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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HS2: Good or Bad?

Rail: the future for sustainable travel?

HS2 has been a difficult issue for advocates of green, sustainable, travel. And, in the week when the government has finally given the signal to begin the project, the strange alliances on both sides of the argument are a good illustration of how divisive this issue has become.

Usually, it would be assumed that environmental groups would support the idea of encouraging more people to travel by train, but concerns about damage to the countryside and wildlife along the route, combined with arguments about just how high its emissions will be, have convinced many environmentalists to campaign against the line.

So, we now have some of the most bizarre and unlikely bedfellows lined up together on both sides. For the pros we have most of the government and opposition, the devolved government in Scotland, the majority of business leaders, particularly in the north, some environmental and green groups and most railway lovers. At the other end of the platform, we have many Tory backbench MPs, local councils and protest groups, the Countryside Alliance, some environmentalists, powerful conservation groups like The Woodland Trust, a few railway buffs, notably Christian Wolmar, Inner London action groups, and of course, Lord Astor.

The arguments are many and complicated, but the most powerful one, as far as the government is concerned, is the need to improve infrastructure and, thereby, stimulate business. This, to those of us on the green side, would usually be considered to be a weary and predictable response that should, but does not, take any account of the environment that is about to be damaged.

Equally, it is too easy to dismiss the concerns of wealthy home and landowners in the Chilterns as nimbyism. Everyone, whether they live in a mansion in Buckinghamshire, or a council flat in Camden, would be devastated should their home be threatened by demolition. And, while it is true that if the proposed line had been drawn through some less attractive and prosperous areas of the country the wails of protest would be less influential and less vocal, it cannot be denied that the route will have huge human and environmental impact.

Despite this, the case for HS2 still outweighs the arguments against it.  We in Britain, are already a laughing stock as far as fast, efficient railways are concerned, in comparison with the rest of Western Europe and, although this investment in infrastructure should have been made years ago, it’s still better late than never.

The most effective argument for HS2 is to look at how ineffectual the alternatives are:

  • upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the most quoted alternative, would be totally ineffectual, indeed futile. Over the last 10 years or so, this line has been in almost perpetual reconstruction: new bridges, longer platforms and four lanes of track now run through much of the Midlands. In addition to Virgin, there is now a slower and cheaper service from Crewe to Euston, operated by London Midland. But, the early-morning crowded platforms at every station from Crewe southwards tell their own story. Equally, it is well-nigh impossible to find a seat out of Euston from late afternoon onwards. Travelling north to to Glasgow, credit is due to Virgin as the line is now immeasurably better (possibly also to do with the demise of RailTrack), although horrendously expensive. Time wise – three hours from Crewe and four from Birmingham – it compares well with alternative methods of travel, but trains are invariably crowded and packed with both passengers and luggage.
  • abandoning HS2 would not lead to more people walking, cycling and using other trains, but to yet more motorways – and more single-occupancy vehicles – and air travel; both of which are considerably less green than HS2
  • support for HS2 does not mean opposing the improvement of existing railways, or the reduction in fares, or the re-opening of old/new stations and lines, or the extension of bus routes and making cities and the countryside more walking/cycling friendly

Living near the route, I will be affected by its construction, but this part of the Midlands is already defaced by overcrowded motorways, under-used toll roads and noisy, polluting airports.  Unfortunately, there will be an environmental cost for HS2, but the alternatives would be far worse.

Now that HS2 has been approved, all of us who care about the environment should work together to try to minimise its damaging impact.  But, we should also celebrate a decision that shows rail is the mode of land travel for the future and continue to lobby for improved and user-friendly public transport (including trains equipped to carry bikes and more luggage) and re-claim our roads, lanes and streets for safer cycling and walking.

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Charity Challenge: harder test, lower impact

Ribblehead Viaduct

After becoming involved, against my better instincts, in an on-line forum on the subject earlier in the week, my thoughts returned to the pros and cons of charity challenges during a congenial weekend in North Yorkshire.

A captivating autumn day, engaging company, added to the  treat of starting and ending our ascent of  Whernside by the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct; what wasn’t to like?

