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Three Lochs Way: Tarbet to Inveruglas 6miles

After a long wait to accommodate Aaron completing the Dales Highway, we a last got round to the last section of this pleasant walk. We picked an absolutely cracking day to finally tick of this trail from our list. The Way had kept back its best offering to the last, all be it rather short, day.

P1000464-Panorama

D of E 

We arrived in Tarbet and parked up in the Ben Lomond Cafe and Craft shop car park. There was a group of about 25 to 30 children from the Lomond School, Helensburgh, preparing for their Bronze DofE assessment. We moved off up to the Station car park for our own preparation of putting on boots and packing our sacks. Just before we were about to move off a group of six lads started out on their route, shortly followed by a far larger mixed group of boys and girls. The second group had not gone more than 100 metres before, instead of turning right under the railway, went straight on towards the main road (0h dear). I whistled at them to stop, took the map off the leader and tried to get him to see where he had gone wrong. No chance! He just couldn’t see that the track went under the railway, at this stage the the assessor appeared so I left it to him  sort out.

Our own efforts

We proceeded through the Tarbet Station underpass and the path climbed up to the left, shortly to come to a junction. Here we turned left through a pleasantly wooded area dappled in sunlight.

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The path sloped gently downward and it wasn’t long before we caught up with our young DofE group, still debating wether they were on right route. We pushed on to superb views of the Cobbler and Narnain with rhodedendron well in bloom.

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Although this is a pernicious weed that swamps out native species it does look glorious at this time of the year. This one is just like Japanese Knot Weed and is a cautionary tale about introducing foreign species  to this country without understanding the damage they do to native wildlife.

After rising to a viewing area, equipped with a nice wooden bench, the path swung north to enter the spectacular Glen Loin Woodland. This was a real treat in the delightful sunlight and is designated as a Site of  Special Scientific Interest. Unfortunately we saw nothing of the Red Squirrels reputed to populate the area, however we did get magnificent views looking back towards Arrochar and Loch Long.

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The walking now was an easy stroll with Glen Loin stretched out below us backed by the peak of A’ Choirs.

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After about 2 miles the path climbed up over a low bealach to Coiregrogain which is spectacularly hemmed in by the surrounding peaks of Ben Vorlich, A Chrois and Ben Vane. At times the Glen resembled Alpine pasture more akin to the Alps than Scotland.P1000450

This section is so reminiscent of my wifes favourite walk in Slovenia to Mostniski slapovi (the Mostnice waterfall). Unfortunately there is no mountain dom  called Voje to serve a beer and freshly baked Strudel. This would make the walk absolutely perfect!

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The route turned right, off the path, to cross Inveruglas water and climb to the hydro road, which we followed to busy A82.

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Here the path crosses to the car park at Inveruglas, the northern terminus of the Three Lochs Way.

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We settled down to a pleasant lunch in the cafe and awaited the Waterbus back to Tarbet. We had booked the Waterbus earlier in the day, on the drive up to Tarbet. This is essential as people are only picked up at Inveruglas by request.P1000476

The ferry runs across to Inversnaid before returning to Tarbet and takes between 45mins to an hour. In the good weather we had the sail was spectacular, if a little expensive at £8 a skull. On balance though it was well worth every penny.P1000482

After jumping off the ferry it was just a five minute walk back to the car after a super days walking.

P1000484Day Rating 10/10

 

This is by far the best section of the Three Lochs Way. Had the weather been as good on the other days the overall rating for the trail would have been greater. This is a great path as an introduction to Trail Walking.

 

 

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 Overall Rating 80%

This trail would make a perfect long weekend walk, particularly if the weather is set fine. Stage 2 isn’t particularly inspiring but this is a personal opinion that was very much coloured by the weather conditions on the day.

If you decide to walk this trail do it in the direction suggested on the website. We walked the first 3 sections in reverse as it was fixed in my mind that parking, then taking the train and travelling back to the car was the best option. However, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t do this in the opposite way to us.

The website has it right, Stage 3 and 4 would make a wonderful climax to the walk.

Obviously we can make no judgement on accommodation but I am sure that there will be plenty of suitable B&Bs. If you are camping there are suitable campsites and remember there are no restriction on wild camping in most areas of Scotland.

