BONNIE LOCH LOMONDby Caroline M. Jackson The summer sun had just kissed the peak of Ben Lomond and now the still, slate-grey waters of Loch Lomond became as dark as coal. With my back to the castellated Hotel Tarbet, I sauntered down the grassy slope towards the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. The smell of sizzling sausages permeated the warm air and I noticed several campers settling down for the night under the cover of pup tents. The lively fiddle music from the hotel ceilidh was now muted as I neared the end of the wooden pier.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted several campers striding towards me, flailing their arms like windmills. Their anorak hoods were drawn tightly across their heads leaving only their eyes exposed. "Whit ye got on, Miss?" the leader of the pack shouted in his strong Glaswegian accent. The youths came closer to have a better look at me and repeated their question. Swarms of pesky midges encircled them and they, like me, were completely mystified by my immunity.
Since I had spent my honeymoon near Loch Lomond, my husband and I took a nostalgic morning cruise around the southern part of the 39 kilometer-long loch. With typical Scottish humor, our captain addressed his passengers from the wheelhouse: "Should any of you feel a little bit worried about what to do in an emergency, please just keep an eye on Neill and myself because we will be the first two to jump over the side."Our sail took us past pristine wooded islands while the captain regaled us with tales about the infamous outlaw, Rob Roy Macgregor who had frequented the eastern side of the loch in the 18th century. Once retreats for early Christians, today only four of the 38 islands remain inhabited.
The largest, Inchmurrin, named after the missionary, St. Mirin, is accessible from the mainland. A small boat drops passengers at a pier adjacent to the Inchmurrin Hotel. It is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing lunch. From the menu, we chose leek and potato soup, haggis with whisky cream and a cloutie dumpling (a pudding cooked in a cloth bag) swathed in Drambuie. After such a sumptuous meal, my husband and I waddled out of the restaurant and followed an uphill path which cut across the island. Initially, we had to walk through the small herd of beef cattle that eyed us warily. The feeling was mutual. The meandering path took us past tiny cottages, quiet bays and ever so often we flushed out skittish pheasants that had survived from the era when the island was a shooting estate.The following day we visited the picturesque loch-side village of Luss. The main pedestrian-friendly street is lined with neat whitewashed cottages adorned with honeysuckle and rose arbors. A popular tourist spot, I took advantage of the samples of Highland shortbread and bought a decadent '99' ice cream cone complete with a flaky chocolate stick. After browsing in the Aladdin's den of tartan shops, I wandered towards St. Mackessog's church where a wedding party was posing for photographs. The groom and his entourage sported kilts and the bridesmaids carried posies of heather trimmed with tartan ribbon.
In the afternoon, we drove westwards to the Georgian town of Inveraray which is located near the head of Loch Fyne. One of Scotland's earliest planned towns, it was built by the Duke of Argyll in the mid 18th Century. Inveraray has a delightful holiday atmosphere. With gulls wheeling around the long pier, this is the perfect spot to tuck into some local fish and chips.
A most unusual visitor attraction is the Inveraray Jail which is a re-creation of a county prison. Inside the Georgian courthouse complete with circular pews, I was able to 'eavesdrop' on a trial as it would have taken place in the days of yore. The list of crimes and punishment were sobering: bigamy, suicide and theft meant severe punishment. In 1661, Jannet McNicoll was burned for the 'Abominable cryme of witchcraft'.Just a caber toss from the town is Inveraray Castle which welcomes visitors and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Its Gothic exterior is quite forbidding, but its magnificent interiors with French tapestries and impressive hall of armory are well worth a visit. That evening after returning to our hotel, I could see why Loch Lomond has long been immortalized in lyric verse and song. If YOU GO: British Airways flies from Vancouver to Glasgow connecting through the new Terminal 5 at London Heathrow. From Glasgow Airport, it takes just under an hour by road to reach Loch Lomond. http://www.visitbritain.com Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com PHOTOS by Hamish M. Jackson: 1. Hiking on the Island of Inchmurrin
2. Tarbet, Loch Lomond
3. Mountains of Loch Lomond
4. Inveraray Pier
5. Inveraray Jail
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