Walk 95 - Drymen to Rowardennan

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The Walk

The second section of the West Highland Way is a walk of great contrasts. It begins in Drymen, nestling within the pastoral Lanarkshire countryside; progresses via the forestry plantations of Garadhban; crosses a nondescript stretch of rough moorland; crosses the Highland Boundary Fault to climb the splendid viewpoint of Conic Hill; and descends through woodland to the shores of Loch Lomond at Balmaha. It then follows the eastern edge of this, Britain's largest freshwater lake, all the way to Rowardennan at the foot of Ben Lomond, Scotland's most southerly Munro (mountain over 3000ft high). A ferry at Rowardennan runs three times daily and gives access to the main A82 on the western side of the loch.

Walk Statistics:
Length: 14.3 miles / 23.1 km
Total ascent: 2446 ft / 746 m
Total descent: 2610 ft / 796 m
Estimated time: 5 hrs 23 mins

Map: OS 1:25000 Explorers 347 (Loch Lomond South), 364 (Loch Lomond North)

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Today's' walk begins where yesterday's ended, half a mile east of the village of Drymen on the A811 road to Stirling. You first walk out eastwards along this road, using a segregated path to the north for part of the way. After some 500 yards you turn left, to walk along a vehicle track and then a simple grass path, towards the conifer plantations of Garadhban Forest (part of the extensive Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.

The segregated path east of Drymen;  looking northeast towards the forest section

The forest approach path;  looking back towards Drymen

The path enters the forest and turns half left, the route of the WHW now adopting forest rides for the next 2½ miles. The first mile or so, through part of the forest known as High Wood, is relatively light and airy. Beyond a motor road, however, is the more mature section that is Garadhban Forest proper.

The path enters High Wood;  High Wood;  Drymen from the motor road crossing

Garadhban Forest

Garadhban Forest is relatively gloomy, as the stands of trees here are mature and are planted very thickly. Many walkers feel shut in, and it's not difficult to see why.

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. For the rest of the year the route lies over Conic Hill. Turn right at the path junction, passing a few minutes later a discreet sign to a forest clearing where overnight camping is permitted. I have to say that this spot is unlovely, cramped, gloomy, rough and wet; a superior pitch might be had a few hundred yards further ahead at the edge of the forest.

Forest ride in Garadhban

Mar Burn

The path emerges at the northwestern tip of Garadhban Forest, where there is a bridge of sorts across a burn. You overlook a mile or two of drab, inhospitable moorland backed by the unmistakable rise of Conic Hill, two kilometers almost due west. The line of the path is obvious. Follow it, tending gradually uphill, crossing a minor stream (unnamed on the map) and then the more substantial Burn of Mar. The declivity of the burn is quite thickly wooded; don't even think of attempting to camp wild here.

Drab moorland beyond Garadhban;  Conic Hill;  Mar Burn

You are now in the vicinity of the Highland Boundary Fault. To your left are the plains of central Scotland; to your right are the Highlands, the loneliest and loveliest mountains in Britain, an empty world of brooding moors, dark forests, shimmering lochs and melancholic weather. (Sorry, I seem to have caught poetry. Afraid it's pretty endemic in these parts).

Mar Burn

Beyond Burn of Mar the path climbs fairly quickly along the northern flank of Conic Hill.

Moorland section from Conic Hill;  Loch Lomond comes into view;  approaching the summit

Conic Hill

Conic Hill (altitude 361m, or about 1200ft) lies just within the Highland Boundary Fault, and thus counts as the first summit of the Scottish Highlands. It's a complex little hill, having three main tops of which the northeasternmost is the highest. The centre and southwestern tops are, however, more accessible and lie only a couple of hundred feet higher than the path. A sketchy side trail leads up through the heather to the col between these tops. The view from the southwestern top is the most rewarding, encompassing as it does an uninterrupted view of Loch Lomond. The islands of Inchailloch, Torrinch, Creinch and Inchmurrin appear in line, stretching away across the loch, and more or less marking the line of the Highland Boundary Fault. The hills around Glen Luss are seen beyond the islands across the loch.

The path north of Conic Hill;  The Lanarkshire plains;  the southwest top of Conic Hill from the middle top

The view across the central plains of Scotland is also very rewarding. The Kilsyth hills and Campsie Fells, notably Drumgoyne, are seen from the rear, and to the right of these is the Clyde estuary. To the north, Ben Lomond stands out around ten miles away, while the high mountains around Glen Falloch are seen further north. You'll be there in two days' time.

Loch Lomond from the southwest topthe middle and northeast tops

The Way skirts the central and southwest tops to the north and then doglegs between the latter top and an outlier, Tom nan Oisgean, via a craggy little col named Bealach Aird.