 

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Three Lochs Way: Tarbet to Garelochhead 11.94 miles

Once again we made an early start from Kirkintilloch but this time drove to Garelochhead to catch the 9.17 train to Tarbet, with the intention of walking back. True to form it was raining on the drive up. Pulling into the station car park we were welcomed by a couple of deer desperately trying to jump a fence to get out of our way. Mercifully it was dry! Was this a foretaste of what was in store? Unfortunately, no. We alighted from the train at Tarbet about 15 minutes later and it was begining to rain, fortunately not hard enough to require putting on our waterproofs.

 

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Start of the stone path

Set the map before you start!

Out of the station I wanted to turn right, fortunately Aaron can read a map! The route took us about 0.5km along the road, past the Museum of Highland Life and then crossed the road through a gate to a tarmaced track. This climbed rapidly turning right on to a stone path. Now I had the map correctly set and was clued in. Not too difficult, as the way marking on this trail is very good. Even a numpty like me will find it difficult to go off track. The views were now opening up to give us a good look at the head of Loch Long and Arrochar.

Head of Loch Long

Head of Loch Long

The path steadily climbed giving open views down the loch and up to the cloud shrouded Arrochar Alps. The Cobbler would annoyingly clear of cloud only to disappear as soon as the camera focused on the summit.

Cobbler in Cloud

Cobbler in Cloud

There’s still plenty of snow on the tops of the Cobbler and Beinn Narnairn. The Cobbler, by the way, gets its name from the fact that its summit looks like a cobbler leaning over his bench. Its Sunday name is Ben Arthur. The path continued to climb to a mobile phone or some other installation and at this stage the rain was sufficient to make us stop and put on our waterproofs.

Into Waterproofs

Into Waterproofs

The views were now stunning and the road to the Rest and be Thankful was clearly visible.

No Spring Colours Yet!

No Spring Colours Yet!

It is incredible how sound travels across water as it was at this stage we could hear dogs barking, with a background of a constant drone of traffic from the A83. Not that this detracts from the general enjoyment of the walk.

Switch Back?

The route now becomes much more undulating and walking becomes more like interval training on the bike (not that I’m an expert on that, as I’m firmly in the camp of ,”if the going gets tough, cry for your mummy”).

 

The walk was now a series of stiff climbs (I mean b……  steep pitches) follow by downhill sections, losing all the hight gained. Heart racing, lung bursting stuff. At least for me! After cresting the next lump we spotted an old guy striding towards us.( Just cut myself a slice there, he was about my age!)  He had walked through form Inverbeg through Glen Douglas. His intention was to walk Tarbet  and return to his car via the cycle track. Blooming heck! See these old guys. The path now steadily  dropped to two large water mains that crossed a burn.

About to nut a tree!

About to nut a tree!

The pipes are taped off and you have no alternative but to attempt to cross dry shod. I elected to balance on some very slippery stones, with one foot on a submerged rock. This forced me to the left and I was so intent on the next step I nutted a low overhanging branch. Made me see stars for a while! Meanwhile Aaron went for the direct approach and waded straight through to be rewarded with a boot full of water.

Swichback?

Squaddies Paradise

We  hit the top of the final stiff climb, near a finger post for Morelaggan, with a very indistinct path leading to the recently excavated ‘fermtoun’ of High Morelaggan. We decided to push on to Creagan Sithe where the track joined the road through Glen Douglas. Negotiating the gate we turned right across a bridge  then up the stone track almost directly in front of us. Ministry of defence buildings were much in evidence as we had entered squaddy training territory. The track now followed the line of pylons through a less than inspiring wood area, nice enough but the trees obscured any view. Lunch break was taken sitting on a log close to the track, it was here we realised how brisk the breeze was, as we cooled down rather quickly. After the brief stop we continued and it was here that my son pointed up the track and said “what the hell was that?” Later he told me it looked like a large grey shaggy dog crawling up the bank into the trees. His eyes are much sharper than mine or perhaps his Army training has made him far more aware of movement than I am, or it was out of my line of sigh? The answer was soon to reveal itself, as we passed a planting line in the trees he said ” there are two squaddies in the trees up to your left. I still couldn’t see them and stood like a stookie until I spotted one trying to play secret squirrel amoungst the trees. Our grey shaggy dog was a squaddy, in combat fatigues,  scrambling up the bank to get out of our way. Hope he has a few more weeks training before he’s punted out into combat service! Further on two more soldiers were rapidly walking towards us and Aaron informed them that two of thier mates  were hiding in the trees a few yards up the track. One said “more like sleeping”.  Aaron informed me he was a Captain. I joked, “as you’re on the Army Reserve list shouldn’t you salute him”. The reply was “that will be bl—y right, yes I will salute him like this”, followed by an unorthodox salute involving two fingers. See these exarmy musicians, no respect!

