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Scotland Travel Blog June 11

"Talking Trossachs"

This month I’m talking a load of Trossachs.

We find that lots of people who contact us about our tour itineraries have heard about the Trossachs. But, whilst they know the place name, they often don’t really know what to expect to find there.

I have a theory about this phenomenon. I think it might be that some people simply remember the name “Trossachs” because it sounds mildly amusing, like it could be a Scottish term of abuse (e.g. “See you, you’re a big Trossach!”), or an ingredient in haggis… (“Mix 5oz of oatmeal, with 1 sheep’s heart and 10oz of trossachs").

In reality, the popularity of visiting the Trossachs dates back to the earliest days of tourism in Scotland. This is largely because it was one of the first wilderness areas to be linked by railway to the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. But even before the trains arrived, the Trossachs were receiving some excellent tourism PR through the romantic depictions of poets and writers such as William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott.

Loch Katrine panoramic

Arguably, the most significant factor in the promotion of the Trossachs has to be Sir Walter Scott’s lengthy (very lengthy) poem, “Lady of the Lake”. Please don’t ask me to summarise the poem as I’ve never managed to make it all the way to the end, but the plot sort of involves a hunt for a stag, a battle between rebellious Highlanders and King James V, and some tart that 3 guys all fancy and want to get off with. OK, there’s a lot more to it than that, but you try reading it and see how far you get.

Despite my less than flattering précis of the poem, it was a best seller when first published back in 1810. The excitement created by “Lady of the Lake” led to an influx of visitors wishing to see Loch Katrine, as it gets a big plug in the poem. And ever since 1810, this loch has been regarded as the symbolic epicentre of the Trossachs.

The demand for visiting Loch Katrine was so high in the Victorian period that some bold entrepreneurs invested a lot of time and effort into offering steamship cruises on the loch. Now that maybe doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realise that the steamship had to be built in sections in Dumbarton (~22 miles away as the crow flies), it was then floated on rafts up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid, and the sections were dragged up a very steep hill by teams of horses to Stronachlachar (try saying that when you’re drunk… actually it’s easier when you’re drunk). The ship was then re-assembled and launched on Loch Katrine. No mean feat given that she is a vessel of 100ft in length and weighs in at 115 tons.

As with so many engineering achievements of the Victorian period, the SS Sir Walter Scott was built to last and she still makes regular cruises on Loch Katrine. And we would have taken a cruise on her a few days ago if we hadn’t been stuck behind some clueless driver who stoutly refused to go faster than 25 mph all the way from Thornhill to Aberfoyle. After a frustrating 7 miles of watching his brake lights twitching at the merest hint of a bend, we eventually managed to overtake and made it to the pier with just enough time to see the boat depart. We overcame our disappointment with a consolation wedge of coffee cake at the café and then took a lovely walk around the loch. It was probably better this way as we got some good pictures of the steamship puffing back to the pier and also managed to take some panoramic views that give a good impression of the Trossachs landscape.

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