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The Great Forest of Loch Ard

One of Scotland's great woodlands, hiding place of the Stone of Destiny and birthplace of the Scottish Parliament.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Roads, forest roads and trails

Landscape Fields, hills, forest and loch

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 365 The Trossachs

Start/finish NS 521009

Dog friendliness Keep under control or on lead to avoid disturbing wildlife

Parking Car park at Aberfoyle beside tourist office in centre of town

Public toilets Beside tourist office next to car park

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1 Leave from the west end of the car park and turn left into Manse Road. Cross a narrow bridge over the River Forth (the river has its source near here although it is more usually associated with Edinburgh) and continue along the grass beside the road until the first junction on the right. Turn right here and head uphill, passing the Covenanters Inn. A short distance past here is open countryside and the start of the Great Forest of Loch Ard.

2 Head straight on along the forest road, keeping an ear open for heavy timber lorries. During the week this can get fairly busy, as this is a main forestry extraction route, so keep well into the side. After approximately ½ mile (800m) you will reach a staggered crossroads. Continue straight ahead along the forest road until you come to a turning on the right with a yellow waymarker. Turn right here.

3 Follow this waymarked trail through the forest almost to the banks of Duchray Water. This rises on the north face of Ben Lomond and joins with the Avondhu from Loch Ard to create the River Forth near Aberfoyle. The path curves right, continues to descend slightly and then reaches a junction.

4 Turn right and follow the path through the trees to the north banks of Lochan Spling. The path then swings left and, at the end of the Lochan, turns right at a waymarker pole, crosses a small stream and heads slightly uphill.

5 When the path reaches the T-junction, turn left and rejoin the main forest access road continuing along it to the Covenanters Inn. This takes its name not from the activities of the 17th-century Scottish Presbyterians, who were persecuted by the Stuart monarchy for refusing to give up their faith, but to the activities of 20th-century Scottish Nationalists.

6 Continue past the inn, where a later group of Nationalists temporarily hid Scotland's Stone of Destiny when it was liberated from Westminster Abbey in 1950, then turn left on to Manse Road at the junction and return to the start.

Lying between the town of Aberfoyle and the foothills of Ben Lomond this huge area of woodland is part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. It stretches from just north of Drymen almost to the banks of Loch Katrine. It may look like just another conifer plantation but a walk through any part of it will reveal a surprising variety of landscapes, flora and fauna.

Most of the forested land was purchased by the Forestry Commission in the early 1930s. It was planted straight away and by the closing years of the century consisted of mature woodland. Ongoing thinning started in the 1950s and areas were felled towards the end of the century. Some 60,000 tons of timber are extracted each year from the park as a whole. With the United Kingdom currently importing about 90 per cent of its timber needs, the increase in harvesting the park's mature trees will help to reduce this figure.

The area south of Lochan Spling was initially planted with Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, larch and Scots pine. Most of the spruce together with some of the larch and pine was felled in the 1980s and replaced with Douglas fir, larch and Sitka spruce. But native broadleaves have been planted too, including 10,000 oak trees to augment the remains of the ancient oak woods that once covered most of the area. Birch and rowan have been regenerating naturally. Part of this area has been left to mature to provide magnificent specimens the equal of anything in European forests. The entire area is enclosed within a deer fence to let the trees have a chance to establish.

Wildlife is abundant, including red squirrels and capercaillie. Decaying pines, which have been uprooted in gales or just collapsed, support wood boring insects and provide a ready food supply for a whole host of birds. There are peat bogs and wilderness areas like the one just south of Duchray water in the old wood of Drumore. Here there are no trails, but amidst this jungle-like habitat can be found blueberry, chickweed, wintergreen, cow-wheat and cowberry. You will probably see some evidence of red and roe deer and if you are really quiet may see rare birds like blackcock and woodpecker.

Changing attitudes to conservation and forestry management have helped to bring about a gradual reshaping of the forest to provide a more diverse range of tree species, a wider range of habitats and an environment rich in wildlife.

Stop at the Covenanters Inn where the Nationalists, led by John McCormick, met in 1949 to launch a petition, which they called the Second Covenant. The signatories called on the government of the day to give Scotland a devolved parliament. Over 2 million people signed the petition but it was not until the closing years of the 20th century, and after much argument, campaigning and voting, that their wishes were granted.

Where to eat and drink

The excellent Forth Inn is reached from the car park. In good weather meals and refreshments are served on picnic tables at the front of the inn or within the spacious, non-smoking, restaurant. Delicious home-made soups are served with fresh crusty bread or choices can be made from the full menu and specials board. They also have toys and colouring books to keep children amused.

While you're there

Pay a visit to Doune Castle, 13 miles (20.9km) east of Aberfoyle, built in the 14th century for the Duke of Albany. It was a ruin by the 18th century but has since been restored and now offers a look at what life was like in a medieval royal household. It featured in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) and more recently the BBC dramatisation of Ivanhoe. Although usually associated with the City of Edinburgh, the River Forth actually rises near here where the Duchray Water meets the Avondhu River. It increases in size by the addition of the River Teith near Stirling then continues its journey to the coast and flows under the famous Forth Bridges at Queensferry.

What to look for

The Trossachs is an area rich in wildlife. Roe deer is the animal you have the best chance of seeing on the walk. However with a bit of luck, and by keeping quiet, you could also happen on to some of the rarer beasties which inhabit these woods and hills. This is the southern limit for the elusive pine marten and some have been spotted round Loch Ard.

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