142. Dumbarton to Garelochhead

I’m back in Scotland for 3 days. I did say I was going to restrict myself to one visit per month, but I saw a weather window and decided  that this would be my November trip! Well this is Scotland and I may not get another chance in November. I am also excited because I will be crossing the Highland Boundary Fault somewhere near Helensburgh and will pass from the Scottish Lowlands to the Scottish Highlands.  As I write todays blog from my hotel room in Arrochar, I have glorious views across the loch to Cobbler and The Brack. The next three days will see me begin the start of the Clyde Sea Lochs, a quite complex and challenging proposition that will take some time to complete.

But I am getting ahead of myself! I drove to Garelochhead, mistakenly going via Faslane which at that time of the morning presented a long queue of people getting onto the base. I parked outside the Gibson Community in the centre of the village and caught the #316 bus to Helensburgh. The #316 bus service serves the whole of the Rosneath Peninsula and offers a frequent and regular timetable. I get off at Helensburgh Central station and jump on a waiting train to Dumbarton. I arrived in Dumbarton, to grey skies and with the onset of light rain which would be with me for the next couple of hours.

Bridge across the River Leven at Dumbarton

I made my way from the rail station to Riverside Walk which continues alongside the River Leven, the river that drains Loch Lomond. As I walk along the River Leven, I read an information board which tells me about the Glassmaking industry in Dumbarton in the early 19th century. I see a photo of a painting from 1820 by Alexander Brown showing the glass kilns that dominated the skyline at the time. The kilns remind me of the Bottle Kilns in the Potteries. The painting also shows the Rock and the Bridge over the Leven, which I now cross. The bridge is still easily identifiable from the painting as I cross and enter the attractive Levengrove Park. I now get a better view of the volcanic plug that makes up Dumbarton Rock, with its Castle perched on top. I stay on the footpath until it finally turns inland, well it is a circular path!

The route ahead west of Dumbarton

I now take to the shoreline, the tide is well out and the foreshore is dotted with numerous shallow pools. The walking is easy over firm rippled sand. The only disturbance to the quiet of this morning’s walk is the continual hum of the traffic from across the Clyde of the M8/A8. I have great visibility, particularly down river to the Port Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock and Dunoon. I stay on the beach until Cardross, here I need to come back to the shoreline to cross a couple of channels, via two bridges. The channel outflows are just too wide to jump. I am soon back on the beach and the sun now makes an appearance.

Mile post on the A814

I take a direct across the beach towards the Ardmore promontory where I join an excellent footpath. I round the promontory and walk around a unamed bay from where I get a good view towards Helensburgh. I continue for another half-mile then my luck runs out! I can see about a mile away that the railway, which has been on my right hand side, comes very close to the water’s edge. The tide is now coming in and I can see no way, other than crossing the railway line, to get into Helensburgh from this direction. I back-track about 400m and pick up a rough track that takes me to a road which crosses the railway and leads onto the A814. I was really pleased with the walk so far this morning, I had come about 8 or 9 miles along the shoreline  and beach all the way from Dumbarton.

I follow the road on an excellent footpath into Helensburgh. I see that in the last couple of miles I have left West Dunbartonshire behind and entered Argyll & Bute – an admin area that I would now be in for some time to come. I enter Helensburgh and pass a new Waitrose store and a more impressive Helensburgh Academy. In my attempt to get back to the shoreline, I head off down a side street. It leads to a brick wall with the water lapping at its base. I am forced to retrace my steps again!

Helensburgh seafront
Bust of John Logie Baird

Helensburgh is quite a unique town, particularly when you look at its grid-iron layout of roads and streets. Built in 1776 by Sir James Colquhourn and based on a formal layout similar to Edinburgh New Town, the town was named after his wife Helen. As I walk down the promenade, I see a bust of Helensburgh’s most famous son, John Logie Baird, innovator of the first mechanical Television demonstration. Closeby is another memorial to one of Helensburgh’s adopted sons, a pink granite obelisk marks the memorial to Henry Bell, Scottish engineer who pioneered the use of steam power in marine vessels, partcicularly The Comet. Bell is buried in a Rhu Churchyard just down the road, where I am heading next. Bell’s grave in the churchyard is unmistakable as it contains a huge statue of the man set upon a large plinth. Although it may be common practice, but I cannot think of another instance where a statue actually marks the grave of someone in a churchyard.

Peace Camp near Rhu
Royal Navy Clyde Shore Base – Faslane

I continue walking through Rhu, and admiring the large houses set back from the main road. You can understand why this area has always attracted the rich and famous. As I pass probably the last house in Rhu, I notice they have perhaps an unwelcome neighbour – The Peace Camp. Yes it is still there, set in amongst trees just of the main road. A sign welcomes visitors, but I refrain. I don’t know what I would say to them, as I don’t support their cause. The reason they are there of course is the presence of the large naval dockyard The Royal Navy Clyde Shore Base or  Faslane to you and me. I soon encounter the outer security fences of the base which stretch for almost 2 miles along the A814. The site is huge and consists of accommodation and leisure facilities as well as large dockyards for the repair and maintenance of the Trident Nuclear submarine fleet. The perimeter fence is quite formidable, 10-12ft high with coiled razor wire atop the fence; on the other is a gap then another 4ft razor wire fence, then another 4ft razor wire fence, coupled with armed guards, dogs, CCTV and other trip devices; makes this place somewhere where you would not want to break in. The ennui of walking alongside this fence finally gets to me as it finally ‘peters’ out close to Garelochhead, where I end my walk.

Certainly the first 8 1-10 miles was the best bit, particularly walking the beach.

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:


Distance today =  22 miles
Total distance =   2347 miles



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