Helensburgh to Balloch

This walk covers the first section of the new John Muir Way which opened in 2014 and stretches from Helensburgh to Dunbar, with a new link for 2015 from Dunbar to Cockburnspath to join up with The Southern Upland Way. To do this part in a day, you begin with an attractive walk along the end of Loch Lomond to Balloch Station to take the train to Helensburgh which is fun and has lovely views along the Clyde from Cardross to Helensburgh. It’s a bit of a drag up Sinclair Street, very pleasant around Hill House, flat but endless on the cycle track out of Helensburgh and then OK-ish up through the woods. The deciduous-wooded track is pleasant enough but does seem to go on for ages.

Then all-of-a-sudden it’s beautiful. There’s an optional viewpoint of Loch Lomond with the islands and the Ben as you’ve never seen them – which really is a must. On the other side of the ridge there are views back along the Clyde. However, it’s the Stoneymollen Road, an old coffin route, which makes the whole walk worthwhile. This is an ancient route, quoted in every book of walks in the west of Scotland, to carry the dead from Balloch to consecrated ground in Cardross.  Look for the base of a ‘cross’ stone on the left-hand side at a gate where you begin the descent. The base might also have been used to rest the coffin. The views of Loch Lomond are stunning..

 Park at the Duncan Mills Memorial Slipway car-park in Balloch.

To get there, take the A82 (Great Western Road) through Anniesland, along the Boulevard, by-passing Dunbarton, up the dual carriage-way towards Loch Lomond to the big roundabout looking like a rack of lamb with birds. Turn right here (third exit) for Balloch. At the next roundabout, turn first left for Lomondshores, Balloch Centre, National Park etc. At the next roundabout go straight over to Lomondshores marked by a large slate entrance slab. At the next roundabout, ignore all the invitations to join the red, blue or green car-parks, but go right round the roundabout to take the road to the Maid of the Loch slipway. The road passes Lomondshores (on the left) and is soon designated as the route to the Duncan Mills Slipway. Continue over the next roundabout and turn in RIGHT to the public car park. (The car-park on the left is for trailers, launching boats etc.) Its about 17 miles and should take 35/40 minutes.

There are toilets at the car-park, in the main building. There is also a machine selling crisps and sweets. The café may be open, and if you arrive early the views of Loch Lomond and the Maid of the Loch are lovely. If you arrive late, there may be toilets on the train and definitely at Helensburgh, but not Dalreoch.

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The Train

There’s a suitable train at 10.53 from Balloch to Helensburgh changing at Dalreoch. You should allow 10 minutes to walk to the station and 10 minutes to buy the tickets. The trains are every half-hour so if you miss the 10.53 you don’t have too much of a wait.

The walk

At Helensburgh you emerge from the station following the signs on the right to ‘Hill House’ wiggle past the Co-op (?) and come out on to Sinclair Street where you turn right. The route actually starts at the pier but only the purists will want to go down and back up to find out! Follow Sinclair Street to Helensburgh Upper Station. Here turn left into Upper Colqhoun Street, turn sharp right at the end, with the road. This goes past Hill House (note the Rennie Macintosh lampposts along the verge!). Straight ahead are some woods and signposts which provide a range of options for walkers – The Three Lochs Way, The Helensburgh walkers’ circuit and, of course, the John Muir Way (JM). Follow the John Muir path which is all-too-short and brings you out on to the busy A818. There’s the possibility of walking off-road by the reservoirs just to add variety. Otherwise, cross the road to take advantage of the broad cycle path.

It’s a 1½ mile slog along the cycle path. The views across Glen Fruin towards the Lomond hills improve and towards the end the cycle path moves away from the road. At two JM signs, one for cyclists to go straight on and one for walkers to turn right, go right over a stile by a gate on to a wooded, clear and gently climbing track. It’s OK but there are no views and it does seem endless. However, it suddenly broadens out and you get your first views of the moorland. Astonishingly, there are two sturdy signposts – just as if you were on a real walk in real mountains!!! They point out the Three Lochs Way and the JM way, as well as a route down to Craigendoran!

A little further on is a path to the left going up to a viewpoint over Loch Lomond. This is definitely worth a detour – even on a drizzly day it is magical. You have to come down to return to the main path. Suddenly you’re at the edge of the Kiellator Ridge and a magnificently created, sturdy path going steeply down. The new path brings you out along the old, but upgraded one, with lovely views to the left across the loch.

The central bit of the moorland is a bit bleak where the commercial trees have been harvested. Turn sharp left, rather unexpectedly, to follow a lovely path beside some woods to emerge over-looking Loch Lomond at a gate. Just to the left is the base of a cross stone where the coffins were rested. Pause here and admire the view. Then make your way down the lovely Stoneymollan track to a metalled road. You can take a path to follow the stream down on your right to vary the descent.

Watch for the JM sign to the left to take you over a footbridge across the A82 going up Loch Lomondside. Follow the road to the left from the bottom of the steps and into a little hamlet. At the road turn left, and after 200 yards right, as way-marked, down through Lomond Shores (toilets). Go straight on to the lochside, curving to the left with the path. Then go straight on (ignoring the motor and paddle boats on your left) to the main road you drove in at the beginning of the day. Turn left to, and then straight over, the roundabout to get to the cars.

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