The road into Aberfoyle twists and turns, following the course of the River Forth as it trickles from its Loch Ard source, under a canopy of lush trees from one direction and alongside fields of green and bracken-covered Craigmore hill on the other.

There are many times during her childhood Maggie Taylor remembers the road being clogged with cars, buses and bikes. So many that the police arrived with panda car lights flashing and hi-vis jackets to stand in the middle of the tiny Trossachs village, and attempt to keep some order.

There were coaches packed with tourists on the trail of Rob Roy MacGregor, leather-clad bikers on a dash around the Trossachs, Sunday drivers in flat caps, mums, dads and children seeking ice cream and scenery, caravans and campers.

Drawn by history and folklore, lochs and hillsides, the green expanse of the Queen Elizabeth Forest and its gentle trails, the David Marshall Lodge with its information panels and views of Ben Lomond, the Campsie and Gargunnock Hills – in an age before hundreds of television channels, videogames and non-stop shopping – tourists came in their masses.

“The police used to have to control the traffic through the main street, it was so busy,” says Taylor, who has lived her whole life in the Stirlingshire village. “You could barely move for visitors. But then it went quiet.”

The Victorian grey slate buildings still lined the main street and the scenery didn’t change. But the once-bustling gateway to the Trossachs and a jewel of Scottish tourism didn’t just fall off the map of places to visit, it seemed to implode in the process. Shops shut, boards went up. Pubs closed and while a few determined businesses kept soldiering on, Aberfoyle’s main street became a faded shadow of the tourist hub it once was.

“If someone had come here a year or so ago in winter, they’d have found that even the tumbleweed had left town because it was so bored,” admits Trevor Geraghty, the chairman of the local Strathard Community Council.

But today the “To Let” and “For Sale” signs which dotted shopfronts the length of the main road through the village have gone.


(Picture credit: Stewart Attwood)

Almost every shop is open, many offering handmade and local produce, quirky gifts and freshly-baked cakes, or services designed to fit the needs of tourists – from wild swimming kit to bikes for hire. There’s even a business hub for locals and visitors to make conference calls, collaborate and network, and free public WiFi.

On the way is Outlaw, a new escape rooms business which brings the booming form of entertainment – recently rubber-stamped by Sir Andy Murray – to the heart of the village.

Soon the bosses of the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha will arrive to set up a new café in a move seen by locals as the seal of approval for the new-look Aberfoyle, while thoughts are turning to the Dukes Weekender, a major cycling festival launched last year and which is expected to add to the area’s reputation as a cycling hub.

Around the village there are newly-planted hanging baskets, coloured pots and tubs, freshly-cleared paths and new signs. A fairy trail for children, merging local folklore with the spectacular scenery, has been revitalised and there are plans to revamp the playground.

From a village which had appeared to have lost its lustre, Aberfoyle has somehow shaken itself down, taken a deep breath and decided it is worth it, after all.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the transformation hasn’t come about thanks to thousands of pounds of public cash or a complicated strategy that took months of plotting.


(Picture credit: Stewart Attwood)

For in a lesson to all Scottish towns and villages that find themselves drifting in the doldrums, Aberfoyle’s rebirth is the result of good old-fashioned community spirit, sheer determination and a vision that it could one day regain its status as the Trossachs' favourite village.

“As a village, we were in trouble,” agrees Phil Crowder, who has been at the helm of the Forth Inn for more than 20 years. We were no worse really than most villages around Scotland. It’s very difficult for retail to survive in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and London, why should they survive in Aberfoyle especially when we don’t have a large native population? But we seem to have risen to the challenge.”

So how has this turnaround been achieved?

Rewind to 2012, and Aberfoyle was almost at its lowest ebb. A village propelled into the limelight by Sir Walter Scott’s Lady Of The Lake, which was set in the Trossachs and written by the novelist as he holidayed by the banks of nearby Loch Katrine, had enjoyed generations of good fortune.

The mid-1990s brought tourists inspired by Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Rob Roy, but as time wore on visitors sought more than nice Victorian buildings, ice cream and lovely scenery.

The floods of 2012, which saw the Forth burst its banks twice, engulfing already struggling shops in filthy water, is seen by some as a turning point.

