How Deep is Loch Lomond?

- and where is it exactly? (That's answered further down the page.)

The depth of  Loch Lomond is just one of these Scottish questions. It’s the third-deepest loch in Scotland, after Loch Morar and Loch Ness.

Settling the question was first addressed by the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty in Britain, who did the first surveys in the 1860s. The splendidly named Captain H.C. Otter used a lead-weighted line and a rowing boat for his soundings.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh was an enthusiastic supporter of efforts to find out more about the depth contours of many of Scotland’s lochs. However, as the 19th century went on, issues arose as to who would fund such a project. The Admiralty was approached and seemed interested at first

However, it seems that someone in the Treasury in far-off London, England, soon pointed out to the Admiralty that Loch Lomond wasn’t actually the sea and, as such, wasn’t going to have much in the way of battleships floating about in it, so could they please restrict themselves to salt-water surveys on the grounds of cost…

Loch Lomond from Duncryne Hill

Loch Lomond from Duncryne Hill

(Pictured here) This Loch Lomond panorama, looking up the loch from its south end, is a September pic., as you can see by the autumnal rowan berries. The Highland Boundary Fault runs through the islands in the middle distance. The loch is confined to a deep, narrow trench in the far distance. Closer at hand, you can see how it spreads out in the gentler terrain of the Lowland edge.

Anyway, the experienced oceanographer Sir John Murray took up the cause and went on to create the ground-breaking Bathymetrical Survey of the Fresh-Water Lochs of Scotland, 1897-1909 – a work that still has value today.

In it, we learn that 623ft / 190m is answer to the question how deep is Loch Lomond. 

This survey is also, presumably, the original source of the oft-quoted other facts about Scottish lochs: such as the water volume of Loch Lomond is 92,805 million cubic ft (second largest in Scotland after Loch Ness); the surface area of Loch Lomond is 27.45 sq miles (largest in Scotland with Loch Ness second) and so on. 

However, there has been an update on our knowledge of the depth of Loch Lomond. Survey work by the British Geological Society in early 2009 found that the north of the loch is a deep trench with very steep sides, the result of glaciation.

Loch Lomond - south end at Balloch

Loch Lomond - south end at Balloch

What? Loch Lomond has a monster too? 

As well as answering the query how deep is Loch Lomond, the original Bathymetrical Survey also looked into another phenomenon seen in Loch Lomond as well as other lochs (lakes) right across the globe. There is an ancient saying about Loch Lomond as having ‘a wave without a wind, a fish without a fin, and a floating island’. The first part of the old saying may refer to a ‘seiche’ – a scientific term from a Swiss French dialect word. It now means a standing wave in an enclosed body of water. (Think of it as a ‘slosh’ – that’s the word that’s used for this phenomenon on the North American Great Lakes.) The key here is that the water body should be enclosed and that the wave is observed irrespective of the weather conditions.

As for the other two parts of the rhyme, personally, I like to think that the fish without fin is the Loch Lomond monster – that’s the one that never quite caught on in the way that our chum up on Loch Ness did. Many years ago, at the peak time for the old monster mania that did so much for tourism in the Scottish Highlands, there was even a report of a monster on Loch Lomond being seen from the footplate by a train crew. (This was in the days of steam and I expect it was only a seiche.)

Finally, as for the floating island, if it isn’t a monster hump (and, no, I’m not being serious there at all), then it might be the mats of vegetation that can break off the banks after waves or storms.

Loch lomond signposts, within the national park. Note appearance of GAelic.

Loch lomond signposts, within the national park. Note appearance of GAelic.

(Pictured here) Signposts by Loch Lomond, at Tarbet.

Loch Lomond has been loved to bits, not just because of that well-known song ‘The Banks of Loch Lomond’ (words below) but because of the fact it lies within easy reach of the Clydeside conurbation, the geographer’s phrase for Glasgow and round about. The area is within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Naturally, in an area so beloved of tourists, the ‘infrastructure’ is well developed. There is a good choice of Loch Lomond cruises.

By the way, perhaps we need to clarify...

 

Where is Loch Lomond?

The answer to the question ‘where is Loch Lomond’ – discussed below – explains a lot about how the area gained its status as an icon of Scottish scenery. The question is probably asked by folk in other parts of the world who hear that famous song ‘The Banks of Loch Lomond’. Along with Auld Lang Syne, this is an iconic song of Scotland and seems to appeal to people who have never actually been to Loch Lomond, but find the sentiment of the song inspires them to visit. (Actually, come to think of it, I get a bit sentimental myself on hearing ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, and that isn’t even Scottish, but Irish.)

Anyway, what’s the appeal of the song ‘Loch Lomond’? Here are a few notes ( and the words below) – and then we’ll move on to answering the question ‘where is Loch Lomond’. Some authorities suggest the tune is a variant of the old Scottish ballad ‘The Bonnie Hoose o’ Airlie’, others want to link it to the equally venerable ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ – yes, you got to know your Scottish ballads here!

