Out on the Edge

Rolling pastures framed by the deep blue sea in the background: Galloway in miniature
Rolling pastures framed by the deep blue sea in the background: Galloway in miniature

Having previously visited the most southerly and south westerly points of three of the four countries that make up the geographical feature that is the British Isles (better make sure I get this correct as there may well be some seismic changes to what is meant by Britain and the UK in constitutional terms over the next few weeks) it seemed sensible to exploit a promised window of fine weather before autumn encroached and venture to the furthest point of my one remaining unvisited peninsular; the Mull of Galloway.

Enticed back by the tranquility, contrasting landscapes and dark skies I discovered earlier in the summer and now bolstered by a bigger tent, more efficient cooking gear and a more ordered storage system, I left the heavy rain and leadens skies of a Midlands’ bank holiday morning to a-getting-better-the-further-north midday.

Portobello Beach, looking directly over to Ireland
Portobello Beach, looking directly over to Ireland

Usually a long, tedious, and sometimes dangerous journey from Dumfries west along the A75, the imminent end of the late summer bank holiday ensured the heavy traffic was in the opposite direction and Stranraer was reached in an unhurried and impressive two and a half hours.

80 miles from Dumfries and a similar distance from Glasgow, Stranraer can seem like a lonely last staging post on the edge of the choppy waters of the North Channel (even the local accents sound more Ulster than Scottish), but  closer study of the buildings back from the harbour and the names of the streets, evince something of how the town grew in importance as a seaport to Ireland from the early years of the 19th century, after the 1801 Act of Union. But, its location in a rich pastoral agricultural area has been equally important and the town’s connections both with the sea and the dairying industry are well illustrated in the interesting local museum: a useful and informative diversion, should the weather turn inclement.

North Rhinns Camping lies around five miles north, in the midst of its eponymous peninsular, surrounded by undulating pastureland and, essentially, it provides everything I look for when I camp. Pitches are secluded, well away from neighbours, contain a picnic bench and campfire standing and are located sensitively around a patch of lovely, native woodland that also acts as a natural windbreak during the frequent squalls that descend on this exposed piece of land. Crucially, facilities are scrupulously clean and very well equipped. The site welcomes tents, with room for a couple of small campervans – as a result, another bonus is that it tends to attract some original and effective conversions of standard small vans.

North Rhinns sunset
North Rhinns sunset

While, in theory,  the quiet local lanes should provide perfect cycling routes, few of the locals seem to cycle and neighbourhood drivers tend to hurl their trucks, tractors and 4x4s around with little thought for any other road users. Winds are often fierce and gradients will test the best maintained gears and brakes. That said, local businesses offer a warm welcome to cyclists, with plenty of helpful advice and tourist information offices are awash with leaflets and maps showing a selection of cycling routes.

Breezy, sunny days are, in any case, perfect for coastal walking and here the Rhinns of Galloway comes into its own. Portpatrick lies a few miles south of the campsite and its pretty harbour marks the western end of the Southern Upland Way (SUW). The 200 plus miles of this coast-to-coast trail take in dramatic coastlines, bleak moorland and challenging hills on the route across the southern Scotland and the first three miles or so, up to Portavaddie Lighthouse, is a great introduction, both to coastal walking, as well as the diversity of scenery on this toughest of long-distance walks.

Views take in the Antrim coast and further to the north, the jagged peaks of Arran, as well as the hump-like Ailsa Craig. However, after the SUW leaves the coast to head eastward, and although the route round the the west side of the coast is designated by the council as a core path, the going is often difficult over rocks and bracken, with no clearly defined trail.

Heading north on the first section of the SUW
Heading north on the first section of the SUW

Fortunately, the local rotary club has already taken matters into hand and, on the east side of the Rhinns, marked out a path along the side of Loch Ryan, linking Stranraer with the start of the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Glenapp. This, in turn, now joins up with another marked route, The Mull of Galloway Trail between Stranraer and the southerly tip of the Rhinns (and indeed of Scotland itself) at the Mull of Galloway.

The Mull, lonely and exposed, with its historic lighthouse and foghorn perched bravely above the treacherous rocks, is a fascinating place to take stock, look around and plot location – the outlines of the Isle of Man, Cumbrian and Ulster coasts are visible on clear days. But it is the sensation of being at the tip, surrounded by the dominant elements of sea and wind, that remains uppermost as you imagine the singular lifestyle of lighthouse staff as they performed their vital work before the days of high-tech communications.

Although not yet logged on OS maps, the route is clearly marked and, as it heads northwards, towards Drummore and Sandhead, passes along and above dramatic coves and inlets that are the equal of any found elsewhere along the western coasts of our isles. Along the way you are more likely to meet a few sheep or cattle than a fellow human: but remember, solitude does come with inherent dangers and this coastline can be bleak and exposed, with steep gradients and slippery rocks.

The foghorn at Carrickcarlin Point, Mull of Galloway
The foghorn at Carrickcarlin Point, Mull of Galloway

Inland, the shorn fields of pale yellow, with their stacks of harvested hay reflect the last days of August and the ripening hedgerows promise a bumper harvest of brambles and rosehips. Despite the bright sunny days and even at this far western outpost, evenings now darken and cool well before nine pm: another  accurate barometer of the dying embers of summer.

 

So, Galloway 2014, the verdict:

Still characterised by its 1950s-style roads and telegraph poles, luxuriant rhododendrons and unspoilt coves and inlets that could recreate the setting for a Famous Five adventure.
Yes, it is being discovered, but slowly and, so far, in a largely positive way: the lonely moors, expansive forests and often deserted coasts now sit alongside something for the foodies (Castle Douglas), an annual literary extravaganza (Wigtown), as well as the legendary artist communities of Kirkcudbright and surrounding harbour towns.
Galloway has always offered fresh air, breathtaking scenery and dark skies; keep away from the caravan parks of the Southerness tip and you will still scarcely see a crowd, but you can find a good coffee, gourmet food and challenging culture, without too much effort.

The lighthouse still keeps a look out on the Mull
The lighthouse still keeps a look out on the Mull

 

What if?

Call it misplaced nostalgia, or cheesy emotion, but just wish, for a moment, that Beeching hadn’t axed the Dumfries to Stranraer railway  line and the boat train (possibly with a steam special in the holidays) still wound its way westwards, along the coast, through the forests, over the Loch Ken and Stroan Viaducts……..   Just a thought, although a sad one, nevertheless.

 

Recommendations:

Campsites; Ken Bridge Hotel, nr New Galloway, North Rhinns, nr Stranraer
Cafe/Restaurant; the Schoolhouse, Ringland, nr Kirkcudbright ( and D’Nisi’s cafe in Stranraer does a decent flat white)
Interesting shops; Designs Gallery, King Street, Castle Douglas, In House Chocolates also in King Street, Castle Douglas
Museums/galleries; Stranraer Museum,  George Street, Stranraer, art galleries in and around Kirkcudbright 
Information point; Tourist Information, Harbour Street, Stranraer

St Medan's Cave
St Medan’s Cave
East Tarbet Bay
East Tarbet Bay
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Galloway: the Best of the South West

Just back from a (too) short visit back to Galloway; one of the British Isles’ south west peninsulas, arguably its finest, and certainly its most undervalued. The south westerly coastlines of each of the four countries of the British Isles (here I am regarding Ireland in the geographical, not political sense) have always fascinated me, but until recent years, I was shockingly complacent about the charms of the area nearest to my birthplace.

Growing up in adjacent Dumfriesshire I surmised that Cornwall and the south west (of England) must have possessed exclusive elements of magical beauty, beside which the rocky inlets, ancient forests and deep lochs on my doorstep paled in comparison, given the millions of visitors the former attracted each year and its correspondingly top position in the bucket-list of the nation’s scenic attractions.

Renowned for its dark skies, Galloway also boasts some pretty impressive sunsets
Renowned for its dark skies, Galloway also boasts some pretty impressive sunsets

Indeed, by the time I left south west Scotland,  I had become almost blasé about dark skies, cascading rivers, rounded hills and the lush, vibrant green foliage and densely coloured rhododendrons, characteristic of this temperate region.

Escaping south, I sought out the gentler pastoral vistas of pretty pubs, pastel coloured cottages, hanging baskets and historic churches and embarked on my long-held ambition to visit the landscapes of the literary heroes of my youth – Hardy’s Dorset and Tarka’s Devon were all, and more, than I had hoped for and in the well-preserved centre of my local town, Lichfield, it was easy to imagine its 18th century heyday as a coaching town and intellectual centre of the Lunar Men.

