Focus Trek #12 Part 2 – Gargunnock Scotland and the Love Lochs

Return to Part 1 of this adventure…

Loch Lomond

‘Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen 
On the steep, steep side of Ben Lomond 
Where in the purple hue the hieland hills we view 
And the moon coming out in the gloaming 

From “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond”

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Hills along Loch Lomond opposite Ben Lomond (Ben from Gaelic “beinn” = mountain.)

In part one of this adventure we stuck around the house for the most part and wandered the paths around Gargunnock House, occasionally venturing into town for supplies or to the local butcher shop. On Wednesday, we all caravanned up the east side of Loch Lomond for lunch at the Rowardennan. By far, the best smoked salmon next to Carlson’s in Leland, MI. We were very near the trailhead up to Ben Lomond, mentioned in the song.

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My name is Jim Burnham. I am a US photographer and I enjoy finding photographs in places I’ve never been before, with minimum preparation and a vague itinerary. This is a true Focus Trek from the Highlands of Scotland.


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The Rowardennan restaurant

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My ultimate goal on Loch Lomond was to rent a boat and travel up to the northwest shore to Inveruglas, which allegedly had the ruins of an old stone castle on a small island offshore. I was clued in on the existence of this by my friend, who is a McFarlane, of course. The “Castle MacFarlane” was built in the 1400’s and destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the 1650’s. It’s tiny and yes, it had a tiny castle, but a castle nonetheless! Long live clan MacFarlane! Read about the story here.

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It was too late to rent a boat and regardless, we were 14 miles from Inveruglas Island from the Balmaha Boatyard (run by MacFarlanes, btw). We decided to drive up the west side and take a look from the shore.

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Inveruglas Isle, with the ruins of MacFarlane Castle

After we arrived at the tour boat port in Inveruglas, I asked about the castle on the island. Nobody on shore seemed to know what we were talking about. But we know it’s there. Oh, it’s there, alright! UK topographic maps confirm it.

That night after dinner I played and won three games of ping-pong against Lt. Col. Alexis Neal. It may have looked like he won, but he was not aware of the Scottish rule of ping-pong where not only the low score wins, but the person to miss the most balls served to him gets bonus points taken off. That safely put me in double-digit negative territory. Game, set, match! Your move, Colonel.

Walled gardens, Forbidden Rooms
and the Stowaways on the Loch Katrine cruise

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I spent Thursday morning in the walled garden where the flowers for the property are grown. The sky was nicely overcast and gave off a very diffuse light. You don’t want bright sun and shadows on flowers (unless you want backlit petals). But you don’t want dark and dreary, either. You need higher ISO (= more grain) or longer shutter speeds (=blurry shots of moving plants in the breeze). While on the outside wall, I ran into a local Helen and her dog, Neo. She thought (and 30 other Helens in town agreed) that we should visit Loch Katrine. 

After that, I fulfilled my earlier promise to visit the upper level of an old stone farm building we had passed on an earlier walk. The outside stairs were covered in dirt and weeds and I knew that meant nobody ever went up there. There would be lots of abandoned joy to be had! 

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This is probably why stairs are now built inside buildings now for the most part. You can (kind of) see remnants of long forgotten steps leading to the second floor

I wasn’t disappointed.

The floor was “iffy” at best in many parts. Large doors and other pieces of wood were lined up along the floor as if to make a more sturdy path (in the distant past), but those were also fairly rotted. Keeping close to the wall was my best bet. Anything “middle” was either completely gone, or was simply looking for a victim (or next victim?).

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I imagined the last part of The Walking Dead Season 2, a herd of undead moving back and forth in the room below, waiting for me to take the wrong step.

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Things that haven’t been touched in decades have a certain personality. They sit, waiting for someone to discover them. And they seem content that they were found, but they know they might never be liberated from their dusty purgatory. So they sit, not smiling or frowning. They just sit and enjoy the brief light and attention.

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“So what if you had fallen through the floor and were hurt and dying and nobody knew where you were?”, I was asked when I got back.

When I am presented with unanswerable questions, I fall back on the ancient art of distraction and diversion. I regret nothing! I’ve done stupider things and survived. It makes doing the less stupid things that much easier (and safer, right?).


The next day, on all the Helen’s suggestion, Erin and I set off over Lake Katrine on “The Lady of the Lake” for a three hour cruise …a…three…hour…cruise.

Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale.
A tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship…

The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle

Actually, it was only two hours. Beautiful weather, but on the chilly side, so I bought a “Loch Katrine” sweater at the gift shop. That choice got me noticed and after the kids had their turn at the wheel, I got to drive the boat! I impressed the captain by knowing what direction port was. He offered me a job. At first, I accepted, but then thought about it more. Image me, a steamboat captain, on a loch in Scotland, telling jokes and serving drinks. I’d be giving up my family, my friends. I’d develop a Scottish accent. After more laborious thought and much crying, I heartily accepted again. It was nice knowing you all. It’s left, by the way, port is left. 

Truth be told, we were stowaways on board the Lady of the Lake. Don’t get me wrong, we did get a ticket for a cruise, but we think it was for the one hour “Sir Walter Scott” cruise. We were waiting for that to leave when they announced that someone may be on the wrong cruise. Being forgetful and dotty, I instantly doubted my purchase and we headed to the front. The receipt did look like ours, so we claimed it and boarded the other cruise. But on closer examination of the receipt, it mentioned “Senior”. One of us was (according to AARP) but only one of us could pass the sniff test, so we quietly boarded, me shuffling along and holding my back, complaining about how chilly it was and how I forgot my lumbar support. I’m just glad they did not see me fly up the ladder to the top level, taking the place of two others who felt the ladder was too much for them to handle.

