It’s pretty much self-evident that when you get an attraction that attracts lots of visitors, the ‘infrastructure’ follows on - whether that takes the form of car parks, information boards, interpretation centres, cafes or accommodation. And it’s true the world over.
Take that day in 1803, for instance when three travellers went exploring the Trossachs. They came by boat up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid, walked uphill and eastwards past Loch Arklet, in those days small and reedy. They then went round the west end of Loch Katrine, also then much lower than it is today. They were impressed enough - long story short - to get a boatman to row them up the loch to the east.
One of the three was a bit of a difficult character - moody, drank a lot - so that the two, who were brother and sister, were actually quite pleased he decided it would be too cold on the open boat. He walked round the north side of the loch.
The Romantic threesome mentioned in the text had come from Loch Lomond. They walked up to the west end of Loch Katrine and down as far as a wee house called Portnellan, opposite Stronachlachar. Then they took a boat the rest of the way eastwards down Loch Katrine. And very nice it was too...
In spite of the rough terrain he got to the end of Loch Katrine first, where he found some crude shelters. These had been built on the instructions of the then landowner, Lady Drummond, specifically for tourists.
Trossachs Tourism infrastruture - huts with bracken
At the beginning of the 19th century, rough wooden huts, some say roofed with bracken, passed for tourism infrastructure for any adventurous types who made it this far into what was already called The Trossachs. (Most of the visitors came from Callander, ie from the east, which was why this particular three visitors some were being adventurous. They had come down Loch Katrine from the west.)
Anyway, our visitor sheltered in a hut, and waited for the boat bringing the other two. They duly arrived and he greeted them ‘with a shout of triumph from the door...exulting in the glories of Scotland’.
That quote is from the journal kept by Dorothy Wordsworth, for she with her famous romantic poet brother William were in the boat. (You probably had guessed by now.) Their moody and possibly drug-addled companion was the not-quite-so-famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge - who, at that time, plainly worshipped William. (They fell out later!)
Today, you sometimes even see a genuine Highland piper serenading you as you get on the steamship at the Trossachs Pier. This one was collecting for a good cause.
Beds at a premium in 19th century tourism
But here’s the thing. The poets were already part of a tourist trend. Seven years later the shores of Loch Katrine were even more thronged with visitors, who came to follow Sir Walter Scott’s Trossachs-rooted narrative as told in ‘The Lady of the Lake’. Infrastructure couldn’t keep up. (Think Isle of Skye today!) At the few inns in the vicinity, you had to share a bed with goodness-knows-who back then - if you could get one. Even Skye hasn’t quite got to this stage yet.
Gradually, better roads and means of transport followed on in the wider Trossachs area, as did cruises on Loch Katrine, and the railway to Callander and also Aberfoyle (both stations now sadly gone). And the landscape itself changed a little as Katrine’s level was raised more than once when it became Glasgow’s water supply.
Likewise the rough path that once led from the east through the crags to the shore became a motorable road with a carpark, pier and everything you’d expect from a popular tourist spot.
But what didn’t change after the rough huts disintegrated was that there was nowhere for visitors to stay right in the very heart of the Trossachs. Sure, there was accommodation in plenty at the ‘gateways’ such as Callander and Aberfoyle, and also the still nearer Brig o Turk, and a little further afield, say, at Inversnaid.
But nobody could actually stay overnight more or less in the exact historic location where those Romantics had stood more than two centuries ago. That is, not until now.
Loch Katrine Lodges. Picture taken almost at the water's edge in late spring. (Yes, it was late in 2018.)
Loch Katrine Eco-Lodges - a new perspective
Loch Katrine Lodges are a new for 2018 venture, with ‘eco-pods’, camping spaces and electrical hookups for campervans. The rationale is all about low-environmental-impact accommodation. The fact that the little lodges look a bit cool and exclusive is almost accidental. Dorothy Wordsworth would have loved one.
They are open all year and offer stays on a per night basis - so they are flexible and should appeal both to central belt Scots looking for a quick get-away-from-it-all break and visitors from further afield who want more than a hurried glimpse of this historic setting.
Plenty to see and do in the Trossachs
The Great Trossachs Forest path runs past the front door, there are bikes to hire round the corner on the main car park, the SS Sir Walter Scott is moored opposite and you are also in a National Nature Reserve.
This is Loch Venachar, slightly tamer than Loch Katrine and lying to the east of it. These days, all around the Trossachs there is a network of waymarked paths and trails. Another reason to make the Loch Katrine Lodges your base. This particular track starts from the Glen Finglas Visitor Centre and swings up to Glen Finglas itself. Below the dam is a site associated with the critic Ruskin and how the painter Millais ran off with his wife. Oooh, scandal in the Trossachs.
You’re also only a few minutes by car from the nearest supermarkets (Callander), just in case you thought you'd be roughing it. Actually, you will be if you buy any meals that require an oven - the lodges have a microwave only. But no matter, if you have a hankering for a fry-up, then you can even get breakfast at the Steamship Cafe in the carpark.