But while we took full advantage of our day, marvelling at the engineering skills of Victorian railway builders, taking our time on route to the summit – admittedly,  because of my catalogue of recent injuries – while admiring the autumnal panorama, the majority of our fellow hikers  appeared oblivious to the views and the location in their desperation to ascend and descend the hill within some set guideline for an organised charity event. And even on a November afternoon, there were still plenty of competitors about to ascend as late as 3pm.

But,so what?  Surely we should be celebrating that so many people are out enjoying the great outdoors; particularly if they are raising money for worthwhile charities at the same time? Well, yes, but it is certainly debatable if everyone was enjoying themselves: the majority of the expressions suggested it was more of an ordeal.

Ingleborough in the Clouds

And, of course, with so many people involved – competitors climbing, then descending, three or four abreast, outside the assigned path, the litter, the vehicle support – we also move into the thorny issue of environmental damage and whether the money raised justifies the harm to the habitat and rise in emissions.

I have mixed feelings about charity challenges. While, in principle, I support any activities that get people out in the fresh air, get them fit and enable them to raise valuable funds at the same time, I also believe that any associated environmental damage must not be simply disregarded as an unfortunate, but less important, side effect.

In addition, I see little point of holding these challenges in beautiful places if the majority of the competitors are unable to appreciate the unique setting of the event.  It the overriding objective is to complete a certain number of physical challenges within a specified time and, as a result, participants are too exhausted or too preoccupied to enjoy the locality, what’s the point of hosting it there? A physical challenge of this sort could just as easily be completed using cardio equipment in a gym.

Autumn in the Dales

Particularly culpable in this case is the Three Peaks Challenge where the three highest mountains on the British mainland have to be scaled within a strict time period, often 24 hours.  As a result, the challenge is as much about the logistics of getting to the mountains in time, as it is about climbing them and, consequently, convoys of vehicles tear along motorways with teams of drivers and support staff, often disrupting local communities by arriving and departing in the middle of the night.

But I do not advocate the abolition of the Three Peaks.  Instead, I suggest we make it a proper test where competitors would also be aware of, and able to enjoy, the beauty and challenges of the environment, with a much reduced carbon footprint.

Firstly, and most importantly, the 24 hour time limit would be abolished.
Secondly, participants would have to arrive at their first peak and travel between the subsequent ones on foot, by bike, or by using public transport (including ferry if the challenge is extended to include Ireland).
Thirdly, the time limits now imposed would be flexible and reflect the mode of travel and length of journey to the first mountain; days if travelling by public transport and an appropriate number of weeks if on foot, or by bike.

So, what do you think? Should charity challenges should be banned? Does the money raised for good causes outweigh any adverse effects? Any other suggestions?
Over to you…….

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Two Munros in Three Days

View on the Ascent of Beinn Dorain

Idyllic weather (yes, even at the end of July!) and a not-to-be-missed opportunity to climb two of Scotland’s classic Munros over a long weekend. As both are  accessible by public transport from Glasgow, rather than add  to the already packed and dangerous A82, you can sit back, relax and wonder at the stunning landscape along the West Highland Railway, before and after your climb. Both hills also  enjoy good, well-surfaced paths and don’t demand any real technical abilities.


Beinn Dorain:

Ben Nevis from the Summit of Beinn Dorain

Blessed with the clearest summer day in memory, according to our expert guide, Beinn Dorain’s ideal, central location in the Southern Highlands  ensures a superb 360 degree panorama; so distinct today that the solid mass of Ben Nevis, jutting majestically out of the north end of Rannoch Moor, seems within touching distance rather than 40 odd miles to the north.

Round to the west, the spear-like triangle of Ben Cruachan is shadowed by the mountainous outline of Mull, Ben More obvious in the background;  a few degrees to the south west, Jura is recognisable by its three iconic Paps;  and with a further slight turn to the south, it is just possible to make out the craggy horizon of the Isle of Arran.