The Ken Bridge Hotel: a historic coaching inn situated between New Galloway and St John's Town of Dalry
The Ken Bridge Hotel: a historic coaching inn situated between New Galloway and St John’s town of Dalry

But Cornwall was my magnet. From Du Maurier, through Blyton to Mary Wesley and the art deco railway posters of the GWR, I had always been mesmerised by the images of bohemian artists, smugglers and pretty fishing villages, against a backdrop of sandy beaches, a dramatic coastline and sunny weather.

Even on my first journey, the road signs counting down the miles to “The West” stirred my excitement, my spirits on arrival undimmed even by a wet squall: this was the west side of our Atlantic facing island, after all. But waking up next morning (albeit to a beautiful blue sky), one by one, my visions began to shatter. There were people on the beaches! And not just a handful, but what looked like millions of them, crowding the sand and drowning out the birdsong.

I was used to beaches, along Galloway’s inlets and the Ayrshire coast, where you were (un)lucky if you saw another soul all day, unless of course you wanted company. Here, in England’s holiday haven, even fish ‘n chips was priced as a delicacy and the charm of Mousehole and Sennen completely obliterated by the unending horror of ceaseless traffic jamming up the tiny streets.

I have returned to Cornwall several times since and spent many amazing days walking the sumptuous South West Coastal Path (probably my second favourite long distance path), visiting independent galleries and Seasalt shops, as well as admiring the county’s interesting. and largely overlooked, industrial history.

Twilight on the River Ken: one of Galloway's great fishing rivers
Twilight on the River Ken: one of Galloway’s great fishing rivers

But, although it has many qualities, I have never quite understood why, in comparison to the other south west peninsulas of the British Isles, Cornwall is so much more popular than the rest – warmer, maybe, but certainly no  drier and much more crowded, commercialised and expensive.

Over the last decade, I have been lucky enough to visit all four of our dramatic south west peninsulas and, for what it is worth, ascribe them the following attributes:

  • most jaw-droppingly beautiful – without a doubt, Co Kerry
  • best old world charm – Pembrokeshire

And that brings us back to Galloway. Finally, I can now appreciate  its charms and can recommend it as the biggest in area of the four peninsulas and the one with the most variety of scenery: from moorland to mountains, lochs and pastoral farmland, to say nothing of the aforementioned delightful (and uncrowded) coastline, you’ll find it all here.

Cycling doesn't get any better than this: NCN 73, between Newton Stewart and Wigtown
Cycling doesn’t get any better than this: NCN 73, between Newton Stewart and Wigtown

It’s arguably the best place in the country for cycling, with miles of quiet, scenic roads, plus the world-rated 7 Stanes MTB courses, is a magnet for fishermen, walkers and advocates of all types of water sports, foodies, ornithologists and astronomers.

Lovers of literature will also know that Galloway boasts Scotland’s National Book Town, Wigtown, with its annual September book festival, the region’s history can be traced back to pre-historic times and it was an important early centre of Christianity. Many of its coastal towns and villages, notably Kirkcudbright, have attracted world-famous artists for over a century.

In other words, Galloway offers something for everyone. So, next time you’re heading to the Lake District,  further north into the Highland (or even south to Cornwall) a detour to Galloway might just surprise you with how much it offers, and how little it demands.

Dark skies, red kites, book festivals, some of the best independent art galleries in the country and some great places to camp: you'll find them all in Galloway
Dark skies, red kites, book festivals, some of the best independent art galleries in the country and some great places to camp: you’ll find them all in Galloway

But don’t tell everyone, we don’t want it ending up like Cornwall.

 

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Balloch to Helensburgh: Three Lochs Way, Stage 1

Dumbreck sunrise
Dumbreck sunrise

Mid March; the best time of the year for walking, according to many experts and so, happily, it proved for me. As much of the country shivered in the face of vicious easterly winds and and a blanket of snow covered the south coast, this Glasgow morning dawned clear and bright, with a sharp frost soon levelling into a perfect, early spring day.

I was on my way to Balloch to try out the first stage of a relatively new trail, the Three Lochs Way, linking Lochs Lomond and Long, the Gare Loch, with a stretch of the  Firth of Clyde  thrown in for good measure. The route begins in Balloch, travels west to Helensburgh, then north to Garelochhead, continues up to Arrochar, before finally winding its way to Inveruglas at the north end of Loch Lomond.

It’s a low level trail, with few steep gradients and, as it generally follows the course of the West Highland Railway, it’s possible to walk all sections as linear routes and use the train to get to and from the start/finish points. The first section is ideal for this, as both Balloch and Helensburgh are termini on Glasgow’s suburban rail network. It’s perfectly possible to walk the route in either direction: just buy a return to either station, then a single from the other to Dalreoch and the rest of your return ticket will take you back to the city.

Over the hill to Helensburgh
Over the hill to Helensburgh

My preference is to start in Balloch and walk towards Helensburgh. This way, you enjoy the unmatched experience of leaving the loch and views of Ben Lomond behind you, just as the coastal vistas over Kintyre come into sight: a unique joy, whatever the time of year.

My other reason is equally hedonistic, but for gastronomic reasons. Finishing in Helensburgh provides the ideal reason to visit my favourite cafe in the area; the Riverhill Deli and Cafe in Sinclair Street. The coffee bears comparison with anything north of Turin and their delectable cakes and pastries, including the incomparable millionaire’s shortbread, are the perfect way to cap a marvellous day in the outdoors.

Head out from Balloch station and turn left at the information centre. Walk along the street until you reach the roundabout and take the the third turning into a quiet, residential street. You will soon see a footpath sign pointing left, take this and walk along the track crossing the footbridge over the A82.

A snow-capped Ben Lomond looks over the loch
A snow-capped Ben Lomond looks over the loch

This is known locally as the Stoneymollan Road, an ancient drove and coffin route and it leads uphill to a plantation gate. Walk through the plantation and turn right after about 800 metres at the T junction, before heading north round the edge of the plantation.

Until this point, the route follows well marked paths, but the next part is not on a defined track and it is strongly advisable to have a map and navigational aids. The route now veers off to the west though the trees. You must follow the red and white tape on the trees which marks the route over the burn and up the slopes of the Killoeter Escarpment.

Volunteers regularly check that the tape markers are in place, but if any are missing, or if you wander off route, you will need to be able to navigate yourself through this section using a map or compass.

Finally, after about 300 metres of climbing uphill when the end of a forestry road comes into view (from this point onwards the trail follows obvious, well-marked paths), follow it to the T junction. Turn left to continue to Helensburgh, but a short detour to the right takes you to the highlight of this section, the views from the top of Goukhill Muir. It’s only a short climb to 281metres, but the panorama compares with vistas normally only enjoyed from far higher summits.

Island footsteps to Balmaha
Island footsteps to Balmaha

A few clouds had invaded the previous unbroken blue of the sky, but Loch Lomond glinted tantalisingly in the sun, protected by the solid mass of Ben Lomond, its peak wrapped in a thick layer of snow. The line of islands below looked like giant stepping stones en route towards Balmaha and the blue of the loch was almost tropical in its intensity.

To the north, the snow-covered peaks of the Arrochar Alps jutted dramatically into the midday sky and, turning westwards, the Gareloch shimmered like a dark ribbon below the Rosneath Peninsula. Few viewpoints serve up such sumptuous rewards and reaching them usually requires much more strenuous effort.

The heather was dry and, and a sheltered spot just off the path was a perfect place to stop for some lunch, before beginning the descent to Helensburgh. The majority of the route now follows a newly-constructed path and provides more fine views as the town and the Firth of Clyde come into sight, spoiled only by the mess of what appears to a scrapyard surrounding a cottage on the outskirts of Craigendoran.

Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde
Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde

Emerging at Hermitage Academy, you are a couple of miles out of Helensburgh and another advantage of completing the trail in this direction is that, should the weather turn inclement, or time be at a premium, you are only metres away from Craigendoran Station and half-hourly trains back to Glasgow.

Otherwise, turn right and follow the main road into Helensburgh. At one time regarded as the ‘Brighton of Glasgow’, the resort is renowned for its substantial Victorian villas and tree-lined streets.

