The largest stretch of fresh water in Britain (23 miles long and up to five miles wide), Loch Lomond is the epitome of Scottish scenic splendour, thanks in large part to the ballad that fondly recalls its “bonnie, bonnie banks”. In reality, however, the peerless scenery of the loch can be tainted by the sheer numbers of tourists and day-trippers.
Designated Scotland’s first national park in 2002, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park covers a large stretch of scenic territory from the lochs of the Clyde Estuary to Loch Tay in Perthshire, with the centrepiece being Loch Lomond. The most popular gateway into the park is the town of Balloch, nineteen miles from Glasgow city centre. Both Balloch and the western side of the loch around Luss are often packed with day-trippers and tour coaches, though the loch’s eastern side, abutting the Trossachs, is very different in tone, with wooden ferryboats puttering out to a scattering of tree-covered islands off the village of Balmaha.
Many of Loch Lomond’s 37 islands are privately owned, and, rather quaintly, an old wooden mail-boat still delivers post to four of them. It’s possible to join the mail-boat cruise, which is run by MacFarlane & Son from the jetty at Balmaha. In summer the timetable allows a one-hour stop on Inchmurrin Island, the largest and most southerly of the islands inhabited by just ten permanent residents; if you’re looking for an island to explore, however, a better bet is Inchailloch, the closest to Balmaha. Owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, it has a two-mile, signposted nature trail. You can row here yourself using a boat hired from MacFarlane & Son, or use their on-demand ferry service.
Opened in 1980, the spectacular West Highland Way was Scotland’s first long-distance footpath, stretching some 95 miles from Milngavie (pronounced “mill-guy”) six miles north of central Glasgow, to Fort William, where it reaches the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. Today, it is by far the most popular such footpath in Scotland, and while for many the range of scenery, relative ease of walking and nearby facilities make it a classic route, others find it a little too busy in high season.
The route runs along the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, over the Highland Boundary Fault Line, then round Crianlarich, crossing the open heather wilderness of Rannoch Moor. It passes close to Glen Coe, notorious for the massacre of the MacDonald clan, before reaching Fort William. Apart from one stretch halfway along when the path is within earshot of the main road, this is wild, remote country, and you should be well prepared for sudden and extreme weather changes.
Though this is emphatically not the most strenuous of Britain’s long-distance walks, a moderate degree of fitness is required as there are some steep ascents. If you’re looking for an added challenge, you could work in a climb of Ben Lomond or Ben Nevis. You might choose to walk individual sections of the Way (the eight-mile climb from Glen Coe up the Devil’s Staircase is particularly spectacular), but to tackle the whole thing you need to set aside at least seven days; avoid a Saturday start from Milngavie and you’ll be less likely to be walking with hordes of people, and there’ll be less pressure on accommodation. Most walkers tackle the route from south to north, and manage between ten and fourteen miles a day, staying at hotels, B&Bs and bunkhouses en route. Camping is permitted at recognized sites.
Although the path is clearly waymarked, you may want to check one of the many maps or guidebooks published: the official guide, published by Mercat Press, includes a foldout map as well as descriptions of the route, with detailed cultural, historical, archeological and wildlife information.