I must confess that I am not built for climbing mountains, looking at them incredulously yes but much more than that, very definitely not! My husband on the other hand is part mountain goat and likes nothing more than climbing so he read the National Trust for Scotland Munro Bagging article with interest periodically murmuring "climbed that one".
Balquidder is just 20 minutes away from the Arrochar Alps and some great climbing, we'd recommend the Village Inn for supper on your way home. For an easier climb, Ben Lomond is 35 miles away (roughly an hour) so a day trip but there's plenty to do on the way there or back which I'll cover in another post.
As I stood on the steps of Balquidder with my hand raised to ring the bell after a 7 hour drive north to see the property before closing date, I turned and looked across the loch and knew that we were going to buy the house.
A change in posting prospects for J meant we needed to let the house out and speed up the work Balquidder needed doing. Have prioritised the work and found a reliable builder - he started on the roof and worked his way down .....
The drive was so narrow that you couldn't turn a car around (I may have got stuck and had to be towed out of our own front garden) so J turned to and dug out a turning area and a parking section. He shifted a total 30 tons of grass, hardcore and gravel mostly by himself with a little help from E.
One of the big jobs J had to tackle was the rear garden, it was very overgrown with not much light being allowed into it so he took down the off shoots and saplings and we're going to see what comes up over the next few years.
Someone many years ago loved the garden, we keep finding all sorts of things like brick built flower beds, a bench set in a sheltered spot that once upon a time had a fantastic view over the loch
A labour of love and we've barely scratched the surface.
Not exactly, more a whole six inches worth but fresh powdery snow nonetheless and only the third time in 6 years there's been enough to sledge on
It's rare to get enough snow down at sea level here to attempt a snowman never mind sledging but if you know where to go in the right weather then it's pretty much guaranteed
We headed up on to a section of the Three Lochs Way that we knew was high enough to have good snow and we weren't wrong.
2 hours of playing in the snow was enough for all of us, mince pies and a pot of tea awaited.
We don’t eat turkey for Christmas, not sure why not but it’s probably because it gives us an excuse for a discussion each Autumn about whether to have goose or duck or beef and to throw the food budget to the wind.
This year we went for beef knowing that our local farm, Townhead Farm, were planning to get one of their Shetland stirks ready in time for Christmas and working with K. Walkers to get it ready.
We’re huge fans of our local butcher K. Walkers of Kilcreggan. They are strong advocates for locally sourced and Scottish meat and work closely with Townhead Farm. We’ve had both Townhead lamb and pork from K. Walkers (and direct from Townhead) and it definitely adds to the flavour knowing exactly where your food has come from, who raised it and who has got it “plate ready”.
Kevin ages his meat for 35 - 45 days for best tenderness and colour in his “salt chamber”, a chiller with one wall lined with Himalayan salt blocks and the results are consistently excellent.
We bought 5 ribs.
I’m pretty lazy and keep things as easy as possible, I buy great produce and cook it without fuss and wherever possible I try to convince J to break out the BBQ, yes even on Christmas Day!
J’s KISS method for perfect BBQ’d beef. 2 ribs.
Take 1 Weber BBQ (any kettle bbq will do)
Get it as hot as you can - J couldn’t fit any more briquettes on.
Cook the beef with the briquettes to either side of the beef, not under it.
1 hour is all you need
Take the beef off the grill and rest under foil for at least 30 minutes.
We like our meat on the rare side, so leave it on the BBQ for another 20 minutes for medium rare plus the resting time
We had it with goose fat roasted potatoes, parsnip purée, pickled red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, carrots, pigs in blankets (weird addition I know but I love them!), Yorkshire puddings and gravy - no fancy plate of food to show you, just supper.
As for throwing the food budget to the wind......it worked out cheaper than the local supermarket for top drawer, stunning, stunning meat that you would normally expect to pay through the nose for. Often your local butcher is comparable in price or cheaper than the supermarket for high quality meat with traceability, something which is certainly true for us
After reading about La Barca's brilliant 4th win, I began thinking about the "foodie" direction Helensburgh seems to be heading in. Helensburgh is becoming a destination town known for its food and so far local restaurateurs have been careful with the style of food they've chosen for their restaurants. Milan and Cara Nikolic have expanded their business cleverly, filling gaps in the market with La Barca, then Cattle and Creel and now La Padrone. Fruin Farm filled a much needed gap of being genuinely child friendly but also serving good food. The Sugar Boat is opening soon but without eating there it's hard to say what gap they'll fill. Peckhams are opening up in the old council offices on Sinclair Street. What else could Helensburgh take? Would there be enough room for a dedicated seafood restaurant or Japanese maybe?
There's talk that the town is reaching saturation point with the number of restaurants but, with the business rents, what else can afford to take the vacant spaces? These days restaurateurs are savvy business people not just "passionate chefs" and will have done their homework. My thoughts are that, provided no one sets up in direct competition for the evening crowd, with similar styles of food as current successful restaurants but instead aims to meet as yet undiscovered demands then the town can take a few more.
These are my favourite 5 restaurants in the Helensburgh and Lomond area at the moment.
