Drymen to Balmaha, via Conic Hill, Loch Lomond

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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.

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Crammond Island, Edinburgh

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Total distance –  8.6 Kilometres

Ascent –  50 metres

Walking conditions – Well-defined footpaths, tracks and a single track roads. No difficulties.

Time required – 2.5 to 4 hours

Nearest town – Edinburgh

Barnton and Crammond are two of Edinburgh’s leafiest suburbs. So it should come as no surprise that the scenery is marvellous. This is particularly the case along the River Almond and out into the Firth of Forth. Fortunately for us outdoor types there are no high walls nor electric gates to keep the peasants out, so we can wander freely in this land of captains of industry, well-known authors and other privileged types.

There are a number of places you can park near to the River Almond with varying distances to Crammond Island. We chose to park beside a play-park just off Brae Park because the kids wanted to play, there was good parking and it allowed for a good stroll along the banks of the River Almond. Either way, make your way to the River Almond (East bank) and head north along the well-defined footpath. Continue along past Crammond Boat Club and soon after that, you’ll arrive at Crammond Beach. You’ll see the Firth of Forth together with the causeway leading to Crammond Island, and in the summer months, an ice cream van as well.

The flat concrete causeway to Crammond Island is about 1.1 Kilometres long and you’ll be across it within 15 minutes. But before you continue please note that the causeway will be completely submerged at certain times of the day so make sure you know when the tide will be going in or out. There are notices at the causeway providing information on this. If all is well, walk straight across and onto Crammond Island. There are military fortifications immediately to your front dating back to World War 2. It’s also well worth taking the path to the other side of Crammond Island where there are more fortifications. This is a lovely short walk along a dirt footpath through undulating grassy terrain with brilliant views of the Firth of Forth.  Please note that there tends to be a lot of broken glass at these fortifications. This is largely due to hedonistic teenagers partying overnight, so best to keep a hold of the children here.

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Helensburgh to Rhu Circuit, Argyll and Bute

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Total distance –  8.2 Kilometres

Ascent –  220 metres

Walking conditions – Well defined dirt footpaths and forest tracks. Some walking on pavements beside roads. No difficulties.

Time required – 2.5 to 4 hours

Nearest Town – Helensburgh

The fire at the Glasgow’s School of Art may well have destroyed some of Charles Rennie MacKintosh’s greatest work, but certainly not all of it. I’m reliably informed that Hill House is a shining example of the genius of Charles Rennie MacKintosh, but more importantly, it is the starting point of a delightful walk from Helensburgh to Rhu which provides fantastic views of the Firth of Clyde for most of the way.

Start at the footpath next to Hill House which is heading in a WNW direction. Continue on this path for about one Kilometre. Take the second footpath on the right (don’t take the first path that travels along the tree line up the hill or you’ll probably end up in Loch Lomond) for around 300 metres then go left. The path will now take you on a very gentle descent for about 1.5 Kilometres down to Rhu. This provides fantastic views of the Gare Loch and the Firth of Clyde. After you’ve wound your way through the residential area walk along the shoreline for about half a Kilometre when you’ll see a swing park and public toilets right next to the water. This is an ideal place to stop for a sandwich. It’s probably best to then double back about 100 metres into the residential area then ascend up through Duchess Wood to meet the footpath you started on, then make your way back across to Hill House.

Make sure you take the time to go for a wander around Helensburgh Town Centre. It’s got a large pier which is a fantastic spot to get tucked into a tasty Helensburgh fish supper!

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Crail to Anstruther, Fife

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Total distance –  6.5 Kilometres

Ascent –  50 metres

Walking conditions – Well defined dirt footpath. No difficulties.

