5 May 2010

A drive through Balquhidder Glen

The first time I drove through Balquhidder Glen, I was in a desperate state. It was nearly four years ago, when I felt my life was built around me like a house with no doors or windows.

I spent a week doing yoga and meditation at the Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat Centre, eating good food and going for long walks during my free time. One morning at dawn I awoke before anyone else and made my way down to the shore of Loch Voil, where I swam in the eerie silence through the rising mist.
Ever since then I associate this glen with a feeling of calm, and have always wanted to spend another week hiking and camping in the area.

The name Balquhidder comes from the Gaelic meaning “distant farm,” and would also make an unforgettable Scrabble move. Wrapped up within The Trossachs National Park, the route through the glen features a single track road that winds alongside farmland before cutting along the edge of Loch Voil.
Like many of Scotland’s more accessible beauty spots, Balquhidder Glen can be a mix of opposites, as families enjoy simple picnics next to the loch, and other wealthy visitors drive by in their high priced cars.

Down the road from the humble Buddhist centre is the cute-as-a-button pink Monachyle Mhor Hotel, which has become renowned for serving high quality, local produce.
There are sheep everywhere, feeding in nearby fields or trundling along next to the road. During the busy tourist season, it can be a test of drivers’ skills to manoeuvre their cars into the small passing places in order to avoid oncoming vehicles.

The trees in this glen are like something out of a fairy tale. The branches curve and bend like a witch’s taunting fingers, while down by the loch their gnarled roots dangle over the edges of the banks, creating pockets of comfort and warmth for small animals.
Spring has begun to take hold, with the blush of new grass showing on the hillsides and the fists of tiny leaves bursting from the trees. By the height of summer, the fields and mountains will have succumbed to an extravagant lushness, and the entire valley will seem to glow with green.
Balquhidder Glen is a lovely place for an afternoon drive, but ideally it is somewhere to stay for several days at least, in order to walk around the hills and see the place as it was meant to be seen, away from the influence of human habitation. Up high in the quiet, which is how Rob Roy Macgregor would have seen it.

Rob Roy would have known this part of the country very well, and his grave in the churchyard at Balquhidder is one of the area’s most visited sites. But Macgregor warrants his own post, and I have more than 500 pages to go before he is due to appear in Scotland: Story of a Nation, so you will have to be patient.

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