What makes a perfect weekend? For us it has a few key ingredients: it should be within a two-hour drive, so we can get there after school on Friday; it needs to have a fun family activity nearby; and, if possible, there should be a nice restaurant available! Loch Lomond met all of our criteria, so on a chilly winter day we packed up the Elddis and headed for a two-night stay at Lomond Woods Holiday Park in Balloch, at the south end of Loch Lomond’s bonny banks.
Loch Lomond is the largest expanse of fresh water in the UK and one of the longest, too, at almost 25 miles. A popular spot for visitors, it has many tourist attractions along the banks and within easy driving distance. As part of the National Nature Reserve, it is also famous for Ben Lomond, which stands proudly at the north end of the loch. Almost 30,000 people a year make their way to the summit of this climb, which makes it one of Scotland’s most popular Munros, but scaling it in winter would require special equipment and a much higher level of walking experience than we possess, so sadly we had to leave the strenuous exercise for another time!
After arriving on Friday afternoon, we spent the next hour setting up our brand new caravan. As with any new tourer, we had a fairly steep learning curve: the main points to take away from this trip are to look up how to level a twin-axle caravan, and to try not to accidentally unhook the van sharing our electricity supply again! I guess the second point had nothing to do with the newness of the caravan, however...
The generation game
My parents were joining us for a visit, so we decided to leave trying out the kitchen for another time and walked to the pub at the entrance to the site, the Queen of the Loch. The pub was welcoming, with friendly staff, and we enjoyed our meal as we caught up over a few drinks and started planning the rest of the weekend ahead.
With the weather forecast looking clear and bright for the following day, we knew that the drive to Loch Fyne would be pretty but didn’t realise quite how spectacular it was going to be. As the sun reflected off a series of lochs, we were treated to mirror-like reflections of snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests. While the west coast of Scotland has more than its fair share of ‘dreich’ weather, on a sunny day there really is nowhere quite like it.
After stopping for several photo opportunities, we arrived at Loch Fyne in time for a family lunch. The restaurant here was the original one that created the nationwide Loch Fyne chain, but in the 1990s they became separate businesses. The restaurant also houses a recently renovated deli and oyster bar, with a lovely modern and relaxed atmosphere.
With grandparents and children all together it felt like a celebration, so it would have been wrong of us not to order some fizz and oysters to start our meal! As Abi tucked into her own bowl of mussels and the slightly less adventurous Tom enjoyed his battered fish we were all happy (apart from the designated drivers, perhaps).
On the digital dancefloor
We headed back down the road to Loch Lomond for a night in the caravan, all crowded around the iPad and hoping that the 3G connection would be sufficient to stream Strictly Come Dancing. Eventually realising that we could possibly eat again, we tested out our new kitchen and were soon tucking into a culinary masterpiece of pizza, chips and salad, sitting around the dining table and chatting about the next day’s activities. After some heated debate, the children won and we decided to visit the SeaLife aquarium and the Christmas market at Loch Lomond Shores, a retail and visitor complex in Balloch.
Setting off bright and early, we enjoyed the atmosphere at the centre with its fairy lights and lit-up reindeer welcoming us at the entrance. The site houses a branch of Jenners (now owned by House of Fraser, but remaining true to its Edinburgh origins) as well as several other retail outlets, but the main draw, at least for our children, is the aquarium. It has a tropical ocean tunnel, allowing you to watch the colourful fish swimming above you, and a deep loch tank with some creatures from a little closer to home. Abi and Tom both liked being able to stand in the middle of a fish tank in a clear tube so that we could take their photos surrounded by fish. I was more thrilled by the family of otters, who were all out to play when we visited, and the starfish that we could hold in the rockpool area.
Feeling suitably educated about marine conservation, we headed towards the superb Dragon’s Den play area in the complex. Unlike a lot of adventure playgrounds, this site also has some more unusual pieces of equipment – ranging from microscopes to musical instruments – so, despite the cold, we spent an hour exploring and playing.
Loch Lomond Shores is within walking distance of the caravan park, so we headed back to the van for a quick lunch and to start tidying up a little before our final activity of the weekend, a cruise on the Loch, which departed from the village of Balloch.
Sweeney’s Cruises operates all year round, although the sailings are more limited in winter. There are longer tours available, but we know our kids well so booked the one-hour cruise! There is interesting on-board commentary by Neil Oliver, one of the presenters of the BBC’s Coast, plus we also discovered some of the history of Inchmurrin Island, the largest of the 33 islands in the Loch and the location of Lennox Castle. In the 14th century, this building provided shelter for Robert the Bruce before he became King of Scotland. This was topical for us because Abi’s class is studying Scottish history, so she took some photos for show-and-tell on Monday.
End of the affair
We had arranged a late check-out with the site, so after our cruise it was back to the van to pack. If your family is anything like ours, at this point the careful negotiations begin about whose turn it is to empty the toilet cassette. This includes an elephant-like memory about who did it last time, what other brownie points have been earned and, quite often, out-and-out bribery. On this occasion, however, I turned to David and said airily that I would do the dreaded deed if he sorted out the rest of the packing. He quickly agreed, whistling as he set about packing away the electrical cables.
Little did he know that I had spotted a very interesting addition at the end of the washroom block – a machine called the ‘CamperClean’, which promised me that it would take the full cassette, empty it, rinse it thoroughly and refill it with the right amount of chemicals for just £2 – all without me having to do a thing apart from insert it in a door. This seemed too good to be true, but happily it was not! The machine did exactly as it promised, and I cheerfully returned to the van with my shiny clean cassette.
On the way home, we asked the kids what had been the best part of the weekend and it took a long time for any consensus to be reached. The seafood restaurant, the aquarium, the boat trip... In the end they both agreed that the winner was pizza and Strictly while tucked up snug and warm in the caravan. Oh well, better luck next time!
Why we stayed at… Lomond Woods Holiday Park
This quiet and well-run site is very handily located at the southern edge of Loch Lomond, within walking distance of the small town of Balloch with its restaurants and bars, as well as a large Co-op supermarket. The site is only 17 miles from Glasgow, and it’s ideal for tourers, with easy access roads on the approach.
The pitches are mainly hardstanding and many are very private, separated from their neighbours by hedges. Some are fully serviced, with 10A or 16A hook-up, water, drainage and TV connections, and others come with their own picnic table – probably more useful in warmer weather! There is a children’s play area and an indoor games room, as well as a dog walk on site.
The washblock includes family rooms (with a full-size bath) as well as larger communal showerblocks with hairdryers available. They also have the fabulous ‘CamperClean’ – a fully automated chemical toilet-cleaning station (£2 a go).
The surrounding area is simply beautiful, with walks and cycle trails along the shores of the Loch as well as the opportunity to get out on the water, either on a tourist cruise or even on a sailing or canoe trip.
Address Old Luss Road, Balloch, Alexandria G83 8QP
Tel 01389 755 000
Web www.woodleisure.co.uk/ our-parks/lomond-woods/
Open All year
Price (pitch+2+hook-up) £17.85-£30