Welcome to Balmaha

Balmaha is the most important pleasure boating centre on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond. The village lies at the base of the Conic Hill in the area of the Highland Boundary Fault. To its north lie the beautiful Scottish Highlands and to the south flatter lands lead to Glasgow, some 35 miles distant. East is the town of Drymen and west a short ferry crossing will take you to the fascinating island of Inchcailloch. Balmaha lies in an area both rich in natural beauty and steeped in history.

Loch Lomond - view from Ben Lomond - via Balmaha

For over 7000 years people have been using Loch Lomond as a waterway. A little north of Balmaha, near Strathcashel Point, lies a man made island, or crannog, built around 5000 years ago. On the crannog the oak foundations of an Iron Age round house can still be identified.

It is, however, the natural island of Inchcailloch which first put Balmaha on the map. The small bay at Balmaha provides the closest and most sheltered starting point for any crossing to this, Loch Lomond's most accessible island. Inchcailloch became an important site after the arrival of the Christian missionary, St Kentigerna, in 717 AD. She was already an old woman when she settled on the island and may have died there several years later. The island is named after her: Inchcailloch meaning 'the island of the nun'. From this time Inchcailloch has been considered a sacred place, although not until the late 12th century can we be certain there was a church founded there to her memory.

The church was to be the focal point of the local parish. Every Sunday for around 500 years parishioners would row over from Balmaha's bay for worship. Inchcailloch was also where local people buried their dead. Being the parish of the MacGregors, it became their sacred burial site. Here Rob Roy's ancestors are buried, including Gregor Macgregor (d.1623), Rob Roy's uncle. Although the church was abandoned in 1670 the burial ground continued being used until 1947. Balamaha most likely developed around the bay and would have been brought to life by the activity caused by its proximity to the sacred island. In any case, today any stay in Balmaha which did not include a visit to Inchcailloch, its graveyard and ruined church, would be tantamount to sacrilege.

As mentioned before, the lands on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond were once those of the Clan MacGregor. The MacGregors were much feared and held these lands by the sword; they were even accustomed to do a bit of raiding (especially cattle rustling) into neighbouring territories. Balmaha marked the southernmost extent of the MacGregor lands on the eastern shores of the loch and as such was used as a base for raids into the lowlands. Unfortunately (for the MacGregors) the lands were seized by the government in 1712 when clan chief Rob Roy MacGregor was declared an outlaw (see article, The Trossachs).

Speed yacht racing at Balmaha, Loch Lomond

The village we see today came into existence largely in the 19th century when Loch Lomond was popularised as a tourist destination. At first visitors came on the steam ships which called at Balmaha's pier. Although the steamer services are now long gone, in the summer months Balmaha's bay is rarely empty; at times it is jam packed with all sorts of yachts, kayaks, canoes, power boats, jet-skis, etc. However, most of today's visitors arrive in Balmaha by land rather than by water. Balmaha is an important resting point on The West Highland Way, Scotland's most famous and possibly most scenic walking route. Most commonly, though, the modern visitor arrives by car, which is evident from the difficulty one may encounter in finding a parking space in the village's car park during the summer months. Regardless of the means of your arrival, Balmaha is guaranteed to take your breath away.