Helensburgh to Balloch

Local Hero

Local Hero

When I read that the John Muir Way (JMW) had been extended and now stretches from Helensburgh to Dunbar this was a nice infusion of new walking options. Today we started our campaign with the start at Helensburgh. It’s 215km (134 miles) long and splits into nice day sections, and unlike our friend the SUW, there is actually some public transport (and obliging relatives) to help us connect up the stages. Today we gave ScotRail our custom: we parked at Balloch station and took the train to Helensburgh and walked back.

View towards Helensburgh from Hill House

View towards Helensburgh from Hill House

From Helensburgh station it’s a matter of heading up the hill.  I’d been told that Helensburgh was a smart town and so the sea-front was a bit underwhelming.  But things rapidly improve as you climb towards Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s place at the top of the hill, cunningly called Hill House 1.  As you gain height the houses keep getting bigger, set in larger gardens with lovely avenues connecting them.  And because each house typically had a garage with space for a dozen Bentleys there were no cars parked on the street which made things even nicer.  The houses also seemed to be single residences: no splitting into flats or turned into nursing homes here.  Clearly the owners aren’t on benefits.

Hill House

Hill House

Must be dark inside

Must be dark inside

Warning: Philistine comments coming. Personally I found Hill House itself to be the least attractive of the houses in these parts.  Admittedly I didn’t look inside as NTS has a strange policy against dogs lounging about on CRM’s furniture, so my view is based purely on the outside and I just don’t go for the concrete bunker look.  Nice garden though.

Looking towards Greenock

Looking towards Greenock

Jazz in Bannachra Woods

Jazz in Bannachra Woods

The JMW now skirts through a small wood before emerging on the A818.  Now don’t get me wrong: this is a fine road, well-maintained with a nice cycle-track along the side.  The only problem is that the JMW wants me to follow it for 2.5km.  We do get nice views down to Glen Fruin but otherwise it’s tarmac and road noise until the turn-off to enter Bannachra Woods where peace and tranquility returns as we climb the muir around Ben Bowie to Gowk Hill where lunch was served with a view over the Clyde towards Greenock.

West Loch Lomond

West Loch Lomond

Path needs a bit of work

Path needs a bit of work

Then it is just a little further to the viewpoint that shows you what the trees have been hiding: a lovely view over Loch Lomond and showing that we are exactly on the Highland Boundary Fault as it stretches out over Inchmurrin towards Conic Hill on the far side of the loch.  Unfortunately the path has to descend through the trees here and this is the point where the JMW needs a bit of work (scheduled for later this summer) as it is a bit of a steep mud-bath.  The path is marked by red+white plastic tape tied around trees: miss this and you’ll be stumbling about the trees for hours!

Stoneymollan coffin road

Stoneymollan coffin road

Coffin road

Coffin road

Loch Lomond from the Cross Stone

Loch Lomond from the Cross Stone

The path then emerges onto track beside recently harvested forest which is always ugly, but keep your eyes towards Ben Lomond and the view is great.  At the high point called Cross Stone we join the old coffin road across Stoneymollan Muir as it descends towards Balloch. This was the route a funeral procession would take to reach consecrated ground for the burial.  That must have been hard work, but for us it made a pleasant walk into Balloch with my first Cuckoo of the year calling away.  After crossing the traffic-jammed A82 2 we reach Lomond Shores and its crowds at Balloch with an easy wander to the River Leven where it emerges from the loch, and follow the path back to the car.

Next section of JMT: Balloch to Strathblane

Notes:

  1. Run by the NTS.
  2. It is a Bank Holiday weekend after all.
Distance:14km
Effort:
Scenery:
Do It Again:
Duration:4 hours