I was too early in the year to enjoy the blossom that infuses the town later in the spring, or to re-visit the Hill House, one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most iconic designs. But I was happy to sip my excellent flat white and sample the said shortbread in Riverhill’s convivial atmosphere before heading the few metres back to Helensburgh Central for my return to the city.

The Gare Loch and Rosneath Peninisula
The Gare Loch and Rosneath Peninisula

 

Information:

Details of the Three Lochs Way:

Trains to and from Balloch, Helensburgh and Craigendoran: 

Map: OS Explorer 347, Loch Lomond South

Please remember: although gradients are fairly gently and tracks are good, one section of this route is currently pathless. It is strongly advisable to have a map and navigational aids and be confident in your ability to use them. If you are unsure and/or you cannot follow the marked tape, always re-trace your steps.

 

 

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Riverhill Cafe: Glasgow and Helensburgh

As regular readers will know all too well, I always take the opportunity to plug Glasgow as the ideal location to combine some top notch culture, food and  shopping with the chance to enjoy some spectacular local outdoor jaunts as well.

Maybe because my trips to the city as a child were many and varied and ranged from pantomime visits, to shopping expeditions and later on, all kinds of things connected with education, that I have always considered Glasgow to be such an eclectic place.

Among these primal associations, it was in the city that I first began my love affair with good coffee; indeed, I can still remember the excitement of discovering what I termed ‘frothy coffee’,  drinking it from a glass cup in one of the Italian cafes I was taken to by my grandmother. And, from then on, sourcing and consuming the best coffee I can find has become something of an obsession – as well as providing the excuse to sample some of the finest cafes that Vienna, Budapest, Rome and Turin have to offer.

So, it was with a sense of excitement that I headed across Gordon Street last Monday to try out the new Riverhill Cafe. Its first few weeks had certainly been a hit on social media, and if its coffee was half as good as its location – within luggage wheeling distance of Central Station and in an otherwise desert of good independent refreshment outlets – it would be worth the wait.

It was. My flat white was rich and creamy and a crusty sandwich of Italian sausage with salad and dressing was freshly made and nicely on the plus side of substantial. But, it was the staff who provided the real highlight; pleasant, informative and happy to accommodate any requests for slight variations of the items on offer. My only disappointment was that, after my sandwich, even I couldn’t find room for a piece of their appropriately-named billionaire’s shortbread.

Overlooking Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde
Overlooking Helensburgh and the Firth of Clyde

However, apart from its excellent menu and ideal location, Riverhill has yet another asset; its sister, the Riverhill Cafe and Deli, in Helensburgh. And as Helensburgh just so happened to be where I started and finished a couple of stages on the Three Lochs Way later in the week, then I really had no excuse not to taste another excellent flat white and replace some of the calories expended tramping through the forest with a slice of their slightly different take on that luxury shortbread. Apparently the chef here also regularly forages for edible herbs and plants to use in the daily menu, so no excuse then not to factor in another trip around Helensburgh on my next visit.

Well done Riverhill: you’ll be my first and last stop next time I’m back in Glasgow and, with the Hill House, other handsome buildings and enviable setting beneath the mountains and beside the Firth, yet another reason to boot and bike to Helensburgh.

 

RIverhill Cafe: 24 Gordon Street, Glasgow G1 3PU  0141 204 4762

Riverhill Cafe and Deli: 64 Sinclair Street, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Helensburgh G84 6TP 01436 677575

 

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The Dolomites: a different winter wonderland

You don’t have to ski to enjoy the snow. Forget the flight, pass over the pistes, cut your carbon footprint and take the train to the Dolomites this winter.

Sunrise over Pedraces
Winter activity holidays don’t have to mean downhill skiing. Later this winter I will return to my particular winter wonderland, the Dolomites, to enjoy the snow, but without the queues and unsightly lifts. And, with the added bonus of a relaxed rail journey there through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, free from airport hell and flight guilt.

Like most other visitors, I was immediately captivated by their vibrant colours and spectacular shapes when I first experienced these dramatic mountains. Tucked away in the northern corner of Italy, the area (known as Trentino/South Tyrol) benefits from a unique combination of Germanic/Latin culture, history and cuisine and five years ago the Dolomites were, deservedly awarded UNESCO world heritage status.

Santa Croce Church and Refugio

But the natural and unaffected character of the area is another, equally persuasive, magnet that draws me back to these mountains every winter. Although the region boasts over 1,000km of piste, the Dolomites are not the exclusive preserve of downhillers. The people are welcoming and genuine and the hamlets of South Tyrol are as far removed from the archetypal, commercialised ski resort as is possible to imagine.

The unspoilt villages of Arabba, Pedraces and Corvara in the dramatic Alta Badia region lie in a stunning mountain setting and provide a perfect base for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and winter walking: three excellent cardio-vascular activities that take you in close and personal to this winter wonderland, but with a negligible impact on the environment.

Winter Wonderland

Snowshoeing is much easier than it looks and within minutes of leaving the villages, you will be tracking along rivers, through woodland and across winter pastures. Higher up, waymarked trails give access to remote, snowbound landscapes normally only reached by mountaineers. Make sure you visit the tiny Santa Croce church, 2045m asl, high above Pedraces. Next door, the original Santa Croce Hospice, built over 500 years ago to accommodate pilgrims visiting the church, is now a mountain refugio (tel:+390471839632). Take a well-earned lunch break, enjoy the wholesome food and wonder at the fabulous mountain vistas.

Cross country skiing takes a little longer to master, but Corvara alone has 17kms of woodland and riverside routes below the magnificent Sella Massif. Winter walking (bring good hillwalking boots, or “four season” if you intend to use crampons) will soon take you far away from the pistes into a remote winter panorama with only its equally magnificent fauna for company: the brilliant blue skies and pristine white landscapes cleverly camouflage the arctic hares and silver foxes, but it is not unusual to spot golden eagles and chamois.

Sunset on Santa Croce Rock

Another bonus is that no expensive, specialised equipment is needed. Other than boots, pack waterproof outers, warm jacket, hat, gloves, layers and sunglasses. Snowshoes (around five euros per day) and cross country skis can be hired from sports shops in the villages, such as Sport Kostner in Corvara (Col Alt 34, 39033 Corvara, tel:+390471836112).

How to get there:
One of the key highlights of a holiday in the Dolomites, for me, is the journey itself: boarding the overnight train in Paris, travelling through the Alps, then lifting the blinds up next morning to the delightful medieval roofscapes of Verona and Padua. And a more prosaic advantage is that you can take as much footwear, bulky outer gear and extra layers as you can carry.

Sun, snow and rock: Pedraces

Eurostar’s www.eurostar.com carbon neutral trains whisk you to Paris Nord in just over two hours and return journeys start around £60. One useful, but little-known, hint for those outside the capital: discounted fares to London can be obtained through www.raileasy.com or the “Eurostar” section in www.seat61.com Remember to enter your destination as London International and not the terminus you arrive at.

Leaving the wonderful new St Pancras station www.stpancras.com mid-afternoon, it is possible to reach the Dolomites around lunchtime the next day on the overnight “Stendhal” service, departing Paris Gare de Bercy at 20.33, arriving Venice at 9.34 next morning. The return train leaves Venice at 19.57, arriving Gare de Bercy 8.19 next morning.

Use Mark Smith’s indispensable www.seat61.com (it’s worth a look even if you don’t travel by train) for inexhaustible details of routes, fares, booking instructions, connections, maps and even advice on the best way to travel between different termini in Paris.

As well as providing a superior journey experience, travelling by train can be cheaper, depending on type of accommodation and number of travellers. While it can be expensive for one or two people in a first class sleeper, six people sharing a couchette can travel for as little as £33 each, one way, booking well in advance and taking advantage of discounted fares. Remember, the price also effectively includes overnight accommodation as well as journey cost.

Venice has two stations: Mestre, on the mainland and Santa Lucia in the city centre. Tickets are valid to and from either station. Many of the hotels in the Dolomites offer transfers from Venice (Marco Polo) airport: get off at Mestre and take one of the frequent buses from outside the station. Journey time is about 15 minutes and details are available from the airport’s website:http://www.veniceairport.it/page/servizi/trasporti/treno?m=01020201#The site also contains a wealth of details about Venice and surrounding area, including how to reach the mountains by public transport http://www.veniceairport.it/page/turismo?m=1500002

Where to Stay: Collett’s Mountain Holidays www.colletts.co.uk offer a range of accommodation in hotels, hosted chalets and self-catering properties in Arraba, Pedraces and Corvara. Collett’s are renowned for their love and knowledge of the Dolomites and their flexibility, offering snowshoeing, winter walking and cross country skiing. They are a particularly good choice for anyone holidaying on their own as they attract an eclectic mix of ages, families, groups, couples and individuals, offer a sociable “office hour” each evening and serve meals in a communal atmosphere.