Westwards from Beinn Dorain

A view to die for and worth every step of the 1076 metre climb necessary to get here.  Beinn Dorain and its slight lower twin, Beinn an Dorthaidh, tower over the River Orchy and the small settlement round the eponymous bridge, and give visitors a tantalising glimpse of the wonders that await, northwards, to Rannoch and beyond.

The Spectacular Panorama from Beinn Dorain

The 9.07 Mallaig train from Glasgow’s Queen Street arrives in  Bridge of Orchy, at 11.23 (This train runs Monday-Friday until September 23. On Saturdays and  Monday to Friday from September 26, the service leaves Queen Street at 8.21, arriving Bridge of Orchy 10.46.)  It takes about five hours from the village station for the climb and descent; factor in an extra 45 minutes or so  if you want to climb Beinn an Dothaidh as well. That should give you more than enough time to complete the route and have some refreshments before catching the return train to Glasgow at 18.56, but do monitor timings carefully and take into account possible changes in weather conditions.

The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is your only refreshment option in the village. It serves drinks as well as bar and restaurant meals and is right across from the station where you end your walk.

A cool drink in the pavement table outside the hotel, admiring the impressive hill we have  just climbed, ends a memorable day among spectacular scenery in ideal conditions.

Travel –  www.firstscotrail.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 50, OS Explorer 377
Refreshments –  www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk


Ben Lomond:
The weather, not only holds, but improves. So, with a one day window left before I go home, I’m up and out by 7am and it’s already warm and sunny. What’s not to like?

Ben Lomond, "Glasgow's Munro"

Ben Lomond, the most southerly of Scotland’s Munros is widely regarded as “Glasgow’s Munro” and, given that it’s less than two hours out of the city by public transport – admittedly not your average commute, but an hour on the magical West Highland Railway, then a water bus across Loch Lomond – it’s an appropriate and well- deserved accolade.

Leaving  Queen Street on the Oban train at 8.21, arriving Arrochar at 9.35, we turn left out of the station for the 10 minute walk down to the pier at Tarbet  to catch the water bus operated by Cruise Loch Lomond  (between April and October) that links Tarbet with Rowardennan and Inversnaid on the eastern shore of the loch.

Crossing the Loch

Sailing at 10am, the boat – fellow  passengers include ornithologists, photographers, sightseers, walkers for the West Highland Way to Inversnaid, climbers for the Ben, cyclists for the heart of the Trossachs and Rufus, the black field spaniel, who looks up for all of these activities – reaches Rowardennan in about 45 minutes. From the pier a few steps through the car park towards the toilets brings us to the path marked “Ben Lomond”.  And, from here, we  just stick to  the obvious, well-surfaced path. But remember, it can still be a bleak and potentially dangerous climb in poor weather, so do ensure you always carry a map, navigation aid, wet weather gear and adequate food and water.

The Northern Shores of Loch Lomond

The climb starts in woodland, for about a mile until we emerge into the open hill through a gate. Don’t be too surprised if you meet some unimpressed-looking Hielan coos monitoring your progress at this point.

Sharing the Slopes of the Ben with a Resident!

Although fairly steep to begin with, the route levels out along the Sron Aonaich Ridge and after about two miles, we reach a final, steep section of switchbacks  to the summit.

Loch Katrine from the Summit of Ben Lomond

After some well-earned rest and another wondrous circular panorama – this time taking in the Arrochar Alps, Lochs Lomond, Sloy and Katrine, the Campsie Fells to the south and Lomond Hills to the east –  either retrace your steps , or head north west from the summit, descending steeply along a rocky ridge, then across some stepping stones to the Ptarmigan Ridge. Here you will enjoy more breathtaking views of the loch  on a straightforward route. Both paths finish at the car park.

Loch Chon from the Summit of Ben Lomond

The return boat sails from Rowardennan at 16.45, so it is essential to work out your timings carefully, particularly if the weather turns inclement:  in our case, despite spending too long sunbathing and admiring the views from the summit, we make it back with enough time to enjoy a cold drink at the Rowardennan Hotel.

View of Loch Lomond on the Descent

Arriving back at Tarbet Pier at 17.30, we take full advantage of the gorgeous evening, chilling out with  fish and chips and a great vista across the loch, before taking the short walk back to the station for the return to Queen Street at 20.08. (On Saturdays between March and September, an additional train calls at Arrochar at 18.02, arriving  Queen Street 19.20.)




