INVERSNAID and STRONACHLACHAR – THE PRESENT DAY
Some things never change and that is certainly true of the twelve miles of twisting road from Aberfoyle to Stronachlachar.. The marked passing places are an improvement although, in some cases, they are occupied by water-filled potholes of an unknown depth. What is most noticeable is the height to which the encroaching bracken and the coniferous trees have grown. This fact is particularly evident when climbing the long brae at Frenich. From this incline the shoulder of Ben Lomond used to be clearly visible, now the entire view is totally obscured by the height to which the trees have grown. The road itself, which even the 29-seater Bedford buses from Aberfoyle taking pupils and parents on the annual outing to far-flung places, such as Ayr or Edinburgh, found difficulty in navigating, now has to cope with the much larger tour buses en route to Inversnaid Hotel. In the immediate post-war years Glenton Tours conveyed passengers and luggage to and from the Hotel by launch across Loch Lomond from Tarbet – a seemingly more eminent solution than using buses which are basically totally unsuited to the narrow single track road from Aberfoyle.
Over almost 60 years the character of much of the Inversnaid-Stronachlachar area has changed. Apart from the hotel, now used as a hub by Lochs and Glens Tours, the former Inversnaid Lodge now doubles both as a B&B and as a venue for a photographic course and a new house, Corrie Bruach, built in a commanding position on the hillside below the Lodge, acts as an adjunct to the hotel.
It was always said that the focal point of any community was that there was a church and a schoolhouse. Sadly these two buildings no longer fulfil the function for which they were first built. The church is no longer in use having last been used for a baptism almost five years ago but whose use nowadays is as a bunk-house for weary travellers along the West Highland Way although, in fact, it is situated about a mile above the route of the Way along the side of Loch Lomond. The school, whose roll varied over the last twenty years between five and twenty pupils, eventually closed its doors in 2010 when Stirling Council decided that closure was the only option after the roll fell to two pupils, one head teacher and two other members of staff, with the cost of educating each pupil being about £30,000 each year or, as one newspaper reported, almost double the fees at Eton. Pupils would, in future, be sent to Aberfoyle primary School, more than 14 miles away.
This decline in pupil numbers mirrors the change in the use of many of the houses in the Glen Arklet-Stronachlachar area. Some houses are now permanent residences -but, with an older generation with no children of school age living there. Garrison Farm, which once boasted five children of school age, now doubles as staff accommodation for staff at Inversnaid Hotel, with the land now under the watchful eye of the RSPB – a far cry from the days of discovering cannonballs in the burn, or of practising shooting at tin cans with a .22 rifle whose barrel was so out of line that it would have been much easier to shoot round corners than try to hit these cans perched on top of a ‘dry stane dyke’. The school itself lies vacant with the possibility of it being used as a search and rescue base for the local volunteer team. The school house is now occupied by a former head teacher of the school with two of the neighbouring houses used as holiday homes, the third a permanent home similar to the smaller house beside Loch Arklet dam where commuting a considerable distance to work seems to be the order of the day, in one case to Balfron, the other to Bearsden. Our former home, Arklet House, is now let out having been converted into several individual residential flats. The house in the trees behind the bothy was formerly occupied by the headteacher and family of the local primary school, but is now up for sale at a price undreamt of some years ago!
There are, however, some positives which can be said about the Inversnaid area. The road leading from the crossroads, which used to provide a challenge to the most skilful driver or cyclist to avoid the potholes liberally sprinkled along its length, has been completely re-surfaced. Electricity from the National Grid is now available to all houses brought, firstly, by landline from Aberfoyle and then, later, by submarine cable across Loch Lomond from Loch Sloy. This connection to the National Grid also rendered redundant the power house on the banks of Loch Katrine and, therefore, solved the awkward situation which befell our own household one winter’s evening when a family from England arrived for an overnight stay, plugged in an electric blanket, switched on, and promptly blew the lights out in the house, unaware that the power supply was DC not AC!