For independent travellers, the Hotel Melodia del Bosco Runccac, Runcac
8, 39036 Badia/Pedraces www.melodiadelbosco.it offers warm hospitality, wonderful Mediterranean and Tyrolean food and helpful, multi-lingual staff. Run by the Irsara family and extensively renovated two years ago, it occupies a stunning position, has stylish en suite rooms, a whirlpool and provides guests with extensive local knowledge.

 

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The West Highland Way

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to walk  the West Highland Way (WHW). Indeed, even before the route was conceived as a long distance footpath (LDF), the thought of walking from the edge of Glasgow to the heart of the Western Highlands stirred my anticipation. There are plenty of other LDFs, some nearer, some longer, some more technically difficult, but none can compare in terms of drama, romance, scenery and diversity of landscape. For anyone who believes that the best way to travel is under your own steam and combines this with a feeling for history, a love of literature and a passion for the great outdoors, trekking from Scotland’s largest city, along the banks of her most iconic loch, past the head of her most historically (in)famous glen, to the slopes of her highest mountain, on routes laid down over the centuries by soldiers, drovers and emigrants, the WHW would be difficult to better.

Mountains, lochs and woods: a classic scene from the WHW

Thursday September 6th dawned damp and drizzly and, following a short, but efficient, luggage hand over at Milngavie station and the obligatory “start pic”, I was on my way. I’ve done all the first part of the section – as far as Dumgoyne – and some of the remainder before, but it was still a thrill to walk past the Craigallian Fire and visualise the depression days of the 1930s when it was a beacon of warmth and companionship to the many who tramped the hills for recreation, or as a semi-permanent escape from the iniquities of the Means Test.

A 12 mile, relatively flat, segment looked nothing compared to the demands of the later stages, but mid afternoon coffee and cake In the Drymen Pottery was a welcome end to the day’s walking, particularly as it had been raining steadily for the last hour. The Clachan Inn though, was a slight disappointment. It was clean and the staff eager to please, but maybe the restrictions that come with the tag of Scotland’s oldest pub, make it difficult to cope with the demands of a full house of walkers – wet wayfarers all turning up at roughly the same time put a strain on the shared facilities – and restricting cooked breakfasts, even a bowl of porridge, until after 9am scuppered any plans for an early start.

 

Friday September 7th and the sky glowered threateningly, but, unfortunately, although the rain kept off for the first part of the morning, when the heavens did finally open, many were at the top of Conic Hill hoping to enjoy the dazzling views over the south end of Loch Lomond. However, the umbrellas at the Oak Tree Inn kept out the rain and by the time I had completed the first afternoon mile alongside the loch, the rain had eased and the mist was lifting.

The banks of Loch Lomond

This, however, was to contribute to my first, major, faux pas of the trip. Shedding successive layers of waterproofs as the sun appeared shyly in mid-afternoon, I dropped my map wallet and failed to notice until a couple of miles further on. Although I jogged back, there was no sign of it –  another walker had picked it up and handed in at the next campsite, which although very kind of him, was not too much use to me as I was going in the opposite direction and had no means of getting back there. And, as just reward for my stupidity in leaving my holiday details in the wallet, I had no idea of how to get to the rest of my accommodation! Fortunately though, a combination of Andy’s efficiency in the Absolute Escapes office in quickly emailing the details and Fiona’s kindness in giving me a new map, ensured there was no lasting damage.

Fiona was my host at my next overnight stay, near Rowardennan. Her home, Coille Mhor – comfortable, commodious, with a luxury exclusive bathroom and breakfast to die for –  was everything the first night was not. This, plus her family’s willingness to go the extra mile for their guests, laid down a challenging marker for the rest of the accommodation en route.

 

Ben Lomond

Saturday September 8th: just a glimpse of brightness on the way past the Rowardennan Hotel, but enough to lift the cloud off the summit of Ben Lomond, at least for the moment. This, the WHW veterans had warned would be the toughest stage; not in terms of exposure or altitude, but because of the obstacle course that is the 2-3 miles north of Inversnaid. With this in mind, I made good pace first thing and took advantage of the wide forestry tracks to arrive in Inversnaid by lunchtime. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the path, slimy with recent rain, began to swerve up and down, over rocks and tree routes, at times about to seemingly splash into the loch itself. It was torturous going and, making good use of my new map, I used Island I Vow as my landmark and vowed not to stop until I was at least level with it.

On and on, the path veered one way, then another, and progress continued at snail’s pace – even the fit-looking lads with military-style gear didn’t overtake me with quite the same verve by mid afternoon – until I met a mountain biker travelling in the opposite direction. Taking the opportunity for a few minutes chat (not least to find out how he intended to deal with the hurdles to come) he reassured me that the path would level out in about 400m and, sure enough, round the corner of a delightful, sandy bay, the route stretched out, wider, straighter and flatter.

View from the head of Loch Lomond

Climbing up from the head of the loch, it was clear that the broad leaf woods of the shore were now behind me; in front loomed the muscular peaks of the Southern Highlands. This stage of the route also sees the most optimistic, or ambiguous, signpost of the walk. “Beinglas 2 miles” it says. Well, an hour and a half later, after the longest two miles I’ve ever walked, finally, the foot of Glen Falloch came into view. Tonight’s accommodation, at Beinglas Farm, delivered more than it initially promised: keys only on deposit, bags dumped in a communal shed didn’t auger well, but the chalets were very comfortable, food good, staff attentive and Murray’s semi win was available on TV.

 

Sunday September 9th was always going to be my big day. My itinerary said 12 miles along Glen Falloch and Strath Fillan to Tyndrum which, compared to the exertions of the previous day, looked relatively straightforward. Today’s forecast looked better than tomorrow’s, so up and out early, I made Crianlarich before midday, hurtled on to Tyndrum by early afternoon and, after picking up the bus/train times, took the plunge and headed off for Bridge of Orchy today, instead of tomorrow morning.

West Highland Way flora

In the event, all went well; the two Glaswegian veterans who marched me along at their lively pace, kept me entertained with their tales of past WHW exploits, the mist and drizzle didn’t really descend until the last 40 minutes and it was a pleasant surprise when the hotel and station came into view a little after 4.30 pm. At closer quarters, however, the hotel isn’t quite as welcoming to walkers – transport information was wrong, my companions found their booked accommodation did not materialise and a coach load of tourists seemed to be offered considerably warmer hospitality than us disparate wet walkers.

Fortunately, however, my accommodation lay in wait at Ewich House, back at Crianlarich. After bussing it back to an enormous fish and chips at the Rod and Reel  Ian picked me up and drove to the 200 year old farmhouse he and Deb have sensitively restored into a marvellous guest house, enjoying an unrivalled location, modern facilities – the imaginative en suite, complete with organic toiletries that soothed my aching muscles, took my vote – wonderful hospitality and a breakfast to rival Coille Mhor’s. All this, plus Ian and Deb’s commitment to operating in the most environmentally possible way, places Ewich House firmly at the top of my must-revisit list.

Bridge of Orchy

 

Monday September 10th: As I now had the luxury of taking the train to resume where I left off in Bridge of Orchy, I could digest my porridge at leisure and savour the scenery, albeit briefly, from the magical West Highland Railway.

The climb over to Inveroran that had looked daunting last evening, now proved to be an enjoyable hike, providing views back to Beinns Dorain and Dothaidh and then on to Loch Tulla and the Inveroran Hotel.

“You’re going to get wet,” advised an elderly gentleman at the gates to Forest Lodge, and, true enough, by the time I approached Black Mount, all wet gear had been put into use: by the landmark Ba Bridge, as the photos prove, the rain was driving straight into the camera lens. Rannoch was certainly living up to its reputation as a vast, inhospitable wilderness, miles from any semblance of civilisation. But for me, the feeling of being at the edge of the world, with nothing but my foot power between me and shelter, was absolutely exhilarating and I felt nothing but respect for the few brave birds and hardy species of flora that survive in this hostile environment.