Ben Lomond from the path skirting the tops;  The path rounds the SW top;  Loch Lomond and the isles

The path down to Bealach Aird;  Loch Lomond from the bealach

Bealach Aird;  Conic Hill from the bealach

View north from Bealach Aird;  across the loch;  the path descending from the bealach

The path now doglegs around the bealach and descends through forest to the south of Tom nan Oisgean. The true path is not easy to find as several side trails appear, only to peter out. The views of forest, lake and sky are breathtaking. The path drops through what appears to be a small belt of natural woodland before entering the Balmaha Plantation

The path below Bealach Aird

The descent to Balmaha Plantation

The path enters Balmaha Plantation


Balmaha Plantation

The path drops fairly steeply from the bealach, rounding the southern aspect of Tom nan Oisgean, to reach the forest road network. Keep to the roads as far as the Balmaha visitor centre, which appears to the left across a vast car park. The Way adopts a path trough the last few yards of the forest, skirting the car park to the north, to come out onto the main road at the lakeside. You have arrived at Balmaha village. The diversion via Milton of Buchanan merges with the official route here.

The forest roads through Balmaha Plantation

The path skirting the grounds of the visitor centre

Arrival at the lakeside;  Balmaha village;  the road to Rowardennan

Views of the jetties and marina at Balmaha

From Balmaha the Way strikes north for a short distance along the Rowardennan road before turning left along the short motor road alongside the headland of Craigie Fort. The route ascends the wooded hillock at the centre of the headland. There are any number of side paths on the hilltop and it matters little which one you take - it will almost certainly yield a superb viewpoint and a quiet spot where you can sit and have lunch.

The Craigie Fort road;  the marina from Craigie Fort;  Inchailloch island

Views across Loch Lomond from Craigie Fort

Loch Lomond;  descending from Craigie Fort


Beyond Craigie Fort the Way descends northwards to reach the road and the lakeside once more. You are now within the locality of Arrochy, consisting of Arrochymore (Great Arrochy), Arrochybeag (Little Arrochy) and Milarrochy further north. From here to Rowardennan the route settles into a routine, switching between sections of road walking and diversions into the woodland sections fringing the lake shore.

The West Highland Way alongside Arrochy Bay

The first woodland section by Creag Mhor

Arrochybeag bay

Beyond Millarochy the path turns left to meander through the woods bestriding the sizeable hillock of Cnoc Buidhe. At the time of writing most of this area had just been felled and was not a pretty sight. Hopefully, in a few year's time, it will regenerate and look just as lovely as the rest of the walk. The route reaches the road again at Cashell Farm.

The road at Milarrochy

Cnoc Buidhe;  Cashell farm


The Way now follows the road for half a mile, hard by the lochside, as far as Sallochy house before turning left into the most extensive woodland section of the day.

A receding storm seen from the Sallochy road;  a view across the loch to Luss;  Beinn Bhreac and Ben Lomond

Sallochy;  Rowardennan forest;  lakeside view

The Rowardennan Forest section is about two miles in length. The path twists and turns somewhat, occasionally tacking away from the lake to climb the odd outcrop, otherwise hugging the loch shore itself to give some truly beautiful views. It's worth lingering over this section. Eventually you emerge at Sallochy Bay, where Glasgow University has a field centre and boat house.

Loch Lomond;  Rowardennan forest;  approaching Sallochy Bay

The Way at Sallochy Bay;  Sallochy Bay

Sallochy Bay;  the boathouse

Ross Wood

The route now climbs a rather sombre little height known as Teac a Mhinisteir, crowned by the extensive plantations of Ross Wood. Parts of the northern slopes of the wood had recently been felled when I walked this section in September 1999, giving views to Ben Lomond to the north.

Ross Wood;  the path through Ross Wood;  Ben Lomond

Beinn Bhreac;  Ross Wood

The path drops almost to the lochside once more, where there are excellent views across to Beinn Bhreac (the speckled mountain) north of Glen Luss on the west side of the loch. (There is another Bheinn Bhreac, not seen, a few miles northeast of here). The path approaches Mill of Ross.

Mill of Ross;  Ross Wood;  Carraig Bay


North of Mill of Ross the Way reaches a small bay opposite Carraig before turning away from the road for the last woodland section of the day. This walk of three quarters of a mile, across a nameless headland, is surprisingly rough and poorly drained. Eventually the path swings right and reaches the road again just short of a chalet park south of the Rowardennan Hotel.

The last wood before Rowardennan;  Rowardennan chalet park;  The Rowardennan Hotel

The day's journey ends here. You have a choice of staying at the hotel itself, or at the youth hostel a few hundred yards further north. Otherwise, if you've timed your arrival well, you can catch one of the day's three ferry crossings over to Inverbeg, where you can have a drink and a meal while waiting for the Citylink coach back to your night's lodgings.

Ben Lomond from the hotel;  the ferry pier;  Ben Lomond from the youth hostel road

Ben Lomond from the ferry pier;  looking north to the Glen Falloch hills

Loch Lomond at the pier side;  the Rowardennan Hotel from the ferry pier

Passenger Ferry, Rowardennan to Inverbeg
Daily, Easter to end Sept: departs Rowardennan 1000, 1400, 1730
(journey time 10 mins)
Group crossings at other times by arrangement with Rowardennan Hotel

    Citylink bus times: Glasgow-Ft William, Glasgow-Oban, Glasgow-Campbelltown (.pdf documents. Inverbeg is between Luss and Tarbet).

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This page last updated 12th June 2006