Noticed this lovely mackerel sky just before sunset.
A sign that the weather is about to change. Rain forecast for tomorrow.
Starting from Strathblane - around 15 mins drive from Appletree Cottage
The first section of the route is a slow gentle climb out of Strathendrick. Nothing too severe - remember this was a railway and so any gradients were minimal. Trees overhang this pretty path and there are few people around - only the occasional dog walker.
What we are cycling is actually part of Sustrans Cycle Route 755 which runs from Strathblane to Kirkintilloch using the former railway trackbed.
It is not long until we are away from Strathblane and out of the trees into the wide open beginnings of Campsie Glen. The Campsie hills and Ballagan Burn are on the left as we cycle along, and on the right is the distinctive volcanic plug of Dunglass.. (See first/top photo) This basalt lump is popular with climbers despite much of its rock being in a loose and a little dangerous to the inexperienced.
Its a glorious day and the views are far and fantastic. The fields either side of the track are mostly put to grass for livestock with the occasional arable. The track itself is smooth tarmac and wide enough to two to cycle side by side.
Some of the signs refer to the Thomas Muir Way, obviously not to be confused with the John Muir way. Thomas Muir the Younger of Huntershill was a Scottish political reformer and lawyer (1765-1799). Known as the "Father of Democracy" more can be found out about his life here: www.theglasgowstory.com/story/?id=TGSCH12
John Muir or "John of the Mountains" on the other hand is credited for initiating the National Parks movement in the United States of America. More can be found out about John Muir here; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir
Soon we reach Kirkintilloch where we lunch in the lovely Nonna's Restaurant and Bar picturesquely set beside the Forth and Clyde canal. After an excellent meal we jump back on our bikes and make our way back to Appletree Cottage.
Auchindrain from Appletree Cottage: 53 miles
Inhabited from at least the 1600s to the mid 1960s Auchindrain is possibly the only village to survive substantially unaltered since the highland clearances of the late 18th and the 19th centuries. We decided to pay it a visit The village is now preserved and is open in summer months Wednesday thru Sunday so we decided to pay a visit.
Located 6 miles west of Inveraray and 53 miles from Appletree Cottage it took us just over an hour to get there, a very pleasant and beautiful journey along the shores of Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne (see previous blog)
The site nestles in a hollow on the south side of the Inveraray to Lochgilphead road.
The village escaped plans of the mid 1700s which altered many dwellings in the district to crofts. Instead it survived in its original form and is now Category A listed. The Auchindrain Trust, a museum charity now runs and maintains the buildings and their surroundings.
Many of the structures have been maintained in their original form. Others have been left much as they were when abandoned in the 1960s.
Queen Victoria visited in 1875 whilst staying at Inveraray Castle. Since then several thatched roofs have been replaced with corrugated iron - in some cased the corrugated iron has been placed directly on top of the former thatched roof which must have helped a little with insulation.
Living accommodation in the houses was fairly basic - bedroom / living room kitchen / byre at the end of the building with its own door but also with an internal connecting door. Box beds were the order of the day with some cast iron bedsteads installed in later times.
The byres still retain many of their original features and pens. The warmth from the animals would help to heat the rest of the house. People would have soon grown used to the smell (of the animals(!)) and the connecting internal door would save going outside to milk and tend in grim wet and wild weather.
In all there are around 22 buildings in various states of repair and some undergoing repair whilst we were there.
The stonework on many of the buildings is of such high quality given the materials the stonemasons had to work with. Random large round rocks fitted together in tight formation into a vertical windproof wall devoid of gaps. Some massive stones to move in the process.
It is thought there was a grain mill on the other side of the burn from the main township. In the barns there is a good collection of early agricultural machinery with explanatory notes.
There are interesting outdoor features and more agricultural machinery lying here and there. All in all an excellent place to visit on a day out by Inveraray.
The museum is a ready made set for location filming and true to its origins. Several productions have made use of its settings in the past.
