The John Muir Way: Helensburgh to Balloch

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NS3482 : Signpost on the John Muir Way by Lairich RigNS3482 : Footpath junction by Lairich RigViews from about midway along this stage of the walk

The John Muir Way is a new long-distance footpath between Helensburgh and Dunbar. The route was officially opened by Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, at noon on the 21st of April 2014. Muir was born on April 21st (John Muir Day) 1838, and 2014 was the centenary of his death.

In January 2017, the John Muir Way was officially designated one of Scotland's Great Trails.

When this article was written (in April 2014), the website for the John Muir WayExternal link divided the route into ten stages. The present article contains a selection of photographs taken along the first of those stages, namely, the section from Helensburgh to Balloch. Many of those pictures were taken when I walked the Helensburgh to Balloch stage on the 14th of April 2014, one week before the official opening of the route. However, to avoid the pointless uploading of near-duplicate images to the Geograph site, I have also used some earlier pictures where appropriate (and where the appearance of the route has not significantly changed in the meantime).

(In April 2014, when the John Muir Way opened, the first and last parts of the Helensburgh to Balloch route for cyclists were the same as those for walkers, but in the middle section of that route, cyclists were to bypass the forestry track at Ben Bowie, and were instead to follow the road through Crosskeys and Arden; the cyclists' route, where different from that for walkers, is also illustrated below, but by a selection of earlier pictures, most of them from 2011.)

NOTE: This article should not be used as a guide to the John Muir Way.
The article is intended only to show the route as it was at the time of its opening.
For current details of the course of the John Muir Way, please refer to the official website:
Helensburgh to Balloch | John Muir WayExternal link.


For an article similar to the present one, but featuring photos from the next stage of the route, see The John Muir Way: Balloch to StrathblaneExternal link.


Helensburgh to Balloch

To the Hill House

According to the map on the official website, the trail starts on West Clyde Street, near the junction with Colquhoun Street. However, in April 2014, when I was following the route in order to obtain photographs for this article, there was as yet no marker for the start of the path, and, because of construction work taking place in that areaExternal link, I opted to begin my walk at the far end of Helensburgh Pier instead.

Later, in September of the same year, a John Muir Way sculpture and a seat were installed at the Promenade, to mark this end of the route; these make a more fitting starting point for the journey. The sculpture, which is shown below, is called "Overhead / Underfoot". It was installed beside a small building (a pumping station), on the side of which is a mural of "John Muir's cabin home on the edge of Muir Glacier", with an inset map of the John Muir Way, and with some information about the route and about the sculpture.

The following three pictures, showing these features, were taken in 2016:

NS2982 : The start of the John Muir Way by Lairich RigNS2982 : Pumping station with John Muir Way mural by Lairich RigNS2982 : Artwork at the start of the John Muir Way by Lairich Rig(left) The start of the John Muir Way
(middle) John Muir Way mural on pumping station
(right) "Overhead / Underfoot": a sculpture beside that building

From this point on, the pictures were, with a few exceptions, taken in April 2014.

From West Clyde Street, the route follows Colquhoun Street uphill; in April 2014, construction work was taking place in Colquhoun Square.

NS2982 : Colquhoun Street by Lairich RigNS2982 : Colquhoun Street by Lairich RigNS2982 : Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh by Lairich Rig(left) Colquhoun Street; construction work was taking place not far ahead, in Colquhoun Square
(middle) Passing the West Kirk
(right) Cherry blossom

The route follows Colquhoun Street uphill, until Helensburgh Upper Station blocks the way. It is necessary to go around the station, which involves a short digression to the main road, Sinclair Street. After going around the station, the route continues uphill along Upper Colquhoun Street, which is a continuation of the line of Colquhoun Street:

NS2983 : Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh by Lairich RigNS2983 : West Rossdhu Drive, Helensburgh by Lairich RigNS2983 : Passing Helensburgh Upper Station by Lairich Rig(left) The top of Colquhoun Street; to get around the station, turn right onto
(middle) West Rossdhu Drive
(right) Pass the station entrance on Sinclair street, then turn left onto
NS2983 : Munro Drive West, Helensburgh by Lairich RigNS2983 : Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh by Lairich RigNS3083 : Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh by Lairich Rig(left) Munro Drive West
(middle) then continue uphill on Upper Colquhoun Street
(right) The top of the street, close to the Hill HouseExternal link; the entrance to the car park is just ahead

To the forestry track

From the car park at the top of Upper Colquhoun Street, near the Hill HouseExternal link, there is a footpath to Luss Road. On reaching Luss Road, the John Muir Way then follows the pavement (which also serves as a cycle path) beside the road for a distance of about 2.6 km, to the start of the forestry track.

