Cruach Tairbeirt offers a magnificent panorama across much of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
Between Loch Lomond and Loch Long (and the villages of Tarbet and Arrochar) is a narrow neck of land measuring approximately 2 miles. Famously, in 1263, the Vikings, led by the wonderfully named Haakon King of Man, carried their longships over this ground, having sailed up Loch Long from the sea, to reach Loch Lomond where they conducted a series of devastating raids.
The ancient practice of dragging boats and their contents between bodies of water gave rise to the name Tarbet, which means ‘the place of portage’ and there are several similarly named settlements and lochs across Scotland.
Loch Long’s name has nothing to do with its length (although it extends for 20 miles) but instead means Loch of Ships; this may relate to the boats that once navigated their way inland from the sea. Loch Long is one of a number of sea lochs that bite into Scotland’s coastline and it was used as a torpedo testing ground during World War II.
Rising to 415-metres above Tarbet, Arrochar and Loch Long is the shapely hill of Cruach Tairbeirt. Woodland paths and open hillside gain the top where an extraordinary panorama awaits, particularly to the north and west; the Munro’s of Beinn Narnain, Ben Vane, and Ben Vorlich (with Loch Sloy nestled inbetween the latter two) and the Corbett of The Brack rise sharply from Arrochar and the long finger of Loch Long.
Loch Lomond is also visible with Ben Lomond standing guard, while the big jumble of muscular mountains above Crianlarich form an impressive barrier. However it is the view of The Cobbler that is a real standout with its iconic profile and triumvirate of peaks clearly visible.
The Clach Dhiona (pronounced Clach Yeein) is better known as The Shelter Stone and is, perhaps, the most famous refuge in the Cairngorms. It sits at the base of the spectacular 270-metre high An Sticil – itself more commonly identified as The Shelter Stone Crag – and has provided a sanctuary for walkers, climbers, soldiers and even Prime Ministers (Ramsey MacDonald apparently spent a night here) for over 200 years. The Cairngorm Club, the oldest surviving climbing club in Britain, was also formed here in 1887.
The shelter is fashioned by several boulders, the largest of which is said to weigh over 1500 tonnes, having fallen from An Sticil to fortuitously rest on four other boulders, creating this natural howff. It has room (just) for around six people and its low roof garners a claustrophobic feel. It also has an incredible view across Loch Avon
The stunning freshwater Loch Avon sits at the base of a deep u-shaped valley, with the surface of the loch 730-metres above sea level. It is known as a ribbon loch as it was formed during the last Ice Age when a huge glacier carved a deep linear basin. Glaciation also left behind the steep mountain slopes of Beinn Mheadhoin and the vertiginous cliffs of An Sticil and Carn Etchachan.
The Shelter Stone and Loch Avon are not the easiest places to reach although any walk in is spectacular. Perhaps the best routes are via Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan or the Central Cairngorm Plateau, with a steep descent through either Coire Raibeirt or Coire Domhain.
The Munro of Sgor Gaoith (pronounced Skor Goo-ee) grants perhaps the finest view of all within Cairngorm National Park. Its sharp summit clings to the edge of cliffs that plunge some 600-metres into the steely waters of Loch Eanaich, with the scoured corries of Braeriach’s huge western flanks rising beyond – it is simply breathtaking.
Sgor Gaoith is thought to mean the Peak of the Wind and this exposed plateau is open to the elements, having been formed, over many millions of years, through natural forces. It is the high point of Invereshie and Inshriach National Nature Reserve, one of nine National Nature Reserves that lie within Cairngorm National Park. The reserve covers an area of 3600 hectares where scatterings of rowan, birch, aspen, alder and juniper sit amongst large swathes of Caledonian and Scots Pine. Other habitats within the reserve include blanket bog, montane grassland and alpine heath.
As you would expect the wildlife is incredibly diverse; blaeberry, cowberry, twinflower, an abundance of mosses, lichens and fungi, capercaillie, black grouse, ring ouzel, golden eagle, kestrel, ptarmigan, mountain hare, red squirrel and green hairstreak butterfly, are just some examples. Dotterel is also found here.
Scotland holds all of Britain’s breeding population of dotterel and is therefore specially protected. Nesting begins during May and takes place above 1000 metres, in amongst scrapes of moss and lichen that are prevalent on the vast, barren mountaintops of the Cairngorms. Distinct by its chestnut-coloured breast and white streak above the eye, dotterel is just one of a few species where the male does the majority of incubating.
The 967-metre high Munro of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is the westernmost peak of the infamous Aonach Eagach. A traverse of the Aonach means tip-toeing along 2km of chimneys and pinnacles, where mental agility is perhaps even more important than the physical challenge of coping with real exposure. Because of this Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (and the Aonach’s eastern Munro of Meall Dearg) can feel out of reach for many hillwalkers.
For a relatively simple ascent, however, it is feasible to top out on Sgorr nam Fiannaidh from Glencoe Village. If combined with Sgorr na Ciche then a fantastic day on the hills lies ahead, one with a plethora of exceptional views extending from their slopes and summits.
Sgorr nam Fiannaidh translates, intriguingly, from Gaelic as Peak of the Fair Headed Warriors. This relates to The Fingalians, who were followers of Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn McCool), a warrior of Irish and Scots mythology. The shapely peak of Sgorr na Ciche – pronounced Skor na Keecha and known to most as the Pap of Glencoe – is a noticeable landmark that overlooks the southern banks of Loch Leven at the western end of Glencoe and translates as Peak of the Breast. At 742-metres above sea level, Sgorr na Ciche’s summit is much lower than Sgorr nam Fiannaidh but the outlook is just as good.
