TRAVELLING around Scotland’s towns and villages, I always stop to look at statues. Those commemorating the “great and the good” tend not to be as interesting or memorable as the ones erected to remember local heroes and activists.

Perhaps my favourite statue of all looks out over Loch Lomond from Balmaha and definitely falls into the latter category: few walkers who come across the wonderful bronze of writer, broadcaster and outdoor enthusiast Tom Weir have not doffed their bobble hat.

It’s little wonder the village of Balmaha, on the east shore of Loch Lomond, was chosen to host the statue. One of the bonniest of all the bays on the bonnie bonnie banks, Balmaha is also one of the buzziest thanks to its excellent location below Conic Hill on one of the most popular sections of the West Highland Way.

Though it’s a walker’s paradise here, there are stunning views to be had even if you’ve – whisper it – come by car, not to mention a couple of lovely places to eat, both indoors and al fresco.

Like just about everywhere around Loch Lomond, Balmaha is as beautiful in winter as it is in summer, and it’s all under an hour from Glasgow, making it the perfect place to get some fresh air when the days are short.

Historic highlights

The name of the village – which comes from the Gaelic for St Maha’s Place – suggests Balmaha has ancient origins.

It came to prominence in early Christian times as the place from which to row out to Inchcailloch, the most accessible island in Loch Lomond, which became an important religious site after the arrival of Irish missionary St Kentigerna in 717AD. Named after her – “island of the old woman” – it became a place of pilgrimage and a church was built in the 12th century in her memory. For almost 500 years, worshippers rowed out to the island every Sunday. Although the church was abandoned in 1670, local people were buried in the graveyard until 1947.

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Balmaha was part of lands owned for generations by Clan MacGregor, though they were seized by the Crown in 1712 and Rob Roy became the most famous outlaw in Scottish history.

When Loch Lomond became a popular visitor attraction in the 19th century, Balmaha found itself on the map once again. Pleasure steamers regularly stopped off at the pier in Victorian times, though by the latter half of the 20th century steamers were no longer in use. These days you’ll see plenty of modern pleasure crafts of all shapes and sizes in the bay – yachts, power boats, rowing boats, kayaks, jet-skis - taking visitors out on the loch and over to Inchcailloch.

What to do

My favourite way to arrive in Balmaha is over Conic Hill. I usually start out from Milton of Buchanan, heading up the less steep side of the hill, though it still needs a good final push to get to the summit. The panoramic views from the top across Loch Lomond to the Arrochar Alps, Ben Lomond and the west Highlands are truly magnificent. It’s a fairly steep path down, but with Balmaha waiting at the bottom it’s a thoroughly enjoyable – and often very busy - walk.

I usually head straight to Balmaha Bay, home to the aforementioned bronze Tom Weir statue, which was erected in 2014 following a public appeal to mark 100 years since his birth. Through the long-running TV programme Weir’s Way and the column he wrote in the Scots Magazine for nearly 50 years, Tom, who lived in nearby Gartocharn with this wife Rhona, remains something of an icon for Scots walkers. The bay is a beautiful spot to appreciate Tom's contribution to Scottish life and enjoy a picnic if you’ve brought one.

It’s also a great place to enjoy a breather if you’re completing the Drymen to Rowardennan section of the West Highland Way.

During spring and summer you can jump aboard a waterbus to Balloch or Luss, while the ferry to Inchcailloch runs all year round, weather permitting. The island, with its links to early Christian culture and network of delightful walks and trails, is a must-visit. Look and listen out while you're there for blackchaps, willow warblers and chiff chaffs.

The waters of the loch are also great for fishing, and those looking to catch pike and perch can do so without a permit, though permission is needed to catch salmon and sea trout. Staff at McFarlane’s Boatyard will keep you right.

Balmaha is also home to a National Park visitor centre, which has an excellent exhibition on the geology of the area and the Highland Boundary Fault, as well as countless maps and leaflets and a good children’s play area.

Where to eat

The Oak Tree Inn (which sits in the shade of a 500-year-old oak tree) is renowned as one of the best places to eat and drink anywhere in Loch Lomond. Whether it’s a hearty feast after a full day’s walking you're after or a relaxing pint and packet of crisps, this attractively decorated hostelry is the place to go. Paul Nolan from Shawlands says: “Conic Hill is my favourite walk and I always finish up at the Oak Tree Inn. The fish suppers are top notch and you won’t get a better burger anywhere. I’m also partial to the ‘locally caught’ haggis!”

Sue Watson adds: “For me you can’t beat a bowl of Cullen skink followed by sticky toffee pudding. A lovely place to spend the day. And in good weather you can sit outside.”

The cosy St Mocha Coffee Shop and Ice Cream Parlour is also a local institution. Huge scones and delicious tray bakes are the order of the day, all washed down with quality coffee and proper tea.

Where to shop

There is only one shop in Balmaha, and it’s a wee cracker. Anne McGarry says: “The Village store not only sells lovely little crafts, gifts and trinkets, but also all the things serious walkers really need, including midge repellent, plasters, blister treatments and ibuprofen. My feet have been saved there more than once."

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Where to stay

High-end: Loch Lomond Waterfront Lodges are luxurious homes from home with beautiful views over the water. Sleeping six, the lodge complex has onsite spa facilities and makes an ideal short break at any time of year. Prices per night from £133 for a midweek stay and £185 at weekends.

Traditional: The aforementioned Oak Tree Inn offers cosy bedrooms, cottages and glamping pods on a B&B basis. Double rooms from £110 a night.

Night by starlight: The sheltered campsite at nearby Milarrochy Bay boasts good facilities and friendly staff.

Where to go nearby

Beautiful Sallochy Bay is a 15-minute drive (or 90-minute walk) north of Balmaha. Enjoy a picnic on the shore then take one of the stunning circular forest trails above the bay.

Ben Lomond is one of the most popular and accessible Munros in Scotland, offering a proper challenge and truly wonderful views. Spring and summer are the best times of year for inexperienced walkers to set out on the walk, which takes around five hours. Start your ascent Rowardennan car park.

A short hop across the water from Balmaha – or 30 minutes by road – is the gorgeous village of Luss, with its chocolate box cottages, cute tearooms and pretty church. Scots over the age of 35 may remember it best as Glendarroch in the cult STV soap Take the High Road.

With 22 lochs (not to mention Scotland’s only lake) Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is one of the UK’s top venues for watersports. From sailing to kayaking, paddle-boarding to windsurfing and wild swimming, every taste and level is catered for across an array of different locations. Go to for more information.