The bleak beauty of Rannoch Moor

The damp was beginning to take its toll and I was already cold as I first glimpsed the Kingshouse Hotel from the crest of the ridge. As its outline became more definite, I thought of the generations of travellers, climbers and walkers, for whom it had offered a beacon of shelter after hours, or maybe days, of exposure to the elements. Kingshouse deserves its legendary status, but it is slightly disappointing that it its uncontested location has led to a complacency in maintaining standards of comfort. Tradition and character are rightly valued, but should not be excuses for sub-standard, shared facilities, ill-fitting windows and tepid water.

 

Tuesday September 11th: opening the curtain to a handful of deer grazing insouciantly under the window partially compensated for a chilly room (and not being able to share Andy Murray’s first major victory) and a wonderful full rainbow lifted the spirits before the rigours of the Devil’s Staircase. This was definitely  leather boots territory and I had good reason to be grateful to my trusty Meindls as we splashed along paths suddenly transformed into raging rivulets.

Glencoe sunset

This was a four-seasons-in-ten-minutes day and the combination of squally hail followed by blinding sunshine, slowed progress. However, the regular shafts of sunlight supplied some great picture opportunities over the Mamores and the descent into Kinlochleven was frequently spectacular. Although hardly a conurbation, I found a return to shops, banks and take aways, comforting, but slightly sad at the same time. However, some enjoyable pub grub, entertaining company and a decent bottle of wine, helped make this the best evening, so far.

 

Highland grandeur

Wednesday September 12th marked the last day of the walk, and perhaps as a reward for our efforts, it dawned bright and crisp: ideal conditions to showcase Highland grandeur at its best. The forest climb was strenuous, but soon repaid by stupendous views back over the Leven valley and the mountains beyond. The remains of Lairigmor provided a suitable wind break/sun trap – and in my dream world, an ideal location for a WHW B&B offering cakes and refreshments to hungry walkers!

As the afternoon wore on, the miles predictably seemed to get longer and, even as the bulk of Ben Nevis came into view, it was still a salutary reminder that there were over six  miles left. But the mountain path eventually turned into the forestry track and the long descent into Fort William began; the campsites of Glen Nevis finally followed by the guest houses and B&Bs on the outskirts of town.

The track past Lairigmor

But, the WHW was still to have the last laugh: reaching the original obelisk, we found the official end of the way has now moved to the town centre. Eventually, we all made it and, while some retired to the pub immediately to celebrate their achievement, the long walk back to Glen Nevis for a welcome shower and snooze, made the return into town that bit harder later in the evening, although aching limbs and weariness were soon forgotten in the happy celebrations.

 

Epilogue:

So, despite my misgivings about my foot I made it, without any apparent ill effects and feeling considerably fitter at the end compared to the beginning. Seven days of historical, emotional and cultural connections in an environment of such beauty that frequently took your breath away, added to some considerable kindness from complete strangers, new friends, good company and camaraderie combined to make the experience all I hoped it would be; plus some more.

Made it! End of the Way, September 12 2012

Highlights – the whole route, but if I have to choose:

  • the gorgeous broad leaf woodlands on the banks of Loch Lomond
  • the ravishing red berries drooping from the rowan trees along the route
  • crossing Rannoch Moor – walking along its western edge and then home on the railway on its opposite side – feeling very insignificant in the midst of such an awesome wilderness, with my respect for the engineers and navvies who built the roads and railways reinforced
  • being lucky enough to enjoy breathtaking views of the Mamores and Ben Nevis on a clear, sunny autumn day
  • getting my kit list just about right and now knowing my waterproofs and boots do actually deliver what they promise
  •  Ewich House  – fantastic facilities, stunning location, warm hospitality and a tariff that doesn’t unfairly hammer single guests – the kind of B&B I would love to offer!
Some walking companions along the route

Advice:

  • if your luggage is being transported, seriously consider taking two types of boots – multi-activity shoes are ideal for the early stages, but I would have struggled without my leather boots on the final two days
  • look carefully at your schedule – particularly the stage over Rannoch – and don’t be afraid to make minor amendments, depending on weather conditions and personal fitness
  • get copies of bus and train timetables – particularly between Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy – as you can use the buses and trains to travel between start and finish points, if you amend your itinerary
  • check all your accommodation stop-overs carefully before you confirm – use websites or, better still, personal recommendations to get some idea of their facilities and atmosphere
  • remember to book in advance if you want to take the steam train (now universally known as the “Harry Potter” train) from Fort William to Mallaig at the end of your walk – I didn’t get round to this in Glasgow and lack of WiFi en route, meant it was fully booked when I finally accessed the site

 

Thanks to:

Absolute Escapes for organising my trip – and, in particular to Andy for sorting out my lost accommodation details, and Fiona at Coille Mhor for donating me a new, indispensable map.

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A Loch, a Hill and a Canal: and a Half Hour Commute from the City

View over the Clyde and Erskine Bridge from Kilpatrick Braes

Five hours to spare, a mild, if cloudy, spring day in Glasgow; where else but the Kilpatricks? These surprisingly remote, heather-clad hills, set in relatively wild moorland, perch above Dumbarton a few miles north west of Glasgow. Given this location, their great asset is that they are very accessible from the city, by bus or train, even on Sundays.  And, as such, along with Dumgoyne, Conic, Ben Lomond and The Cobbler, they are part of that bizarre and beguiling Glaswegian idiosyncrasy: sizeable hills and mountains that can be accessed by the city’s suburban transport network.

The Kilpatrick Hills are ideal for getting rid of winter’s cobwebs, or as an afternoon or evening walk as the nights get lighter and provide extensive views, not only back along the Clyde to the city, but also across the Campsie Fells and northwards towards the Arrochar Alps.

Trains run every 30 minutes to Old Kilpatrick from Glasgow Queen Street, and once at Kilpatrick station, just head along the road under the A82 road bridge to Kilpatrick Gasworks and follow the broad track signposted “Loch Humphrey”.

The usual route then heads along this path as far as the loch, however, the Forestry Commission are currently resurfacing the track, so the route is temporarily diverted on discernible hill paths up Kilpatrick Braes and around The Stacks. Unlike on many diverted routes, these signs are plentiful and easy to follow and indeed, I think the diversion adds to the circuit as it makes it more of a hill walk, as opposed to a trudge up a sometimes busy track, often shared with mountain bikers and others.

Once at the loch continue on the track that skirts round the loch and then keep on this still obvious, but boggier, path that continues north east along a visible ridge that passes Fynloch Hill on your left and Little and Middle Duncolm on your right.

A Loch Humphrey resident seemed singularly unimpressed by its visitors

Head on for the furthest and highest mound: this is Duncolm and take a few minutes to enjoy the 360 degree panorama, including Ben Lomond and Stob Binnein, after the short, steepish, but easy climb to the summit. On this overcast Tuesday, the islands at the south of the loch were still clearly visible and it was just possible to see the summit of the Ben peeping through the clouds.

Retrace your steps to the loch, then head back down to Kilpatrick station (about 3 and a half hours at reasonable pace), or if you have another couple of hours to spare, bear right at the loch embankment and follow a path north west through a conifer wood.  After about a mile, turn left at a junction and follow a path downwards, in a south west direction, passing Brown Hill and Greenland Reservoir.

Follow the “Circular Crags Walk” signpost down to a road at Greenlands Farm, turn right and head along the “Crags Walk” to the Milton Inn. Then cross the A82 to the cycle track, turn left and follow this into Bowling, before turning right to the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Head along the towpath as far as Lock 37 at the Erskine Bridge. Cross the canal, turn left into Dumbarton Road, then right into Station Road back to the railway station.

Two trains an hour will take you back to the city for a late afternoon coffee, spot of shopping, or in plenty of time to scrub up for an evening out. Overall, an ideal way to spend the day that marks the equal division of daylight and darkness and heralds the advent of spring.

For details of other walks accessible by public transport Around Glasgow, visit:

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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Boot and Bike Literature

Winter Reading List

The shortest day is almost upon us and this, the  darkest time of the year, usually with the  worst weather and the most chance of colds and ‘flu, is also the time of least opportunity for most of us to get out and about.

