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Lochs and Glens - March 2011
By Jeanette Lemmon

Day Five

There was definitely a Scottish mist over the mountains this morning. They were shrouded in white gossamer. We had a late breakfast and didn’t have to be on the ferry until 10:30 a.m. I had time to use my computer before breakfast again.

The viewpoint at Inveruglas is where the boats leave for a cruise on Loch Lomond, so they are anchored in the small dock area where the ferry arrives from the hotel. When we left this morning, we headed down toward the southern end of Loch Lomond where the Maid of the Loch, the last paddle steamer made in Britain, is moored. It was used for cruises of the loch until the 1970s then turned into a restaurant. We passed the seat of the Colquhouns (Calhoons), which is now a golf course. As death duties take large portions of estates, the grand places are sold and the former occupants move to smaller homes, some even across the seas to North America. (I once interviewed the Chief of Clan Uruquart who lives in Florida.) The Duke of Montrose bought a Buchanan Castle that is now the Clan Graham headquarters. We saw many sheep in this lowlands area and passed the village where David McCallum, actor, grew up and also a home belonging to Derek Jacoby, actor. We drove through Gartocharn where the headquarters of Lochs and Glens is located.

Jim pointed out the hedgerows in this part of the country, something not seen in the highlands. We saw a sign for the Glengoyne Distillery as we continued on to Stirling. The grass was greener here. We could see the Wallace Monument on Abbey Crag as we approached Stirling Castle high on the hillside, looking dark and foreboding. You will remember that William Wallace defeated the forces of Edward I at Stirling Bridge in 1296. I could almost feel the weight of history upon me here. We drove on past Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce defeated the English in 1314, the monument visible from the motorway. I recalled being there in June 2000 and telling the story of the battle to others on the tour as we wandered around the battlefield. By the time they reached the Visitor Centre and saw the film about the battle, one of the men said, “That was a complete waste of time. Jeanette already told us all of this!”

To Jim the highlight of today, and the reason he had chosen this tour, was the Falkirk Wheel. We arrived just in time for a comfort stop before boarding the boat for a ride on the wheel. The Falkirk Wheel is a gem of Scottish engineering, replacing eleven locks which formerly took people from the Forth and Clyde Canal from Glasgow to the Union Canal to Edinburgh, a difference of 35 metres. It is the world’s only rotating boat lift and cost £17.5 million to build. The boat we were on was called the Antonine as the Union Canal goes through a tunnel under the hill where the Antonine Wall was built at Roughcastle by the Romans. The Glasgow to Edinburgh railway now runs above the tunnel. The boat pulls from the Forth and Clyde Canal into a huge “tray” which then rotates 180 degrees to the top – the top tray then moving to the bottom for the next boat – before lining up with the Union Canal. It takes just four minutes for the rotation which is smooth and hardly feels that you are moving.

The Forth and Clyde Canal closed in 1963, and the Union Canal, with two spectacular aqueducts, was an early casualty of the railway. Rowing and canoeing clubs built up along it, but it eventually had little traffic and was closed in 1965. The Millennium Link was proposed and the lottery gave money to restore the canals. Work was begun in 1999 and the Falkirk Wheel was opened in 2002. Everything except the centre turning axel was built in Britain. The axel/spindle was manufactured in France because we don’t have a foundry big enough anymore to build it! The Ochill Hills were visible in the distance from the top of the wheel, and on a clear day Ben Lomond can be seen. We had our spectacular ride then went into the café for paninis for lunch. The next group got on the boat for their ride and Jim rushed to the other side to photograph the journey.

After the Falkirk Wheel, we headed back into Stirling and were dropped off near the Tourist Information Centre. Some people chose to walk into the main streets, but Jim and I and eight or so others decided to walk up to the castle. It was definitely an uphill climb! We passed the Church of the Rood, where James VI was baptised and crowned as an infant. We walked around the outer castle grounds not wanting to pay to tour when we didn’t have a lot of time. We will come back another time and visit the museum of the Argyll and Southern Highlanders. We want to do some family research on Jim’s side anyway. We could look down over Stirling Bridge and the Wallace Monument on one side and onto the graveyard of the Church of the Rood on the other side. The history of this place! It seeps from every stone! When we left the castle grounds, we went into the Portcullis, a very atmospheric tavern with lighted fires, oak panelling and a welcoming host, for a quick drink then hurried back to the coach, the last on board, although Jim insisted we were three minutes early and the others just all very early! Jim says he wishes all of his tourists were so punctual!

On the way back to the hotel, I noticed the fir trees straight and tall on the lower mountain slopes. They reminded me of a flame-stitched tapestry in varying shades of green, the lightest green on the tips. We took the coach to Aberfoyle tonight and onto The Motorway with its narrow, twisting and potholed road. We would need the coach available in the morning for loading the bags as this was the last night of our holiday. We had an early dinner then went to our room. A piper and dancers were entertaining tonight, and I’m sure they were good, but we fell asleep and didn’t wake until morning!

Here's how the Falkirk Wheel works...

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