This is very much a walk of two halves; the first half slowly climbs through the Garadhban Forest, part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. The trees enclose the views on this stretch, which only become expansive once it emerges from the woodland.
The path splits inside the forest; a low-level route heads down to the B837 road at Milton of Buchanan, whilst a high-level route climbs up around the eastern end of Conic Hill. It does not climb to the top and instead is happy to skirt the western side of the hill. Grand views over the southern end of Loch Lomond are available from this stretch of path, which soon plunges steeply down through woodland to reach the visitorís centre in Balmaha.
3 hours 28 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
From NS482888 cross the A81(T) and head up a slope to reach a dead-end stub of an old road. Turn right for about ten yards to reach the end of the road and then turn left to join a path that is separated from the main road on the right by a hedge. The path ends at a gated track but a pavement continues on along the main road. Shortly after passing a farm entrance on the right, turn left through a wooden gate to join a path that runs northwards between fences towards woodland.
After the woodland starts on the left, go through a gate and continue on with woodland on the left and a fence on the right. After half a mile the path reaches a track junction at NS487898 within Garadhban Forest. Turn left along this track and follow it northwestwards through the woodland. After 0.7 miles it squeezes past a metal vehicle barrier gate to reach a road at NS480906.
Turn left to head down this the road for a few yards and then right up another track that leads back into the forest. It passes a small car park on the left and goes through another metal barrier gate. Stay on this good track as it winds westwards through the woodland for 1.8 miles; navigation is easy except for one point: when the track forks do not take a track that heads downhill, but follow the main track as it curves to the right. It crosses a couple of concrete bridges over streams and goes through a metal barrier gate to reach a triangular junction of three tracks at NS455912.
Here the route splits; a low-level route heads off to the left (see the alternative routes direction below), whilst the main high-level route climbs up towards Conic Hill. The main route crosses a track and takes the right-hand side of the junction to reach another track. This curves half-right to ascend northwards through the woods. It goes through a gate in a deer fence to enter an area of newly-planted trees (2011). The path winds around in a rough northwesterly direction with good views towards Conic Hill and the southern end of Loch Lomond. Cross a gate through another deer fence to leave the northwestern corner of the woodland. Turn right on the other side to head north along a rough track that crosses some moorland with a fence on the right.
The path soon curves to the left to head westwards across the moor with a ramshackle stone wall on the right. Carefully cross a footbridge over a stream and continue to reach a stile across a fence; the obvious path soon curves to the left to head southwestwards to descend steeply to reach the Burn of Mar. Cross the footbridge over the stream and continue westwards uphill along some steep steps. The gradient slackens as the rough path curves to the left to pass the eastern end of Conic Hill. It summits behind the hill before slowly descending as it heads southwestwards with the mass of the hill on the left.
Just before the path reaches a little hillock ahead (NS423918) it curves to the left to head down a zig-zag slope through the Bealach Ard before curving to the right to take a southwesterly course down some more steps. The gradient slackens before the path reaches a stupidly narrow clapper gate. Go through this to enter an area of forest; the path descends some steps before sloping downhill. After a quarter of a mile turn right along a track. This soon curves to the left to head south; as it turns to the right once more turn left to take a sloping path that heads south into a car park. Head through the car park, passing the visitors centre on the left to reach the B837 road in Balmaha at NS420908.
To take the low-level route that misses Conic Hill, turn left at the forest track junction to follow a good track downhill. It leaves the woodland and continues southwestwards for a little over half a mile until it reaches the B837 in Milton of Buchanan. Here turn right and follow the road westwards for 1.6 miles; there is a pavement on the right. It enters Balmaha and meets the high-level route at NS420908.
Places of interest
Drymen is a small village situated to the south of Loch Lomond. It has a good range of facilities, including a shop, pub and several B&Bís.
The West Highland Way heads half a mile east of the village; it is easy to divert off to visit it. This may be important as it is the last village of any size until Crianlarich.
location UID #225
The Garadhban Forest is a large area of mainly coniferous forest to the east of the southern end of Loch Lomond. The West Highland Way heads through a large part of the forest on its way from Drymen to Conic Hill.
In November 2010 counter-terrorism police investigated reports of an explosion within the forest; damage to some trees were reported and devices were found.
location UID #227
Conic Hill and the Highland Boundary Fault Line
Conic Hill is a craggy 361-metre hill immediately to the east of the southern end of Loch Lomond. The hill forms a line of tops, the highest being at the northeastern end.
Superb views can be obtained over Loch Lomond, including a line of heavily-wooded islands that protrude from the water. These islands line up perfectly with Conic Hill; they are all features of the Highland Boundary Fault Line, which stretches from Arran in the southwest to Stonehaven in the northeast. This line separates the Scottish lowlands to the south from the highlands to the north.
The West Highland Way skirts the northern and western sides of the hill on its way to Balmaha.
location UID #228
Balmaha is a small village nestling neatly on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, in the shadow of Conic Hill. It has a large car park, a visitorís centre, a small shop and a pub called the Oak Tree Inn. There are a number of B&Bís, and a ferry regularly runs across the water to Inchcailloch Island in the loch.
location UID #229
Loch Lomond Bus Services Route 309 operates four services a day between Balmaha and Drymen. Note that the trail does not pass through Drymen, but does cross the A811 half a mile to the east.
As usual, Traveline Scotland is an excellent resource for planning public transport journeys.