But equally, it’s the ideal time of the year to plan for the spring/summer; next year’s holiday; a wish, or intention, of Munros to bag, coast to coasts to conquer, long distance trails to attack.  Therefore, to keep us going over the winter, to recreate our experiences in sunnier climes and times, to find out more about places we want to visit, or re-visit, many of us spend more time reading about the great outdoors during the gloomy months.

But  what do we read to keep our umbilical cord connected to the mountains, coasts and wildlife beyond our artificially warm and bright winter quarters?

Obviously, guidebooks, Rough, Blue and of other hues, for specific areas,  plus cycling, walking and climbing handbooks, as well as  factual information on wildlife, history, food, culture and topography will be obvious starting points. But, it was a childhood consumption of classics like, Ring of Bright Water and Tarka the Otter,that sparked my love of wildlife and determination to visit Skye/Knoydart and Devon respectively. Equally, the Iliad and Odyssey triggered a grander plan to explore Greece and her islands.

A Coffee, A Cake and a Book

Well written (auto)biographies, particularly when they are first hand accounts of pioneers in fields like climbing, walking and cycling, are often worth reading.  Jock Nimlin’s May the Fire Always be Lit tells  how, in the 1930s, young workers from the Glasgow area escaped unemployment and harsh living conditions through walking, cycling and climbing, in the Trossachs and beyond, often equipped only with working boots and washing lines. Gwen Moffat, another climber, but from a completely different background, recounts her experiences as one of the few women on the summits in the 1940s and 1950s in Space Below my Feet. For present day cyclists (and anyone else interested in a good book), Rob Penn’s It’s All About the Bike has to be a required read.

But, for me, a good novel has always been the best introduction to the area in which it is set. A superficial selection could include:
North East Scotland in Sunset Song; the Cotswolds in Cider with Rosie; Yorkshire Moors in Wuthering Heights; the Trossachs in Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels; the Cornish coastline in Rebecca; Exmoor in Lorna Doone, Dorset in Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles et al;  and Sweden Norway and Denmark in just about any Scandinavian crime novel!
And, of course, we can add Wordsworth’s poetry for the Lake District, Burns for South West Scotland and Owen Sheers for Wales.

That said, you don’t need to spend all of the winter months wrapped in a book. When you do have a few hours spare over a weekend, or in the Christmas holidays, why not plan a literary-themed series of urban walks and cycles?

 
 

Winter in the City

Charles Dickens’ London; Ian Rankin’s (Rebus’s) Edinburgh;  Colin Dexter’s (Morse’s) Oxford; James Joyce’s  (or Wilde’s, or Synge’s, or Yeats’) Dublin; Alasdair Gray’s Glasgow come immediately to mind.

Recently, the Ramblers organised a series of walks based on films set in London, including  an Ealing comedy circuit, and East End gangland route. Well on that theme, how about a Shane Meadows’ inspired mystery tour of the East Midlands?

However,  if you like your  pre-Christmas jaunt to be somewhere a little more magical than Uttoxeter, then what about a visit to the canals and medieval markets In Bruges, or make a Killing on some of those suddenly-trendy woolly jumpers in Copenhagen?

Add in a few favourite TV series – a Foyle’s War reconnaissance of the Sussex coast, or a Wycliffian trip around Cornwall perhaps – and the possibilities are endless.

More darkness means less time in the great outdoors over the next few months, but more time for reading and catching up with the latest movies and those you’ve missed. And remember, as with your trips to the great outdoors, your literary themed walks and cycles should always be planned around an appetising, calorie-fuelled pub/cafe stop. 

What’s not to like?

Share your suggestions here for more Boot and Bike literature, or literary-themed trips.

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Discover Dumfriesshire: Walk/Cycle

 
View from Kirkland Hill, Kirkconnel

Where? Kirkconnel/Sanquhar, north Dumfriesshire

 

How? train from Glasgow Central (or Carlisle if travelling north) to Kirkconnel/Sanquhar, return buses from Wanlockhead/Thornhill/Carronbridge, if needed, run to Kirkconnel and Sanquhar

Why? one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets; the beautiful, unspoilt Nith valley, undiscovered by tourists, ideal walking/cycling country, direct access to Southern Upland Way http://www.southernuplandway.gov.uk/cms/  on National Byway cycle route  http://www.thenationalbyway.org/welcome.asp  birthplace of the bicycle  http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle/drumlanrig-castle/cycle-museum   yet, within easy access of Glasgow and Carlisle.

But: very isolated outside of the villages, can be bleak with high rainfall and infrequent transport, so vital to check timetables and plan in advance; proper equipment, sufficient supplies and spares are vital

Info: routes shown on maps; OS Explorers 320, 321, 328, 329

Terrain: steep gradients away from valley floor, often wet and muddy

Refreshments: hotel, pubs, cafes in Sanquhar and Thornhill, tearoom at Drumlanrig Castle http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle   . Blackaddie Country House Hotel in Sanquhar http://www.blackaddiehotel.co.uk/  is located in beautiful surroundings and has gained a very good reputation for its food

Baker's Burn, Kirkconnel

Separated by the bleak and brooding Lowther Hills from its more famous neighbour, the Clyde, the River Nith follows a southerly course from its source in East Ayrshire to the Solway Firth. Best known for its excellent trout and salmon fishing and associations with Robert Burns, the majority of its valley lies in Dumfriesshire; from the bleak, open vistas of Upper Nithsdale, through a dramatic, gorge-like stretch between Mennock and Carronbridge – Highlandesque, in terms of its spectacular  beauty – to the wide flood plain of Dumfries and thence into the Solway.

This is undiscovered Scotland; usually hastily bypassed on the M74 and West Coast Main Line 15 miles or so to the east.  Undiscovered, of course, also means unspoilt and non-commercialised.  But, linked by rail to Carlisle and Glasgow, with direct access to the Southern Upland Way and with world-class on and off-road cycling opportunities, it’s an excellent area for booters and bikers, with plenty of history, culture and even some foodie options thrown in.

Sunset over the Nith Valley

 It’s also a remarkably easy area to get to: change at Carlisle – about four-five  hours from London and around three from the Midlands on the West Coast Main Line – take the service to Glasgow via Dumfries and you arrive in Sanquhar/Kirkconnel (both villages have stations) in just over an hour. Similarly, the same service in reverse from Glasgow takes about 90 minutes.

Increasingly popular with off-road bikers as it’s right in the heart of the Seven Stanes series of world-class MTB courses, www.sevenstanes.org.uk  this corner of SW Scotland is also ideal for road cycling and touring and every type of walking, from the most testing long distance footpath in Britain to riverside rambles http://www.uppernithsdale-events.org/walking   A 15 mile trail focusing on the coal and lead mining heritage of the area has recently been opened linking Kirkconnel to Wanlockhead. It crosses rough moorland, with some spectacular views, but is strenuous, so proper equipment and hill-walking experience are necessary  http://www.geolocation.ws/nearby/en?loc=55.420516,-3.823472

Although not renowned for copious amounts of sunshine  –  it can be bleak and cool even in the middle of summer – it is usually mild and the area’s plentiful rainfall results in a lush, emerald vista of deciduous woodlands and fast flowing streams (as well, regrettably the ubiquitous midges).  It’s refreshingly untouristy and the evening light lingers long, from April right through to August.

Sanquhar boasts the oldest post office in the world http://www.networkun.co.uk/business/sanquharPO.html   and the town holds a historic Riding the Marches every year http://www.sanquharridingofthemarches.com/

The area, generally, is noted for its salmon fishing and, for admirers of Scotland’s national bard, it is smack in between  Robert Burns’ birthplace  near Ayr, and his grave and mausoleum in Dumfries.

