The title of this blog should, more accurately, be Dunblane, Stirling and Balmaha but it’s a bit of a long title and not many people know Balmaha so it stays. The city of Dunblane is very beautiful and our friends Andy his wife Jenny with two eyes and Cathal live there so it’s there we went. I’ve known Cathal for more years than we’re able to remember accurately, and Andy for more than half of those, which is still a very long time. I feel at this point I should explain the “two eyes” thing. When Jenni and Jenny were introduced, a comment was made “Jenni with an ‘i'” and so the other Jenny became Jenny with two eyes and Jenni became Jenni with one eye. This set the scene for most of this part of the trip. We were graciously being hosted by Andy and Jenny and when settled into the guest quarters, complete with a Tunnocks Tea Cake on the pillows, we went for a stroll and an explore and some lunch around Dunblane.
Dunblane is a very small village however it has a cathedral, which in my book makes it a “city”. Wikipedia disagrees but I am right and it is wrong. In my understanding of things, which is of course 100% verifiable and accurate according to comprehensive research carried out by me, a village had a church, a town had a market and a city had a cathedral. The city of Dunblane is the birthplace of famous tennis player Andy Murray, the post box was painted gold when, in the 2012 Olympics, he beat Roger Federer to win the gold medal. We, of course, visited this iconic landmark. Or, more accurately, we passd it on the way to the pub for lunch.
Dunblane was also a location shoot for the film The 39 Steps. In the film the Borough Chambers building near Dunblane Cathedral was used for the location of the Sheriff’s Office that Richard Hannay goes to after leaving Glenkirk. During a walk around the
village city Andy and Jenny pointed out the window in the old library that Richard Hannay jumped out of to escape. You don’t get that in a village!
The cathedral that makes Dunblane a city was being used for a wedding so out of respect we didn’t go in, but I am told it is worth a visit as the inside is stunning.
Andy, Jenny, Jenni and myself ordered lunch in the Riverside Inn, we were joined presently by Cathal and we all had a great catch up. Food was good, beer was great, craic was mighty. A dinner gathering had been arranged for later that evening by Andy and Jenny so after lunch we said cheerio to Cathal and we’d see him later. The four of us then went for a bit more of an explore around Dunblane.
We walked past the just beautiful Dunblane Hydro Hotel, still one of my favourite looking hotels. During the boom years of the Hydropathy movement in the 19th century, Dunblane was the location of this very successful hydropathic establishment. Hydropathy was an alternative medicine thing back in the day that used water jets and baths and enemas and other water based stuff to cure various ailments. Whether it worked or not is debatable (it didn’t) but at the very least the patients were probably quite clean, inside and out from what we’re told. The modern equivalent is thalassotherapy which works just as well as hydropathy.
We continued along the banks of Allan Water taking in the views and then across the fields and back to the house to prepare for dinner. Dinner was a fantastic home made fish pie followed by frivolities, conversation, drink and fun. Jenni and I found ourselves in the hot tub. It was 1 degree above freezing outside. To the Scottish natives this meant, “Roll your sleeves down” but to Queensland natives this was “Wear every piece of clothing you brought with you and stay indoors anyway”. But we braved the temperatures and it was a delightful experience.
Later the temperature dropped even farther and although there was a perfectly good and warm house to sit in we all decided to sit outside for the evening. Andy lit the fire pit and all of us sat around the fire and chatted and drank and had such a fantastic and memorable time. Some Scotch may have been consumed. It was a great night of friendship and fun and if I could remember all of it one of the most memorable, probably.
The next morning we were going to Stirling to see the castle and the Wallace monument. Before we drove we decided to check that we were safe to be in charge of a road vehicle. Andy had a gadget that told you your blood alcohol level, a breathalyzer if you will. We both had a go. Andy’s reading was 300. Mine was reading “Too Low”. Obviously I didn’t try hard enough last night, but then I am Irish and we have evolved special genetic organs over the millennia to process alcohol I read somewhere, probably in the same magazine that says hydrotherapy works and UFO’s are real. But Andy’s reading of 300? 300 what? We had to resort to the manual, which for Andy and I that is really the last resort. A quick scan read later we knew that 300 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath was what the manual informed us the gadget was reading. A bit of googling later we discovered that meant Andy was dead! 35 was the legal limit to drive, 100ish was the highest ever recorded, 300 was death, unless you’re Irish then this is your resting state, probably, according to that same magazine. After reading the manual properly we discovered the reading wasn’t 300 but 3. So Andy wasn’t dead after all. The trip to Stirling was on.
We visited Stirling Castle. I don’t usually do this but here are a few pics without commentary taken at the castle.
