On the outskirts of the historic Scottish city of Stirling, a red squirrel darts across the road in front of me. Next, I spot a buzzard sitting alertly on a high fence post beside a field. Over the course of the day, I also spot a kestrel and a red kite in flight and numerous red and roe deer.
Despite being in central Scotland, driving the new Heart 200 route, I am surprised by the wealth of wildlife to be seen without even leaving my vehicle. I also enjoy the wonderful views of hills, mountains, forests, lochs and rivers as drive the tour of some 200-plus miles.
As well as these natural gems, I’m further amazed by the array of visitor attractions that line the road tour that circuits through the central belt regions of Stirlingshire and Highland Perthshire.
This series of blog posts reveal some of the highlights and attractions of a tour of Heart 200.
What is Heart 200?
The 200-mile plus route is the newest in a series of circular road tours to be established in Scotland. It follows suit from the now famous North Coast 500, the North East 250 and the South West Coastal 300.
The route, at the heart of Scotland, visits two historic cities, Stirling and Perth, as well as many attractive towns and villages. Uniquely, the tour also links both of Scotland’s national parks, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and the Cairngorms.
A range of different sub-tours encourage drivers, as well as walkers and cyclists, to get off the beaten trail, too. See Cycle route: Heart 200.
Robert Cairns is the managing director of Heart 200 and owner of the Fortingall Hotel near Aberfeldy, which is on the route.
He said: “Heart 200 has been designed to encourage tourism back into the heart of Scotland. We aim to offer visitors a leisurely journey with plenty of options to stay in the area for as long as possible.
“The Heart 200 website is full of ideas for planning a holiday, providing suggested itineraries and tours and highlighting the numerous attractions and places to stay, eat and spend time.”
Three day trip on Heart 200
It would be possible to drive the route in a day but this would miss all the many opportunities to visit multiple attractions. I would recommend two days minimum but three or four days would be better. you could take a week to drive the route and still have plenty to see and do.
For easy access to the Heart 200, I suggest you started at the cities of Stirling or Perth. The route follows well-established roads with a mix of busier roads and quieter country roads.
Day 1: Stirling to Lochearnhead
Distance: Around 55 miles.
You could easily spend a day or two in Stirling visiting historic gems. At the heart the old town, it medieval Stirling Castle, which sits atop a craggy volcanic rock. There is also the 19th century National Wallace Monument, which overlooks the site of the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge where William Wallace defeated the English. You can also visit the Battle of Bannockburn Experience, which has interactive 3D displays on the history of the 1314 conflict.
Also worth a trip are the Old Town Jail and the modern Engine Shed.
I set off from Stirling in a clockwise direction to follow Heart 200 and travelled into the so-called “Wooded Western Edge”.
It is only a short drive to the 14th century courtyard castle at the village of Doune. The fortification is a popular choice of movie directors and even featured in the 1960s comedy film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In more recent years, the venue has been used as Castle Winterfell in the original pilot episode of Game of Thrones and as Castle Leoch in Outlander.
There is a choice next. You could tour west to Aberfoyle or a detour north-west to Callander. The route heads into the gorgeous surroundings of The Trossachs with atmospheric forests, high mountains and picturesque lochs.
It’s well worth taking the winding Duke’s Pass – the A821 – north of Aberfoyle, which climbs almost 800ft and offers numerous opportunities to stop to take in the vista. You could also choose to go for a walk or a mountain bike ride in the huge Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Another recommendation is the Three Lochs Forest Drive.
A tree top adventure attraction, Go Ape, also starts from the forest’s visitor centre.
The A821 descends and skirts the western edge of Loch Achray. Another short detour west, just past a car park for a popular walking route to the summit of Ben Venue and just before the car park for Ben A’an, leads to Loch Katrine. You could take a steamship cruise on the waters from Trossachs Pier.
Back on the A821, the route undulates along the northern shore of Achray and through the small settlement of Brig o’Turk. You could enjoy a short walk of the Little Druim Wood and the Brig o’ Turk loop or a much longer walk of The Mell Circuit, Glen Finglas).
Next the driving tour runs along the edge of another waterway, Loch Venachar, before reaching Kilmahog on the pretty River Leny.
A nearby walk of some two miles leads to Samson’s Stone, a huge rock deposited by a prehistoric glacier on Bochastle Hill, and Dunmore Fort beyond it.
Joining the A84 northwards, several villages, including Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre, offer further attractive bases, especially for walkers. There are plenty of options, such as Kirkton Glen in Balquhidder, the Glen Ogle Trail in Lochearnhead, a section of the long-distance trail, the Rob Roy Way, or the popular mountain walk of Ben Ledi.
The area also features the BLiSS Sculpture Trail, with a series of arts installations.
Other things to see and do:
- Bracklinn Falls Bridge and Callander Crags
- Forest Hills Water Sports Centre, Loch Ard, near Aberfoyle
- Hire a bike at Katrine Wheelz and cycle alongside Loch Katrine
- Aberfoyle Bike Park
- Lochearnhead Shears, Lochearnhead (annual event).
Where to stay: Lochearnhead, or nearby Strathyre, offer plenty of choices for accommodation, including hotels, guest houses, lodges and camping.
To find out more see Heart 200 website.