A place where the lowlands and highlands meet, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is made up of rolling lowland landscapes, scenic lochs and dramatic mountains. The highland area is home to vast oak woodlands, secretive deer, soaring birds of prey and mischievous red squirrels.
Dotted amongst the famed scenery are a number of fascinating historic sites such as the tranquil ruins of Inchmahome Priory on an island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith, and Balloch Castle Country Park, which has hosted bands such as Oasis and R.E.M.
Here’s our pick of 5 of the best historic sites in Loch Lomond.
1. Dumbarton Castle
Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. Situated on a plug of volcanic basalt known as Dumbarton Rock which overlooks the town of Dumbarton, there is record of a settlement on the site as far back as the Iron Age. From the 5th to 9th centuries, the castle was the centre of the the independent Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde. In medieval Scotland, Dumbarton was an important castle, and is believed to be one of the places William Wallace was taken on the way to London after his capture. Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the castle in the summer of 1563. Though few buildings remain from the period, there is evidence of work on the site from the early 17th century.
The castle’s strategic importance declined after Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658; however, owing to threats posed by Jacobites and the French in the eighteenth century, new structures were added and the castle was garrisoned until World War Two. Little survives of the medieval castle. There is a 16th-century guard house. Most of what is visible today was built in the 18th century, including the Governor’s House. Today the castle is open daily during the summer season and from Saturday to Wednesday in the winter.
2. Overtoun House
Situated on a hill overlooking the River Clyde, Overtoun House was built between 1860 and 1863 for wealthy retired lawyer James White, who bought a farm there with the intention of building a mansion house. During World War Two it was used as a convalescent home for injured soldiers and locals, then later became a maternity hospital. A fire destroyed part of the house in 1948, but it remained a hospital until 1970, by which time many of the garden structures had been demolished.
In 1975, the British government used the house for its ‘Quality of Life Experiment’, and it was later used by a religious group and then a group called Youth with a Mission. Today, the category A listed building is home to a Christian centre, but is also open to the public. The walking trails around the house are particularly popular, as are the landscaped gardens.
3. Scottish Maritime Museum
The Scottish Maritime Museum is an industrial museum with a Collection Recognised as Nationally Significant to Scotland. Located at two sites in West Scotland in Irvine and Dumbarton, the museum focuses on Scotland’s shipbuilding heritage. In Dumbarton, the museum holds The Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank, which focuses on the naval architect William Denny Jr. and his company William Denny and Brothers of Dumbarton, amongst the most innovative shipbuilding companies in the world, responsible for ships such as the Cutty Sark, until they closed in 1963. Completed in 1883, the tank was the world’s first commercial example of a ship testing tank.
The site of the tank was re-opened as a museum in 1983 and retains many of its original features, such as the 100-metre-long tank and William Denny’s drawing office. Also on display are ship models and photographs. Visitors can also try their hand at smoothing and carving a real wax hull model.
4. Balloch Castle
First recognised as a country park in 1980, Balloch Castle forms a part of Loch Lomond’s only country park. It commands impressive views over its waters, spanning some 200 acres which include walled gardens, nature trails and guided walks. The park was first developed in the early 19th century by John Buchanan, a partner in the Glasgow Ship Bank.
The castle later served as the headquarters for the Countryside Ranger Service. The castle is now derelict, but is still a scenic attraction. Since the early 1990s, Balloch Castle Country Park has hosted many major music events such as gigs from Oasis and R.E.M., both of which attracted over 80,000 people to Loch Lomond.
5. Inchmahome Priory
Around 1238, a small community of Augustinian canons founded a priory on the largest of 3 islands in the Lake of Menteith in Scotland. Inchmahome Priory’s secluded island location offered the monks isolation from the world to worship God in peace, while also providing a sanctuary for royal visitors. In September 1547, English forces defeated the vast Scottish army at the Battle of Pinkie while trying to enforce Mary Queen of Scots’ marriage to Edward VI of England. Mary and her mother, Mary of Guise, were brought to Inchmahome for safety.
Monastic life at Inchmahome ended shortly after the 1560 Scottish Reformation. Stone was taken from the buildings to build on Inch Talla, and the chapter house became a family mausoleum for the Menteiths. From the 1800s, Inchmahome became a tourist attraction thanks to Sit Walter Scott’s writing and the railway nearby – the Loch of Inchmahome became the Lake of Menteith.Today, much of the cloister buildings at Inchmahome Priory are ruined although the chapter house, converted to a mausoleum in the 17th century, has survived. Visitors can admire the large collection of beautiful carved stones, including an effigy of Walter Stewart and Countess Mary in a loving embrace.