|Milngavie to Balmaha (30 km)|
Bridge of Orchy
The start of the West Highland Way is in Glasgow - a city well served by buses, trains and even planes. There is abundant accommodation including the Glasgow Youth Hostel. I arrived at Glasgow's Central Station on the overnight train from London, getting to the station at about 7 am. This is a good alternative to staying overnight in Glasgow and maximises the use of your holiday time.
The first task of the day is to travel out to the Milngavie railway station. There are frequent services from the main line termini of Queen Street or Central Stations (the former for trains from the north and the latter for trains from the south). Buses also depart to there from the bus station at the north end of Buchanan Street (next to Queen Street Station). If you have a short first day planned then it is possible to walk the 10-11 kilometres from the city centre, perhaps taking in the Botanic Gardens along the way.
|Best foot forward B&B||B&B||01419 563046|
|The Burnbrea Premier Lodge||Hotel||01419 425951|
Note that Milngavie is pronounced "Mull-guy" and appeared in seventeenth century maps as Mulguy. The relatively recent change in spelling may be a sample of Glaswegian humour designed to cause confusion to visitors and amusement for themselves.
The West Highland Way starts at the north end of the station where a pedestrian underpass dips under Woodburn Way and up into Station Road. The road merges into Douglas Street after 150 metres where there is a shopping precinct (the last chance to top up your supplies before Fort William) and a monument for the official start of the West Highland Way. A walkway then leaves Douglas Street to cross over Allander Water to the rear of the shops and across a couple of roads to a sunken, tree-shaded path. This path follows the line of an old railway line that served a former paper mill on the river. This mill and others on the Allander Water were responsible for the growth of Milngavie in the 1830's into a sizable town.
After the Way passes the Milngavie Library and Leisure Centre, it leaves the lane and joins the pleasant, wooded banks of the Allander Water for 400 metres. The last of surburbia is left behind as the West Highland Way leaves the river and climbs onto Allander Moor, a rough moorland of gorse, birch and broom with views across the town and out into the countryside. This gives your first view of the Kilpatrick and Campsie Fells. The moor is crossed to a long ride through Mugdock Woods which are part of Mugdock Country Park (given to the people of Glasgow in 1980 by Sir Hugh Fraser). The park offers many outdoor activities including horse riding, orienteering and cycling.
Once through the woods, the Way winds through rushy flats beside the Allander burn to the west shore of Craigallian Loch. Ahead you can see the rolling outline of Dumgoyne (the western end of the Campsies) against the sky with the outlying wooded cone of Dumgoyach poking up on your left. The edge of a plantation is skirted (mostly hiding Carbeth Loch) and the B821 road is met after crossing the loch's outlet stream. There is a gateway here known as Ballachlairy Yett - 'yett' is the old Scots word for 'gate'. The road is crossed 300 metes to the west where a stile gives access to the old roadway of "Tinker's Loan" - a broad ride that rises between stone dykes to a gate on the skyline. There are views of Carbeth Loch from here. This marks an important point in the first days walk where you stop climbing out of the basin containing Glasgow and begin to descend to the shores of Loch Lomond. A distance of 7 kilometres has been walked. On a clear day the broad-shouldered mass of Ben Lomond can be seen towards the left.
Most of the terrain for the rest of the day is farmland providing a good contrast to the wilder landscape later on the Way. The Way drops gently down a sometimes boggy track into Strath Blane and skirts the cottages of Ardhaven. If you look up to the ridge on your right then you may notice the five large grey boulders of the Dumgoyach Standing Stones. They are thought to date back to Neolithic times. The West Highland Way passes around Dumgoyach's wooded slopes on its west flanks, down a lane and along the Dumgoyach Farm road to a footbridge across Blane Water. The old track of the Blane Valley railway line is joined on the left just after the bridge. This is followed for the next 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) to near Gartness - the trackbed gives good level walking. The raised embankment beside the track hides a water pipeline that supplies water to much of central Scotland from Loch Lomond.
The busy A81 road is crossed halfway along the trackbed at Dumgoyne. There is a inn here (good for a lunch stop), post office and a few cottages.
