Accessible Glens

Many great minds have conjured the unique serenity of Scottish landscape into words, and few forms have been so cherished as the curving valleys of Scottish glens. Glens – essentially valleys – have an eminently explorable nature, luring the casual wanderer in with glimpses of steep hill, rough pasture and sparkling watercourses. As you amble further in, the hillsides rise up to encompass you. Sounds of the road and street are left behind, and all becomes silent but for the wind and birdsong, and the effervescence bubbling of water pouring over peat and schist. Glens form unique environments, cupping a range of habitats protectively within their bounds, and can offer a peaceful, timeless quality that suggests little has changed over generations.

“Our silent love wanders in Glen Fruin with butterflies and cuckoos –
bring me the drowsy country thing! Let it drift above the traffic
by the open window with a cloud of witnesses –
a sparkling burn, white lambs, the blaze of gorse,
the cuckoos calling madly, the real white clouds over us,
white butterflies about your hand in the short hot grass…”
– Edwin Morgan

There are some magnificent glens in Scotland, with Glen Coe being the most expansive and recognisable, often deservedly featuring in global lists of Top Ten Views. It’s often overrun with the ubiquitous tourists gaggles though (typically huddled around a bagpiping busker) and is difficult to enjoy without a car, so to get a real sense of wilderness many of the smaller, quieter, more accessible glens are worth a visit. My favourite glens are far closer to home, many of which are in and around the Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Each glen has its own distinct character, and you are almost always guaranteed an interesting sight or two.

Glen Fruin

My “local” Glen, is north of Helensburgh and just ten minutes from home for me. It is a single track road that runs parallel to the A817. It’s quite small, easily walked or cycled, and is a terrific place for sighting buzzard, kestrel, curlew and hen harrier. There are often deer here too in the evenings, and a group of peacocks have established their home close to a small cottage toward the western end – always a fun thing to see perched on the roadside fencing.

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Looking down into Glen Fruin and the Arrochar Alps on the horizon

There are almost always hares as well as cuckoos here in Spring time – the one that I recorded below was being harassed by meadow pipits, and no wonder: cuckoos will lay their eggs in pipit nests.

Walking the length of the glen would take between 2 and 3 hours, and for a modest height gain, you achieve some excellent views of nearby mountains including the Arrochar Alps and the Glen Luss Grahams. Glen Fruin is easily accessible by public transport, with the half-hourly 316 bus to Faslane linking nicely with trains from Glasgow at Helensburgh Railway Station –  I highly recommend starting from the west, and finishing at the Fruin Farm for cake afterwards, before catching the 306 bus at Arden and returning to Helensburgh.

Glen FinglasClick for map

Reached from Aberfoyle over the stunning Duke’s Pass road, or from Callander along the shore of Loch Venachar, this glen is nestled North of Brig O’Turk and less within The Woodland Trust’s Great Trossachs Forest, a vast area of regeneration. The start point is at Brig O’Turk, which is accessible via the excellent Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) system. A car or minibus can be pre-booked to take you to your destination within The Trossachs area, and only costs the same as an equivalent bus fare – this is a great way of getting around some of the more remote areas of the National Park.

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Marker on the Mell Trail path

There’s an excellent Welcome Centre with great activities for small kids, and an abundance of waymarked tracks offering walks to suit all tastes. My favourite track beside Glen Finglas Reservoir, the Mell Trail, leads to an all-day circular around the small mountain of Meall Call, and here the encompassing nature of the glen, with it’s high hillsides, makes it feel like another world. On my last visit in Spring, huge numbers of meadow pipits were performing their parachuting display from the sky, trilling as they descended slowly on wide-spread wings.

 

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A great spot for a seat. The Glen Finglas reservoir and the flank of Meall Call.

Glen Loin – Click for map

This is another glen that offers an all-day circular walk through a variety of interesting terrain, and starts at the foot of Loch Long at Arrochar. Easily reachable by train or bus from Glasgow in a little over an hour. I’ve blogged about walking this loop previously, and it gives a pleasant day’s walking over relatively easy terrain.

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The Glen Loin Loop is an interesting, varied, and well-signposted trail that passes through woodland, moor, skirts the sides of impressive craggy mountains such as Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich, and offers stunning views south east toward lochs and mountains of the Trossachs.

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Views of distant Loch Arklet and Ben Venue

This glen has proven to be an excellent place to spot wildlife, especially insects. In summer there are many dragonflies on the lower part of the route, such as the gold-ringed dragonfly below. I’ve often spotted deer, as well as peregrine and buzzard above the crags of Ben Vane.

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Gold-ringed dragonfly

Glen Ample

Glen Ample is perhaps my favourite glen to explore. The “entrance” can be found alongside Loch Lubnaig in The Trossachs, six mile north west from Callander. Public transport is limited here, so again the Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) described above is perfect for arranging a pick up and drop off at either end of the glen.

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Offering a linear north-south route between Loch Lubnaig and Loch Earn, this glen is far more enjoyable when some height is gained, either by climbing Beinn Each to the east or Sgiath a’ Chaise to the west. A wide expanse of The Trossachs becomes visible, and iconic Scottish mountains such as Schiehallion and Ben Lawers can be seen.

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Me on the way to the Sgiath a’Chaise summit

The glen is rich in wildlife, and on one trip I have watched red deer stags, kestrels, buzzard, raven, black grouse and red kites soaring. Parts of the Channel 5 series Loch Lomond: A Year in the Wild were filmed here, and the red deer population that thrives on these hillsides was featured. Every Spring I enjoy going up to the Sgiath a’Chaise hillside to scour the moor for cast antlers, and I’ve not failed to find some yet!

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A good haul of cast red deer antlers from Glen Ample

That’s four of my favourite smaller glens in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park – have I missed your favourite? What is your favourite must-see glen?

Let me know 🙂

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