13 March 2010:
We had briefly visited Balloch, at the southern end of Loch Lomond, in July 2006, when we were in the process of organizing our move here. At the time, we didn’t do much more than have lunch at an Italian restaurant and walk around Balloch Castle. At the time, it seemed a bit touristic, so we hadn’t been back.
However, when the weather suddenly turned sunny (though still a bit chilly at night) this week, we began looking at an outdoor excursion. So this morning we decided it was time to give Balloch another look. It’s extremely convenient to take the train from Hyndland directly to Balloch, which is what we did. We arrived in time to catch an early afternoon one-hour boat tour that essentially ran up to to Inchmurrin (St Mirin's Island) and back. It was a bright day of mixed sun and cloud. There is still snow on the hills and low mountains around Glasgow, which lend drama to the views around the city. From the boat, Ben Lomond was particularly impressive, looming in the distance across the loch that is named after it: snow-covered, its peak in the clouds while the sun glinted off brightly off its lower slopes. From time to time, the pilot pointed out the castles and refurbed great houses along its southern shores. There were about twenty of us on the little tour boat, mostly fairly hardy souls up for the cold wind on the observation deck. We had difficulty sitting still and kept going up and down the stairs between the observation deck, where we were chilled and attacked by the wind, and the cabin, which was warm but where the view wasn't as good.
On returning, we set off for Loch Lomond Shores; along the way we discovered the Maid of the Loch, a 1950’s lake steamer with side paddle wheels, sitting at dock next to the public slipway. It’s open to the public while it’s being restored, so we spent some time traipsing about it. Actually, it’s a bit sad, some of the staterooms full of old TV sets and used books from jumble sale fund-raising efforts. The most interesting thing was the engine room, dominated by the enormous crankshaft that turns the paddle wheels.
After this, the Loch Lomond Shores and aquarium turned out to be a medium-sized shopping mall cum tourist trap. However, there was also a pretty decent Scottish-cuisine restaurant, the Kilted Skirlie, where we ate a late, leisurely lunch while admiring the stunning view of Ben Lomond, watching the late afternoon light change its appearance. I had a new dish for me: chicken Bonnie Prince Charlie: a chicken breast on top, and under it layers of snow peas, a cross section of baked apple, bits of turnip, with skirlie (an oatmeal stuffing) as the bottom, all drenched in a sauce of drambuie and slivered almonds. Nice!
Finally, we took a walk around sculpture park next to the shopping mall, made of paths winding through the trees connecting various pieces, varying from an outdoor video installation of waterfalls mounted in a wooden beam(?) to a field of blank reflective stainless steels “labels” mounted on little metal polls stuck in the ground. My favorite piece is a curving retaining wall made of local quartz (the artist had help from a local “waller”, that is, a person skilled in building traditional walls).
And at the end of the day’s Adventure, we simply walked down to the train station and got on the train to go back to Hyndland, tired but satisfied from a lovely late winter day, filled with the promise of Spring, soon to arrive.