Time required – Around 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Everything’s an adventure when you’ve got small children. This exact thought occurred to me when I was jumping around excitedly on the top deck of the scheme bus from Anstruther to Crail trying to get a great family snap because it’s been a while since I’ve been on a bus. I then briefly re-considered my complete over-reaction to being on a bus, before taking another dozen photos.  Personally, I can’t think of a better plan than to jump on a bus only to walk all the way back to where you got on the bus. Especially if you’re at a particularly nice part of the Fife Coastal Path. Not to mention the bus stop being right next to an award-winning chippy, so the reward of a Fish Supper is on the cards.

From the bus stop in the centre of Crail, make your way towards the coast. You can’t miss it. We went down to the water right in the centre of town. however, the rocks and boulders were quite awkward to walk through so it’s probably best joining the coastal path at the Southern end of the town. The walk on the well-defined footpath is really straight forward and it’s just a case of following it back to Anstruther and you’re beside the sea the whole time. Highlights include some the very distinct rock formation that is known as ‘The Coves’. There is also a picture perfect play-park which is ideal for the kids just as you’re walking into Anstruther.

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Bracklinn Falls, Callander, Perthshire

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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.

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The Antonine Wall, the Auchinstarry Circuit

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Total distance –10.2 kilometres

Ascent – 220 metres

Walking conditions – Well defined dirt footpath and tarmac cycle path. No difficulties.

Time required – Around 3.5 – 5 hours.

Nearest town – Kilsyth

What have the Romans ever done for us? If you’re a Monty Python fan you’ll know that there’s a long list of things that the Romans have done for us. What wasn’t mentioned in the Life of Brian however, were the numerous great walking routes for outdoor enthusiasts that the Romans built. The Auchinstarry Circuit is just one of them.

Start at the Auchinstarry car park which is just south of Kilsyth. Take a left from the car park and walk for about 200 metres and then turn left onto the Forth and Clyde canal path before the road crosses over the canal. Walk for about two Kilometres along the canal path. Cross the road bridge over the canal and follow the signed footpath up the slope of the hill. Veer right and that will take you up onto the higher ground. If you keep to the highest points along this broad ridge you’ll see signs of the wall together with tourist information. The path then drops down to the north end of Croy and then leads you across the road (the B802). Maintain the same westerly direction and after about one kilometre you’ll come to a very well preserved part of the Antonine Wall which then leads up to the top of Castle Hill. This provides a wonderful view of the surrounding area. The path then takes you on to Barhill Fort, down to Twechar, then a 2.5 Kilometre walk along the canal and straight back to the Auchinstarry car park.

The great thing about stopping at Auchinstarry is that when you’ve finished watching the rock-climbers on the quarry walls you can cross the road and go to the marina and visit the Boathouse for a good feed or some refreshments. The decked area is a fantastic spot and the wasps in attendance are friendly. Well, none of us got stung.

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Benarty Hill, Ballingry, Fife

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Total distance – 3.2 kilometres

Ascent – 170 metres

Walking conditions – Well defined dirt footpath. No difficulties.

Time required – Around 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Nearest town – Glenrothes

I’ve always wanted to visit a kingdom and see knights joust for the hand of a fair maiden. Sadly, these kingdoms are long gone. Or are they? As it turns out, Fife is actually a kingdom so tell your squire to polish your spurs and saddle your horse, for this not-so -distant land is well worth a visit.

Within the Kingdom of Fife Benarty Hill lies just outside Ballingry. It has to be said that viewing it from the road is not something that is likely to excite you. However, Benarty Hill has got a fun little mountain path that allows a very quick ascent onto high ground that provides fantastic views of the whole of Fife and beyond.

Park in the small layby that is just over I Kilometre west of Ballingry. There’s a Benarty Hill footpath sign there  to confirm that you’re in the correct place. Make your way up the winding path through the trees. You’ll soon reach a bench at a path junction, This viewpoint is an ideal stopping point. Make sure you take the path on the left which will lead you out over a stile and onto the open hillside where the view to the South is now extensive. By continuing along the path for around 500 metres you will reach the first peak. And another 400 metres after that will take you to the summit featuring a trig point and a great view of Loch Leven to the North. Return via the same route.

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