“They affected businesses that were already suffering,” says local councillor Martin Earl.

“I think everyone was aware for a while that the village had problems. But in the last couple of years, there has been a real concerted effort by the community and local organisations to reinvigorate what is there.

“An area has to play to its strengths,” he adds. “In places like Aberfoyle, its strength is the location, the scenery, the ability to get there easily. It’s the Highlands in miniature.”

At the core of the regeneration is a community group calling themselves Aberfoyle Village People who took it upon themselves to use social media to help organise litter picks, to clean up paths and hang baskets of flowers along the main street.

“A hell of a lot of things have happened organically,” says Geraghty. “There’s been a powerful momentum that’s almost exclusively been driven by local entrepreneurs.

“In many cases, it’s their first-ever venture into business, but local people are putting hands in their pocket and investing to make it happen.”

Outside Walter & Betty’s where the shelves are laden with almost entirely locally-sourced items, Alison Boa pulls up a seat and waves to coaches packed with tourists on their way to the nearby Aberfoyle woollen mill, hopeful that they’ll double back and stop for a browse.

Previously the village’s landmark Olde Christmas Shoppe, the little cottage shop now sports dazzling yellow walls, pale blue doors and a bright red roof – the result of three local women banding together to breathe new life into what was in danger of becoming a local eyesore.

“They just saw a bit of potential, and they figured that if they did something, then other people might do the same,” says Boa. “We were open for around seven months when other places started to open too.

“Everyone in Aberfoyle is singing from the same hymn sheet. We all want to sell good Scottish products and to offer visitors as much local produce as we can.”

There’s a real effort among traders to give tourists an authentic flavour of Scotland. “Almost everything we sell is British made and we have tried to source things that are not tartan tat,” she adds.

Inside the shop are walking sticks handcrafted in the village, postcards produced locally along with quirky gifts that come from Scottish charities and social enterprises. “There’s a snowball effect happening,” she adds. “Maggie saw what we were doing and set up a bakery stall outside. Now she has her own shop.”

The same Maggie who once watched police attempt to control hordes of visitors is now among the traders at the heart of attempting to lure them back.

Her Maggie’s Aberfoyle Kitchen opened a month ago. This week she sold American customers 10 packets of homemade shortbread; within minutes they were back asking for 29 more.

“Aberfoyle has a buzz now,” she says. “People were worried about what would happen. Shops were lying empty and the street was in dire need of something being done. But the amount of Americans coming now is incredible. It’s been amazing.”

In what must have other Scottish towns looking on in envy, shops which lay vacant for months are now occupied. The former Guyana Garden Centre, which dominated the street for 15 years, has just been bought. Intrepid, an outdoor adventures specialist, has opened in what was once a sweet shop, and Aberfoyle Bike Hire, in a former butcher’s, has tapped into the demand for activity and sport pursuits.

“New shops are opening but what’s good is they are really high quality,” says bike shop owner Nick Green. “They are carefully considered, the locals have picked them to complement each other. It’s a real joined-up way of working. A lot of villages struggling to find direction could learn from what’s happened here.”


(Picture credit: Stewart Attwood)

Hopes are high that this rebirth is just the start. There are plans for festivals and to further tap into the area’s popularity with cyclists and hikers, plus a vision for the village to become a “green tourism” destination and hopes that a new Heart 200 route, which will guide visitors on a 200-mile trail through Perth, Stirling and the Trossachs, will receive the same enthusiasm as the North Coast 500.

Now all it needs is visitors.

Neil Christison, VisitScotland regional director, said: “Aberfoyle is a picturesque village with great appeal for visitors seeking to explore the outstanding scenery and landscape. Events such as the Dukes Weekender family cycling festival are helping to position Aberfoyle as a top-quality outdoor destination.

“VisitScotland is supporting the local business community, which is very collaborative and focused on growing the visitor experience in the area. This has been enhanced further with the opening of the Strathard Business Hub, located above the Aberfoyle VisitScotland iCentre.

“Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and touches every community, generating income, jobs and social change.

“We need to encourage the industry to continue to provide world-class service, facilities, events and attractions to keep up with ever-changing consumer demands and ensure visitors continue to have memorable experiences.”