Luss, Arrochar & Helensburgh a Wintry Wander

On a wintry 19th March, 30 intrepid Blue Badge Tourist Guides, were rewarded with stunning views of snow-capped mountains and foam-tipped waves on sea and lochs on a study day of Luss, Arrochar and Helensburgh.

This Year of Natural Scotland inspired a closer look at communities in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Scotland’s first national park.

Starting at the Loch Lomondside village of Luss, a popular shortstop for visitors, the group were firstly, guided by charismatic local minister Dane Sherrard. Dane amused the group with the story of Saint Kessog, a holy man who worked around Luss for ten years, whilst visiting the parish church, which bears the saint’s name. Kessog’s martyrdom at the hands of druids in 520AD transformed Luss into a place of pilgrimage, gaining the attention of King Robert the Bruce. The saint’s crozier was taken into battle by the Scots army in the most famous of all the battles of the Wars of Independence, Bannockburn, whose 700th anniversary will be celebrated next year.

Today, 1500 years after St Kessog’s time, pilgrimage has been re-established at Luss after its designation as Scotland’s first Green Pilgrimage place. In this way Luss joins Jerusalem, Shaanxi, Mecca and Amritsar in the Green Pilgrimage Network, a collaboration between WWF International and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

Warmed by Dane’s enthusiasm the group explored the pilgrimage pathways around the Glebe. The Pilgrimage Centre has meeting places with videos and information about St Kessog; a working 1820 Armstrong handloom loom turning out MacKessog tartans and a high-tech church from where the weekly services are relayed to the whole world. The church is popular for weddings and relatives unable to travel can view the ceremony with the help of the technology.

Luss was the traditional burial place of Clan Macfarlane, connecting the village to Arrochar, where the ruined Macfarlane church was next for a visit. The ruin is adjacent to the present parish church, which was saved from demolition by community action, inspiring the establishment of a new community hall for the villages of Tarbert, Arrochar and Succoth.

The group was hauled away from the superb views across Loch Long to The Cobbler to discover the “haul road” through Glen Fruin. Built as a supply route to the naval base at HMNB Clyde at Faslane (HMS Neptune), this road offers panoramic views to Gare Loch and the Arrochar Alps whilst bringing you closer to the site of the bloody Battle of Glen Fruin of 1603 between the Colquhouns and the MacGregors.

Onward to Helensburgh, an uphill tour revealed impressive, exclusive villas, built for wealthy Glasgow industrialists of the 19th century, many of which were designed by former town resident William Lieper. At the top of the hill, the pinnacle: Hill House, ‘a visually arresting mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japonisme architecture and design’ designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for the publisher Walter Blackie.

An inspirational day, part of our Continuing Professional Development as tourist guides and members of STGA, was completed by closing the loop back to Loch Lomond. Guides from Stornoway, St Andrews, Peebles, Troon and points in between, took part.

Grateful thanks to blog contributors: Janet Bulloch, Maggie Anderson and Marion Maudsley. Photographs: Kathleen Cameron & Marion Maudsley.