In planning your trip sometimes you have to make choices about what you are willing to sacrifice. Often times it’s time, money, or sleep you have to pick between. For our return from Islay we had to make a choice between catching the later ferry and missing out on a day in the heart of Scotland, or missing out on precious sleep to catch the “redeye” ferry back over. Since none of us had previously visited Scotland we figured we would want to catch the earlier ferry back to maximize our time near Loch Lomond. In retrospect I think we all would have unanimously chosen the later ferry in exchange for more sleep as the guys were so deep into the whisky at this point I don’t think their hangovers started until mid-day of our departure from the island. However, in the end we were all really stoked to have had the bulk of the day explore Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This is Scotland’s first national park and it is absolutely stunning. Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater loch (lake) in Great Britain, by surface area, and lies upon the Highland Boundary fault. This fault divides the Scottish highlands to the north and the lowlands to the south, and the change in topography is evident as you follow the loch northwards. The beauty of the area has been the creative inspiration for many writers, poets, and painters and is the basis for the song “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.”
As I mentioned we had to catch the “redeye” ferry (the 0700) back to Kennacraig. The drive from Port Charlotte is a short 20 minutes, but after three straight days of whisky drinking it’s a bit painful that early in the morning. Especially since you have to be at the ferry 30mins before departure so they can get everyone loaded up. Once we parked the car on the boat we worked our way up to the observation decks to eat our breakfast, and it was a total opposite experience than our ride over. The winds were calm, the sun was shining, and not a speck of rain fell on us during the entire ride over.
It was sooo beautiful to see the sun shining on the barren landscape of the surrounding islands, seeing the isolated houses and sheep pepper the hillsides gave you a sense of how isolated these islands must have been before modern times. This ride flew by and we found ourselves back on the mainland before we knew it. Not before making a couple new friends along the trip though, including Remko and his owner Tim. I would have taken this pupper home in a second given the chance, and from his kisses and dog hugs I think he would have let me.
Back on land we plotted our course back to Loch Lomond where we were going to be “camping” that evening. Since it was the day before Easter we expected many places to be closed the following day so we needed to hit a grocery store so we wouldn’t starve. We stopped by the Co-Op in Tarbert where it appeared a lot of other folks had the same idea. After bumbling through the crowded tiny shop, and awkwardly trying to get the grumpy cashier to cheer up (what is it with grumpy people in that town?) we were back on the road.
At this point we had all been a bit off the exercise game, but still wanted to try to get in a mildly challenging hike since we were visiting the national park after all. I had researched one that was easily accessed from Luss, a small city on the shores of Loch Lomond, so away we went. There are no shortage of hikes in this area and they range from easy, lakeside strolls to full on backpacking trips throughout the entire park area. If you are interested in doing so tramping while visiting the park check out the Walkhighlands site. They provide distances, rough hiking times, and bog factor for each of the listed hikes. I found it both helpful and accurate. If hiking isn’t your forte then try catching a cruise around the islands via organized boat tour, kayak, jet ski, or even wind surfing.
Being a holiday weekend, Luss was of course very crowded. Luckily we were able to find a parking spot quickly and started our hike from there. The hike takes you from the main parking lot in town, a quick crossing at the nearby primary school, and then on a bridge up/over the main motorway. Once across the bridge you begin the ascent through a sheep paddock, and continue up the hillside to the top of the peak with astounding views of Lomond and the surrounding Arrochar Alps. For the more adventurous/fit you could continue up to the top of Beinn Dubh if the first little summit isn’t enough.
This is where things turned a bit sticky for us as the weather, in true Scottish fashion, was hell bent on raining. On the drive to Luss from Tarbert it POURED on us, even dropping some hail. When we arrived in the parking lot it was blue skies, but the threat of another downpour was lurking on the horizon in the menacing black clouds. We decided we didn’t mind a bit of rain (a bit, hah!) so we started the trail out in lovely weather. About mid-way up the sheep paddock we all began feeling the first couple drops of rain and noticed an older couple standing by an uprooted tree in the field. We struck up a conversation with them and they told us about how they had been at the top of the hill when the skies had opened up earlier and they were both soaked, and thankful they hadn’t been blown off the top.
As they took their leave the few drops of rain intensified to a more constant splattering and we could see the storm had blown back in. The hikers ahead of us further up the hill looked like they were being rained on pretty heavily and the wind had picked up quite a bit. Instead of pressing on into the rain we decided to use the upturned tree as a shelter (it had started to blow in sideways) and popped back behind the rootball. Waiting for us there was a horrible surprise. Someone had an explosive case of diarrhea that had flowed downhill. It was like a car accident we couldn’t look away from. Horrified, we had no choice to but stay in the “poop shelter” as it was now pouring rain. After about 15 minutes of giggles, poop jokes, and false starts of freedom from the poop shelter the rain let up enough for us to continue hiking.
This portion was the real bun burner as we noticed a definite increase in incline (this could also have had something to do with the copious amount of whisky still pumping in our veins). The threat of the rain returning made us hussle up the first peak as quickly as we could. On the way up we were passed by a group of drenched people coming back down the hill and none of us were interested in joining them in being soaked.
The one nice part about rain is that it often times is accompanied by rainbows. We were lucky enough to see a brilliantly bright one arching over the loch, and even a second fainter one below it. But these were short lived as the rain made its way back over and on top of us. We decided getting soaked wasn’t worth it so we turned around about ¾ of the way up the peak since we were wearing jeans, and soggy jeans are possible the most uncomfortable clothing item on the planet other than underwear that’s too tight. Back at the car we made our way to the northernmost tip of Loch Lomond to the Arduli Hotel, where we were staying in a camping pod that night.
Initially, I had pushed to bring a tent and actually camp along the loch during our trip. I love waking up in a tent and cooking coffee/breakfast over a camp stove in the morning.
I can’t explain how happy I was that Jared talked me out of that, his exact argument being that it was likely going to be rainy and miserable. And of course he was right. The rain had soaked the area and continued on/off the entire night we stayed there, inundating the poor people who actually did camp in their tents at the campground.
Instead we spent the night inside a delightful little wooden buffy (basically a tiny house with two bunk beds and a heater inside) warm and dry. There was plenty of space for the three of us, and we made the most of the small porch space by sipping beers and watching the birds out in the rain. With another short break we made the most of it by exploring the hotel area and walking along the waterfront. We were amazed when we saw people actually water skiing in the loch that evening as it was maybe 50F and who knows how cold the water was. One woman we saw who had gone out told us that it was absolutely “horrible.” And I believed her.
At this point we were all pretty hungry, but our plan of cooking dinner backfired as this camper park didn’t have any cooking facilities. Instead it had an onsite restaurant that was thankfully open, and we enjoyed meat pies while overlooking the loch. An after dinner cigar in the beer garden below capped off the day. From here it was back to the buffy for bed time to prep for our drive to Inverness the following day.