NS3083 : Car park near the Hill House by Lairich RigNS3083 : Footpaths signpost by Lairich RigNS3083 : Path to Luss Road by Lairich Rig(left) The car park
(middle) Sign for path to Luss Road
(right) The footpath to Luss Road
NS3083 : Path to the Hill House by Lairich RigNS3083 : Path meeting Luss Road by Lairich RigNS3083 : Luss Road by Lairich Rig(left) View back along the path
(middle) Path meets Luss Road
(right) Luss Road
NS3184 : Luss Road by Lairich RigNS3184 : The former Blackhill Quarries beside Luss Road by Lairich RigNS3284 : Luss Road by Lairich Rig(left) Luss Road
(middle) View back along the road
(right) Luss Road
NS3284 : Luss Road and cycle route by Lairich RigNS3284 : Start of a forestry track by Lairich RigNS3284 : Start of a forestry track by Lairich Rig(left) The cycle path is slightly set back from the road here
(middle, right) The forestry track starts here, on the south side of Luss Road

The cyclists' route

At this point, the route for cyclists diverges from that for walkers. This section of the article illustrates the cyclists' route using older pictures, most of which were taken on an occasion when I walked that cycle path in 2011.

The cyclists' route goes through Crosskeys and Arden. That road is known locally as the Black Hill Road. That name is still in common use, but the identity of the Black Hill itself has generally been forgotten; the Black Hill is an old name for Ben BowieExternal link. The road loops around the foot of Ben Bowie, so the name is appropriate.

NS3384 : Bridge and footbridge over Fruin Water by Lairich RigNS3385 : Crosskeys roundabout by Lairich RigNS3485 : The road from Crosskeys to Arden by Lairich Rig(left) Beside Luss Road, bridge over the Fruin WaterExternal link
(middle) The roundabout at Crosskeys
(right) Heading from Crosskeys to Arden
NS3484 : The road from Crosskeys to Arden by Lairich RigNS3584 : Houses at Arden by Lairich RigNS3684 : Cycle route beside main road by Lairich Rig(left) The same road, near Dumfin
(middle) Passing through Arden
(right) Turn south-west, onto the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path
NS3684 : Gate of Arden House South Lodge by Lairich RigNS3683 : Lodge of Auchenheglish House by Lairich RigNS3783 : Loch Lomond from Duck Bay by Lairich Rig(left) A little further ahead
(middle) Passing a lodge
(right) Duck Bay
NS3782 : Old Luss Road by Lairich RigNS3882 : Path to Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich RigNS3882 : Path to Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich Rig(left) Old Luss Road (view back)
(middle, right) Rejoining the walkers' route, near Loch Lomond Shores

The walkers' and cyclists' variations of the John Muir Way meet up again in the neighbourhood of Loch Lomond Shores. To take up the reunited route from there, go to the section entitled "To Balloch Bridge".

To the Stoneymollan Road

Walkers take the forestry track that leads over the high ground near the summits of Ben Bowie and Gouk Hill.

NS3283 : Approaching the forest by Lairich RigNS3283 : Leaving the forest by Lairich RigNS3283 : Forest track on Bannachra Muir by Lairich RigThe middle picture is a view back towards Luss Road; the others are views forward
NS3383 : Forest track on Bannachra Muir by Lairich RigNS3383 : Forest track on Bannachra Muir by Lairich RigNS3483 : Forestry track by Lairich RigThree views forward along the route

The middle picture in the next row shows the John Muir Way (on the right), as well as a signpost indicating a path to a viewpoint on Goukhill Muir. I made a brief digression to revisit that viewpoint before resuming the main route.

When passing the signpost in the first picture below, or when at the start of the track to the viewpoint, it is worth pausing to look at some of the rocks beside the path: rocksExternal link near the signpost; geode detailExternal link and another rock detailExternal link near the start of the viewpoint path.

NS3482 : Path to Craigendoran by Lairich RigNS3482 : Footpath junction by Lairich RigNS3482 : Path to viewpoint by Lairich Rig(left) The Three Lochs WayExternal link, recently re-routed in part, also passes (as of April 2014) through this point
(middle) A different signpost nearby; the John Muir Way continues straight ahead, while a path to a viewpoint branches off to the left
(right) A digression: taking the path to the viewpoint
NS3483 : Goukhill Muir viewpoint by Lairich RigNS3482 : Signpost on the John Muir Way by Lairich RigNS3482 : Footpath junction by Lairich Rig(left) The viewpoint itself; it presents a very fine viewExternal link
(middle) I return to the main route; the same signpost appears in the picture above this one
(right) Not far ahead is another junction, with a marker post; see also an earlier viewExternal link (taken from the path to the viewpoint)
NS3482 : Forest track near Gouk Hill by Lairich RigNS3482 : Forestry track by Lairich RigNS3482 : Forest track near Gouk Hill by Lairich Rig(left) Further along the route; the track passes a poolExternal link here
(middle) Rounding a bend
(right) A view back, along the same bend
NS3482 : Forestry track by Lairich RigNS3482 : End of forestry track by Lairich RigNS3482 : Clearing at start of forest track by Lairich Rig(left) Approaching the end of the track
(middle) It ends at a circular clearing
(right) A view back over that clearing

At the time of my journey (April 2014), the route continued beyond that circular clearing, leading obliquely down a wooded slope, but not on a very visible path. Instead, the route was indicated by markers in the form of red-and-white tape placed at intervals on the trees. It should be noted that this short section of the route was set to be improved after the route was officially opened. For this part of the journey (corresponding to the next six rows of images), I have therefore included pictures taken before and after improvement, as indicated by the captions.