However, most experts agree that the words are quite a bit younger than the tune. The song was first published in ‘Vocal Melodies of Scotland’ (1841). No individual composer is credited. The usual story is that the lyrics were written by a Jacobite prisoner, while awaiting his fate in Carlisle prison, in England. (It always seems to be in Carlisle – but then the sentimental Victorians were always very inventive.) Maybe the prisoner was captured after the Battle of Culloden and shipped across the Border; maybe he was taken while the Jacobite army retreated northwards in the previous winter. Or maybe the whole thing is fictional. But, if it was written around the Battle of Culloden in 1746, then the words with variations must have been around for almost a century before being published.

Ben Lomond beyond Loch Lomond

Ben Lomond beyond Loch Lomond

(Pictured here) Where is Loch Lomond – answer, spreading out of the Highlands and on to the Lowland edge, in this angle, showing Ben Lomond to the north. So, here’s the sun that ‘shines bright on Loch Lomond‘ and where the lovers parted on ‘the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond‘ –  and that's Ben Lomond as seen from across the loch, from its south-western end near Balloch.

Again, like Auld Lang Syne, a lot of Scots (at least) can sing their way through the first verse or so, and then things start to get sticky. By verse two (see below), things are beginning to fall apart, while by verse three we are mired in Scottish sentimentality. Truth to tell, it isn’t great poetry. The high road and low road allusions are usually explained as the ‘high road’ as in the highway, a physical route, leading home to Scotland, as opposed to the ‘low road’, meaning death, where the spirit of the soldier returns immediately to his homeland.

Song ‘Loch Lomond’
1.
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.
Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae
On the bonnie, bonnie banks O’ Loch Lomond.

Refrain:
O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road,
An’ I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
For me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks O’ Loch Lomond.

2.
‘Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen,
On the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond’,
Where in purple hue the Hieland hills we view,
An’ the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’
Refrain:

3.
The wee birdies sing and the wild flow’rs spring,
And in sunshine the waters are sleepin’;
But the broken heart it kens nae second spring,
Tho’ the waefu’ may cease frae their greetin’.
Refrain:

So, the subject matter of the song is decidedly gloomy – though that doesn’t stop it being played at weddings and rock concert and other upbeat occasions. But it is because of its iconic status – even a few bars of it seems to say ‘Scotland’ – that must make folk want to find out where is Loch Lomond. ( There’s more information here on Scotland’s music.)

Anyway, if you are a resident or a habitual visitor then you’ll already know the answer to where is Loch Lomond. The famous loch lies partly in the Lowlands and partly in the Highlands of Scotland. And, back in the days when Scottish tourism first began, before the end of the 18th century, both Loch Lomond and the Trossachs were areas that were comparatively easy to reach from Scotland’s main cities, especially Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Here is another of my sophisticated hi-tech sketches, where it all becomes, uhmm, clear……

Where is Loch lomond? Quite NEAR Glasgow.

Where is Loch lomond? Quite NEAR Glasgow.

(Pictured, actually, sketched, here) Where is Loch Lomond? - splattered right across the Highland Boundary Fault, very near Glasgow. Lucid, eh?

Got that? Basically, the Romantics, then everyone else, escaped the city and soon found themselves across the Highland Boundary Fault, where it all got a lot nicer, quite suddenly. Not just on Loch Lomond and in The Trossachs, but also on the Clyde sea-lochs, minutes away to the west. The nuclear submarines at Faslane do their best to keep a low profile. (Loch Long, by the way, is really the 'ship loch' from the Gaelic. But it is also long and fjord-like.)

The sudden transition from Lowland Scotland – for example, on the journey north from Dumbarton on the Clyde – to the vista of Highland Scotland, revealed from the south end of Loch Lomond, first excited travellers more than 200 years ago. At that time, the taste of these early visitors was being influenced by the Romantic Movement in the arts and literature. This involved a new and positive way of perceiving wild and untamed places – as a rebellion against the ‘tamed’ landscapes and the order and symmetry of the Neo-Classical Age that went before.

Loch Lomond, looking west from the West Highland Way at Inversnaid

Loch Lomond, looking west from the West Highland Way at Inversnaid

(Pictured here) The ‘bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’ are undoubtedly bonny. Looking west, these are the Arrochar Alps, selectively framed from just north of Invernsnaid on the West Highland Way. 

In Loch Lomond and the Trossachs – touched on in the Scotland tourism page – the Romantics found scenery exactly to their new tastes – and they found this wild and beautiful place without travelling too far from ‘city comforts’! So part of the answer to the question ‘where is Loch Lomond’ in a historical context is that it was just far enough away from centres of population a couple of centuries back to give a taste of excitement and daring for adventurous travellers – such as William and Dorothy Wordsworth who first came this way in 1803. But not so far away that visiting amounted to a fearful and risky expedition.

So the real answer to the location of question of Loch Lomond is ‘close enough’ – these days it is within minutes of Glasgow Airport, or an easy journey by road or rail – even closer than when it was first discovered and enjoyed by those early Romantics. Today, in fact, more than half the Scottish population live within an hour’s drive. In addition, for more than two centuries, Loch Lomond (and the Trossachs to the east) have been balancing the needs of visitors with the need to retain the essential spirit of wild landscape. It’s a place that, in short, is loved to bits. That is why since 2002 the area that visitors still enjoy is now in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. If you want a great experience of the area then we recommend you cruise on Loch Lomond. And here are some Loch Lomond facts...