Inveraray: 47 miles from Appletree Cottage
Its a beautiful day so we take a drive up to Inveraray just over an hour away and 47 miles distant. The run up Loch Lomondside on the A82 is stunning and we stop to admire the vista with Ben Lomond rising up to 3193ft (974m) across the water above the village of Rowardennan
At Tarbet, about half way up the loch the road forks. Places called Tarbet or Tarbert in Scotland (from the Gaelic An Tairbeart) are characterised by lying on an isthmus or short strip of land which separates two bodies of water. In this case Loch Lomond and Loch Long are separated by a comparatively narrow stretch. We take the left hand turning along the A83 and head towards Arrochar and Inveraray.
As we make our descent into Arrochar Village on the shore of Loch Long we can clearly see the peak of Ben Arthur, known locally as "The Cobbler" peeking above the hills on the far side of the loch. The rock formations on the peak of Ben Arthur are said to represent a cobbler bending over his last.
The pier at Arrochar whilst picturesque has seen better days.
We drive through Arrochar and head up the north side of Loch Long for a stretch before making the long climb up to the famous "Rest and Be Thankful".
Legend has it that Queen Victoria on her tour of Scotland came to pass this pass. The ascent up the old road (which can still be seen) was steep and difficult and on reaching the pass the monarch declared "Let us rest and be thankful"
Landslides have plagued the new road in recent years and hefty protective nets have been built into the hillside to catch any falling debris.
After Rest and Be Thankful the road descends and continues along the long level base of Glen Kinglas and joins the south shore of Loch Fyne. A short journey round the head of this loch takes us to the famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at Cairndow. This seafood shop and restaurant spurned a nationwide chain of restaurants which were sold off to Greene King, the pub retailer and brewer in 2006. The Cairndow restaurant and shop however were not part of the deal and they retain their independence. Well worth a visit for a good selection of fresh seafood.
A few miles after Cairndow we approach our first destination - Inveraray. This old capital of Argyll county was where the county court and the jail were - the premesis are now preserved and open to visitors.
The village stands on a promontory and was largely constructed in the mid 1700s under the direction of the Duke of Argyle with designs by celebrated architects John Adam and Robert Mylne, the Church, Inveraray Hotel and Town House being attributed to the latter..
Another famous feature of Inveraray is of course Inveraray Castle. Rebuilt on the site of the old castle the foundation stone was laid in October 1746 making it one of the earliest Gothic Revival buildings in the uk. The original Inveraray village was moved to its present site at this stage to give the castle more privacy.
In 1975 a disastrous fire raged through the castle causing much damage. The then 12th Duke and his family lived in the basement whilst repairs and reinstatements were carried out - partially funded by the Dukes foreign fund raising tours.
Tied up alongside the pier at Inveraray is the Vital Spark. This ship is known as a puffer - with a flat bottom for running up onto beaches of islands which did possess a suitable pier, the boats were a mainstay of freight transport around the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland in the 1930-50s. The boats inspired the fictional stories of the crafty skipper Para Handy by Neil Munro, initially published in the Glasgow Evening News before being put into book form and several television series. Built in 1944 this particular vessel was originally named Vic 72 then Elseda then Eilean Eisdeal before its current moniker.
After a welcome ice cream it was time to head a little further west - but that's for another blog.
A fantastic day out on Loch Lomond on a beautiful day out from Appletree Cottage was a big winner.
The boat which had capacity for eight passengers was one supplied and crewed by Portnellan Farm, Gartocharn. - about 15 minutes drive from Appletree Cottage.
The boat is booked by the hour.. This gives great flexibility on where to go and explore on the many islands on the loch.
The boat was one of several available berthed by the long jetty at Portnellan. . Portnellan is reached by heading down Ross Loan by the primary school and turning right after about a mile into the drive down to Ross Priory. Just before you reach the priory .you turn left and continue for about another half mile.
