Welcome to Balloch
Balloch is the most significant settlement on Loch Lomond. This village lies at the southern end of the loch, where the River Leven begins its journey to the Firth of Clyde. For many the first glimpse they ever get of Loch Lomond is from Balloch; it is the village most easily accessible from the major areas of population, in particular Glasgow. It is accessible by road, rail, cycle routes and walking paths; the waters of the loch at Balloch are even used as a ‘runway’ for seaplanes. Balloch is also a major berthing point for pleasure craft, which shelter in the River Leven, and a base for operators of boat cruises which take passengers around Loch Lomond’s 38 scattered islands.
While traces of human habitation tell us that the islands and shores of Loch Lomond have been settled for well over 7000 years, the origins of Balloch itself appear to be medieval. Lying to the north east of the village is Balloch Castle Country Park set on 200 acres of largely wooded land hugging the lochside. Close to the shore a mound encircled by the remains of a moat mark the remains of the ancient Balloch Castle. This keep was built by the Earls of Lennox, around 1238 AD, who occupied the site as their primary seat during the early medieval period. However, the keep was abandoned in 1390 in favour of a site on Inchmurrin, Loch Lomond’s biggest island. On Inchmurrin the Earls of Lennox sought refuge from the dangers they had faced at Balloch; from both disease and attack. One notable attack came in 1263 when a Viking war party raided the loch’s dwellings, before fleeing down River Leven, en route to defeat in the Battle of Largs later that year. The site of the old fort is now afforded statutory protection under the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Areas Act of 1979.
A little inland from the remains lies the present Balloch Castle. Constructed in 1808 by the English architect Robert Lugar for John Buchanan of Ardoch, it is a fine example of a neo gothic ‘castle’ with decorative turrets and slitted windows. Originally a stately home, it is now houses a visitor centre and affords spectacular views from its roof.
Balloch really came of age as a village with the arrival of the railway in 1850. Originally the line went all the way to the pier (constructed at the same time) and the awaiting steam powered loch cruisers, which gives us an indication of one of the major reasons for the line’s construction. There had been steamers offering pleasure cruises on the loch for decades, but with the railway the loch was opened to many more who sought to experience its pleasures. While the line now stops short of the loch side, terminating instead in the centre of the village, the tradition of pleasure cruising has lived on in Balloch, with a number of cruising companies operating out of the village.
The Maid of the Loch, Balloch Pier
The most famous of Loch Lomond’s ships is probably the paddle steamer ‘The Maid of the Loch’, launched in 1953. Built to replace two earlier vessels it remains the largest ship to have powered its way through Britain’s inland waterways. Despite growth in tourism and a heyday which was marked by two royal visits in 1965 and 1971, by 1981 the service was not regarded as being sufficiently profitable and so was axed, much to local dismay. The Maid of The Loch was left to rot at Balloch Pier until 1995 when her restoration commenced, sponsored by a local charity. In 2000 she reopened as a bar, restaurant and function suite. The hope is that sufficient funds will be raised to restore her to full operation. Right now she receives much attention at Loch Lomond Shores, Balloch’s latest development. Another famed vessel which continues to operate out of Balloch is the Skylark IX, which was used in the mass evacuation of British soldiers from France at the battle of Dunkirk in 1940.
The Loch Lomond Shores development, which lies to the east of the River Leven, was opened in 2002 with the aim of providing facilities, attractions and information to enable visitors to get the most out of the Loch Lomond experience. Apart from the Maid of the Loch, there are a number of restaurants, cafes and a wide variety of shops, the National Park Gateway Centre and even an IMAX cinema. These developments help both to contribute to the local economy and ensure Balloch retains its position as the Gateway to Loch Lomond.