#1 The Riverhill Courtyard
#2The Loch Lomond Arms Hotel
#3 Cattle and Creel
#5 Fruin Farm
I have to declare an interest here. I've worked in the Courtyard, first under Johnny Aitken and then Dom Wrighthouse, and I absolutely love their style of food so I am biased towards them but Cattle and Creel is good too and you would be foolish to discount PJ's. PJ's may not be open every night but his menus are fresh and exciting and a meal at PJ's is always a safe bet. The Loch Lomond Arms went through a disappointing phase a couple of years ago but is back on track and eating there is an absolute pleasure, their recent awards are justly deserved. I love Fruin Farm too, it doesn't matter whether it's cake and coffee, lunch or supper, the food is always good and the service friendly.
We are spoilt for choice here when it comes to eating out locally, the number of award winning restaurants for this relatively small area is impressive and I'm looking forward to Helensburgh's foodie future.
This is a brilliant walk for toddlers and young children, it's about a mile in length on dirt track, gravel and duck boards. All terrain buggies cope well, I had a Nipper Out n' About which required no effort to push round. If it's raining, the gravel path and boardwalk are sheltered but the dirt track gets muddy.
I first discovered Peaton Hill Community Nature Reserve back in 2012 just after we'd moved up. J was away a lot and, with a fractious 4 month old, much time was spent driving around and pushing the buggy to try and get her to sleep. I'm not sure how the collaboration started but my understanding is that a group of friends, some of whom are ex MOD policemen, got together and decided to create something the community could enjoy from a patch of wilderness owned by the MOD. They have created a wildlife haven with gravel paths, ponds, small animal habitats, bird feeding stations, boardwalk over marsh, picnicking space with stunning views and tranquil areas where you can just sit, watch and listen to nature as it carries on around you
The carpark is your starting point, there are two exits and for this walk you need to head for the wooden height restriction and in front you'll see a dirt track. This is a circular walk and about 25 meters along on the right you'll see two yellow arrows. You can turn right and do the walk that way (backwards! - long standing family argument about which is the correct way to go around. I maintain that since I discovered the walk first, my way is the correct way) or carry on. The road joining the Coulport Road and Peaton Road runs to your left. The track ends in a clearing with benches and poles with what I think are Scout related carvings at the top, on the right is a gravel path entering the woods. As you walk along the gravel path you pass numerous ponds and small animal habitats and come to an area with a bench opposite a bird feeding station.
From here the walk opens out from the woods to stunning views, along the path are picnic tables and it's a lovely place just to sit and think about nothing in particular
At the end of the track is the start of the boardwalk which weaves its way through the woods past little ponds, in and out of the trees. As the boardwalk finishes is a bench opposite the largest pond, here you can sit and if lucky, you'll see a heron fishing amidst the bull rushes. Off the boardwalk and at the end of the path turn left back towards the carpark. In the car park is a hut which is open to the public, inside is a wealth of information about the animals you may have seen on your walk and where you can record what you observed.
This probably one of my favourite walks and one that I never get tired of. The work the group of friends have put in is amazing and they really have created something special. No matter the time of year, there's always something different to look at regardless of your age
With so much on this weekend I had to resort to rock, paper, scissors with my daughter in order to make a decision about where to go to on Saturday. Having lost (she always starts with a rock and I never remember), we made our way to Ardkinglas Estate, via the vomit road that runs along the side of Loch Long. It's about 50 minutes' drive, probably less if your child isn't threatening to throw up if you drive faster than 30 mph......
The car park is perfectly formed but small and busy so I was glad to be directed to park on the side and, after pushing our donation into the cairn with twigs, we made our way up to the starting point via what E thought was the Gruffalo's cave and some very cool looking Skunk Cabbage plants
Stewart Ennis was our storyteller for the trail and my initial concerns about not appreciating the story told in Scots were totally unfounded. Stewart was brilliant and because the story is so well known, in Scots it takes on another dimension.
"But hooziss big bauchle wi the mingin claws,
An the bowfin big nashers in iz big jowly jaws?
Eez goat big bowly legs an pure hen toes,
An a durty big plook oan the end ae iz nose.
Eez goat huge orange peepers an iz tongue is aw black,
An erz giant purple jaggies aw owner iz back"
The Gruffalo trail is the perfect length for very young legs but you can carry on and explore the rest of the Woodland Walk which is clearly marked with arrows. I'm not going to wax lyrical about trees, I'm not an arborealist, but they've got some very tall ones, a very rare one and some very fat ones and they are interesting enough to get a 5 year to stop running away from you for 10 seconds
When we got back to the car park Alison Sykora had her pop up kitchen ready to go. A Swedish candle was the fire and popcorn maker. Alison was making the damper bread from scratch and griddling it. It smelt, looked and tasted delicious. The Loch Fyne mussels were sweet with the right amount of garlicky liquor and with the damper bread to soak it up, just perfect.
Ardkinglas Estate is a tranquil place, it's not commercial, it's not somewhere to go if you want to be surrounded by bright lights and noise. It is somewhere to go that's within an hour's drive of Helensburgh that's outdoors, peaceful, beautiful and you don't need hiking boots in order to enjoy it.