A walk (almost) in the parkPosted: October 10, 2011
This was a good walk. The route from Garelochhead to Arrochar is part of what is known as the Three Lochs Way. It runs from Balloch, at the southern end of Loch Lomond, through Helensburgh, Garelochhead, up to Arrochar, finally terminating near the northern end of Loch Lomond. Strangely enough, it isn’t part of the Argyll Forest Park – the boundaries run around it, hence the title of this section.
The morning didn’t look too promising to start with. Low cloud over the Gareloch and spitting rain didn’t exactly fill me with the spirit to get up and go, but some gentle prodding from Dave and Anne (local friends who walk) made me stop whining and get on with it.
Our path started high above Gareloch, on what is known as the “Yankee Road”, or “Haul Road” by the locals, built as part of the US lend-lease agreement 70 years ago. The Army has ranges up here, though nobody was using them today. From here, the views are pretty spectacular, even if the weather isn’t great.
This view is looking south-west, over the Faslane Base, where Britain’s Trident submarines are based. Beyond the Rosneath peninsula, Loch Long runs down to the Firth of Clyde, and the sea. On a clear day, you can see across the Clyde to Greenock and Gourock, and the mountains of Argyll are ranged about you to all points but the south.
The first section of the walk is very gentle, running through rolling heathland, dotted with Army range signs. Occasionally spent cartridges litter the ground, as well as other staples of squaddie life, empty pot noodle containers and crisp packets.
Other than the looming bulk of the Strone and Maol nan Fheidh (Bare hill of the deer?) to our right, the view is dominated by the mountains of Argyll Forest Park. This rugged spur runs south from Beinn Reithe, and stick out into the confluence of Loch Long and Loch Goil. At the moment, its brown and green mantled flanks are glistening where water from the past few days rain is running down slabs of schist.
The route continues quite gently, over the hill towards the Finnart oil terminal. A pipeline runs here, all the way from Grangemouth. From where we are, none of the massive storage tanks are visible, thankfully enough, and the illusion of complete remoteness is preserved.
The low wooded hills on the left of this shot are a ridge running alongside Loch Long. The main railway line between Glasgow and Oban runs up the right hand side of the picture. It’s amazing, and humbling to think that in the 18th and 19th centuries, tracks like this were the main lines of communication between Dumbarton and points to the northwest. The drovers would have used these ways, bringing their cattle from Jura, Mull and Islay, on their way to the Trysts at Falkirk and further south. That must have been a hard life. With the advent of good walking clothes and decent boots, walking in Scotland is mostly a pleasant experience, but imagine what it was like, three hundred years ago, with basic clothes, getting soaked to the skin most days, and without a decent tent. They were tougher than us, that’s for sure. I think the only folks in recent times who come close to their spirit were people like Jock Nimlin.
When I began hillwalking again in my twenties, I began to become interested in the geology. This was what I was studying at University. On the geological map of Scotland that I had, we used to joke about walking through the “pea-green zone”, as a fair chunk of Argyll is colour-coded this way. What it really means is that the rock is predominantly quartz- or chlorite mica schist, a metamorphic rock produced in the Dalradian. Metamorphic just means a kind of rock that has been changed, ususally by heat or pressure. Almost all of the rock around me was of this type, though up towards the Cobbler, good old-fashioned volcanic rocks start to appear.
From here on in, the walk became wetter and sometimes boggy. If you ever plan to walk this route, you need to know one thing. There is a stream crossing that you will get wet on. As you come down into Gleann Culanach,the track leads you through short marshy reeds and grass. The high tension power cables will run on ahead of you, and you’ll find yourself at a crossing where some large logs have been put into the stream. It isn’t difficult to ford, but your feet will get wet. Crossing with a westie made life more interesting, though she was game to try it herself!
From here, there is a short haul up onto the landrover track that runs north along Craggan Hill. This is easy walking, dominated by views to the north and south. Ahead of you is a large military weapons depot, though you woudn’t know it to look at it. Ahead of us, Glen Douglas leads across to the east, eventually coming out at Inverbeg, on the shore of Loch Lomond. Dotted around this area are nissen huts and entrances to bunkers built into the hillside. Bizarrely, the main train line to Oban runs through the middle of this, though down in a defile, so I doubt that many commuters or hillwalkers would know what they’re travelling through!
Away in the distance to the east, the hills are on the eastern side of Loch Lomond, showing how useful these east-west glens were for easy travel. I wouldn’t have wanted to go up and over any of these hills unless I had to.
Even at this time of year, there is wildlife to be seen. We startled a female roe deer, not twenty feet away, and saw a buzzard off in the distance. Given the frequent rain, and plentiful mulch, it would be unusual to not see mushrooms. Here, near the Glen Douglas road, I found a patch of shaggy ink-caps.
This marked about the half-way point of our walk. So far, the weather had been reasonable, with rain threatened a few times, but nothing much to complain about. From here, the path climbed on to the side of Tullich Hill, above Loch Long, with lovely views. To the south, Loch Long extended like a sheet of burnished silver. To the west, the mountains of Argyll glowered in the darkening sky. To the north lay more mountains, beyond Arrochar. Drovers using the Rest and Be Thankful would have to come down Glen Croe to Ardgartan, on their way to Arrochar and points south. As we reached a point opposite Ardgartan, the wind started to pick up, accompanying us with a hellish choir of moans and groans, as it ran through the high tension power cables above us. The human ear always seems to seek out patterns and order, and the sounds were quite eerie.
From here, we could tell that we were getting closer to Arrochar, and the prospect of chips added a little speed to our step. The run down to Arrochar was made much more slippery by the runoff of many days rain, and inevitably,I fell, leaving a small crater behind. This close to Arrochar, the view of the Cobbler was much better, though the summit was wreather in clouds. I used to dismiss this hill as not being worth much attention, but that was due to my focusing on Munros (hills over 3000 ft). Up close, the Cobbler is an impressive mountain, easily able to stand proudly among its higher brethren. Come to think of it, I know quite a few Munros that aren’t nearly as imposing. Height alone doesn’t make a great hill, it would seem! If I’m going to wax lyrical about it, I should really add a photo.
Arrochar was now clearly visible ahead, and all that really remained was to come down off the hills, and rest our aching feet. The full trail ends up at the Arrochar / Tarbet railway station, though this involves running along the glen to the east, past Arrochar. It is possible to take a path north off the landrover track, crossing the railway at a bridge signposted as not suitable for vehicles. Watch out if you are bringing a dog with you, as the field immediately over the line contains highland cows.
From here, it is a five minute walk to the Arrochar-Tarbet road, and another ten or so on the pavement into the village. The WalkHighland website estimated 5 hours for this walk, and we entered Arrochar with one minute to spare. Considering my slow pace, this was pretty accurate! Arrochar is one of my favourite villages in the Highlands, with a really remote feel. Surrounded by imposing mountains, it has the feel of being a gateway to other far-flung places. The view down Loch Long is stupendous, and from here, you can easily strike out to the west, for Inverary and Lochgilphead, or north, to Sloy dam and Crianlarich. Finally, I’ll end with a photo of my friends, Dave and Ann, whose patience made this a very pleasant day.