In praise of lochs
Millions of people the world over know about Loch Lomond’s bonny (or bonnie) banks. Quite a few were driving the length of them in front of me this August day. They drove slowly in the unfamiliarity of hire cars and driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Slowly too, probably, as they peered through the trees that line those banks for a glimpse of one of Scotland’s two most famous lochs.
It was raining for the first time in several days. The tea-shops at the southern end of the loch all sported a fringe of damp walkers on their outdoor seats, sheltering under the sun umbrellas that, only yesterday, would have been doing their proper job.
Loch Lomond, when you could see it, was so grey and still it appeared frozen. Occasional houses dotted the further shore, larger hotels clumped on the near one, largely invisible to the passing drivers. There was, frankly, little to entice one to stop.
Loch Lomond on a fine day is beautiful, when you can see it, but the road alongside it is one of Scotland’s busier tourist routes. I wasn’t staying on it.
Reaching Tarbert I turned towards Inveraray, away from the endless stream of traffic. A couple of miles on I found my destination: Arrochar. It was very peaceful – the picture that heads this post was taken from the window of my B&B early the following morning, and there wasn’t much more going on that evening.
In fact there was so little going on that I couldn’t get in to my B&B (I was early). So I carried on driving, down a narrow, winding road bordering Loch Long. It’s just as calmly beautiful as Loch Lomond, with equally majestic hills and picturesque cottages. But no-one has ever written a song about it so the tourists have stayed away.
A pleasant pub provided decent beer, a good meal and a window-side seat to while away the time. The rain cleared, and a small complement of damp walkers sat themsleves at the outdoor tables.
Loch Long kept its secrets, still and grey in the late afternoon.
The following day I drove on to Loch Fyne. It’s a grand drive through Glen Croe, Glen Kinglas and the historic town of Inveraray. The road finally meets Loch Fyne, the longest sea loch in Scotland, at Furnace*. I was there to dive and had a great couple of immersions before heading home.
My return route could have taken me along Loch Tay but I chose the slightly shorter route via Loch Earn. There used to be a water-sports centre here, but it’s been closed for several years following a fire. Now, although there are plenty of boats moored on the loch, the water seldom seems to be disturbed by anything larger than a swan or a feeding fish.
Lochs, both fresh-water and sea, hold an irresistible fascination for me. Even in the rain they’re beautiful. The water is, as it were, cupped in the hands of the mountains. There’s a feeling of space and yet protection about them, and their changing moods show as clearly on their surface as on a face.
In, on and under the water
Every time I pass a loch, I want to dive in and see what lies under the surface. And there are plenty of places where you can do just that. (Beware of tides and swell in the sea lochs, though: they’re not as protected as they look.)
Just park up, throw on your wet- or dry-suit and snorkel and off you go. As long as you do no damage and don’t catch fish without a licence, you’re free to roam. The visibility may be like gin, strong tea or a kick-up in a dustpan; it’s all part of the fun.
Whether you want to get into them, paint or photograph them or just enjoy the view, Scotland’s lochs are one of the great joys and glories of her countryside.
You can find out more about Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (of which Loch Long is a part) at http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org.
*Furnace gets its name from having been the site of an iron furnace (foundry); the original name of the village was Inverleacainn (mouth of the Leacainn [river]). This part of Scotland isn’t big on industrial history but Furnace later also had a powder-mill. Both the foundry and the mill used charcoal from the local woods for power.