Explore and Walk Conic Hill, Loch Lomond
Guest blogger Jill Phillip of Boot and Bike shares her love of Conic Hill, Loch Lomond, and offers us plenty of options for getting there by public transport and for a great walk and superb views.
Conic Hill is one of the great wee hills that surrounds Glasgow and makes for an ideal trip that can be fitted in to a few hours, or whole day, depending on the season and time at your disposal. It’s particularly good for a walk in the winter when the short days make longer trips to the hills more difficult, or as an introduction to the hills for children and those training to bag Munros and higher mountains.
Considering Conic is only around 400 metres high, it definitely punches above its height with a superb panorama that is the equal of many higher mountains. Although less than half the height of a Munro, its location at the south east end of Loch Lomond delivers breathtaking views, not only over the loch, but also as far south as Arran.
However, perhaps Conic's chief natural advantage is that it sits right on the geographical Highland boundary fault - basically the division between the lowlands of the south and the mountains of the north. So, anyone climbing Conic, perhaps as a stretch of the West Highland Way (WHW), or equally as a one-off ascent of the hill, is rewarded with a jaw dropping contrast in landscape, as well as a tantalising taster of the beauty of the loch and its surrounding hills.
And, given that about 200 species of birds have been identified in the region, along with a quarter of Britain's flora, Conic Hill and its immediate area is a big magnet for nature lovers too.
Another major attraction of Conic is the variety of ways you can access the hill; all by public transport, so you can leave the car at home and forget about parking and busy roads.
Use this link from Traveline Scotland to plan your routes.
Option 1: train to Balloch, then bus to Balmaha
This is the best route if you only have a couple of hours to spare and want to access the hill directly. From Glasgow, take the train from Queen Street Station to Balloch - trains run every half hour and take about 40 minutes. Once in Balloch, turn right out of the station and walk towards the Co-op. Pick up a 309 McGill’s bus in the car park beside the store and get off in Balmaha. The bus terminates in the car park where the walk begins. Head up past the Visitor Centre - do pop in for more details of the area and a chat with the rangers who can advise on conditions - and follow the signs from the back of the car park.
The beginning of the route goes through woodland till you reach a marker post pointing left. From here, the path becomes rocky as you begin to climb a series of steps. These can be slippery, particularly when wet, and as you are now on the WHW, it can be busy, so do take care. Keep going till you reach a plateau where the path splits. Keep to your right - but not before you look back to enjoy the view of the shore - and continue your climb as the awesome views to the north begin to open out.
Soon you will see a small, stony path on your right that will take you to the summit. The panorama, especially northwards as the loch narrows and is bordered by the jagged peaks of the Arrochar Alps will take your breath away and, weather permitting, the summit is one of the best viewpoints anywhere in the Trossachs, so don’t forget your camera and binoculars.
The easiest descent is to retrace your steps, but there are other well-worn paths that take you back to the loch side. However, whatever way you return, do take care as it is very steep in places, particularly if you go off piste.
By the time you arrive back at the car park you will have completed around three miles, so have the ideal excuse to cross the road for some refreshments at the Oak Tree Inn while you wait for your bus back to Balloch.
Option 2: Train to Balloch, then bus to Drymen.
If you want to extend your walk and enjoy a stretch of the WHW, recently rated one of the best long distance treks in the world, take the bus as far as Drymen, then follow the WHW out of the village. This well-marked path takes you through Garadhban Forest, before heading out into the high moor behind Conic Hill. The climb to the top is longer, although not so steep. It can be boggy in wet weather, but is well worth the effort as the stupendous views emerge suddenly at the top, before you enjoy the descent to the loch.
Please be aware though, that this path can be diverted due to maintenance at certain times and is closed to dog walkers in early spring. Check www.westhighlandway.co.uk for all updates on the route.
Options 1 and 2 are ideal for short trips to Conic, but if you have a day to spare, why not use the wonderful ferries that ply the loch in the summer to extend your trip into an unforgettable day out?
Option 3: Train to Balloch and ferry to Balmaha.
During the summer there is a regular ferry service linking Balloch with Balmaha from Sweeney's Cruises so you can enjoy a relaxing 50 minute cruise across the loch, before or after your climb - or, of course, both ways if you want to make it a day to remember.
Option 4: Train to Balloch, bus to Balmaha, walk to Rowardennan, ferry to Tarbet, train from Arrochar
This is the ultimate Loch Lomond odyssey and is well worth the prior organisation and co-ordination of timetables to experience the wonder and diversity of the area.
After you finish your climb of Conic Hill, head north on the WHW from Balmaha. This takes you through delightful deciduous woodland along the eastern shore of the loch. It should take you about two and a half to three hours to reach Rowardennan (but be confident of your pace beforehand as you will only have one choice of a ferry back) and you may even have time for some quick refreshments at the Rowardennan Hotel before heading for the youth hostel - follow the water bus signage - next to the pier to catch the 16.45 ferry from Cruise Loch Lomond across the loch.
This takes you to Tarbet pier, with plenty of time for something to eat before you head to the charming village station at Arrochar (about 10 minutes walk from the pier) to catch the train back to Glasgow just after 8 pm http://www.scotrail.co.uk/timetables-routes/581
This is the world famous West Highland Railway and there is no better way to relax and relive your experiences of the day than by sitting back and enjoying more amazing views as you travel along the western shore of the loch and then beside the Clyde estuary, before arriving back in the city: a fitting end to a superb day.
Please remember: always take care and be properly equipped in the hills, make sure you are aware of your capabilities in the outdoors and co-ordinate your plans within the provisions of all transport operators.
Info; OS Explorer 347, Landrangers 56, 57, 64; www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk