Clyde Sea Lochs Trail
|Clyde Sea Lochs Trail|
|Distance:||43.7 miles (70.3 km)|
The Clyde Sea Lochs Trail is a signed tourist route around Gare Loch and Loch Long to the north west of Glasgow. It officially begins in Dumbarton, although it is seemingly not signed until Helensburgh, and follows the A814 to Arrochar, including a loop of the B833 around the Rosneath Peninsula. At Arrochar it meets the Argyll Coastal Route which heads west on the A83, and allows people to explore the rest of the Sea Lochs of the Cowal Peninsula and south Argyll.
Dumbarton - Garelochhead
Dumbarton is a historic town at the mouth of the River Clyde, with an ancient castle built on a rock just like those at Stirling and Edinburgh, although perhaps somewhat smaller in scale! Nearby is the Scottish Maritime Museum, and the bustling High Street which backs onto the River Leven, with a pleasant riverside walk. The River Leven cycleway can be followed north through Alexandria to Balloch on the shore of Loch Lomond, and is a pleasant route through wild land and industrial areas as well as the more salubrious towns at either end. Dumbarton is easily accessed from the A82, and so the journey begins.
Heading west out of town, the A814 runs above the shore of the Clyde, parallel to the railway, with fields above. The small village of Cardross is soon reached, home to the now ruinous St Peters Seminary, a 1960s Catholic training college that was at the forefront of 60s Architecture when built, but quickly became obsolete, both from the church's point of view (they couldn't get enough trainees to fill it) and from the architectural side. For decades it retreated into the landscape, but is now occasionally open to the public.
A mile or so further west lies the genteel resort town of Helensburgh, although no longer a destination of choice for many hard working Glaswegians, it is still a pleasant place to stop and explore, even if the grid iron street pattern can become a little disorientating! At the top of the town, just off the A818, is Charles Rennie MacKintosh's famed Hill House with good shops and attractive parks in the town centre, as well as a fine sea front looking south across the Clyde. Continuing west, and almost merged into its larger neighbour, is the pretty village of Rhu with its marina and shingle beach.
The Clyde is behind us now, as we head north up the Gare Loch, a stretch of water that has become notorious for the wrong reasons. Yes, it is home to the Faslane Nuclear Submarine Base, but whilst that is a significant site on the shore, it is quickly passed. The trail is still following the A814, which is a good wide road along the shore, improved to give good access to Faslane, but benefiting everyone. Above the road, the hillside slopes up with tier after tier of luxurious houses enjoying the coastal views. The road then turns inland a little behind the Faslane base, before reaching the Garelochhead bypass.
Rosneath and Arrochar
The B872 follows the old line of the A814 into the small town of Garelochhead, set around the head of the loch (as the name suggests) and enjoying fine views to the south. The trail then turns down the B833 to explore the Rosneath Peninsula, home to some of the finest Victorian Villas in this part of Scotland, and everyone getting a sea view. The two villages of Rosneath and Kilcreggan offer a selection of shops and cafes, but it is the scenery that draws people, particularly the views across the water. Rosneath lies opposite Rhu, whilst Kilcreggan looks across the Clyde to Greenock. The B833 then turns another corner and heads north up Loch Long, with the village of Cove looking across to Strone on the Cowal Peninsula.
The B833 comes to an end at the military installation at Coulport. However, there is no need to double back as this base was provided with a modern military road (an extension of the A817 to Garelochhead), which doubles back and climbs over the hill back to the Garelochhead bypass. Whilst this is not a public road, the public are normally allowed to use it, getting the benefit of some fabulous views along the way.
Back on the A814, the trail turns north for Arrochar. After the good, wide roads enjoyed so far, this next section comes as a shock, with the road narrow and twisty as it climbs and falls through the trees. After passing the main entrance to the Finnart Oil Terminal, the road deteriorates further, becoming almost single track in places, but at least it has dropped to the shore, offering further views across Loch Long. The road continues northwards, sticking fairly close to the shore most of the time, and as long as you're not in a hurry it is a pleasant enough drive. There are a few parking places to allow exploration, but the steep hillside above and the narrow shoreline make it somewhat difficult to wander too far from the car.
At length, the pretty lochside village of Arrochar is reached, with a selection of shops, galleries and places to eat and stay as well as fine views across the water. The trail comes to an end on the A83 junction, which is part of the Argyll Coastal Route, but a couple of miles east leads to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and continuing to the head of Loch Long finds a large car park for those wishing to explore the Arrochar Alps - the shapely mountains that rise above the village.
For those wishing to further explore the area, a run west along the A83 to the Rest and be Thankful leads to the B828 into the pretty tourist spot of Lochgoilhead, where the are holiday parks and watersports to entertain. Taking the B839 Hells Glen Road and then heading south on the A815 allows you to explore Cowal, returning to Glasgow either via the Gourock to Dunoon Ferry or via the Isle of Bute. However, if you have seen enough when you arrive at Arrochar, cross to Tarbet and take the A82 back to Dumbarton.