Scotland: Cycling with Walter Scott at Loch Katrine

Our long weekend in Scotland began with a sun-drenched breakfast in the garden and progressed to a hiking and cycling sunshine extravaganza at Loch Katrine, with a few wee drams of single malt whisky thrown in for good measure.

“The wanderer’s eye could barely vie
The summer heaven’s delicious blue;
So wondrous wild, the whole might seem
The scenery of a fairy dream.”

When Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott began writing his epic poem The Lady of the Lake in 1809 he was spending time in his holiday cottage on the shores of Loch Katrine with his wife Charlotte and daughter Sofia. These scenes of the Trossachs region of Scotland would provide the setting for the poem’s tale of conflict between King James V and the Scottish clans that once held sway here.

The green landscape was splashed with colour – carpets of purple Bluebells and hillsides of golden gorse. And below it all is the deep, deep blue of the glacially-carved lake itself. Thanks to some nifty Victorian engineering this is an inexhaustible water source for one million people in Glasgow and south-west Scotland.

Bluebells by Loch Katrine, The Trossachs, Scotland

The attractive, wooded islands are mostly a result of the artificially raised lake level and millions of gallons per day pour from the lake, which reaches depths of up to 300 feet in places. The water is very cold, although it looked tempting enough as we pedalled up hills in the sun.

We caught the boat up to Stronachlacher (where there is a tea rooms) and cycled back – the whole trip took around five hours with plenty of stops for snacks and photos on the way.

Natasha cycling Loch Katrine, Scotland

It is wonderful to see that Scotland has got so much more organised with providing easy access to adventure sports – at Loch Katrine, as well as the historic steamship tourist boats there is plenty of kayak and cycle hire. We used the very well-equipped and friendly Katrinewheelz hire company.

Woodland on shores of Loch Katrine, Trossachs, Scotland

The newly reborn bracken stood ramrod straight, unfurling by the hour in the hot sun. The woods were lime green and dappled with sunlight. At the head of the lake is the peak of Ben Venue, which I had hiked up the day before. In the distance we could see the Aonachan Alps that rise on the west side of Loch Lomond. Here is a photo of Loch Katrine from the summit of Ben Venue:

Loch Katrine from Ben Venue, The Trossachs, Scotland

Once sheep and cattle were farmed here and there was a forestry operation but now all this has stopped as they must insist on maintaining the purity of the water. Even the remaining plantation forest is being ringed and allowed to die – the aim is to create one of Scotland’s largest native woodlands as the area regenerates and biodiversity returns. They are seeing species of butterfly return that haven’t lived here for generations.

McGregor graveyard, Loch Katrine, Scotland

I am often inspired to travel by literature and walking (or cycling) in Sir Walter Scott’s footsteps along the lakeshore was a thrill. Beside the shores of the loch there are a number of storyboards sharing interesting history and legends about the area. Along with references to Scott there are stories of the ‘urisks’ or rock monsters. And look out for the picturesque Macgregor graveyard (see above photo).

Scott’s holidays here had a perhaps unintended effect. The Lady of the Lake was a worldwide hit, selling over 25,000 copies in a year, and the poem brought the romance and majesty of this region to the attention of the world.

It could even be said to have changed the way people look at landscape. Countless visitors followed in his footsteps, including Queen Victoria and painter JMW Turner. And so Scottish tourism was born!

“Where gleaming with the setting sun, one burnished sheet of living gold, Loch Katrine lay beneath him rolled.”

Loch Katrine has a rich heritage, both as a beauty spot and as the scene of many traditional tales; it is no wonder Sir Walter Scott got carried away.

By Natasha von Geldern

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