What is Loch Lomond?

Loch Lomond is a traditional Scottish folksong, in which the singer reminisces about the beauty of the famous loch just north of Glasgow and how he and his lover used to meet there. Alas, he rues, those meetings will never happen again. Although it usually known simply as Loch Lomond, it is sometimes called The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond or The Banks of Loch Lomond.

When does the song Loch Lomond date from?

The earliest published version we have of Loch Lomond is 1841, in a collection called Vocal Melodies of Scotland. It certainly predates that date significantly, however, and the tune may well be older than the words.

To what do the words of Loch Lomond refer?

There are various theories here, though most centre around the invasion of England by Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army in 1745, their retreat and eventual defeat at the Battle of Culloden the following April. One of the more popular versions is that the words are spoken by a Jacobite soldier who has been captured after Culloden and, incarcerated in Carlisle prison, is awaiting execution, while the person he addressing is set to be released. The souls of the dead travel quicker along ‘the low road’ than do living people walking along ‘the high road’, hence he will get to Scotland first.

What makes the tune of Loch Lomond so evocative?

Partly, its simplicity. The melody is written almost entirely using the pentatonic scale (i.e. the five notes that can be played on just the black keys of the piano) with a sixth note appearing only once, on the ‘nev-‘ of ‘never meet again’ in the third line. That simplicity has also proved a magnet for composers looking to make an arrangement of it.

What are the best settings of Loch Lomond?

Given its popularity there are, unsurprisingly, a lot of settings of Loch Lomond and, of course, recordings. One particularly famous setting for unaccompanied choir is that made by Vaughan Williams in 1921 – try the recording by the Armonico Consort. Also recommended is David Overton’s setting for the King’s Singers, recorded by the six-voice ensemble in 2017. Though you don’t get any words in the evocative arrangement featured on Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti’s 2014 Homecoming album, the playing is simply stunning. And, finally, let’s not forget Runrig. The Scottish rock group has adopted Loch Lomond almost as its signature tune, and memorably performed and recorded it live in front of the Loch itself in 1991.

What are the lyrics to Loch Lomond?

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.

O ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.

'Twas there that we parted, in yon shady glen,
On the steep, steep side o' Ben Lomond,
Where in soft purple hue, the highland hills we view,
And the moon coming out in the gloaming.


The wee birdies sing and the wildflowers spring,
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping.
But the broken heart it kens nae second spring again,
Though the waeful may cease frae their grieving.



Jeremy PoundDeputy Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.