Near the northern end of the old railway line, there are signs of civilisation again as the Way passes a sawmill, sewage works and a garage connected with the nearby (1.5 kilometres) village of Killearn. This quiet village has a number of shops and some accommodation. The West Highland Way passes under the B834 road and then rises to meet the A81 road as the first of a series of rolling ridges is crossed. The railway line is finally left about 750 metres past the A81 road. A country lane from Killearn to Drymen drops down to meet the River Endrick by the wee hamlet of Gartness - a short terrace of stone cottages across the river. The modern bridge takes you across the river and past the houses to a short, easy climb onto the ridge crest beyond. This gives a grand view back over Strath Blane to the far-away Dumgoyach and a few glimpses forward to Loch Lomond.
|Winnock Hotel||Hotel||01360 660245|
The road gradually descends until past the Gateside plantation where the West Highland Way leaves it on an old right-of-way path across fields and beside a burn to the A811 road and the Drymen Primary School. Drymen is a pleasant village less than a kilometre away either on the nearby B858 road or along the minor road from Gateside. It is a local hub of transport with buses leaving for Glasgow, Stirling, Aberfoyle, Balloch and Balmaha where the Way touches the shores of Loch Lomond. Many walkers will head for its plentiful hotel and B&B accommodation along with shops and the last bank before Kinlochleven. This makes a nice 20 kilometre day from Milngavie. Drymen is also notable as the home of the Clachan Inn - which is the oldest pub in Scotland, claiming to be first licensed in 1734. The Rob Roy Way starts in Drymen, follows the West Highland Way for a couple of hours and then heads off to end up in Pitlochry after 126 kilometres (79 miles) taking about a week. This is not a official route so you will need the guide book (The Rob Roy Way)
However, I was feeling fit and so decided to continue on to Balmaha.
The Way actually heads away from the next milestone of Conic Hill along the straight line of the A811 road (revealing its origin as an old military road) for 400 metres. The road is then left for farm and forestry tracks climbing back to the north and curving towards Conic Hill. A height of about 150 metres is reached as the Garadhban Forest is entered for a long traverse westwards through the trees. This is not as boring as it may seem since there is a good deal of variety because of the extensive re-planting needed after a large gale in January 1968. As the Way crosses the minor road to Gartmore, the views change from glimpses of the Campsie Fells to peeks at the Endrick marshes and Loch Lomond.
Towards the end of the forest stretch is a path junction. For one month of the year, from roughly mid April to mid May (subject to variation) the official route is closed because of the lambing season and one is obliged to follow a diversion via Milton of Buchanan. Shortly after the junction there is a discreet sign to a forest clearing where overnight camping is permitted. This spot is desolate, cramped, gloomy, rough and wet - a superior pitch might be had a few hundred yards further ahead at the edge of the forest. A trip report from 2005 states that the forest has been cut down and the site is now marshy bog.
A final, rougher passage through the ancient trees of an old plantation brings a high stile onto bracken-covered hillsides. The path and its markers may be obscured by head-high bracken in summer so keep an eye on the map. Conic Hill looms across the moorland with a good view of the southern end of Loch Lomond to your left. It is actually the nearest end of a steep-sided hogback ridge so its name is not from its shape but more probably from the Gaelic A'Conneach, the moss or bog, from the moorland surrounding the hill. The path heads north-westwards across the moors to a bridge across the Kilandan Blandan burn and then west to the Burn of Mar and its bridge. This is a pretty burn with many rowan and birch trees along its banks. This is a good spot to stop and gird your loins for the 200 metre climb over Conic Hill. I actually hauled out my stove and brewed a nice cup of tea.
Beyond the burn, there is a well-formed path that rises steadily, traversing to the right across the heathery slopes. The top of the path is at a natural bench below the north side of the summit, which is actually 3 distinct humps in a north-easterly line. The actual summit is the one furthest away. On a clear day it is worthwhile to climb higher to the nearer summit for panoramic views across Loch Lomond and back along the Way. The many islands on the loch (Inchailloch, Torrinch, Creinch and Inchmurrin) are very striking. The West Highland Way drops sharply over the crest into a wee grassy corrie and then down many steps into the forest around Balmaha. A forest walk then brings you to the public carpark in Balmaha with its shop, tearoom, pub, bed and breakfast accommodation and bunkhouse lodgings.