St Conal's Cross

Definitely worth a look is the beautiful and historic church in Kirkconnel that dates from the early 18th century. However, the first church in the village is thought to have been established by St Conal in the eighth century.  Closed down during the period of Covenanter unrest in the 1680s, a Celtic cross now marks the site, about two miles out of the village, and a  recent renovation project has restored the site of the original kirkyard. http://www.kirkconnel.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=81&Itemid=211

 Both Kirkconnel and Sanquhar have strong historic links with the Covenanters – people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638 opposing any interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Scottish Presbyterian church. In 1680 the preacher Richard Cameron, issued the famous Sanquhar Declaration, renouncing allegiance to Charles II. This, and a second declaration in the town, by James Renwick five years later, set out the basis of future religious freedom in Scotland.

http://www.covenanter.org/CivilGovt/cameronandsanquhar.htm

 

Boot and Bike Options: 

i) walk along the Southern Upland Way out of Sanquhar east towards Wanlockhead – about 8 miles

From Sanquhar station follow the signs for the Southern Upland Way east.  http://www.southernuplandway.gov.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119&Itemid=322  Make sure you visit the award-winning Museum of Lead Mining  http://www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk/home.shtml  and return by bus to Sanquhar railway station. http://www.travelinescotland.com 

Sanquhar to Wanlockhead

ii) walk/cycle from Sanquhar along minor roads and forest tracks to Kirkconnel and back – about 11 miles, off-road bike needed

From Sanquhar station go down Station Road, cross the A76, then straight head along Blackaddie Road. Cross the bridge and keep straight ahead. The road then follows Euchan Water past a lovely waterfall. The scenery is superb and after about two miles you will reach a coniferous plantation.  Cross a ford (you may need to lift your bike over a gate here), keep on the track through the rest of the trees, descend to cross a burn and follow the track through the next plantation. Keep on the track until a cattle grid, turn right, cross another grid and then continue along the side of Corserig Hill.  Keep going until the track splits, bear left on the well-defined path and follow this through Librymoor Plantation until you see Kirkconnel Cemetery in front of you. Turn right on to the minor road that runs behind Kirkconnel and continue on this for approximately three miles. At Blackaddie Bridge, turn left and follow  the road back into Sanquhar.

Sanquhar - Kirkconnel - Sanquhar Off-Road

 ii) cycle from Sanquhar to Drumlanrig Estate near Carronbridge – 17-20 miles, depending on route, off-road bike needed if riding the forest trails at Drumlanrig

Follow above directions from Sanquhar station to Blackaddie Bridge, then turn left and follow the minor road with the River Nith on your left; past Menock and Eliock Wood the valley is spectacular. At Burnmouth the road heads south, away from the river. Continue for about half a mile to Burnsands where you can either turn left and follow the road direct to Drumlanrig Castle (about 2-3 miles) or go straight on for about five miles, where the road then loops round back to Drumlanrig. http://www.drumlanrig.com/drumlanrig-outdoor-activities/cycling 

Visit Drumlanrig Castle  http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle sample the  mountain bike trails (variety of routes available, off-road bike needed), pop into the Scottish Cycle Museum (Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Drumlanrig blacksmith, rode a  bicycle he invented the 60miles to Glasgow in 1839, heralding the age of the bicycle),  http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle/drumlanrig-castle/cycle-museum or enjoy the many walking routes through Drumlanrig forest.

Sanquhar to Drumlanrig
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Around Glasgow

A wealth of culture, some of the finest art and  architecture in Europe, a shopping mecca, vibrant nightlife: just some of Glasgow’s best known features.  But, alongside these attributes, its marvellous location for walking, cycling, sailing and numerous other outdoor activities is all too often overlooked.

A city infamous for poor health and housing and blighted by its planners in the mid 20th century, Glasgow, which means Dear Green Place, has, surprisingly, more green spaces per head of population than any other conurbation in Britain, with beautiful parks to be found all over the city. And, within an hour of its centre, you can be climbing a Munro, cycling along Loch Lomond,or sailing in some of the world’s most beautiful coastal waters. This fairly unique combination makes the city ideal to shop till you drop, enjoy many varied forms of culture, but equally easily escape to the great outdoors that are literally on your doorstep.

In addition, the city has an excellent public transport system; in terms of connecting areas and scope, second only to London.  And, given Glasgow’s location, its commuter lines actually reach some of the most scenic and iconic places; for example, Balloch, at the foot of Loch Lomond, is around 40 minutes out of the city on a twice-hourly service, whilst the legendary West Highland line, reaches Arrochar and the northern end of Loch Lomond at Ardlui in about an hour.

It is this mix of unique location, plus easy availability of public transport, that makes Glasgow such an ideal base for a boot and bike trip.

 

Get there and about: 

Virgin Trains www.virgintrains.co.uk travel to Glasgow from London, the Midlands and North West England on the west coast main line; journey times are about five hours from London and just under four from Birmingham.

Strathclyde Passenger Transport www.spt.co.uk is responsible for city and suburban trains, buses and subway.

Scottish Citylink coaches www.citylink.co.uk run out of the city along the A82 en route to Fort William, Portree and Oban.

Loch Lomond Cruises www.cruiselochlomondltd.com operate a ferry service from Tarbet across the loch to Rowardennan and Inversnaid, between April to October.

 Stay at:

Glasgow Guest House

Glasgow Guest House www.glasgow-guest-house.co.uk  enjoys a great location on bus routes, five minutes from Dumbreck rail station, within walking distance of the subway, virtually next door to Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover and 20 minutes walk from the Burrell.  It’s clean, welcoming, serves brilliant breakfasts, has a residents’ kitchen and ample and secure storage for boots, bikes and equipment: Glasgow with hospitality, humour and style.

 

Make sure you see:

Merchant City

Architecture; Look out for Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s buildings and designs www.crmsociety.com Alexander”Greek” Thomson’s buildings www.greekthomson.org.uk  There is a wonderful Victorian legacy throughout the city and the magnificently-renovated 18th century Merchant City www.merchantcity.com is also a must-see.

 
 
 Art;  Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Burrell Collection and Pollok House
Pollok House
Museums and Culture; Kelvingrove, Tenement House, Cathedral, People’s Palace, new Riverside Museum of Transport with the Tall Ship and any of the 13 major museums in the city www.seeglasgow.co.uk

Music; King Tut’s, O2 Academy, Royal Concert Halls, Theatre Royal, SECC

Film;  Glasgow Film Theatre and Grosvenor, numerous multi-screens

Theatres; King’s, Citizen’s, Tramway, Arches, Theatre Royal, Tron and many more

www.seeglasgow.co.uk

 

 Tuck in at:

Great ethnic restaurants in Merchant City and West End.

Bars and restaurants in Ashton Lane, near the university in the West End.

Good value food and drink at The Left Bank www.theleftbank.co.uk and The Two Figs www.thetwofigs.co.uk  in the West End.

Best coffee at Tapa in Denniston and Southside, www.tapabakehouse.com

Cute cafe and pastries at Cranberry’s in Merchant City.

Willow tearooms in Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets for some Mackintosh-inspired refreshments www.willowtearooms.co.uk

 

Shop till you drop: 

Buchanan Street; John Lewis, House of  Fraser and just about everything else

Italian Centre

Italian Centre in Merchant City, Princes Square and Royal Exchange Square; more upmarket labels

Byres Road, Ashton Lane in West End; small boutiques and more bohemian options

Out of town retail centres; include Braehead and The Forge

 

 

 

 

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR DAY TRIPS OUT OF TOWN: Coast, Mountains, Lochs, Culture and History using boot, bike and boat and public transport. 

Coast:

Where? Ayrshire Coastal Path, Dunure to Ayr

How?  train from Glasgow Central to Ayr, www.firstscotrail.co.uk bus to Dunure, www.travelinescotland.co.uk walk back to Ayr

Why? fabulous coastal views of Arran and Argyle, cute little cafe and inn at Dunure, interesting, short diversion to Burns Cottage in Alloway

But; potentially dangerous tides in places, really do need guidebook and cannot rely on maps and signposting

Info; OS Explorer 326, www.ayrshirecoastalpath.org for details and guidebook

Directions; walk down to harbour from bus stop in Dunure, then follow route signs north. BEWARE of tides, particularly in Bracken Bay and do refer to guidebook as signposting is very obscure in places

Distance; 9 miles direct, about 11 with detour to Burns Cottage

Terrain; difficult in places, rocky outcrops, sandy beaches, field paths

Refreshments; Dunure Inn www.dunureinn.co.uk Dunure Harbour Coffeeshop www.harbourviewcoffeeshop.co.uk extensive selection of cafes and restaurants in Ayr

 

Hills:

i) Where? Beinn Dubh Horseshoe from Luss on western side of Loch Lomond 

How?  Citylink coaches from Buchanan Street bus station to stop on A82 next to start of route www.travelinescotland.co.uk

The Arrochar Alps

Why?  good workout for Munros, great views of Arrochar Alps, easy access, refreshments in pretty, conservation village of Luss

But; allow enough time to complete the horseshoe and plan carefully to synchronise with buses, particularly in summer when you need to book seats on specific services

