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Drymen to Balmaha, via Conic Hill, Loch Lomond




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.



Conic Hill, Balmaha, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs






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.

Conic hill, Balmaha