EXPLORING the Trossachs and Loch Katrine by boat is great fun, finds Pamela Moffat
As the SS Sir Walter Scott sets sail on Loch Katrine, it’s easy to understand why pleasure cruises were so incredibly popular here during the Victorian era. The weather today can only be described as dreich – none of the land above 80ft is visible due to the heavy mist that hangs in the air – but despite this the landscape is stunning and incredibly atmospheric. There is little noise from the engine of this steamship, though the stillness is broken by piped Scottish music.
The SS Sir Walter Scott was not the first boat to offer excursions here (one of her predecessors vanished without trace, rumour has it that the local ferrymen were none too pleased about losing out on business) but she remains the last surviving steamer with a regular passenger service in Scotland.
Built in Denny’s shipyard in Dumbarton, the vessel was transported in numbered sections to Loch Katrine, first by barge up Loch Lomond, then on by horse and cart. Launched in 1900, she still runs on her original engine, which is on view through open hatches, and on our day the emanating heat is most welcome. The engine was converted from solid fuel to biofuel, rather than diesel, to avoid potential contamination of the water which is destined to quench the thirst of Glaswegians and “used to produce Tennent’s lager” my dad tells me. He read it on an embossed pint glass.
We’re on a one-hour sightseeing cruise which takes in only half of the eight mile long, 0.6 mile wide loch, but she’s also used as a ferry service to Stronachlachar. A one-way ticket can be purchased to allow a 13-mile walk or cycle back along the loch side and there are additional sailings on cruiser Lady of the Lake.
Various snippets of information are shared by the crew during the trip. Glengyle, at the northern end of the loch, was the birthplace of Rob Roy MacGregor and it is said that he knew the area like the back of his hand, hiding in the surrounding area when an outlaw. On a misty day like this I wouldn’t be surprised to see his ginger ghost appear on the banks.
Clearly Sir Walter Scott found inspiration here, both for his novel Rob Roy and The Lady of the Lake; Ellen’s Isle is named after the subject of his popular poem.
Back on dry land, the weather improves and the Trossachs Pier area becomes something of a bustling destination itself with cafes, the obligatory gift shop, and Katrine Wheelz, where bikes and golf buggies can be hired to explore the bonnie banks. The pier is accessible from Callander or via the Duke’s Pass from Aberfoyle. We have our own bikes and ride the road alongside the loch, which is nearly traffic-free. There are a few undulations (some too steep for our nine-year-old) so stops at information boards and waterfalls break the journey. We particularly enjoy reading about – then searching for – the Urisks, fairy-like creatures who are said to live nearby.
Brenachoile Point is the end of the road for us and we enjoy the remains of cake we doggy-bagged from Brenachoile Restaurant earlier. Panorama settings on cameras were made for landscapes like this and as we watch and photograph the next sailing pass by, passengers are no doubt being told that it’s the location of the fictional castle in the 2008 sci-fi thriller Doomsday. With crystal-clear water it would be the perfect summer spot for a picnic, paddle – and perhaps a cold can of Tennent’s.
The Loch Katrine Experience, Trossachs Pier, Loch Katrine, By Callander, Stirling FK17 8HZ, tel: 01877 376315/6, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.lochkatrine.com: adults £12, seniors £10.50, under-16s £8, under-5s 50p, family (2 adults, 2 children) £36, dogs 50p.