Rowing on the Bonnie Banks

Sorry about lack of posts in recent days, we’ve had issues with the internet which is now fortunately resolved

So in 2014 I headed off to Scotland for a week of work with the Scottish National Trust. Why? Well because I love the idea of volunteering and helping to preserve the culture and environment of these National Trust properties.

Well, not exactly. Its not that I don’t like volunteer work and preserving the culture and environment of National Trust properties. In fact I don’t mind that at all, I’m more than happy to help and work for a week or longer. But the reason I went was simply because it was in Scotland. I love Scotland, especially Scotland in the summer. I had had two holidays in Scotland prior to this and had fallen in love with the country, so when I saw an opportunity to return via this volunteering week, I leapt at the opportunity.

So for a week, I found myself teamed up with a group of fellow volunteers in a lodge situated on the shores of the stunning Loch Lomond. Together we were building a traditional 17th century Lomond house, built entirely out of local materials. Unfortunately most of the building had already been finished by previous groups and our job was to top it off by thatching reeds onto the roof, which I was pretty useless at, damn my clumsy hands. Luckily I found myself a job at completing the wooden paneling on the side of the house in order to keep out rain and wind. As I was the only one working on this bit, I was pretty proud of my contribution and if I say so myself, it was probably the most sturdy part of the house (even if the rest of the house is knocked down, I’m sure my wooden panels would remain standing).

Our completed house
My section, just look at how neat and tidy that all is

Anyway, on the Thursday we had a day off and I decided to join 3 of my fellow team mates and we headed off for a day of boating on the expanse of Loch Lomond. We all piled onto a little wooden dingy and pushed off, carefully navigating our ways around the dozens of boats that were moored up near the shore.

I’m not really a boating person, give me solid rock beneath my feet any day, in fact this was probably the first time I’d been lake boating and Loch Lomond is no mere lake. It is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain, at 24 miles long and 5 miles wide and with an average depth of 127ft. It has waves, currents and hundreds of little islands dot its surface. So you can imagine I was a bit of a nervous wreck initially, but I soon settled down when it became apparent that my crew knew exactly what they were doing and our boat proved to be watertight.

We set off from the port of Balmaha
We circle around the closest island of Inchcailloch

We landed first on the little island of Clairinsh. Historically there is evidence to suggest that people having been living on Clairinsh since the Iron Age, and in more recent times in was the seat of Clan Buchanan and even served as their warcry in battle. However these days the island is entirely uninhabited and is owned by the Buchanan Society. The island is very flat and completely overgrown, so we struggled on through the undergrowth, taking care to avoid nettles. Despite the island being uninhabited we still saw evidence of people who had, like us, arrived on the island by boat, including a rather peculiar flat football, complete with a Wilson-esque face on it (Maybe this is where he washed up after his adventures with Tom Hanks).

Landing on Clairinsh
The whole adventure had a very Swallows and Amazons feel to it…
Part of the fish tail of Clairinsh, yes apparently the island looks like a fish from above
Looking down the length of the Highland Boundary Fault

We left Clairinsh and rowed around its western shore, and towards the pass between Inchcailloch and Torrinch. Both islands lie on the Highland Boundary Fault, the geological fault zone which separates the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands from one another. It was also at this point that our view of Loch Lomond was no longer blocked by Inchcailloch and we were able to see the wide variety of islands that Loch Lomond possesses. Each island has its own unique past and features, some like Clairinsh played host to the old clans that lived around the loch while others are named after saints and one island even has a manor house and a colony of wallabies living on it.

Loch Lomond
Ben Lomond rises up in the distance, my first Munro
The mountains of Scotland only add to its mystical appeal

We sailed into Inchcailloch and pulled our boat up onto the sandy beach before settling down for some lunch. Inchcailloch is one of the larger islands on Loch Lomond and is one of its most frequently visited. This was evident from the camp site we found ourselves sitting next too as well as the more modern boats moored up next to our little dingy.

Our little ship
Making landfall for lunch
A believe this species is called ‘giant dragonfly that really likes jam sandwiches and won’t leave you alone’

After lunch our little expedition headed inland. Inchcailloch was once scared to the Clan MacGregor and is home to a clan burial ground as well as the ruins of a church dedicated to St Kentigern, after whom the island is named. Another of Inchcailloch features is, due to it lying on a fault line, it is unusually high for a lake island, rising up to 279ft in its centre. This allowed us a moment above the treeline from which we could see the vastness that is Loch Lomond and the beautiful National Park in which it reside.


Looking south towards the shore and Glasgow

A slender crosslet formed with care

A cubit’s length in measure due

The shafts and limbs were rods of yew

Whose parents in Inch Cailliach wave

Their Shadows o’er Clan Alpine’s grave,

And, answering Lomond’s breezes deep,

Soothe many a chieftain’s endless sleep.

Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake



Conic Hill

We headed back to our boat and began to the long haul back to Balmaha, the wind began to pick up and we were hard pressed to stay our course. However before we rolled into port, our team leader couldn’t resist the urge to sing ‘The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond’. We were all soon humming the tune as we rowed the last few metres back to our moorings and the afternoon sun glinted over the soft, blue waters.

O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

I look back at this little week with great fondness, I certainly miss Scotland and its natural beauty but I also miss the experiences with my fellow team members; The lodge owner’s little poodle, the hearty meals after a hard days work and the nights gather around the campfire under a star filled sky. I;m not missing the midges though, may Cailleach take them all.


Our last look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

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