Welcome to Tarbet
Tarbet is a small picturesque village on the western shores of Loch Lomond and in the heart of the ‘Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’. Situated towards the northern end of the loch, the surrounding area is one of spectacular mountain and loch side scenery. Here woods of ash, rowan, oak and sycamore trees play host to deer, pine martins and wildcats while the waters of the loch teem with pike, brown trout, salmon, fresh water herring and powan. Above circle birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons, which are just some of over 200 species of bird to be found in the area. Looming high in the east, across the restless waters, is the majestic Ben Lomond (beacon mountain) which rises to 3195 feet. About a mile and a half to the west lies Arrochar and the Arrochar Alps, including the popular Ben Arthur; commonly known as ‘The Cobbler’ due to the strange rock formations at its summit. All of these wonders of nature are at your doorstep when you stay in Tarbet.
North view from Ben Vorlich, Loch Lomond
The name of the village is derived from the Gaelic word for isthmus, which here describes the narrow strip of land separating Arrochar at the head of the sea loch, Loch Long, and the shores of Loch Lomond at Tarbet. This pass, less than two miles long, is the shortest route from the sea to landlocked Loch Lomond. For this reason it has always been a natural approach for anyone wishing to access Loch Lomond from the sea.
The first of Scotland’s settlers were hunter gatherers, whose descendants gradually built up settlements on Scotland’s coasts and islands. Dependant on watercourses for transportation and communication, it is doubtful that they would have felt at all comfortable moving too far from the coasts, rivers and lochs. For this reason it seems likely that the isthmus between Arrochar and Tarbet was one route which was taken by the earliest settlers entering the relative safety of Loch Lomond. On one island on Loch Lomond, Inchlonaig, scraps left behind from early inhabitants suggest that people have been living on loch’s islands and shores since at least 5000 BC. This being the case, it is not to far fetched to suggest that people have been passing through, and recognising the importance of, the place where Tarbet now lies for at least 7000 years.
From the 6th century Loch Lomond’s islands and shores developed as a tranquil setting for the growth of Scottish Christianity; firstly because of St Kessog, who founded a church on Inchtavannach, ‘the monk's island’, c.510 AD and then because of St Mirren, who visited what later became Inchmurrin, ‘island of Mirren’. However, in the 13 century the tranquillity of Loch Lomond was cruelly shattered, and again the isthmus at Tarbet proved of crucial importance.
From the 9th century until the 13th century much of Scotland’s western seaboard was dominated by Viking overlords. In 1263, when King Haakon IV of Norway caught wind of skirmishes on the Isle of Skye between Norse and Scots soldiers, he became resolved to launch an attack on mainland Scotland. En route to war some of the fleet’s galleons, those led by Magnus King of Man (Haakon’s son-in-law), decided to take a detour in search of some of the ‘spoils of war’. They sailed up Loch Long before carrying their longships the mile and a half to Tarbet and onto an almost completely undefended Loch Lomond. Once there, they conducted a devastating series of raids down the length of the loch, burning and looting settlements and religious buildings before fleeing along the River Leven. When this war band later reunited with the rest of the fleet at Largs, on Scotland’s west coast, only to be slaughtered by a Scots army led by Alexander III, none of Loch Lomond’s surviving inhabitants would have mourned.
When exactly Tarbet Village came into being is unclear. While we can assume that its importance at the isthmus may have led to early settlement, this has yet to be proven. Certainly there was a small settlement here by the end of the 18th century which grew up over the next one hundred years as a result of the growth of tourism. Possibly the oldest building in Tarbet is The Ben Lomond restaurant, housed in the old village church which dates back to the 18th century. Then there is the Tarbet Hotel, which came into being in the 19th century and played host to the village’s Victorian visitors. Queen Victoria herself came to the area, praising the ‘small town’ and its ‘splendid richly wooded passes, with the highest mountains rising behind’.
At the end of the 19th century the village became a stopping point for the West Highland Railway line. The pier developed from around about the same time and in later years become the berthing place for a number of boat companies offering tours of the loch. No doubt this has been a spur for modern tourism. Today the small Visitor Centre caters for those who come to go hill walking, cycling, sailing as well as for pleasure cruises.
On loch cruises one can visit another ‘part of Tarbet’: Tarbet Isle, situated three quarters of a mile to the south east of the village from which it takes its name. It is a very small, thickly wooded island, inhabited by large colonies of gulls. Folklore has it that newlyweds were made to spend a week on the island after their wedding with only a minimum of provisions. If they survived the ordeal still speaking to one another it was deemed that the marriage would be a successful one. For this reason it is also known as Honeymoon Isle.