Picnic on Inchcailloch
On this occasion the plan was to have a bit of speed boating to an excellent beach on Inchcailloch. This island is a nature reserve just off the east shore of the loch close to Balmaha. It can also be reached by a passenger ferry from Balmaha and is a great place for families to explore as there is no traffic, there are no roads - just paths across this pretty and now uninhabited island.
.The views across the loch are fantastic. There are twenty two islands and twenty seven islets on Loch Lomond. A few of the islands are inhabited, some just with a holiday house whilst others, having been inhabited in the past are now free of any habitation.
One island (Inchconnachan) is inhabited by Wallabies unusually. Introduced in the 1940s the wallaby population has grown to an estimated 60 animals.
Other islands, or rather islets are old Crannogs - early dwellings built out on the loch for defensive reasons. Soon we arrive at the west facing beach on Inchcailloch
Around the beach on Inchcailloch are a number of picnic tables each with a steel plate at one end for placing a disposable barbecue. The national park think of everything! The gentle sloping sandy bay is perfect for a dip in the warm summer.
There are many other beaches we could have visited on the loch. There is much to explore.
After an afternoon at the beach the speedboat collects us again and gives us another turn of speed on our return to Portnellan.
Another great day out from Appletree Cottage.
Well worth booking ahead as it is a very popular pastime.
Bowling Harbour Ship Graveyard
There's a certain fascination with abandoned shipping. There are a few places along the Clyde to view these deteriorating hulks with one of the best known being Bowling Basin.
Bowling is at the Western end of the Forth and Clyde Canal. The canal and its basin are well maintained with a host of brightly painted craft moored along its banks.
However, just immediately west of the canal basin is a harbour with a very different appearance. Known as the Ships Graveyard, Bowling harbour is host to a number of rotting vessels.
The harbour was used for scrapping small ships in the period after 1945. After that it fell into disuse. Some boats remained and were joined by others. In 2001 a survey of the harbour recorded 21 abandoned wrecks. A list of them and more details about the harbour can be found on the Canmore site here: canmore.org.uk/site/102460/unknown-bowling-harbour-river-clyde.
They comprise an assortment of trawlers, life boats, pleasure boats and coasters. Some are so rotted they are unidentifiable.
Several wrecks have been cleared from the site in recent years but many still remain - providing interesting photographic material. Best visited when the tide is low.
Wrecks on River Leven at Dumbarton
On the River Leven at Dumbarton, just before its confluence with the Clyde and very close to where the famous Cutty Sark ship was built lie a number of interesting shipwrecks.
The site is again best viewed at low tide as little can be seen when the water is high.
The boats have obviously been lying for a number of years. Others close by have sunk beneath the waves and only small elements of their structures poke above the water as a warning to passing craft.
To the left of the picture was lay the famous Denny's shipyard where the Cutty Sark among many other famous ships were built. The Cutty Sark, one of few surviving clippers is preserved at Greenwich near London. Little of Denny Shipyard remains - except the building which housed test tank and board room. This has now become part of the Scottish Maritime Museum which is well worth a visit.
Close by and still in view of the castle lies the remains of a steam trawler and a couple of what look like pleasure craft. It is hard to discern exactly what these boats were and how long they have been lying here but it has been speculated that the steam trawler was abandoned in 1953.
Dumbarton has been going through some remarkable renovations in the last few years. Buildings have been tidied up and revived whilst some of the more derelict properties have been demolished. The waterfront is now being spruced up with the addition of blocks of modern flats and a river walkway. Surely it can't be long before these wrecks are cleared away.
Journey time - 20-25 minutes
This is a lovely quiet cycle ride along peaceful single track roads and a tarmac cycle path.
Starting form the cottage we turned right at the gates onto the main road - a quiet back road forming part of The John Muir Way cycle route running from Dunbar to Helensburgh.
Shortly after turning right onto this road we turn right at the cross roads and enjoy the gentle freewheel downhill.
At the right hand bend at the bottom of the hill we turn left through the chicane and down onto a section of the former Forth and Clyde Junction Railway.
