Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: Cashel Campsite, Loch Lomond and the Trosachs National Park

Loch Lomond from Ben Lomond
Location: An hour from Glasgow
Website: "Camping in the Forest" website - Cashel Campsite
Map: Google map
Camping Facilities: Car camping
Grade: C+
Stargazing: Very good
Summary: No caravan? Sleep in the ditch.
Thoughts:  Before I get into my review of the campground, I need to talk about midges. This was the first place I ever camped in Scotland, having wanting to see Loch Lomond ever since I first heard John McDermott crooning about her bonny shores when I was wee. But the Irish Tenor never paid sufficient tribute to the Highland midges. To be honest, I had been warned of midges, but didn't think much of them because, you see, I'm from Canada and we have mosquitoes the size of ravens, stalking around our campgrounds, and dreaded black flies that carelessly tear your flesh as they finish feasting on your delicious circulatory fluid. Clearly nothing can compare to these. I mean, really, how bad can a tiny flying flea really be? Listen Canadians, they're bad. They're really bad. They're actually horrifyingly bad. They're relentless, they don't fear the sunlight and they strike in swarms when you're tired & sweaty and simply trying to reap the rewards of your arduous hike! We got halfway up Ben Lomond on a beautiful late summer (mid-Sept) day and were stunned. Just as I was snapping a few photos, they descended with their fury, a dozen tiny, itchy pin-pricks all at once, never pausing for a moment's mercy. Then they'll itch for a good day or so. So be warned - bring some DEET or bring some meshy hats. Cover your skin as much as you can bear. Otherwise, take shelter.

You can camp on the verge if you don't have a caravan
Okay, enough about midges, on to the review of Cashel campsite. First, it's very conveniently located, just off the main road to Ben Lomond. I noticed a lot of people complain about the quality of the road leading up to it, but truth be told, I don't recall it being that bad. We pulled up and tried to track down the person responsible - the office closes a bit earlier than I'm accustomed to, and I believe we caught them right at the end of their shift (I think it was around 5ish). I was a bit taken aback when we were told where to camp at Cashel campsite. "You can set up anywhere on the grass there". "There" being the grassy median between the roads in the campground. Adjacent to the toilets and wash-up area. Convenient, yes. Pleasant? No. I definitely felt like a second-class citizen (resident?). Yes, it's true, we didn't have a camper van or a caravan or whatever you want to call it. But we're still human beings.  I mean, the campground itself couldn't be more beautifully situated along Loch Lomond. But if you don't have a vehicles that gets 2 miles per gallon, you cannot by any means sleep next to the Loch? It's a bit odd. I would have thought we would be rewarded for having versatile accommodations that can be plopped down anywhere we can squeeze. But the nice sites are for the folks who camp with kitchens and duvets, I'm afraid.

A handy map of the Ben Lomond hike
Look, I get it. A lot of the sites are rented seasonally by folks who own these homes-away-from-home. I know the site is not intended to preserve the natural environment or encourage low-impact camping. It's a business, with a first-come, first-served attitude for access to the prime waterfront campsites. But a tiny patch can't be reserved for the tourist who might be passing by, looking for a place to stay next to the beautiful lake nestled amongst the mountains?

I guess I'm just disappointed with it all. But it doesn't mean you can't find a nice spot to snap a few photos of the sun setting behind the mountains, casting a few golden rays on the lake (see below). You just can fall asleep while doing.

Some final comments. The campground itself is in very good condition, where the toilets are spotless, the washing-up area is tidy and useful. Again, I noticed on the reviews on their website that a number of people thought the toilets were shocking. It may just be a matter of differing standards, but I thought they were quite good overall. Plus the setting is absolutely gorgeous - this on its own is a good reason to stay. The hiking close by is also excellent, with many beautiful views available (see the map provided here for some inspiration for Loch Lomond). My only major complaint is that better accommodations should be provided for campers who sleep on the ground, rather than on beds.

"The steep, steep sides of Ben Lomond"
Sunset over Loch Lomond

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