We should disclose that we were guests of Loch Katrine Lodges - our overall impression is that, both in terms of the location and by the standard of the facilities, this venture is going to prove very popular. Worth a look for a new perspective on the Trossachs.
Visiting the family, resident in Glasgow, three generations of us, including small grand-child, went to try out the Platform at Argyle Street Arches in the city. This complex is housed in the arched substructures supporting the railway station above. You enter directly off the Hielandman’s Umbrella. That is the name of the bridge over Argyle Street formed by the railway tracks and platforms of Central Station crossing the road at right angles.
What lies above the Hielandman's Umbrella: basically, Glasgow's Central Station.,
The Hielandman’s - Highlander’s - Umbrella got its name long ago as the Highland folk who came to find work in Glasgow gathered there by custom, to keep up socially, as this was before the invention of Facebook groups. You can also deduce that it also rains quite a lot in Glasgow.
Under the Hielandman's Umbrella
The Arches was a nightclub and theatre venue (the former subsidising the latter). For some years, it was considered cutting edge, leading light, at forefront of club, gig, theatre scene - but ran foul of Licensing Authorities. Doesn’t matter why. Now it’s gone.
Anyhoo, at time of writing, March 2018, in keeping with Glasgow’s entrepreneurial spirit, the cavernous, rambling, atmospheric space had just become a venue for street food. Not just any old junky food but fare produced by ethical traders who adhere to Scotland’s Food Charter for Events (who knew?).
That means it’s locally and sustainably sourced, free range, fair trade and probably doesn’t harm dolphins or accidentally maim albatrosses either. In short, it’s aimed at middle-class families.
Funky lighting - maybe echoing its former club/disco days - at Platform under the Arches. A quiet Sunday afternoon in Glasgow.
In downtown Glasgow
So the family decided it was a jolly enough way to spend an afternoon in downtown Glasgow. We easily found seats, chose from the outlets and brought our food to the tables, with the wee one playing in the thoughtfully supplied kids toys section (aka 'play area'.)
So far, so family friendly. If you were visiting Glasgow and just wanted to refuel without fuss, this place would be entirely suitable.
At time of writing it’s a venue that opens Friday to Sunday.
I was ahead of the others on leaving and the (typically Glasgow friendly) doorman, with a smile on his face, made a comment about maybe delaying my departure.
At the same time there was shouting in the street. Something was going on...
I said I’d go outside to take a look, just for the entertainment value - I mean, Glasgow is famous for its friendly banter, ‘crack’, repartee and so on.
Meanwhile out on the mean streets...
A choice of food stalls under the Arches.
That same afternoon, two of Glasgow’s famous football teams, called Rangers and Celtic, had been playing each other - a local ‘derby’.
All that I was hearing was the aftermath of the game, spilling out on to the streets of the city. (Incidentally, no idea who won that day. Couldn’t care less, as a matter of fact.)
Across the street, there were men milling around. Most of the noise was coming from just a few individuals, howling invective at each other. Police vans were arriving, blue-lights glinting off shop windows, high-viz jackets beginning to dot the street.
Anyone having a quiet coffee or beer in the seated area at the front of the Radisson Blu Hotel just along the road must have been greatly entertained.
The hate-fuelled, foul-mouthed rants echoed in the busy pavement beneath the bridge, but started to subside as the police made their presence felt.
Finally, there was only one voice, obscenities at full volume, directed to some other dispersing group further along the pavement.
A young man standing next to me shook his head and murmured ‘Aye, only in Glasgow…’.
At this point, the noisiest of the humanoids was dragged away, cursing and resisting, while round the corner in Hope Street, a pool of pond-life still looked threatening. It was a Sunday afternoon. Just a typical downtown scene after an ‘Auld Firm’ game.
Seedbed for sectarianism
The Old Firm or Auld Firm is the name given collectively to the two Glasgow football teams who act as repository and seed-bed for the traditional sectarian hatred (mostly, but not exclusively) of the west of Scotland, now that nobody much actually goes to church. In simple terms, Rangers represent Protestant while Celtic, Catholic factions. Religion, eh? 'Rolls eyes'.
The ‘Auld Firm’ also dominates the game of football as it is played in Scotland. According to the University of Strathclyde, the two teams’ frequent encounters generate the equivalent of $170 million for the Scottish economy. Personally, I'm staggered. I hope that figure covers the police overtime bill. (See this objective Al Jezeera account. That's where I got the figure from.)
Maybe this also explains why unsettling post-match scenes are just part of the landscape hereabouts (I almost wrote ‘culture’.) Right in the centre of Glasgow.
People make Glasgow, apparently
Anyway, I went back inside, past the grinning doorman, picked up the family and said we should go back to the car now. They asked where I’d been. I told them I’d just been enjoying the ambience of the friendly and vibrant city.
After all, ‘People Make Glasgow’. All sorts of people...
For further information on one group that is fighting sectarianism in Scotland see Nil By Mouth.