At the bottom of the railway path there is a gate as we arrive at the main road. In the past this is where the railway crossed the road on a level crossing. Since the tracks were lifted in the early 1960s all that remains of Drymen Station is the red station house on the far side of the road and a corrugated iron goods shed a little further along the path.
Once across the road the path along the old railway is level with a good tarmac surface. Soon we can see the Endrick Water below to the left and right making its steady way down to where it flows into Loch Lomond.
We reach one of the most impressive features on this route - the bridge over the Endrick Water
It is possible to cycle over this bridge (if you have the nerves!) but it is best to check that there is nobody else on it as there is little room to pass - especially with a bike.
There are great views from the bridge...
Once over the bridge there is a very very gentle climb - remember we're on a former railway so its nothing serious. This is a pretty wooded section which takes us to an overhead road bridge. The road bridge was actually built wide enough to allow double railway track to pass beneath it but as the Forth and Clyde Junction railway was rather unsuccessful the second track was never installed.
Soon we are on a plateau with fabulous views all around. To the west and north west we can see the lump of Drumgoyne, locally known as the Dumpling as it sits above Gartocharn Village. The Luss hills are impressive in the distance as is the southern end of Loch Lomond.
Our journey continues at high level with open views and hardly any traffic. The quietness of the road contributes to the enjoyment of our travel. The vistas are superb
Very soon we enter Drymen Village. It is the same day as the Balfron Bus Garage annual jamboree so vintage busses are passing through the village. Remember Midland Bluebirds from the 1960s? Once in the village we treat ourselves to a welcome ice cream before returning to Appletree Cottage.
The start of the route at the east end of the car park. is easily identified by a railway signal and a blue sign giving the distances to various places along the line.
The first part of the route is tarmac and runs between birch trees which grow over the former goods sidings.
At this early stage there are a few walkers and cyclists but further along the track things become quite.
For much of the journey to Gartmore, the first former station which is about two miles from Aberfoyle the track runs between the main road and the early stages of the River Forth - which joins the sea on the east coast of Scotland by Edinburgh and Leith.
Aberfoyle to Gartmore
At the eastern end of the former railway yard we cross a wooden bridge over the Allt Vingen burn and pass a row of pretty cottages built for workers on the railway.
Aberfoyle is a great place to bring the family. As well as the large play park next to these cottages there is a BMX. cycle park, a golf course, boating on Loch And and the treetop experience of Go Ape just a mile north up dukes pass. Not to mention the excellent Maggies Kitchen on the Main Street.
After the cottage and the play park the route takes close to the shore of the River Forth in its early stages - having started its course a mile to the west at the end of Loch Ard.
It takes the river another 29 miles (47km) to reach the North Sea.
Cycling between the lines of trees it is a pleasure on the smooth surface. There is plenty of room for walkers and cyclists to pass and although the route roughly follows the main road there is little traffic noise.
Every few hundred yards small pieces of artwork laid onto the tarmac decorate the path bringing a sense of cheer.
On the right hand side of the track is the remains of pillbox defence structure. One of thousands built across the country during WW2 many by the Local Defence Volunteers which later became the Home Guard aka Dad's Army..
This building is in better condition than many of the others of the same style and vintage.
Sustrans Cycle Route 7
Cycle Route 7 takes a 542 mile long circuitous route from Sunderland in the north east of England via Carlisle, Kirkcudbright, Ayr, Glasgow, Dumbarton, Killin, and Aberfeldy to Inverness in the north of Scotland. Quite.a journey.
More about the route can be found on the Sustrans website where they reckon the complete Sunderland to Inverness journey can be completed in 46 hours and 32 minutes. I think I would take longer - just looking at the fantastic vistas along the way!
Gartmore Railway Station
Gartmore Station was actually situated 1.3 miles from Gartmore village, in an area known as Cobleland
There are few if any signs of ever having been a station here other than a short cobbled section at the entrance to the former railway yard. A station house has been converted into a modern dwelling.