Thunder Boxes

Shortly after passing Captain Courageous the path dived down to the left, towards the West Highland Line.

Dropping down to the railway

Dropping down to the railway

Just before the line there was one of the wooden shelter that have been erected for the training Squaddies.

Glenn Culanach Hilton

Glenn Culanach Hilton

This one was a little dilapidated but it could be used at a push. The signage at this point was very good with finger posts indicating both destinations and distances. (7.8km to Garelochhead).

Good signage

Good signage

The path now crossed an extremly boggy section, passing under the railway and climbing up to a group of two wooden huts, complete with two bright blue thunder boxes. The huts were Hilton standard, with good dry sleeping platforms in situ. The thunder boxes were of equal quality, facilities for flushing and nice scented soap for washing hands (no holes dug in the soil for our squaddies).This pattern was to be repeated several times before reaching Garelochhead. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity offered; a far cry from my Grandad’s privy which was located at the bottom of his garden. I clearly remeber having to hold my breath on opening the door, and the cricket ball size tomatoes he grew on the soil covered trench into which he emptied the bucket. Just after the thunder boxes the track turned right taking us gently down hill but then, predictably, regaining the height we had lost. We were now close to Glenmallan and it wasn’t long before the Oil Storage Depot on the loch came into sight. Once again the signage was first class, keeping us on track for Garelochhead.

The ‘Final Furlong’!

I was now beginning to toil,  so it was with some relief we hit the end of the American Roadand. Not much a relief as I hate walking on tarmac roads; seems to go for my knees!  We plodded on, the road seeming to conspiring to increase the distance between us and our goal.

Final fingerpost

Final fingerpost

I was never so glad to see the finger post for Garelochhead and the wobbly fence crossing we had encountered a week and a half ago (on stage two). Unlike stage two we now had good views of the loch and Garelochhead.

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Final leg view

We descended the path through woodland and onto the roundabout on the A814 and from here the Sustrans path took us back to the car at the station.

Day rating  8/1o

There has been some debate between us about this. Aaron was inclined to give it 7/10 on the grounds of the second half being less than inspiring. However, the first half was superb and had it maintained this the whole day the walk would have easily rated 9/10, if not more. We are both of the opinion that the Three Lochs Way would be a good introduction to trail walking and in good weather, superb. However, we would recommend walking in the direction suggested by the website. In this way stage 3 would be stunning, particularly in good weather.

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Knackered

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Garelochhead to Helensburgh 9.18 miles

 

Another Dreich, Damp Scottish Day.

We made an early start and drove to Helensburgh Upper Station to catch the 9.06 train to Garelochhead. The day was over caste as we drove through Strathblane with spots of rain smearing the car’s windscreen. A foretaste of the day to come.

The train arrived bang on time and we decanted from the train at Garlochhead ten minutes later. Must give a mention to the Guard who held the train up so that I could run back and collect the Tilley hat I had left behind. Can’t see that happening on a train into London! Thanks mate much appreciated.

Out of the station we sauntered to the start of the walk. We were welcome by a beauifully tarmaced path heading upwards through some pleasant woodland, towards the roundabout on the A817. This section is part of a cycle route into Garelochhead. From the roundabout we crossed the A817 into a wooded area which soon burst out into open moorland. It was now a stiff climb towards the American Road

 

Top of the first climb

Top of the first climb

 

We paused at the top of the hill to catch our breaths and look back towards Gareloch, unfortunately the mist spoiled what would in sunny condition be a spectacular view. Pushing on in the direction indicated by the finger post we reached a fence we needed to scale to continue the walk. Aaron managed to hop over without too much of a problem. In my aged condition it was more of a precarious wobble  ( could have put a decent stile here to aid the aged parent ).