Stronachlachar, to a slightly greater extent, exhibits similar characteristics to the Inversnaid area with respect to the change of use of many of the houses in the area. What were two semi-detached houses at the top of Stony Brae, one belonging to the gamekeeper, the other to one of the shepherds, have now been combined into one permanent home. Others, near the foot of the brae, are permanent homes, or are let out as holiday houses. Within the cluster of buildings centred on the area around the bothy, there have been significant changes. The bothy itself is no longer used for accommodation purposes and is looking rather sorry for itself; of the old wooden Post Office there is no sign, although it did last, as such, until the l990’s. The two buildings beside the Post Office have gone, destroyed in a fire which engulfed both buildings in 1997 or thereabouts. The dairy house is now used as the local office for Scottish Water. The bowling green, scene of many fierce sporting battles between councillors and the locals, has seen better days. The House and the Lodge, which together originally comprised the Hotel, have now been split into self-catering apartments, a far cry from the days of the whist drives, dances, retirement functions and other nefarious ongoings, not all necessarily confined to the committee room, then the largest room available for such functions.
Probably the only homes in the area which are directly connected to Scottish Water, the authority which currently owns the entire Loch Arklet – Loch Katrine catchment area, are what are known as Invergyle 1 and Invergyle 2, fomerly under Glasgow Corporation, known as the Superintendent’s house and that of his assistant, but now occupied by the Estates Co-ordinator and his assistant. However, undoubtedly the most pleasing addition to the entire area has been the complete redevelopment of the pier buildings to form the Pier Cafe, with the added attraction of a conservatory with excellent views down the Loch – a far cry from what was a rather cold and draughty waiting room. The proprietors of the cafe have also secured the fishing rights for Loch Katrine with eight boats with electric motors available for hire.
Over these almost 60 years the one constant factor in the story of Loch Katrine has been the presence of that grand old lady the ‘Sir Walter Scott’, which still sails serenely between Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar although, nowadays the complete round trip only occurs in the morning, with the afternoon sailing being a mini-cruise halfway up the loch and back again. Possibly, in view of her age, having been launched in 1900, she now has company in the form of the cruise launch ‘Lady of the Lake’. In spite of her advancing years she has recently been fitted out with a small, but comfortable, cabin in front of the bridge with facilities for dispensing tea/coffee, or soft drinks. Queen Salote would have approved!
Two other features of the area deserve to be mentioned. Firstly, the construction of a part lottery-funded community/forest initiative cycle track, originating for the first part in Aberfoyle and continuing along the length of Loch Arklet to Inversnaid above the level of the present road. I have to say that the need for such a track along Loch Arklet puzzles me somewhat in view of the distinct lack of traffic along this particular stretch of road.
One feature, currently under construction, and due for completion shortly, is the new Water Treatment Works situated near the head of Strony Brae with the ability, when completed, to supply up to 20 households in the area with pure drinking water, the supply being drawn in the first place from Loch Arklet. No doubt, in these days of rules and regulations, such a scheme is necessary, but again I recall that every fortnight a sample of water from Loch Katrine was taken in to the City Analyst’s office in Glasgow to be tested and, unfailingly, the report would come back as ‘water of the highest quality’.
Looking back over these last 60 years has proved to be an interesting experience – all the more so when I recall the episodes or incidents which, for reasons of diplomacy, are better left unsaid.
I am indebted to several people for their assistance in the writing of these notes amongst whom I thank Dr. Duncan Ferguson (our former next-door neighbour), Mrs. Margaret Neufeld (former Head Teacher at Inversnaid Primary and editor of the Strathard News), Mr. Stanley Grant (son of Tommy Grant) and his daughter, Mrs. Donna Cameron (by co-incidence my son’s next-door neighbour in Mearnskirk), Mr. Allan Fail (Estates Co-ordinator for Scottish Water at Stronachlachar and beyond) and Christina Rowe (Customer Services Officer, Scottish Water). To all of you – many thanks.