It’s almost at the end of the line. From the road, Ben Lomond looms closer and then disappears behind trees. Conic Hill rises to the right. Soon, after spots of cottages and sheep, the small village of Balmaha bursts from the pavements.
If it wasn’t on the edge of one of Scotland’s most-loved lochs, this cluster of houses would watch tumbleweed trail past its doorsteps. Instead, thanks to the hills adjacent, the village sports a visitor centre, pub, self-catering accommodation and tiny shop. Fishermen peer across the jetty. Engines grumble across the water towards Inchcailloch, the closest island. Laces are seized, jackets zipped up, cars locked. This is a walkers’ paradise.
I’ve come to Balmaha with my family for years. Although we have attempted Ben Lomond, our most frequent wander has always been the Millennium Trail. Stationing the wagon in the car park, then joining the path at the far side, we soon meet the lochside. A white, low-lying cottage stares at us from the right; soon trails reach onto the hill. Following either one, the ascent is steep though short, and soon fantastic views over the water appear. On a dreich day the panorama is grey and atmospheric. On a crisp day, Loch Lomond’s neighbouring slopes make green waves above the cobalt lake. It’s a stunning vista. In tribute, it’s busy: walkers, runners, wanderers. It takes about thirty minutes to disappear over the stones. It isn’t necessary to take hiking seriously on this short trail. Many look like me – like they’ve just travelled from the West End’s chic coffee bars.
Talking of coffee, there’s a cute addition onto the left wing of the Oak Tree Inn, a Balmaha favourite. The pub stretches to a village shop, and at the end, there is a tiny stone extension housing Café St Mocha. Sinking sofas rest in corners; there is an iPad (those from Byres Road will love this) and scenic pictures line the walls. The highlight though, is the ‘homemade ice cream’. Ferrero Rocher, Snickers, lemon sorbet, strawberry cheesecake… I tasted banoffee. Chunks of tablet, crispy textured biscuit and the classic banana combination. Really rather good, even if the half an hour wander hadn’t really merited such an indulgence.
I didn’t try the scones, but they were massive. Not the usual round design, but triangular, and just over two quid if I remember correctly. I’m pretty sure it would have spanned the length of my hand. That’s on my To Do / Eat list.
In the summer, this new café will be jammed with tourists and Scots, desperate for an espresso, pining for an ice cream. As my brother pointed out, Balmaha really has everything for the city’s temporary ex-pats. The Oak Tree with its pub for the lager-fuelled hikers; the village shop for the kids’ sugar shots; and now Café St Mocha for coffee addicts and afternoon tea-lovers. Just make sure there’s a few clouds in the sky, so a seat is secured.
Café St Mocha doesn’t have a website yet, but you can follow them on Instagram by clicking here.