From both peaks a huge portion of the Central and West Highlands is visible – the Mamores (including Am Bodach and Binnien Mor), Ben Nevis, Beinn a Bheithir (comprising the two Munros of Sgorr Dhonuill and Sgor Dearg), the long finger of Loch Leven, the rugged mountains of Ardgour and the great peaks of Glencoe, particularly Bidean nam Bian, are all on show.
The shapely peak of Caerketton is one of the finest peaks within the Pentland Hills range that rise above Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. Caerketton translates from Brittonic as Fort of the Refuge and its 478m top grants one of the finest views in all of the Pentland Hills Regional Park – the summit also holds the remains of a Bronze Age cairn. Scald Law, Castlelaw and Allermuir Hill are just some of the neighbouring hills on show while on a clear day Ben Lomond can be seen in the distance.
It is the view across Edinburgh, however, to Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and Edinburgh Castle, onwards along the East Lothian coastline and across the Firth of Forth to Fife’s twin Lomond peaks that really sets the heart racing.
To see a selection of my Loch Lomond and the Trossachs images please click here
For much of the past 18 months I have been walking and photographing in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The work (if you want to call it that) was for 2 guidebooks that have just been published by Northern Eye Books. They form part of their superb Top 10 series of guidebooks and are the first in the series to focus on walking in Scotland.
The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is almost my local patch, being only an hour or so from where I live. It is a place of great beauty, grandeur and drama and one I love exploring.
But what makes it so special?
Well for starters the landscape straddles the highland Boundary Fault Line and consequently has a magnificent array of rugged peaks.
It boasts 40 mountains over 2,500 feet in height including some of Scotland’s most iconic Munros and Corbetts: Ben Lomond, Ben Ledi, Stob Binnien and the incomparable Ben Arthur (better known as The Cobbler), to name but a few.
Yet away from the big mountains and the park is also home to numerous lower hills, such as Conic Hill, Ben A’an and Duncryne, each of which offer a challenge but are within reach of the general walker.
Also within the National Park’s confines are around 50 rivers and burns, 3 National Nature reserves, 2 Forest Parks and 22 large lochs, including Loch Lomond — at 28 miles long and 5 miles wide, the largest body of freshwater in the UK.
Add to this Loch Arklet, Loch Ard, Loch Katrine and Loch Venachar and you have an array of beautiful water with breathtaking scenery and wonderful wildlife.
To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here
At 96 miles in length the River Tweed is the fourth longest river in Scotland – a portion of its journey also crosses the border into England.
It is this close proximity between the two countries that has bestowed the River Tweed with much of its intriguing history but it was a double-edged sword; trade links were strong but Edward I of England looked longingly at Scotland.
He arrived with devastating effect in 1296, leaving a litany of destruction in his wake. Major battles, like those at Flodden and Philipshaugh, and the Border reiving of the 16th century, led to a succession of government proclaiming that the Borders was becoming as problematic as the Highlands.
However on the flip side the gorgeous rural countryside that the River Tweed travels through means the scenery, wildlife and sense of tranquillity is on a par with the celebrated Scottish Highlands, which the lowland landscape of the Scottish Borders has always been unfairly judged as a poor relation.
The term ‘lowlands’ is essentially a misnomer as the Border country has an abundance of high ground granting some superb walking, panoramas and wildlife. The stunning Glensax Horseshoe and the iconic Eildon Hills are two such examples.
The Eildons, above Melrose, were home to a community of around 2000 people for many years. The Romans too were attracted to their shapely outline and when Julius Agricola led his army across the border in AD79 they paused near Melrose at Newstead (reputedly the oldest inhabited village in Scotland) and ended up staying for the next 150 years, setting up their fort of Trimontium at the base of the Eildons.
The derivation of the name Tweed is vague but possibly stems from the Brythonic tau or teu, which mean strong, silent or flowing, unquestionably three words that could be applied to this amazing river.
It rises amongst the untamed moorland backdrop of Tweed’s Well, near to the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway border. It is a lonely setting and a number of little burns trickle down from the surrounding hills to join the infant but ever burgeoning Tweed as it travels north and then east.
Several significant rivers, such as the Teviot, Ettrick, Yarrow and Lyne, then flow into the River Tweed, eventually entering the North Sea at the magnificent walled town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
En route the Tweed runs through bustling and historic towns and villages such as Peebles, Melrose, Dryburgh, Gala and Kelso and through a landscape that has been lived on and exploited for several millennia.
This exploitation reached its peak during the Industrial Revolution when the River Tweed provided the source to a remarkable economic expansion along its banks.
Although the Borders were far removed from the heavy industry of Central Scotland, the textile industry proved to be an unqualified success, employing thousands of people and putting many of the towns along or near to the Tweed, such as Peebles, Galashiels, Innerleithen, and Selkirk, on the map.
Over the centuries writers and painters like Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg and JMW Turner all depicted the River Tweed in a favourable light, drawing tourists into Scotland’s southeast corner and this continues to the present day.
Today, like much of rural Scotland the Scottish Borders has used the landscape to boost its economy and create jobs. Fishing plays an integral role (the Tweed is one of Scotland’s great salmon rivers) while activities such as cycling and walking have made the region a major draw for outdoor enthusiasts.