– www.firstscotrail.co.uk  www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 56, OS Explorer 364, Harvey Maps; Glasgow Popular Hills
Refreshments – light refreshments are available on board the water bus, you may have time for a drink at  http://www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk/ and there are a number of hotels, restaurants and tea rooms in Tarbet

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Look North: The Green Way Forward

Scotland has been in the news rather a lot recently – what with the growing possibility of outright independence, the shameful Neil Lennon saga and the final(?) demise of Taggart – although it’s interesting to speculate if the drastically-reduced Scottish influence on this Westminster government (compare Fox and Gove to Brown, Darling, Reid, Cook, Dewar, Smith et al of old)  is, perhaps, an interesting pointer to the divergent path now being taken, on many key issues, by the Holyrood administration.

Tuition fees, prescription and hospital parking charges immediately come to mind, but for those of us intent on preserving the environment and enjoying the great outdoors, the contrasting ideology in Scotland is just as clear. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allowed virtually unrestricted access to the outdoors. To date, with a few exceptions, it has been a success and, along with the Scottish tradition of wild camping, provides far more positive opportunities for more people to enjoy the outdoors.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, we may have stopped the government from privatising Forestry  Commission (FC) land, but this was only round one of the fight for greater access, given that the FC owns only a fraction of our forests and woodlands and that proportion falls still further in lowland areas.  We have to increase the pressure to gain access to the 60%  (figures from Woods for People, the Woodland Trust’s dataset of accessible woodlands) of forests and woodlands currently barred to walkers, cyclists, horse riders, wheelchairs users and others.

In view of this, the formation of the new Forest Access User Group, composed of organisations ranging from the Ramblers to the Kennel Club and British Horse Society, is cheering news, particularly as the raison d’être of this rather diverse alliance is to campaign to put public access at the heart of the government’s policy on forests.

February’s climbdown on the forests was caused by outrage from an astonishingly eclectic range of organisations and individuals – many of whom were traditional Tory supporters.  It is vital that we sustain this pressure on the Independent Panel for Forestry, set up after the U turn, to show that access to our forests and countryside is an issue that unites vast numbers of people, from whatever walk of life, or political persuasion.

From a purely political angle, Cameron desperately needs to score positively on some kind of green issue if he is not to become more of an environmental joke. From hugging huskies and promising the “greenest-ever government” when in opposition, to classifying almost every piece of environmental legislation as “red tape”, within his first year of government, the metamorphosis has been as swift as it has been shocking: indeed, if it wasn’t so potentially tragic, it would be hilarious.

So far, the blue and yellow mix certainly hasn’t equalled  green and some of  Cameron’s Lib Dem allies have proved to be equally environmentally reprehensible.  Justifying its decision to include virtually every piece of environmental legislation on the bonfire of the bureaucracy, the Department for Business headed by the saintly Vince Cable, believes: “it takes a lot to grow a business.” Clearly it doesn’t take nearly as much to destroy the environment.

David Cameron is not a stupid politician. He knows environmental issues galvanise a wide range of individuals and groups, many of whom are Conservative-leaning and whom he cannot afford to alienate. Everyone who cares about green issues, whether access to the countryside, protection of wildlife, reduction of carbon emissions, sustainability or preservation of  public transport, needs to work together to keep the environment at the top of the agenda. By definition, this will be a broad church, with some not normally-compatible bedfellows. But the preservation of our planet and our responsible access to it are sufficiently important to rise above traditional political and social differences.

Cameron could set an example by, for once, looking beyond the Home Counties and, instead focusing on a green path up the A1 to Edinburgh. By overlooking his political differences with Alex Salmond, he could learn about how unrestricted access to the outdoors has proved to be so effective in Scotland.

If the news on carbon targets is correct, it’s a welcome first step and an impressive victory for the energy secretary, Chris Huhne. We now have to build on this and work together to preserve our environment and ensure as many people as possible can enjoy responsible access to it.

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