Central Scotland, the strip of mainland north of the densely populated Glasgow–Edinburgh axis and south of the main swathe of Highlands, has been the main stage for some of the most important events in Scottish history. Stirling, its imposing castle perched high above the town, was historically the most important bridging point across the River Forth. From the castle battlements you can see the peaks of the forested Trossachs region, with its wild and wonderful archetypal Scottish scenery. Popular for walking and, in particular, cycling, much of the Trossachs, together with the attractive islands and “bonnie, bonnie banks” of Loch Lomond, form the core of Scotland’s first national park.
To the east, between the firths of Forth and Tay, lies the county of Fife, a Pictish kingdom that boasts a fascinating coastline sprinkled with historic fishing villages and sandy beaches, as well as the historic university town of St Andrews, famous worldwide for its venerable golf courses. A little to the north, the ancient town of Perth has as much claim as anywhere to be the gateway to the Highlands. Spectacular Highland Perthshire begins north and west of Perth – an area of glorious wooded mountainsides and inviting walks, particularly around Rannoch Moor.
Often described as the Highlands in miniature, the Trossachs area boasts a magnificent diversity of scenery, with dramatic peaks and mysterious, forest-covered slopes that live up to all the images ever produced of Scotland’s wild land. It is country ripe for stirring tales of brave kilted clansmen, a role fulfilled by Rob Roy Macgregor, the seventeenth-century outlaw whose name seems to attach to every second waterfall, cave and barely discernible path. The Trossachs’ high tourist profile was largely attributable in the early days to the novels of Sir Walter Scott, which are set in the area. Since then, neither the popularity nor beauty of the region have waned, and in high season the place is jam-packed with coaches full of tourists as well as walkers and mountain bikers taking advantage of the easily accessed scenery. Autumn is a better time to come, when the hills are blanketed in rich, rusty colours and the crowds are thinner.
The Trossachs is ideal for exploring on foot or on a mountain bike. This is partly because the terrain is slightly more benign than the Highlands proper, but much is due to the excellent management of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, a huge chunk of the national park between Loch Lomond and Loch Lubnaig. The main visitor centre for the area, David Marshall Lodge, is just outside Aberfoyle.
For hill-walkers, the prize peak is Ben Lomond (3192ft), best accessed from Rowardennan on Loch Lomond’s east shore. Other highlights include Ben Venue (2370ft) and Ben A’an (1520ft) on the shores of Loch Katrine, as well as Ben Ledi (2857ft), just northwest of Callander, which all offer relatively straightforward but very rewarding climbs and, on clear days, stunning views. Walkers can also choose from any number of waymarked routes through the forests and along lochsides; pick up a map of these at the visitor centre.
The area is also a popular spot for mountain biking, with a number of useful rental shops, a network of forest paths and one of the more impressive stretches of the National Cycle Network cutting through the region from Loch Lomond to Killin.