One interesting story on Loch Katrine : There is a large country estate on the south shore on the western side built for Queen Victoria. When she came out to stay there the first time, the locals welcomed her with a 21 cannon salute which effectively blew out all the windows in the house. Shocked (and probably bleeding from the ears) she turned around and went home, never to return. Since then, a plaque that reads “Queen Victoria never slept here” proudly hangs over the front door. (As far as you know). Twenty years from now I will read that rumor and wonder who started it. Back in 1990 while on Spring Break, I heard a rumor that Bob Hope died. Turns out it was my friends who were whispering that in a grocery store we stopped at.

A year later I saw Bob Hope on TV doing a show in Iraq for the troops and couldn’t remember where I heard that he died.

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Of course, on the way back to the house, I had to stop for a “Loch/Field/Sheep/Cloud” photo.

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Journey’s End – Edinburgh and Glasgow

I probably took more photos than I intended. But I don’t bear down on the high speed shutter that much like some people.


I move around, do different angles, horizontal and vertical. But a lot of those shots were establishing exposure, looking for that right spot where I’m not clipping the darks or lights. And I did not get to go everywhere I wanted. There were fantastic redwoods surrounding the house that I only scratched the surface on. There were oddly shaped trees on the forest paths that would have been great on an overcast day. There were HUGE Jurassic-sized leaves in various places! I think I have enough sheep, though. All in all, I took over 2,400 photos. Only 2,000 of those were of sheep, though.

What makes all of the UK difficult for a landscape photographer is the lack of anywhere to pull over to the side of the road. Finding a location to park the car results in a long walk back to where you saw the original photo.

But the hiking is what makes it special out there. And I would rather be hiking than constantly try to shift through six gears with my left hand. Really, I knew 1st (all the way to the left and up) and 6th (all the way to the right and down). Everything in between was a crap shoot. I prefer my old 77 MGB, that had three gears and reverse.


That’s my Mom, Joanne. I miss my ’77 MGB, despite it’s lack of any sustainable mechanical consistency

After leaving the house, we drove two of our friends back to Edinburgh where they were catching their flight out. Before meeting them for lunch, Erin and I stopped off at the famous Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. This camera obscura has been in operation since the early 1850’s and each level has a different set of surprises. A lot of fun for this older kid.

The view from the roof was exceptional and had some interesting angles.

Edinburgh was crowded. The castle was not exactly what I expected. Though formidable from the outside on it’s hilltop perch, it had some new viewing stands erected at the entrance which completely obscures the view from outside the gates. There were still a few shots to be had in Edinburgh, though. To be honest, we were there in the middle of Fringe Festival. That could have explained the crowds. Yeah, I know the next photo has one person in it. The crowds tended to eschew stairs.

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Glasgow was a bit more accommodating (read: less crowded). We stayed just northwest of the city and walked down to the botanical garden at sunset. They close at dusk, which is pretty much when we got there, so we were politely advised to leave before we got locked in.

University of Glasgow was interesting with the Hunterian Museum, named after Dr William Hunter (1718 – 1783) who was an obstetrician, teacher and collector of everything interesting and odd.

The Cloisters are also here, no doubt a favorite photo spot for many photographers. I remember seeing a shot like this with a robed man riding a scooter down the middle. I longed for someone like that to be around, but was disappointed to be at a University with not a single skateboarder. Oh, I’ll be back, and I’ll be ready.

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After that was a visit to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh house where me and my camera were watched like hawks. My shutter may have spontaneously fired a couple times, though. It happens when there are signs that say “no photos”. Ask my daughter, she has witnessed this phenomenon first hand.

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After that, my wife continued on her Mackintosh tour of Glasgow and I made my way down the Clyde River to the People’s Palace and Botanical Garden. Lots of things to see along the Clyde.

It was not crowded, so I was able to lay out my tripod without getting in anyboody’s way.

One last shot at sunset. I convinced my exhausted wife for one more jaunt down to the Clyde Arc, a stunning one-arch bridge near the SSE Hydro and SEC Armadillo entertainment venues, for sunset. The sunset clouds had the possibility of being stunning. They weren’t, but some good came of it. Thank you, seagull!

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And back to Chicago the next day, a cloud still hanging over it (literally and figuratively). 

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All in all, another successful “Never-been-there-but-found-good-photos-anyway” type of vacation. I want to thank our hosts, Scott Garman and David Sgarlatta again (as they were also our hosts for the last trip to the UK in Focus Trek 10 ). Also to everyone we spent the week with: Julie and Mike, Dan, Molly and Madeline, Maggie, Lex and Sylvia, Tom and Julia. It was great to be able to spend that time with such fun people. I’d also like to thank my wife, Erin, for her quick reflexes from the passenger seat and when I predictably stop the car to take photos. This is our 20th wedding anniversary this year and I can’t be an annoying photographer spouse without her love and support. Love you!

What did I learn?

  • A creepy old house is a creepy old house no matter where you are. And it’s always awesome
  • When sheep talk, it sounds like “baaaaad”, but only after you have broken something. That makes it hilarious.
  • Saying “Quick, use my phone to take a picture of this view!” while driving rarely results in decent shots of that view. But we got one good shot of my ear.
  • I love how the Scots pronounce my last name. It sounds to me like it should be pronounced: “Born-hahm (roll the r). I admit, I did say “What?” simply to hear them repeat it.
  • “I’ve done stupider things and survived. It makes doing the less stupid things that much easier.”
    This will be etched on my funeral urn.

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