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A Glen Finglas Gateway Tour
It's a sunny day in early summer when I set out for the Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve– ideal conditions to explore some great scenery and woodlands. After meeting my friend Anna and her canine companion Morag in Aberfoyle (no Sunday walk is complete without some company), we head to the Glen Finglas Visitor Gateway near Brig o' Turk.
If you don't want to waste precious time on a sunny Sunday pouring over maps and hatching plans, then the Visitor Gateway is the place for you. It marks the starting point for no fewer than ten waymarked trails around the Glen Finglas area, ranging from easy half-hour rambles to a challenging 24km tour around the Meall, and everything in between. A large map near the entrance to the Gateway describes all of them, and helps us to plan our day with minimum fuss.
In fact, the Gateway is an ideal place for not-so-sunny afternoons too: its beautiful, wood-panelled interior is packed with information about The Great Trossachs Forest and gives visitors the chance to learn about the project's history and ambitious aims. Native woodland regeneration is at the heart of The Great Trossachs Forest initiative, and at the Gateway you can find out why these forests are so special and which wild species make it their home. The welcoming and airy architecture of the structure alone makes it worth a visit. There's also an abundance of leaflets to help you plan your stay in the area, toilets, and a children's play corner. All of this makes the Gateway not just a fantastic resource, but also means that Glen Finglas is becoming accessible and enjoyable for a wide range of people: families with young children, people with dogs, visitors who can't manage long, strenuous tours but still want to enjoy the outdoors.
Anna and I opt for a 2-hour route to Lendrick Hill, which sounds like just the route we fancy today – not too challenging or steep so Morag can manage it, offering good views, and we can make a small detour to the Brig o' Turk tea room on the way back.
Soon we follow a well-built path through a stunning oakwood dotted with wildflowers and alive with birdsong- a lovely introduction to our tour. Not long until we pass the remains of houses amid the lush growth of a regenerating young woodland. Anna and I settle down on a bench to enjoy the great views across nearby Loch Venachar, and discover a short display text about the ruin's history, formerly Drippan Farmstead. A powerful reminder that Glen Finglas has long been home not only to woodlands and wildlife, but to people too.
The walk definitely delivers on its promise – the views are truly stunning. As we reach higher ground, we overlook the vast blanket of tree tops stretching between us and Loch Venachar.
It's a fantastic perspective and we start to get an idea of the scale of The Great Trossachs Forest NNR. It's Anna's first time to the area and she's astonished to hear that two million native trees have been planted in National Nature Reserve so far, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. In fact, the fantastic facilities we're enjoying today – the Gateway Visitor Centre and the network of waymarked trails around it – have become a reality thanks to this support. Much of the £858,000 Heritage Lottery Funding has supported projects strengthening the link between people and this place – by improving access and creating better visitor facilities, among many other things.
After a short detour to the waterfall viewpoint, Anna, Morag and I reach the viewpoint above Glen Finglas Reservoir. It's a pretty artificial loch sitting between wooded slopes, and we take some time out to soak up the extensive views reaching all the way to Ben Venue. Having looked our fill, we descend along waymarked trails to Brig o' Turk and back to the Visitor Gateway, thoroughly happy with our tour. Thanks to the great condition of the path network, Anna and I don't have to worry about our route or mind our feet on uneven ground, which means that we are able to appreciate the scenery around us to the full.
The Great Trossachs Forest has certainly achieved a lot with the funding it received – building the fantastic visitor facility at Glen Finglas and improving the trail network, creating 350 hectares of new woodland habitat and a natural play trail for children – all things that visitors to Lendrick Hill and the wider area can enjoy and benefit from. And that's not all! The money has also helped to fund a smartphone app with information about the Trossachs, an interactive photo tour and local events for schools and visitors.