Total distance – 11.9 Kilometres
Ascent – 390 metres
Walking conditions – Well-defined footpaths, tracks and pavements. No difficulties.
Time required – 3.5 to 5.5 hours
Nearest town – Drymen
It was summer 1993 and an attempt by me and two friends to complete the West Highland Way. At the end of Day 1, we set up camp in Balmaha (camping there was entirely legal in those days). At that point, I was unaware that my friends had decided that they’d had enough of the West Highland Way and were hatching a plan to abandon me in the very near future. On the morning of Day 3, they did exactly that and jumped on the boat over to Ardlui. I carried on regardless. Despite the betrayal, I remember the whole episode with a bemused fondness. Twenty or so years layer, I thought that I’d take my wife and kids on part of that route. Was I abandoned on this occasion? No chance! I had the car keys.
A bus is required for this outing to save you having to walk all the way back. Buses between Drymen and Balmaha operate every couple of hours during the daytime, and it’s entirely up to you whether you want to start the walk from either Drymen or Balmaha. Most people would agree that the more enjoyable way is starting from Drymen. But be careful, if you do start from Drymen you’ll need to be sure that the kids will have enough energy after walking about 8 Kilometres to ascend almost to the top of Conic Hill before dropping down to Balmaha.
From the bus stop in the centre of Drymen walk on the path beside the B858 going east for around a Kilometre before turning left on to the dirt footpath that is clearly signposted as part of the West Highland Way. Indeed, from here on as you’re on the West Highland Way, the whole route is clearly signposted. For the next few Kilometres or so you’ll be walking on dirt footpaths and forest tracks in mostly wooded wooded areas and then onto open ground. At the 8 Kilometre point you will come to a bridge over the Burn of Mar which is at the foot of Conic Hill. From here it’s pretty much an unrelenting 200 metre ascent to almost the top of Conic Hill. The path skirts to the right past the summit missing out the last 30 metre ascent. However, if you’ve still got the energy, getting to the top of Conic Hill is absolutely worth it. Keep on the path and head straight back down to the car park at Balmaha. Here you’ll find an excellent visitor centre and if you cross the road you can feed the ducks in Loch Lomond or nip into the Oak Tree Inn for refreshments.
Total distance – 5.4 kilometres
Ascent – 170 metres
Walking conditions – Well defined dirt footpaths and forest tracks. some walking required along a single track road.
Time required – Around 2 to 3 hours.
Nearest town – Callander
Callander is a very busy town and for good reason. It’s a great place to visit with a nice little square next to the main road…..and a brilliant chippy. You can also feed the swans and ducks at the river Teith. Callander is also one of Scotland’s great outdoor centres, and as such there are a multitude of nearby walking routes for every range of ability. Bracklinn Falls is a stone’s throw from the town centre and is a great little circuit full of character.
Start from the well sign-posted Bracklinn Falls car park. Walk east for about 700 metres along the easy going footpath that winds down to the Keltie Water and to the spectacular Bracklinn Falls. Take photos, have a sandwich then cross the bridge and head in a generally northerly direction up a fairly steady gradient for about 1.5 Kilometers until the terraine starts to level off and you reach the end of the wooded area. You’re now on open ground above much of the surrounding area so the views are absolutely fantastic. If you’re really lucky, a couple of hundred metres ahead you’ll see a picnic bench and there’ll be nobody sitting there. It’s undoubtedly the best seat in the house! Continue along the track down to the bridge over the Keltie Water. Turn left onto the single track road which takes you directly back to the car park.
Total distance – 6.5 kilometres
Ascent – 120 metres
Walking conditions – Mainly tarmac paths. Gravel/soil footpath adjacent to Loch Lomond can be muddy or even submerged during particularly wet weather. Otherwise accessible by buggy.
Time required – Around 2 to 3.5 hours
Balloch is one of our favourite places. It’s a small yet bustling town sitting in one of Scotland’s most picturesque landscapes. There’s loads for the children to do so it’s always a popular choice of destination.