Gartmore station, used as a filming location in the feature film Geordie (1955) starring Bill Travers and Alastair Sim. It is here Gordie is seen mounting a train to take him on the first part of his journey to the Melbourne Olympic Games where he is to compete in the hammer throwing event. (Sorry, spoiler there!)
The station closed in January 1959, about a year before passenger services ceased on the route and eight years before the Aberfoyle line closed completely. More about that later.
More about the Strathendrick Aberfoyle railway
One of its main reasons for existence was to transport slate from the Aberfoyle Slate Quarry tramway terminus to locations throughout Scotland.
The passenger service from Aberfoyle to Glasgow took an hour and a half calling on the way at Gartness, Buchlyvie, Balfron, Killearn, Dumgoyne, Blanefield, Strathblane, Campsie Glen, Lennox Town and Kirkintilloch before finally arriving at Queen Street Station.
The line was never a huge success. Its estimated build cost was £52,000 and in the first three months of operation the receipts were £138, £88 and £32 respectively (August, September and October). So not very profitable.
Trippers visiting the Trossachs, continuing their journey to either Inversnaid or over the Dukes Pass to Loch Achray and Loch Katrine boosted numbers substantially in the summer months before the 1920s.
However the railway suffered in a similar way to the Forth and Clyde Junction Railway (between Stirling and Balloch), with which it shared tracks for part of the route, in that the stations were often a considerable distance from the village which they purported to serve.
Particularly Gartmore, Buchlyvie and Balfron. The villages were tiny enough and the rail service sparse so it must have been hard to attract passengers.
As with many railways, road competition gained the upper hand and starved the route of passengers. The line finally closed go passengers in 1951 with total closure from Campsie Glen to Aberfoyle taking place in October 1959.
More can be discovered about the Strathendrick and Aberfoyle Line here: www.railscot.co.uk/companies/S/Strathendrick_and_Aberfoyle_Railway/
Gartmore to Buchlyvie Station
Forestry plantations lie on either side of the track but as they have been recently felled there is not the interruption to the view as there might otherwise have been.
The path from Gartmore Station south is almost dead straight and level
In the distance on the right hand side we can see Gartmore House - a large former country house which hosts many activity holidays.
Soon we cross over the River Forth, still a miandering, picturesque small channel at this stage. A wooden footbridge has replaced the original iron railway bridge and is wide enough to cycle over comfortably.
A mile or so later we come to another bridge. This time over the Keltie Water, a tributary of the Forth flowing down from the hills in the west.
This bridge replaces a previous one, the abutments of which have partly collapsed into the water. Interestingly the current replacement bridge is built straight on top of the first bridge without any apparent effort to remove it.
Shortly after the bridge over the Keltie Water the line starts to veer to the right and heat towards the west. We are able to see some of the buildings in the village of Buchlyvie in the distance.
At the former site of Buchlyvie Station the station house survives as a private dwelling behind a high beech hedge. It is however possible to make out that the design of the building is almost identical to many of the former station buildings on the former Forth and Clyde Junction Railway.
Last week the Endrick Water burst its banks on the flood plain by Drymen Bridge.
It didn't take long to drain and a few days later the water had gone and was replaced by sunshine and snow...
Sallochy Bay car park and camp site which is on the West Highland Way is run by the forestry commission and is a small well kept peaceful area on the eastern shore of the loch. Across the water the magnificent Luss hills rise out of the water covered in snow at this time of year.
From the car park we walked north across the foot bridge over crystal clear waters of the Allt a'Mhuitinn burn past a couple of picnic tables which in this area are built with a steel plate to hold a disposable barbecue. We followed the tree lined footpath hugging the shoreline which forms part of the West Highland Way.
At this time of year one is able to see the buildings of Glasgow University's Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment station discreetly hidden up on the hillside. Down on the shore at this point an attractive jetty pokes out into the water by a pumping station. At any other time of year they would be hidden from the view by foliage.