Balquhidder and Loch Voil

Have I mentioned how much I love the Trossachs National Park before? What gave it away? Was it the many posts I’ve written about my love for Loch Katrine? And Loch Lomond too?

Instead of stuffing my face with Easter eggs this weekend (that was definitely plan B), I was visited by two of my aunts, Sheila and Fiona. Since my aunt Helen tagged along on my grandparents cruise of the UK, it means my full set of aunts have now come to see me in Scotland (N.B. I don’t expect to see any of my uncles any time soon…).

The weather was rotten but we didn’t let it stop us going on a little drive out of Stirling and into the Trossachs. I was just happy to get my camera out again after such an intense six semester. Sheila suggested we drive out to Balquhidder to visit Rob Roy’s grave as she had been on a Buddhist retreat around Loch Voil at Dhanakosa some years ago and thought it would be nice to visit again.

I’m always game for visiting somewhere new, particularly when it has historic significance (check) and a beautiful setting (double check). I think Balquhidder might also be one of the most Scottish place names I’ve ever heard (second only to Auchtermuchty). It was a little under an hour’s drive from Stirling though, and we made good time despite the rain.

Parking up beside up beside the church, we got out and stretched our legs. The original church lies just beside the comparatively newer building but as that one didn’t have a roof, we opted for the the latter to get a little respite from the weather.

Pardon the rain-splattered lens but churches just look so much better in black and white, don’t you think?

At the back of the church, there was a ‘Friendship Room’ explaining the history of the area, the most notable of which, of course, is Rob Roy. There is a wall of surnames for checking if you’re distantly related to the man himself (which, disappointingly, I am not. I suppose I’ll just have to keep searching for another outlaw ancestor!) but away from the hype, there was also a lot of information on the history that came well before the 1600s.

Balquhidder was described as a ‘thin place’ by the Celts, an area where the line between heaven and earth is weak. While this tends to mean the area is very spiritual and numinous, the descriptions explained that Balquhidder is therefore also subject to visits from fairies, sprites, and fauns. A long time ago, a minister of the church wrote the following in his book, ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies’:

There Be manie places called Fayrie hills, which the mountain people think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking earth or wood from them; superstitiously believing the souls of their predecessors to dwell yr. And for that end (say they) a Mote or Mound was dedicated beside everie Church-yard, to receave the souls, till their adjacent Bodies arise, and so became as a Fayrie-hill. They using bodies of air when called abroad.

I don’t believe in spirits but researching this kind of topic makes me desperately want to reread Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I might have to settle for rewatching the BBC miniseries.

Back outside in the wet, we didn’t happen upon any fairy hills, but we did find Rob Roy’s grave, and the graves of his wife and two sons.

Rob Roy MacGregor, made famous by Sir Walter Scott, was essentially the Scottish Robin Hood. At 18 years old he joined the Jacobite Rising to support Bonnie Prince Charlie. By the time the 1717 Indemnity Act came about which pardoned everyone involved in the uprisings, Rob Roy and all of Clan MacGregor were excluded from the benefits. He was badly injured in a battle not long after that and kept a low profile as a cattle farmer for a while.

Unfortunately, cattle rustling was good money back then so when his chief herder disappeared, Rob was left with no money or cattle and, forced to default on his loans, was branded an outlaw. The financial wording makes it sound like things were quite civilised back then, so to balance things out, the town also exiled Rob Roy and his family and burnt their house down.

Understandably outraged, Rob Roy swore a personal vendetta against his main creditor and waged a blood feud against him, that eventually landed him in jail. He spent five years imprisoned before being pardoned (a remarkably short sentence for multiple homicides!) and then died a few years after that. What a rollercoaster.

Finishing our historical expedition, we took a walk to the burn that flows out into the loch.

Sheila knew of a nearby hotel, the Monachyle Mhor Hotel, where we could stop for lunch and get out of the rain properly. We clambered back into the car and drove down a thin road to the other end of the loch, passing by some gorgeous woods blanketed in moss.

Inside we dried off and grabbed some lunch, although there was a limited selection on the menu for us vegetarians of the group. The rain really didn’t want to let up in the slightest so we unfortunately didn’t get to go on any quick hikes around the area but it was nice to be dry and catch up properly!

I fell in love with this amazing light fixture. Every sheet of paper was written in a different language.

K-K-K-Katy is an old war time song and has been in my head ever since I looked it up on YouTube. It’s a real earworm. I really seem to have developed a soft spot for music from that era lately.

I would have spent a lot longer studying it were it not for the fact that I was standing in the path of every every staff member and patron of the hotel’s restaurant.

On our return to Stirling, we briefly met Amoghavira from Dhanakosa who was taking a walk and kindly stopped us from reversing into the loch when we had to make room for another car coming from the opposite direction. He’s an excellent photographer so I highly recommend you check out his work!

As usual for any person who visits me at Stirling, I navigated us back to the Allanwater Brewhouse, which remains one of my favourite places in the area despite the fact that the secret has well and truly got out about how fantastic it is (probably thanks to me given that I hardly ever shut up about it!). We were very fortunate to also snag a table at the Westerton Arms on such a busy weekend and the food was delicious. A massive thank you to my aunts for visiting and treating me this Easter!

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