Info; OS Explorers 364, 367, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.c.uk  Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; walk from bus stop towards footbridge over A82, go past house on right, through metal gate into field, follow route from here

Distance; 7 miles

Terrain; hill paths, steep climb, boggy in places

Refreshments; Colquhoun’s, The Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel www.loch-lomond.co.uk Farm Milk Bar, Car Park, Luss, The Coach House Coffeeshop www.lochlomondtrading.com

 

ii) Where? Conic Hill at southern end of Loch Lomond 

How?  train from Glasgow Queen Street to Balloch, bus to Balmaha  www.travelinescotland.co.uk

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

Why?  wonderful views only usually enjoyed from much higher aspects, ideal to fit in for morning/afternoon, or for a winter walk

But; shares some of access route with West Highland Way and can be busy, especially in holiday periods and in spring dog-walkers cannot access the high moor behind the hill

Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk  Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; path starts from Visitor Centre in Balmaha where bus terminates, follow the well-signposted route and good path to the top of the hill

Distance; 3 miles

Terrain; woodland and hill paths, steep in places

Refreshments; Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha www.oak-tree-inn.co.uk village shop next door also sells hot drinks and sandwiches, as well as provisions

 

iii) Where? Dumgoyne Hill, Blanefield, north of Milngavie

How? bus (no10) from Buchanan Bus Station to Blanefield (hourly during most of the day)

Dumgoyne

Why? more fantastic views to southern aspects of Loch Lomond, Arrochar Alps, Ben Lomond and more, from a steep, but short, climb, within easy reach of city centre

But; very boggy in places, have to jump across a couple of burns en route

Info; OS Explorer 348, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; start from war memorial in Blanefield, carry on up Campsie Dene Road to Cantywherry Cottage, then take path to the right up the hill

Distance; about 6 miles

Terrain; hill paths, boggy and muddy, steep in places

Refreshments; nice deli with lovely little coffeeshop www.pestleandmortar.com across from bus stop in Blanefield

 

iv) Where? Loch Humphrey and Duncolm, Kilpatrick Hills, west of the city

How? train to Kilpatrick from Glasgow Queen Street or Central 

Erskine Bridge from Loch Humphrey
Why? extensive views over the city from a surprisingly remote, heather-clad range of hills very easily accessible from the city

But? bleak and isolated on the hilltops, steepish climb to the Loch

Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills, www.harveymaps.co.uk Glasgow 40 town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.co.uk

Directions; from the railway station head along the road under the A82 road bridge to Kilpatrick Gasworks, then follow the track signposted Loch Humphrey. At the loch keep on the obvious path, passing Little and Middle Duncolm before climbing to the summit of Duncolm

Distance; about 8 miles

Terrain; tarmac stretch at start, then rough heather and bracken, boggy in places on hillside

Refreshments; none on direct route, pubs and shops in Kilpatrick

 

Munro:

Where? Ben Lomond

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet,  Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October), leaving Tarbet at 10am, returning from Rowardennan at 16:45

Ben Lomond

Why? great way to climb Scotland’s most southerly Munro on day trip from city without having to drive

 But; absolutely vital that you have sufficient hill-walking experience/fitness to complete the climb and descent before return sailing

Info;  Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk OS Explorer 364, 347

Directions; follow clear route to the mountain from car park in Rowardennan

Distance; around 7 miles

Terrain; tough mountain climb, remote and exposed in places

Refreshments; Rowardennan Hotel www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk

 

Corbett:

Where? Ben Arthur (The Cobbler), overlooking Arrochar

Why? One of Scotland’s iconic mountains, yet within easy access of the city, stupendous views of Ben Lomond and other peaks in the Trossachs, lochs Lomond and Long
How? Train from Queen Street, or bus from Buchanan Bus Station www.citylink.co.uk to Arrochar
But: very steep last section to exposed summit where slabs can be very slippery; liable to be cold,  windy at higher levels irrespective of conditions at start; proper equipment, clothing and adequate fitness essential; limited train service and seats on return bus journey often need to be booked in peak months, so check timetable carefully to avoid a long wait in an area with few places to shelter
Info: Harvey Maps: Glasgow Popular Hills, OS Explorer 364
Directions: turn right out of station, head into Arrochar, then follow road round head of the loch to the start of forest path opposite car park at Succoth
Distance: 6 miles
Terrain: excellent, easy-to-follow stone path for majority of route, steepish climb at start, then reasonably gentle gradients, apart from final stretch to the summit which is very steep and involves a short section of scrambling
Refreshments: fish and chips and some daytime cafes  in Arrochar but few options in the evening, Tarbet, perhaps better bet

 

Cycle Tour; 

Where? Loch Katrine by western access from Inversnaid 

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet,  Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com  from Tarbet Pier across loch to Inversnaid (April-October), then cycle from Inversnaid  along Loch Arklet to Loch Katrine, with option of using paddle steamer, Sir Walter Scott  http://www.incallander.co.uk/steam.htm on outward or return journey across the loch

Loch Katrine

Why? quieter, better way to enjoy wonderful scenery and the iconic loch, without having to drive or having a long cycle in from Stirling

But; watch timings carefully to catch return sailings and take bike spares and emergency kit

Info; OS Landrangers 56,57 Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; only one road out of Inversnaid, so cycle (or push!) up the hill out of the village and follow road along Loch Arklet to Stronachlachar, then either take the steamer to Trossachs Pier and cycle back, or cycle to Trossachs Pier and return on ferry

Distance; depends on what route you select, but with a full circuit of loch total distance will be in region of 30 miles

Terrain; quiet, mostly well-surfaced tarmac roads, steep climb out of Inversnaid,  undulating round the loch

Refreshments; Inversnaid Hotel www.lochsandglens.com/HotelInversnaid.asp

Cafes at Stronachlachar and Trossachs Pier www.lochkatrine.com meals and refreshments at Inversnaid Bunkhouse www.inversnaid.com

 

West Highland Way Walk: 

Where? stretch between Rowardennan and Inversnaid (or reverse) on eastern side of Loch Lomond 

How?  train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet, then Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com  from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October) and back from Inversnaid, or route can be done in reverse from Inversnaid to Rowardennan

Looking Towards Arrochar
Why? fairly easy stretch of WHW on eastern side of Loch Lomond, within easy travelling distance of the city

But? can be busy, some of the route is in forest, so restricted views in places

Info; OS Explorer 364, 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000  Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk

Directions; follow the obvious and plentiful route signs for the WHW

Distance; 8 miles

Terrain; good path with some gentle gradients

Refreshments; Rowardennan Hotel www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk Inversnaid Hotel www.lochsandglens.com/HotelInversnaid.asp

 

Walk with Culture: 

Where? Hill House, Helensburgh 

How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Helensburgh, walk to marina at Rhu, then back through woodlands to the Rennie Mackintosh-designed Hill House in Helensburgh www.crmsociety.com

Why? opportunity to combine good little walk and great views of Clyde estuary, with visit to one of Mackintosh’s masterpieces, with plenty of interest and refreshments en route

But? check times in advance as Hill House opens on a seasonal basis and it can be busy in holiday periods

Info;  OS Landranger 56, Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; from Helensburgh station, head towards the shore and walk along the promenade to Rhu Marina, then turn right into Pier Road, right into Station Road and then up the hill till a large metal gate, before following the track through fields and woodlands to the Hill House

Distance; 7 miles

Terrain; tarmac roads and woodland paths, steep in places

Refreshments; selection of restaurants and cafes in Helensburgh, tea room at Hill House

 

Walk into History: 

Where? New Lanark Mills and Falls of Clyde 

How? train from Glasgow Central to Lanark, then take shuttle bus, or 20 minutes walk to New Lanark

New Lanark MIll Village

Why? see Robert Owen’s 18th century mill village, often regarded as the birthplace of socialism and now a World Heritage Site and combine with a walk along the Clyde valley past the spectacular Falls of Clyde, taking in a wildlife reserve along the way

But? train takes over an hour and the site can be very busy during holidays and in the summer

Info; www.newlanark.org Glasgow 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com

Directions; walk or take the bus from station to the Visitor Centre at the village, then follow the signs for the Clyde Walkway

Falls of Clyde

Distance; 6 miles

Terrain; duckboards along parts of track, woodland paths, can be muddy and steep in places

Refreshments; cafe at New Lanark village, shops, cafes pubs in Lanark 

 

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