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Loch Katrine - where to stay

Blog - Is It Scotland?

A sporadic blog about Scotland and tourism that isn't grumpy all the time.  Promise.

Loch Katrine - where to stay

Gilbert Summers

It’s pretty much self-evident that when you get an attraction that gets lots of visitors, the ‘infrastructure’ follows on - whether that takes the form of car parks, information boards, interpretation centres, cafes or accommodation. And it’s true the world over.

Take that day in 1803, for instance when three travellers went exploring the Trossachs. They came by boat up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid, walked uphill and eastwards past Loch Arklet, in those days small and reedy. They then went round the west end of Loch Katrine, also then much lower than it is today. They were impressed enough - long story short - to get a boatman to row them up the loch to the east.

One of the three was a bit of a difficult character - moody, drank a lot - so that the two, who were brother and sister, were actually quite pleased he decided it would be too cold on the open boat. He walked round the north side of the loch.

 The Romantic threesome mentioned in the text had come from Loch Lomond. They walked up to the west end of Loch Katrine and down as far as a wee house called Portnellan, opposite Stronachlachar. Then they took a boat the rest of the way eastwards down Loch Katrine. And very nice it was too...

The Romantic threesome mentioned in the text had come from Loch Lomond. They walked up to the west end of Loch Katrine and down as far as a wee house called Portnellan, opposite Stronachlachar. Then they took a boat the rest of the way eastwards down Loch Katrine. And very nice it was too...

In spite of the rough terrain he got to the end of Loch Katrine first, where he found some crude shelters. These had been built on the instructions of the then landowner, Lady Drummond, specifically for tourists.

Trossachs Tourism infrastruture - huts with bracken

At the beginning of the 19th century, rough wooden huts, some say roofed with bracken, passed for tourism infrastructure for any adventurous types who made it this far into what was already called The Trossachs.  (Most of the visitors came from Callander, ie from the east, which was why this particular three visitors some were being adventurous. They had come down Loch Katrine from the west.)

Anyway, our visitor sheltered in a hut, and waited for the boat bringing the other two. They duly arrived and he greeted them ‘with a shout of triumph from the door...exulting in the glories of Scotland’.

That quote is from the journal kept by Dorothy Wordsworth, for she with her famous romantic poet brother William were in the boat. (You probably had guessed by now.) Their moody and possibly drug-addled companion was the not-quite-so-famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge - who, at that time, plainly worshipped William. (They fell out later!)

 Today, you sometimes even see a genuine Highland piper serenading you as you get on the steamship at the Trossachs Pier. This one was collecting for a good cause.

Today, you sometimes even see a genuine Highland piper serenading you as you get on the steamship at the Trossachs Pier. This one was collecting for a good cause.

Beds at a premium in 19th century tourism

But here’s the thing. The poets were already part of a tourist trend. Seven years later the shores of Loch Katrine were even more thronged with visitors, who came to follow Sir Walter Scott’s Trossachs-rooted narrative as told in ‘The Lady of the Lake’. Infrastructure couldn’t keep up. (Think Isle of Skye today!) At the few inns in the vicinity, you had to share a bed with goodness-knows-who back then - if you could get one. Even Skye hasn’t quite got to this stage yet.

Gradually, better roads and means of transport followed on in the wider Trossachs area, as did cruises on Loch Katrine, and the railway to Callander and also Aberfoyle (both stations now sadly gone). And the landscape itself changed a little as Katrine’s level was raised more than once when it became Glasgow’s water supply.

Likewise the rough path that once led from the east through the crags to the shore became a motorable road with a carpark, pier and everything you’d expect from a popular tourist spot.

But what didn’t change after the rough huts disintegrated was that there was nowhere for visitors to stay right in the very heart of the Trossachs. Sure, there was accommodation in plenty at the ‘gateways’ such as Callander and Aberfoyle, and also the still nearer Brig o Turk, and a little further afield, say, at Inversnaid.

But nobody could actually stay overnight more or less in the exact historic location where those Romantics had stood more than two centuries ago. That is, not until now.

 Loch Katrine Lodges. Picture taken almost at the water's edge in late spring. (Yes, it was late in 2018.)

Loch Katrine Lodges. Picture taken almost at the water's edge in late spring. (Yes, it was late in 2018.)

Loch Katrine Eco-Lodges - a new perspective

Loch Katrine Lodges are a new for 2018 venture, with ‘eco-pods’, camping spaces and electrical hookups for campervans. The rationale is all about low-environmental-impact accommodation. The fact that the little lodges look a bit cool and exclusive is almost accidental. Dorothy Wordsworth would have loved one.

They are open all year and offer stays on a per night basis - so they are flexible and should appeal both to central belt Scots looking for a quick get-away-from-it-all break and visitors from further afield who want more than a hurried glimpse of this historic setting.

Plenty to see and do in the Trossachs

The Great Trossachs Forest path runs past the front door, there are bikes to hire round the corner on the main car park, the SS Sir Walter Scott is moored opposite and you are also in a National Park.

 This is Loch Venachar, slightly tamer than Loch Katrine and lying to the east of it. These days, all around the Trossachs there is a network of waymarked paths and trails. Another reason to make the Loch Katrine Lodges your base.  This particular track starts from the Glen Finglas Visitor Centre and swings up to Glen Finglas itself. Below the dam is a site associated with the critic Ruskin and how the painter Millais ran off with his wife. Oooh, scandal in the Trossachs.

This is Loch Venachar, slightly tamer than Loch Katrine and lying to the east of it. These days, all around the Trossachs there is a network of waymarked paths and trails. Another reason to make the Loch Katrine Lodges your base.  This particular track starts from the Glen Finglas Visitor Centre and swings up to Glen Finglas itself. Below the dam is a site associated with the critic Ruskin and how the painter Millais ran off with his wife. Oooh, scandal in the Trossachs.

You’re also only a few minutes by car from the nearest supermarkets (Callander), just in case you thought you'd be roughing it. Actually, you will be if you buy any meals that require an oven - the lodges have a microwave only. But no matter, if you have a hankering for a fry-up, then you can even get breakfast at the Steamship Cafe in the carpark.

There is a lot more information about Loch Katrine on that link, and we have lots of information on the Trossachs too.

We should disclose that we were guests of Loch Katrine Lodges - our overall impression is that, both in terms of the location and by the standard of the facilities, this venture is going to prove very popular. Worth a look for a new perspective on the Trossachs.