Again, this is the simplest of walks beginning and ending at a (very large) car-park. The full length is about 9 miles but those not going over Tom Buidhe can turn back whenever they feel like it and make for the Hotspots of Helensburgh. It will be obvious from the drive to the starting point that the car does all the hard work on this walk, although ‘The Yankee Road’ which you follow there and back, undulates a bit. If you ignore Faslane below the car park and the Military area on your right, the great advantage of this walk is the (hopefully) wonderful views of Gare Loch, Loch Long and Loch Goil and the even more spectacular views of the Arrochar Alps: Ben Ime, Ben Narnain and Ben Arthur (The Cobbler). There are lots more knobbly bits like Caisteal Dubh and Beinne Raithe. Never mind the names, the overall views are lovely and with easy walking you can actually look at them! The surface is too good at the beginning (metalled), and very good throughout. This is yet another section of Three Lochs Way!
Your turning point is the iconic wooden hut where the men slept who built the “Gurkha Bato”, a road constructed in 2009 by the men of 70 Gurkha Field Support Squadron to provide a route across the dangerously boggy ground just south of the railway underbridge. The new bridge across the Glen Mallan Burn bears a small plaque in memory of Dave Markland who did the early project management work on the “Gurkha Bato”, Sadly, Dave lost his life in Afghanistan not long after.
Park in the ample space on the ‘Yankee Road’ over-looking Gare Loch
For once these notes start by suggesting how NOT to go! If you set your Sat-Nav for Garelochhead it will, quite rightly, take you up Loch Lomondside, ignore the A818 to Helensburgh, but take you on to Shemore to the A817. This new road, built by the Americans when enlarging Coulport, is more direct, more beautiful and lands you right at the start of the walk. Unfortunately it also by-passes two sets of toilets which, since there are no toilets on arrival, are pretty necessary!
So, don’t use your Satnav but take the A82, (Great Western Road) as usual, (Boulevard, Dumbarton, up Loch Lomondside). Beyond the huge roundabout with the flying geese (or whatever?) at Balloch, continue on up past the Duck Bay Marina and then at the next roundabout, at Arden, turn left on the A818. This good road takes you to a roundabout where you turn left continuing on the A818. You’ll come into Helensburgh, go straight down the hill, across the A814 (the Shore Road) and into the huge pier car-park. Turn right in the car-park to go in front of the Swimming Pool. The toilets are very obvious in front of you, just where you’ll exit back on to the A814.
Exit from the car-park on to the A814 and turn left along the front in Helensburgh. Continue through Shandon etc. to Rhu where there is another toilet block on the seaward side and a small bus bay where you can park. The continue past the Peace Camp on your right and Faslane on your left.
At the roundabout with the High Security entrance to the Naval Base on your left, and Garelochhead and Kilcreggan straight on, DON’T go into Garelochhead. Instead take the third exit on your right, signposted to Arrochar.
At the next roundabout, ignore the road to Arrochar and Coulport on your left and take the right-hand road signposted Balloch with a huge brown Tourist Board sign pointing to Loch Lomond.
Drive up and up and up this road and when you see a sign on your left saying “Cross Roads’ and ‘Danger Military Vehicles Turning’ and a big exclamation mark, slow down and turn left along an open tarmac road. Ignore the first space, go through the gate (I think it’s a gate) and park along the left-hand side looking down on Garelochhead and Loch Long. This is probably the most beautiful car park we’ve ever parked in!
Simply set off along the metalled track, high above Loch Long and always looking towards the mountains. After about two miles, the tarmac ends at a gate and you’re on to much more pleasant walking, still easy, but with earth beneath your feet. At a pleasant junction, the main path goes straight on but those who would like to climb higher turn right here and go over the side of Tom Buidhe. There are good views from the top –including The Sleeping Warrior on Arran.)
On the way down, DON’T take the path to the right, signposted Arrochar along the Three Lochs Way. This is too far for one day. Instead, turn left and go down very steeply to the unmistakable ‘Gurko Bato’. If you have continued on the LRT, ignoring Tom Buidhe you may turn back here ; or you may go on a little to wave your red flannel petticoats at the trains which are just below you. You can get nearer to the trains where an alternative (and very-muddy-on-the-reccé-path) goes under the railway!