It only rained for about 15 minutes of the 2-hour trip so lots of photo stops.   

Of course I had to stop for photos of Ellen’s Isle, made famous in paintings and historical references. Ellen’s Isle plays an important role in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Lady of the Lake’, The database of the Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, says that it was a stronghold of the MacGregors in the mid-16th century, but adds that “the island is thickly wooded which may obscure any surviving buildings or fortifications.”

Do you wonder, as I did, how the ship could possibly get to such a remote lake high in the mountains on single-lane  roads barely passable by auto?  The answer is “with great difficulty”. The SS Sir Walter Scott was built as a “knock-down” ship; that is, the steamer was assembled with bolts and nuts at Denny’s shipyard at Dumbarton on the River Leven in 1899. It was launched and undertook performance trials in the Firth of Clyde. She was then dismantled and the numbered pieces were transported by barge up Loch Lomond and overland by horse-drawn cart to Stronachlachar pier on Loch Katrine where the steamer was reassembled with permanent rivets and, in 1900, relaunched.  Loch Katrine has been the water supply for Glasgow since 1859     through a 39 mile aquaduct. To ensure the lake water remains drinkable-pure the Sir Walter Scott was converted from solid fuel to biofuel during a refit in 2007.

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