March doesn’t usually enjoy much of a good press: noted for its winds, frequently cold and unpredictable temperatures and apart from its daffodils, not traditionally celebrated for its foliage. We normally have to wait until the end of the month to savour the blossom and, even then, blustery, sleety conditions more often than not reduce its delicate, transient buds to shreds within hours.
But this year, as we approach the close of the third month donning sunglasses and shorts, rather than scarves and sweaters, perhaps the time has come to re-consider March and award it some overdue recognition as a better month that it’s usually given credit for.
OK, I know the present premature heatwave is not normal, even by our recent climate change-crazed weather patterns, but the sun is higher in the sky at the end of March than it is in September, so when sunny and in shelter, it can become quite warm.
Once the clocks change, of course, we can fit in some walking, cycling, gardening in the evenings, but throughout the month there is an average of 12 hours daylight: more than enough for a day walk or cycle. So March is the ideal month to get out and about and into training for longer, higher days as the spring progresses.
So, with this in mind, a recent week based in Glasgow was planned around a weekend visit to a stunning, but overlooked, area of Mid Argyll followed by a weekday morning walk up to Loch Humphrey and Duncolm in the Kilpatricks (both easily accessible by public transport) and a day out, museum-browsing, in the capital.
March can be an ideal time to travel. Unless Easter is early, it benefits from being a school holiday-free month and this year ScotRail recognised this by offering their Mad March half price fare promotion on most off-peak journeys. Hence the return journey to Kilpatrick cost whole £1.90 and the museum jaunt to Edinburgh amounted to £6.05.
And talking of museums and the capital, March can be perfect month to sample both. With the holiday season not yet in full swing, Edinburgh, if not exactly empty, was at least quiet enough to look round the Scottish Parliament, the new National Museum of Scotland and have lunch – can thoroughly recommend the soup and coffee at Peter’s Yard -without having to queue.
The new National Museum is certainly worth a visit, particularly from now till June for the See Scotland by Train exhibition. With a background montage of 39 Steps, Railway Children, Brief Encounter, Night Mail and more, this well-staged presentation of fabulous railway posters takes us back to the heyday of overnight sleepers, art deco carriages and the seductive power of the Flying Scotsman and Coronation Scot.
A perfect way, then, to spend a cold, but bright, Edinburgh day and avoid running the gauntlet of tourists and cashmere outlets in the Old Town. If you time manage effectively, you can just about fit in a visit to the refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery as well. It too is impressive and provides a good vantage point to explore the more sophisticated New Town.
March is also, of course, traditionally the month of high activity in the garden and, although our poor seedlings have been well confused by this year’s bizarre range of temperatures, it has been a pleasant change to plant in the warm, as opposed to the normal cold and wet.
So as March 2012 cruises to a balmy, sunny close, let’s hear it for the third month of the year; the true harbinger of spring.
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 Trainswww.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.
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:
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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