The Scottish weather was being very kind to us. The sky was clear blue and cloudless and the light was just amazing. The whole countryside was full of rich autumnal colours, it was a photographers dream and a tourists delight.
Leaving Stirling we drove about an hour to Balmaha, on the banks of Loch Lomond, which we are reliably in formed are bonnie (x2), and so they were. We were staying at the superb Oak Tree Inn on the banks of the Loch, but we were too early to check in so Andy, Jenny, Jenni and I went for a hike. Andy and Jenny grew up on the banks of Loch Lomond and have spent many years here holidaying with their family so they graciously showed us all the “hotspots”. We were originally intending to climb Conic Hill but it was the weekend and was insanely busy and would have taken too long so we decided instead to explore the area around the Loch shore.
Right beside the Loch is a statute of Tom Weir, a famous Scottish climber, author and broadcaster and best known for his long-running television series Weir’s Way.
Weir became a pioneering campaigner for the protection of the Scottish environment, and wrote a column for The Scots Magazine for over 50 years. From 1976–1987, he hosted the Scottish Television series Weir’s Way, meeting the people of Scotland, exploring the landscape and its natural history. When STV repeated the series during the late night slot from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s it managed to achieve 30% audience share
Tom Weir lived near Loch Lomond and died in 2006 aged 91. Public funds were raised to erect this bronze statue in his honour.
Past Tom’s statue we ambled and out to as far as you can go in a car.
Since 1995, the area around Ben Lomond, the mountain that gave the Loch its name or the other way round, has been designated as a war memorial, called the Ben Lomond National Memorial Park. The park is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. The obelisk in this picture is a granite sculpture by Doug Cocker, a Scottish artist who won a competition organized by the Scottish Sculpture Trust to design a permanent monument for the park.
Turn the camera around 180 degrees and this is what you see. This place is just full of the most beautiful sights you’ll see. The last time I felt like I’d run out of superlatives was Tasmania, so I won’t try and just say Alba gu bràth.
We turned and walked up a rugged track into the hills above Balmaha, Andy knew the trail well and gave us a great running commentary on the landscape and features as we walked.
At this point Andy stopped us and pointed out something not obvious to us. Andy informed us we were standing right upon the line where the glaciers got to at the last ice age. True enough there was a line of bare rocks stretching into the distance at an angle, but Andy had more astounding facts. “Look north” he said, “the peaks of the mountains are jaggy, now look south of the line and they are smooth. The glaciers covered the peaks and kept them from getting worn down by the elements.”
We walked back to the car and we bade Andy and Jenny a fond farewell. They had been gracious hosts and generous tour guides. We can’t wait to see them again.
Jenni and I checked into the Oak Tree Inn and made our to the cute cottage that was our room, stopping by the shop for beer and wine of course. The room didn’t have a fridge to keep the beer cold but it had a balcony and it was 1 centigrade outside so I put the beer on the balcony. Perfect, love Scotland.
The next day, Monday, we had breakfast in the hotel. We saw a young woman on her own, 30ish, with a baby, this is not significant until later in this blog.
The tourists had gone so Jenni and I walked up Conic Hill.
The grand clear weather was replaced with what the Scots call “a grand soft day”, or “it was mizzling” as we say in Northern Ireland. Halfway between mist and drizzle that means.
The initial climb was easy, it was only at the end near the top when it got tough going, and of course the light was just amazing. Liquid and shadowless and subdued and beautiful.
The forest was green and we found ourselves almost alone on the trip.
The climb to the top got very interesting after this point
As we climbed it got steeper and steeper. I had to take of some outer garments to keep cool as you can see.
The views were great , imagine living on this island.
Eventually we made it to the top, and very chuffed I was with myself too. And then I look to my left and see the young lady with the baby from the breakfast room, with the baby in a sling, with her, at the top, looking all fresh and not at all impressed with herself that she made it to the top of a a very low hill with a baby in her arms like its something she does a lot of all the time.
Anyway I was chuffed with myself, as its not something I do a lot of all the time, and very happy we made it to the top of Conic Hill. So we took a selfie of course. Look how very chuffed I look, or constipated, same face.
As it turned out the way down was a bit treacherous too requiring patience and dexterity but we survived. Halfway down we were passed by the lady with the baby hopping and skipping along like a gazelle, but with a child on her hip. I like to console myself that it was because I was stopping and taking pictures that slowed me down and allowed her to pass.
That night we had Arctic Char fish in the restaurant. The sign in the restaurant informed us that after the last ice age the first fish in the Loch were Arctic Char, its an ancient fish and a specialty of the house, how could we not?
The next day we packed up our things and set out for Cairnryan for the ferry to Ireland and the next stage of this adventure…