Heavy mist and tarmac

It was now only a few steps onto the American Road itself. Here we turned south and followed the road across the Ministry of Defence Training Area. Progressing along this part we stopped briefly to talk to a couple of walkers with dogs and speculated on how much extra ground the animals cover in a days outing. The ladies suggested 3 to 4 times the distance they were likely to cover and be ready for another 20 miles after having a bite to eat. Further along we came across some workers resurfacing the road. From the quality of the work it’s obvious the MOD are financing the project. If local authorities completed road surfacing to the specification we witnessed we would have far fewer potholes, but our rates would go through the roof. When complete this will be a cracking road to ride on the bike!

Heavy Mist

Heavy Mist

Once we reached the check point on the road we again crossed the A817 towards Glen Fruin. The power lines we now passed under were sizzling in the now thick mist.

A little further on an inscribed boulder commemorates the Battle of Glen Fruin (1603) when a force of MacGregors defeated the Colquhouns in what was Scotland’s last major inter clan battle.

Soon we passed military buildings dating from world War ll when the installation conducted some of the research and development for Barnes Wallis’s “Bouncing Bomb”. Shortly after this we heard the distict call of peacocks and it wasn’t long before Strone house came into view. There was our peacock perched on the roof of the house out buildings.

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Glen Fruin

We were now well into Glen Fruin and the “rigs” of an earlier era were much in evidence, a testament to the much larger population in these times.

These strips consisted of ridges of cultivated land, the rigs, separated from one another by quite deep ditches. These rigs were, on average, 30 feet broad. The hollows acted as shallow drains for the rainwater, but most of them were covered in reeds, broom and marsh plants.

The farmers rented the land from the local landowner and usually paid him in kind. They lived in small clusters of houses and, each day, went forth to farm their rigs and tend to their animals. Most of them rented a number of rigs, but it was unusual for a farmer to have two or more rigs alongside each other. These strips were curved into a sort of S shape because of the need for turning space for the teams of oxen pulling the heavy, wooden, “Old Scots Plough”. The best land (known as the Infield) was always kept under crop. It was never rested and, on most rigs, the same crop was grown year after year.

The walk was now a pleasant stroll along the Glen Fruin which would have been much better had the sun been shining. About 4km further on we came to Black Bridge where we turned right. The path now followed the line of an ancient ‘coffin road’ known locally as the ‘Highlandman’s Road’ and for centuries it was the route taken by the people of Glen Fruin as they walked to their parish church in Rhu.

North end of Highlandman's Road

North end of Highlandman’s Road

Highlandman’s Road

The route climb steadily with the views still shrouded in mist. The path here is in excellent condition and there is much evidence of the work that has been carried out on this section. It was not long before we crested the hill and started to drop towards Helensburgh with good, if not misted views, of the Clyde estuary. We paused to take a few photos and then pressed on through a section of incredible mud, our boots instantly doubling in weight with the clinging glore.

Looking down on Helenburgh

Looking down on Helenburgh

House on the Hill

Finally we passed through a wooded are to emerge at the car park for the Rennie MacKintosh designed house. We sauntered down the broad boulevard, turning left to return to our parked car.

Just before the House on the Hill

Just before the House on the Hill

 Day Rating 6/10

Too much road walking for my taste, although I may have sneaked another point had the weather been a little better. If you want an easy walk in fine weather this maybe just the ticket for you!

 

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Helensburgh – Balloch – 8.5 miles

 

Plotting our route

P1000390-Panorama

Aaron had a weeks holiday and on the Monday he suggested that we walk the first stage of the Three Lochs Way. He assured me it was around the 10 mile mark. After consulting the web site and plotting the route for the GPS, I was ready to go. After looking at the Nation Rail Enquiries we decided to leave the car in Balloch and catch the train to Helensburgh Central and walk back to Balloch. Aaron reasoned that it was better to journey out and walk back rather than walking to Helensburgh and hanging around, cold and damp, for the train back. Twenty three minutes after boarding the train at Balloch and one change we decanted form the Helensburgh Central to be greeted by a brisk cold Westerly wind.