Park at Loch Lomond Shores Shopping Centre. The only down-side about parking here is that you might end up abandoning your walk and instead go shopping, visit Sea Life (watch out for two-for-one offers otherwise it’s quite expensive), or go for a coffee and soft play at the Tourist Information Centre. You can even visit the Maid Of The Loch paddle steamer.
The route really starts just beyond Sea Life. Take the path going North East. After about 200 metres you cross a road and the path bends off to the right and follows the River Leven for a few hundred metres. You then cross the road bridge and turn left to take the path at the river’s edge. From then on in it’s basically a big loop around Balloch Country Park. We usually do it in an anti-clockwise direction. This involves an easy ascent along tarmac paths past Balloch Castle (great spot for a picnic). The path then leads you down along the edge of Loch Lomond. Keep walking until you get to the road bridge you previously crossed. Return via the same route.
Total distance – 2.8 kilometres
Ascent – 90 metres
Walking conditions – Good, well-defined footpath. Slightly steep ‘Summit Path’. No difficulties.
Time required – Around 1.5 to 3.5 hours
Nearest Town – Drymen
The first time we visited Inchailloch Island we were part of a large group on a guided tour with a Loch Lomond Park Ranger. Unfortunately, after about five minutes a boisterous, uncontrollable two year old who we all know and love prompted us to abandon the guided tour and instead wander around the island by ourselves. This turned out to be the perfect scenario as it enabled us to explore the whole island. And what an island it is!
Go to the Boat House at Balmaha (next to the Oak Tree Inn) and find out when the next boat to Inchcailloch leaves. They’re pretty regular (I think they run from around 0900-1700) and throughout the whole year. The ten minute boat trip takes you to the Inchcailloch North Jetty which you can see from the Boat House. When you get on the island simply follow the well-marked footpath (Central Path). This path leads directly to the beach/barbecue site of Port Bawn which is at the other side of the island. As you walk along this path you will see a marked path on your right leading off to the burial ground. Although not part of our route (see below) it’s a good diversion. You will also come across a well-marked path on the left (Summit Path) which takes you a circular route through the highest point on the island. This is a great walk through the trees and provides some of the best views of Loch Lomond. Return to the main path and make your way to Port Bawn. On hot summer days expect large numbers of walkers and a party atmosphere. Return to the North Jetty via the Central Path and await pick-up.
When you get back to Balmaha you can let the children play in the play-park, feed the ducks, or walk along part of the West highland Way. Whatever you do take time to have a wander around this enchanted place called Balmaha.
Total distance – 4.2 kilometres
Ascent – 360 metres
Walking conditions – Good well-defined footpath, slightly steep in places. No difficulties.
Time required – Around 2.5 to 4 hours
Nearest town – Drymen
Conic Hill sits directly on the Highland Boundary Fault Line and is a joy to behold. Conic Hill also bailed me out of a very tight spot once. It was around New Year and I had just invited my future wife out on our first date. The plan was to go ice skating in George Square, Glasgow. However, when we reached George Square to my horror the temporary ice rink was no longer there. Thinking quickly I suggested a trip to Balmaha and so it was agreed. As we sat in Balmaha having dinner in the Oak Tree Inn the allure of Conic Hill proved too much. Re-assuring my future wife that her Converse pumps were adequate for a walk up Conic Hill in fading light and icy conditions we set off. Unbelievably, it actually went well although I have to say that I do not condone this type of reckless behaviour, but that’s first dates for you. Then again, you could never go wrong with a trip to Conic Hill.
Start your walk from the large car park at the foot of Conic Hill and next to Balmaha’s Visitor Centre (the car park fills up quickly on bright summer days so get there before 11 am on these occasions). Follow the forest track as it winds its way through the trees remembering to take a left at the first junction. From thereon it is a fairly steady ascent through the trees for a few hundred metres until you reach a gate at the end of the forest. As you walk onto the open ground you immediately start to appreciate the splendour of your surroundings. The path continues to climb a little steeply in some places until you are on the shoulder of Conic Hill. From here on in it’s just a steady climb to the top. You have the choice of staying on the path or walking directly up the shoulder for a better view. When you reach the top you will be see a trig point surrounded by a diverse range of people. Some will be wearing full Gortex waterproofs whilst others will be wearing Converse pumps. They’ll all be smiling and gazing out over Loch Lomond. Return via the same route.
