The Angry Corrie 55: Oct-Nov 2002


Shore thing? (The new Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park)

The new Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park - Scotland's first - is open for business. The deed was officially done on 24 July, overseen by a middle-ranking royal and the usual batch of pleased-with-themselves dignitaries. And "open for business" is very much the key phrase, as the press coverage (eg Stirling Observer, 5 July) enthused about the new Lomondshores shopping complex being "the jewel in the crown" of the park. Perkin Warbeck, a man who rarely strays beyond the park's boundaries for his hill action, went along for a look...

I once went to Lake Tahoe. It was fantastic. In all the postcards they had pictures of this place called Fallen Leaf Lake. It looked even better than Tahoe. We went there ... and the road was lined with Keep Out signs. Could hardly get out of the car for fear of second-amendment types. You could see how Woody Guthrie came to write those lines:

Was a great high wall there that tried to stop me,
Was a great big sign there, said "Private Property",
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

So since we don't in general have the signs and attitudes that disfigure the USA, maybe we don't actually need the national parks to guarantee our access to wild areas. My instinct would be to go along with the position that "our entire country is a national park". Anyhow, it's here regardless. And it's not Hampden.

But I digress. There is not much new to be said about the national park itself because we all go there already and very nice it is too. What's new is the legislation and the "Gateway" to the park - or lomondshores.com, if you will.

There may well be some sort of party line on developments such as this. Those who quote Percy Unna on "there must be no visitor centres" will doubtless be agin it, but that is not my own instinct. There are several good things about the visitor centre. It is at the end of the dual carriageway, so will not add to the terrible congestion that plagues the A82 north of Balloch. Had they sited it north of Balloch then the traffic for Lomondshores, Duck Bay and Cameron House, plus that heading for the mad peroxide kiltie's place at Luss (aka the Coach House Coffee Shop - Ed.) would potentially cause a death per year from road rage. (In passing, have any TAC readers been to the peroxide boy's place? He ponces about in a kilt and dancing pumps carrying a broadsword and makes C J Taylor look introspective and self-effacing.)

So, macroscopically, the siting of the centre is good: no extra 4x4s on the main road north. Microscopically it's good, too. The wee bay it sits in is picturesque and the view of Ben Lomond from the first floor terrace is rather fetching. My usual watering hole on the way south, the Inverbeg, offers no such vista.

Then we have the building and landscaping. This all seems excellent. The main building has a spiral walkway round the outside offering 360° views and the aforementioned terrace. Presumably the "lookout" which I declined to enter due to two quid being required must provide one of the best views around.

By this stage you can all hear a "but..." coming - and unfortunately there is one. Lomondshores just seems to be a chance wasted. "Gateway to the national park" is the boast, and this one would take to mean more than just that it sits at one of the ends. I was looking for some sort of guide to the varied pleasures offered by this vast area. Let's take mountain biking. A couple of folk at my work have sought my expertise in this matter, and I have offered what help I can, eg "The Ardgartan circuit would be fantastic if they would but finish it. Sadly it involves either an impassable axle-deep bog or a 100ft vertical climb carrying the bike."

(For those who are interested, Grant Urquhart the cycling radiologist has now done the latter ascent, but it sounds a bit hairy to me. How sweet it would have been to say to my questioners, "Go to Lomondshores. They have all sorts of maps and leaflets and a website." Sadly what they do have is one guided cycle route which sounds like it's designed for Poucher's ordinary pedestrian. It goes round Balloch Castle: not exactly the Mammoth Mountain Downhill.)

So to come down to the prosaic, here is what we have:

Main building
Very nice. Spacious airy, good views. Bar with only two taps, and the lager was off the day we visited, leaving only cider.

Cafe/restaurant
Was a bit CFR. CFR in my house means "closed for refurbishment". The original quote is a literal one deriving from some hotel in Argyll, but has come to take on a symbolic meaning implying all that is wrong with service in Scottish tourism. At TAC's ten-year bash at Laggan, for instance, there was only one hotel in the town. TAC's solicitor won't let me name it, but there was only one, and it was symbolically CFR. The café bar at Lomondshores was likewise symbolically CFR. We inquired about eating. There were no menus. We hung about drinking (as one does) then went down to see if the menus had arrived. One was shoved into my hands. I had just enough time to see there was no veggie starter unless you wanted soup on the hottest day of summer, before being asked "so are you eating then?" in just a slightly schoolmarmish tone. That was the second week of opening, so let's hope it was just teething.

Trinket selling
Loads of it.

Audiovisuals
A couple that didn't sound all that exciting. One about the song - the high road and low road one - the other about the loch. At least Moira Kerr didn't feature. Widescreen, but not IMAX as sometimes reported.

Info centre
Just a jumped-up version of the usual. Couple of computer presentations, nothing spectacular. Singular lack of info for TAC types. No real advice for walking, mountain biking, sailing. No imagination in terms of maps. They would flog you sheet 56, obviously, but I was looking for something a wee bit more - maybe interactive, maybe relief. Why not a giant version of the national park like the Blue Peter train-set version of the Matterhorn? Video flythroughs - you know the sort of thing I crave. They had 60 million quid to spend, after all.

Shopping centre
Jenners - need I say more?

None of this may bother TAC types. We don't exactly want anyone else on the A82 or the Cobbler, do we? So the fact that Lomondshores forms a national park buffer rather than a gateway might be the selfish person's choice. On the other hand it does rankle to see £60 million of our money spent without quite icing the cake and adding the cherry.

One great thing about the national park would be if they did something about the speedboats and jetskiers on the loch. One can be at the top of Ben Lomond and still hear their infernal two-strokes. I did download the "navigational instructions" from the park website, but sadly there was no sign of any draconian change. It read a bit like the rules of golf, actually, eg "3.7(1)(a) Within 150 metres off all shores, both mainland and island, the distance to be measured at right angles from the water's edge; (b) (i) The whole area of water to the east of an imaginary line drawn from Ross Priory to Balmaha Pier." Shades of "drop a ball anywhere along a line behind the direct hazard, defined by yellow stakes or lines, keeping the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line with the pin on the green."

Park Gateway details from www.lomondshores.com

Other related sites include:

www.incallander.co.uk/mainmap.htm
www.btinternet.com/~alireid1
www.loch-lomond.net/images/Loch_Images_Vol2

"Jock the Giraffe" and "Luss Espresso" can be bought from the Coach House Coffee Shop:

www.lochlomondtrading.com

Ed. - The dread word "heritage" will no doubt be writ large in the Lomondshores blurb, and an interesting use of the term was spotted in August on the banks of Windermere in the Albion Ponds National Park. There are plans to introduce a 10mph speed limit in a couple of years' time, and the jetskiers and speedboatists were holding a pondshore protest rally with banners reading "Save Windermere's Heritage". Hmm ... diesel fumes, endless noise and distressed swimmers equals heritage? Next we'll be getting the MOD holding a Gare Loch Heritage Day at Faslane.


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