“An exhilarating and hilly ride through the heart of the Trossachs – a classic roadie circuit featuring a big climb, quiet roads and outstanding scenery“. This is how the cycling tour of the Trossachs is described by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and who am I to disagree?
Within an hour’s drive of Glasgow and Stirling, the Trossachs is on Central Scotland’s doorstep. It’s been on the tourist map since the Sir Walter Scott wrote The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy in the early 19th Century, fascinating early Victorian travellers. These days the area can attract swarms of day trippers in coaches and cars – even in late April car parks were filled with foreign accents – but it’s relatively easy to quickly escape the tourist honeypots.
I first discovered this ride described as the ‘7 lochs tour of the Trossachs’, taking in Lochs Drunkie, Achray, Katrine, Arklet, Lomond, Chon and Ard on a 40 mile loop. It was only later I found it billed as the ‘tour of the Trossachs’ on the National Park website, the only difference being that I added a 9 mile detour from Stronachlachar to Inversnaid to reach Loch Lomond.
From the main car park in Aberfoyle it’s a fairly brutal 3 mile climb up Duke’s Pass, notorious for its winter road closures. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a hard slog. A driver coming the other way slowed down to tell me to “stay strong!“. But once at the top it’s a fast, snaking descent down to the shore of Loch Achray. On the way you do pass Loch Drunkie but it’s actually a mile or so east in the forest, so not visible from the road. Two ‘Bens’ stand out at this section of the ride, rounded Ben Venue and diminutive Ben A’an, both guarding the route to Loch Katrine.
The eastern end of Loch Katrine provides a first stop-off with Brenachoile Cafe, a shop and benches. You’ll need to fight through the throngs, mind you, but once fed and watered it’s a fast and flat ride along the road on the northern bank of the loch. The steamship SS Sir Walter Scott has plied to and fro across the loch for almost 120 years and it’s a great sightseeing trip. But today I was keen to escape the crowds, taking care to negotiate past the pedestrians, dogs, buggies and younger cyclists. Within a couple of miles it seems you’re quickly away from the honeypot and able to soak in the scenery.
I always enjoy seeing familiar hills from new perspectives. I admire Ben Lomond in the distance daily from the end of my street but rather than the long whaleback view I see from the east, the view from Loch Katrine shows the deep rocky corries on its northern side. Then, looking due west, the trio of Ben Vane, Ben Ime and Ben Narnain pokes through the gap across the western shore of Loch Lomond.
So far, so good. By my reckoning, that’s 3 lochs (Drunkie, Achray, Katrine) and 5 bens (Venue, A’an, Vane, Ime and Narnain).
Skirting the quieter northwestern finger of Loch Katrine at Glengyle takes you past the historic cemetery of Clan Macgregor then to the pier at Stronachlachar. The road at this end of Loch Katrine is decidedly hillier compared with the eastern end. I was accompanied by the sound of birdsong and the occasional cuckoo and this part of the route feels furthest from ‘civilisation’.
By now you’ll be grateful of a good cafe stop and the Pier Tearoom doesn’t disappoint. On the day I was there the sun was streaming through the conservatory windows at the back, and the homemade soup and steak ciabatta were just what the doctor ordered.
From the junction of the B629 near Stronachlachar it’s a gradual downhill along the north shore of Loch Arklet, before the start of a much steeper descent beyond the dam. It’s an exhilarating downhill ride, with a view of Loch Lomond and the munros beyond. Unfortunately, it’s an out-and-back trip and once you’ve enjoyed a drink and bite to eat at Inversnaid, it’s a real killer of a hill back up again …
On the day I was there the runners on the Highland Fling Ultra marathon were coming through their 34 mile checkpoint, having left Milngavie at 6am. I was tired by this point but took comfort in the fact I wasn’t nearly as shattered as the folk I saw hobbling past to take refreshments in front of the Inversnaid Hotel!
At the B629 junction it’s a right turn this time for a gentle climb through Loch Ard Forest followed by a welcome downhill along Loch Chon. The joy of freewheeling was short-lived though. Not only did a shower come through but the B629 has a few short, sharp summits and the most atrocious road surface.
By this point the end was in sight and the return of smooth tarmac took me past scenic Loch Ard and eventually back to Aberfoyle.
So, seven lochs, five bens and a great cafe stop: not a bad count for a scenic afternoon’s cycle.