Looking over a very dull River Clyde

Looking over a very dull River Clyde

Heading out of town

We porceeded to the sea front where it was necessary for me to shelter in the Information Centre to retrieve my gloves from my ruck sac. From there the route took us east out of  town along the busy A814. Not a particularly inspiring start, but after about a mile we encountered the first waymarker, which directed us along a pathway, between the houses, which emerged to run alongside a narrow strip of woodland. The path continued along a tarmac road towards Camis Eskan farm. Just before the private road another waymarker indicated directly upward, to skirt around the back of the farm. The view to the south was now opening up and we could see the Clyde and Helensburgh below us, to the west we could begin to see Dunoon and two Naval vessels gradually making ther way out to sea. It was such a pity that it was a couldy day as the sunshine would have made the views spectacular. The route swung left towards a gate and barn and we paused for a further look to the south and west.

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Red burn and Red Glen

After the gate and barn the way proceeded gently up hill towards Quarry wood. Once again the views to south and west were outstanding and the quality of the path was extremely good. After emerging form the wood the route ran along the Red Burn towards Northfield Woods. The amount of work carried out here has been extensive giving a good solid surface to walk on and  raised boardwalks to cross the wet peat. Following the path upwards we could see a bird of prey hanging on the breeze above the Killoeter escarpment. The bird was too far away to decide wether it was a Buzzard or Red Kite. Towards the end of the burn the good surface abruptly ended and the route passed through a gate and entered a heather covered boggy area. After the extensive rain we have had this winter it was very wet and the walk became a bit of a bog trot. However, it was apparent how well used this section of the Lochs Way has been by the number of deep foot prints pressed into the mire. After a short grovel across the peat the path climbed onto the hard surface of a forest track and turned right, (walkers from Balloch should pay attention here as the waymarker has been removed and the disc on the tree marking the turn is easily missed).

The incredible moss on the trees

The incredible moss on the trees

Mirk Wood ?

The path now offered a pleasant woodland walk on a relatively dry surface only to end abruptly, entering a heavily wood slope. Initially the path contoured through the closely packed trees and along great outcrops of pudding stone, clearly marking the boundary of the Highland Fault Line. This section warrants you being on your toes as the path is marked by white and orange tape tied to the trees. Don’t become engrossed too deeply in conversation as the markers are easy to miss and you could spend considerable time wandering around trying to find the path, (I understand, from the website, that this section of the walk is under development and is subject to change). However, the wood is fabulous it ‘s like something out of a horror movie or a fantasy novel. J.R.R. Tolkien would have felt at home here and I would not have been surprised if a Hobbit appeared out of the trees. The trunks were so close together that it was very gloomy with little growing on the forest floor. Where the wood thinned to let in a little light the branches were festooned with brilliant green moss, just like Xmas decorations. 

The first glimpse of Loch Lomond and the highland boudary fault

The first glimpse of Loch Lomond and the highland boudary fault

Because of the slope we needed to take care while contouring and it was some relief when the path plunged steeply downward then climbed and emerged from the trees close to a dry stain dyke. The way followed the line of the wall, for about 300 metres, then turned sharp right to follow the edge of the wood on a forest track. It was in this section that we caught our first glimpse of Loch Lomond, unfortunately the mist made the view of  island in the loch a little dour.

The last leg

Shortly after our right turn the forest track turned to the east passing through and area where the tress have been felled, fortunately there is evidence of extensive replanting. Once again the path turned  east towards Cross Stone and Stoney Mallon Muir and a substantial gate in the fencing. It’s here that Aaron spent about a year (in his late teens) with the Scottish Wildlife Trust,  building drainage channels and the very gate we had passed through. We now descended the stone road through the Muir to an impressive avenue of mature Beech trees. It was here that we met a young lass with her father, reconnoitring the John Muir Way. This route has recently been extended to now run from Dunbar to Helenburgh, 134 miles, and will open officially in April. Sophie is walking it in April over 7 days, a fair challenge. Good luck to her and I hope the weather is good.

At the gate at the top of Stonymollin - the old coffin road to Alexandria

At the gate at the top of Stonymollin – the old coffin road to Alexandria

We took a break at the beech trees to have a bite to eat and a drink but didn’t linger as the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. Just before the crossing over the main road we were entertained by a thrush singing his heart out, repeating the phrases of his song twice every run through. His repertoire was quite extensive!

A row of beech and hawthorn

A row of beech and hawthorn

Across the bridge, over the main Loch Lomond road, we turned north and then east, to pass through the Loch Lomond Shores retail complex and followed the riverside walk way for a futher 500 metres to our car.

Day rating 8/10

Looking out over Loch Lomond from Lomond Shores

Looking out over Loch Lomond from Lomond Shores

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