NS3482 : Route through the woods by Lairich RigNS3482 : Route through the woods by Lairich RigNS3482 : Route through the woods by Lairich RigBefore improvement (taken April 2014):
(left) Heading obliquely across the slope
(middle) A view back along the same section
(right) Turning to head straight downhill
NS3482 : Path through Goukhill Plantation by Lairich RigNS3482 : Path through Goukhill Plantation by Lairich RigNS3482 : View down the line of a fence by Lairich RigAfter improvement (taken November 2014):
(left) As above
(middle) As above
(right) The view is as above, but the route itself has been changed slightly here: the path no longer leads directly downhill

The going was much easier from then on:

NS3482 : Path to Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Path to Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Path to Gouk Hill by Lairich RigBefore improvement (taken April 2014):
(left) Into the open again; through the gap ahead
(middle) and then along the forestry edge
(right) A view back along the same path
NS3482 : Path to Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Path to Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Path to Goukhill Muir by Lairich RigAfter improvement (taken April 2015):
(left) As above
(middle) As above
(right) As above
NS3582 : Approaching the edge of Auchendennan Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Forest track on Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Forest track on Darleith Muir by Lairich RigBefore improvement (taken April 2014):
(left) Path leading to forestry track (a view back)
(middle) From a T-junction of tracks (another view back)
(right) At the T-junction, turn to head for Stoneymollan Road (a view ahead)
NS3582 : Path to Goukhill Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Path junction on Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3582 : Signpost on Darleith Muir by Lairich RigAfter improvement:
(left) As above (April 2015)
(middle) The same T-junction as above, but from a different angle (May 2014)
(right) New signpost at the T-junction (May 2014)

At this point, the improved part of the route (and the selection of "before" and "after" pictures) has been left behind:

NS3581 : Forestry track by Lairich RigNS3581 : Forest track on Darleith Muir by Lairich RigNS3581 : Forestry track by Lairich Rig(left) Further along that route
(middle) An earlier view back along the track
(right) Approaching the junction with a path called the Stoneymollan Road
NS3581 : A junction of paths by Lairich RigNS3581 : The Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3681 : The Cross Stone by Lairich Rig(left) The path junction (view back)
(middle) Follow the Stoneymollan Road (heading towards Balloch) to the edge of the woods
(right) An older side-on view of the path where it leaves the woods and passes near the Cross StoneExternal link

To Old Luss Road

A selection of older pictures illustrates the Stoneymollan Road leading down the hill; the appearance of the route has not significantly changed in the meantime, except for the appearance of an occasional small marker (typically on a gatepost) indicating the route:

NS3681 : The Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3681 : Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3781 : The Stoneymollan Road by Lairich Rig(left) Out of the woods (a view back uphill)
(middle) Further downhill
(right) Near Upper Stoneymollan Farm
NS3781 : Gate on the Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3781 : Upper Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3881 : Footbridge over the A82 by Lairich Rig(left) Gate at top of Upper Stoneymollan Road
(middle) Following that road downhill
(right) Cross this footbridge over the A82, then follow Lower Stoneymollan Road past kennels and a caravan site
NS3881 : Lower Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3881 : Lower Stoneymollan Road by Lairich RigNS3881 : Old Luss Road by Lairich Rig(left, middle) Lower Stoneymollan Road leads to
(right) Old Luss Road; turn left and follow that road

To Balloch Bridge

From the point where Lower Stoneymollan Road meets Old Luss Road, walk north-west for about 280 metres to the start of a path leading to Loch Lomond Shores; the cyclists' variation of the John Muir Way, which had diverged from the walkers' route, rejoins it at that point.

NS3882 : Path to Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich RigNS3882 : Path to Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich RigNS3882 : The National Park Gateway Centre by Lairich Rig(left) Walkers' and cyclists' routes reunited; the path to Loch Lomond Shores begins here, beside Luss Road
(middle) Further ahead; Retail CrescentExternal link and top of Drumkinnon TowerExternal link visible ahead.
(right) Pass the Gateway Centre (view back) and the Retail Crescent
NS3882 : Path at Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich RigNS3882 : Path to Balloch Bridge by Lairich RigNS3882 : Path to Loch Lomond Shores by Lairich Rig(left) Take this path after passing Drumkinnon Tower
(middle) Path, parallel to the nearby water's edge, leading to Balloch Bridge
(right) View back along the same path
NS3981 : Approaching Balloch Bridge by Lairich RigNS3981 : View across Balloch Bridge by Lairich RigNS3981 : View from Balloch Bridge by Lairich Rig(left) Approaching Balloch Bridge
(middle) This leg of the John Muir Way ends at Balloch Bridge
(right) A view from the bridge

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