When you get back down you can let the children play in the play-park, feed the ducks, or even go on a boat trip to Inchcailloch Island. Whatever you do take time to have a wander around this enchanted place called Balmaha.
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Total distance – 3.8 kilometres
Ascent – 340 metres
Walking conditions – Well defined footpath, muddy in places. Some steep rocky sections where children may require some close supervision and assistance.
Time required – Around 3 to 4 hours
Nearest town – Aberfoyle
As a child living in Blantyre I learned that our drinking water came from Loch Katrine. I was entirely unaware that a boat named The Sir Walter Scott sailed on Loch Katrine on a daily basis. Equally, I had no idea that Ben A’an, a fantastic mini Alpine-esque hill sat beside Loch Katrine and that one day, a large photo canvas of my wife cuddling her little Lakeland Terrier on the top of Ben A’an with Loch Katrine in the background would take pride of place in my kitchen. Taking nothing away from my wife or her dog for that matter, but a photograph of Ben A’an and its surroundings on a clear day is a joy to behold.
From the car park cross the road and follow the footpath as it winds its way up through the trees and over a little footbridge across a stream. After about 700 metres the ascent becomes a little gentler giving you the chance to stretch your legs on an easy stroll for a few hundred metres. It also provides the children with the opportunity to explore the numerous ‘dens’ and shelters constructed from upturned trees and branches and is the home of man-eating dragons, or so I told the children. The truth is probably far less exciting as I presume the ‘dens’ were built by youth groups participating in award schemes. Anyway, at about the 1.2 Km point there is a small clearing on level ground where you can see the top of Ben A’an and the final ascent which is fairly steep in places. Care should be taken as a trip in one of the steep sections could lead to a nasty injury, so please make sure you’ve got a firm hold of small children. Although steep, there are no difficulties and as you leave the trees you will be immediately overwhelmed by the magnificent scenery. It’s always a busy summit full of happy faces so bring a hearty picnic and a camera. Return via the same route.
The Harbour Café at Loch Venachar which is located a couple of miles up the road towards Callander is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner. It sits on Loch Venachar and you can get a table on the pier. My wife recommends the scallops with black pudding.
Total distance – 12 kilometres
Ascent – 300 metres
Walking conditions – Good, well defined footpath. No difficulties
Time required – Around 3.5 to 5.5 hours
Nearest town – Crianlarich
When I was a teenager, I somehow managed to convince one of my friends to accompany me on the West Highland Way. With no tent and minimum equipment the plan was to get from Milngavie to Doune Bothy by the end of the first day. We didn’t make it. At around 11pm, whilst sliding and falling about in a pitch black, rain-sodden Rowardennan Forest we opted to huddle together and wait for daylight. When daylight finally came we found that we were no more than 300 metres from our objective of Doune Bothy. We dried ourselves off in Doune Bothy, went for a sleep, got the boat across to Ardlui, and then went home. In hindsight it was a predictably disastrous first attempt at the West Highland Way and I still smile when I think about it. Similarly the walk from Inverarnan to Doune Bothy also makes me smile. Not least because it gives me a good excuse to visit the Drover.
Park at the Drover and walk north for approximately 400 metres, then turn right over the bridge. Turn right again and simply follow the West Highland Way footpath south for 5 Km until you reach Doune Bothy. Doune Bothy is easily recognisable as at any given time there is likely to be at least one weary but cheerful hiker with a large rucksack sitting down eating a bar of chocolate. Sample the ambience, then turn around and walk back. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a really good viewpoint just before the footpath drops down to Ardleish on the way to Doune Bothy. We always stop there for a picnic and photos. Don’t eat too much because the portions at the Drover are huge. Please don’t be scared off by the bear at the door. Even the ghosts are friendly. The Drover is always well worth a visit.