The hitchhiker's guide to the Highlands No. 1:
Loch Lomondside and the Rest and be Thankful, from Glasgow
As befits the country's largest city, Glasgow & surrounds can boast by far the best public transport infrastructure. This, combined with the remarkable proximity of several major walking & climbing areas, means that the Glasgow-based walker need not rely on car-ownership in order to gain access to the hills. In fact, the lack of a car allows all manner of enhanced expeditions to be attempted without the constraint of having to go from A to B, then back to A again. Yet the delights of walking from A to B to C (and then perhaps right on through the alphabet) are receiving less & less coverage in increasingly car-orientated hill-publications. There are two main options for the non-motorised walker: public transport or hitching. However, given the readily available timetable information for trains and buses (summarised in the half-yearly "Getting Around the Highlands & Islands"- but watch out for sudden alterations), it is this column's intention to deal mainly with hitchhiking, & to mention transport services only when they can be used to make hitching easier. Hitching is an activity nowadays slightly frowned upon as being quaint, eccentric or dangerous, but which is still surprisingly popular & productive - quite apart from its costcutting benefits & the acquisition of local knowledge & gossip from drivers. The walker who is prepared to risk occasionally bccoming becalmed for a few hours in some godforsaken layby can rest assured that some interesting travelling lies ahead.
Altemative routes out from Glasgow & elsewhere will be discussed in future editions (Hmm. An optimist - gloomy Ed.), but for now we'll deal with the easiest way north, & one which allows access to a whole range of options. It will be assumed that the walker will be looking for daytrips only, but of course all manner of longer-term outings are available once you are where you want to be. Occasionally, Loch Lomond-bound travellers can be seen frantically thumbing at various points along Glasgow' s Great Western Rd, anywhere from Kelvinbridge to Clydebank. This, however, is liable to be far from profitable timewise (there is too much local traffic), & unless you are really hard-up it is simpler to begin by jumping aboard a Balloch-bound train. These are catchable anywhere from Motherwell, through Queen St lowlevel, Partick, Clydebank/Singer & Dumbarton; single fare at time of writing: #1.80 from Queen St.
Balloch translates as "loch village", & is precisely that: the city limits are well & truly demarcated here in order to prevent the inhabitants from getting their feet wet. A 10 minute walk from the station takes you to possibly the best hitching layby in the whole of Scotland. To get there, come out of the station onto the main road, turn L along past several guesthouses, swing further L at a junction, then R at a roundabout & up a steady footpathless incline to another roundabout at the main A82. The uninitiated are occasionally to be seen trying to hitch at the roundabout itself, but this allows little in the way of stopping distance. Instead, turn R (up the loch), cross the road & in 200m or so reach the dream layby. All traffic heading for Lochaber, Cowal, Kintyre etc has to pass here, & this of course includes large numbers of hillwalkers, often with half-empty cars. Therefore try & get there early (first train leaves Queen St 0616 weekdays, arriving Balloch 0657; every half-hour from 0641 thereafter), & try to look like a climber (iceaxe useful well into early summer- although any later & you come across as a crazed axe-murderer). You should get a swift lift no probs.
The road N used to be narrow & winding all the way up the loch: no overtaking for 25 miles & several passenger-seat heartattacks per trip. Now, vast & fast improvements have left only the Tarbet-Ardlui stretch tortuous; a speedy driver could whisk you to Glen Coe in little more than an hour. There are several major junctions in the road, all of which branch into areas of interest to the walker. Hence it is handy to have several walking plans ready in advance, thus avoiding unnecessary abandonment of lifts. First split comes at Tarbet (Gaelic: an isthmus), where, somewhat surprisingly, most traffic takes the straight-on branch to Arrochar, Inveraray & beyond. Should you go this way, numerous good hills can be started a fair height up by jumping out at the top of the Rest and be Thankful - although if, say, crossing Beinn Ime & descending Coiregrogain to Inveruglas, remember that you are coming down to the awkward, difficult-to-hitch section of the A82. A better descent is to sealevel at Succoth, where the hordes of car-walkers coming off the Cobbler can usually be relied upon to offer lifts. Perhaps the best of all days from the Rest although quite long - is to climb Beinn an Lochain by its NE ridge, then to continue over Ben Donich & The Brack before a descent to, & moderate hitching from, Ardgarten. If the Lomondside branch is taken from Tarbet, the first feasible starting point is the hydroroad up from Inveruglas. This allows access to A'Chrois & Bens Vane & Vorlich, with the latter pair offering pleasant ways off via their easy N ridges leading to Glen Kinglas & excellent return hitching from Butterbridge. Vorlich can also be climbed from Ardlui, whilst the unfairly neglected Troisgeach can be started from just N of Inverarnan.
The Crianlarich hills (Beinn Chabhair to Ben More) can be climbed in little circuits from Glen Falloch just as they would with a car. Alternatives, such as dropping off S to the long, deadend Loch Voil road or, even more riskily, crossing Beinn Chabhair & the Bealach nan Corp to Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine, run rather too much danger of becoming stranded late in the day. Most A to B merchants will happily settle for something along the lines of the 3 western Munros from Derrydaroch to Inverarnan.
At Crianlarich, a road shoots off down Glen Dochart towards Killin, but little traffic goes this way & that which does seems oddly reluctant to offer lifts. Most hitchers will push on towards Tyndrum, where there is another split. Before then, however, the excellent Cononish route to Ben Lui can be taken from Dalrigh (not named on the map: 350286), with an eventual descent N to Glenlochy Crossing - although transportwise this is maybe better in reverse, as the long straight at Dalrigh provides plenty of lifts. All the Lui Munros can also be descended via the Gleann nan Caorann hydroroad system to the S. This eventually exits opposite Glen Falloch farm, & provides unusual & lovely views, especially late in the day when the sun sets on the peaks opposite.
Once beyond Tyndrum, the shortest A to B route crosses the two goldmining Corbetts N of the village - which is as bad for providing lifts as it is unpleasant to look at. If you are dropped here whilst heading for Glen Coe, walk up to the main junction & the layby just beyond - although even this is far from ideal due to being sited on a steep bend. Beyond Tyndrum there are no main junctions on either road for many a mile; hence most daytrip walking is the same as for car-owners although the old chestnut of getting back off the Bridge of Orchy Munros is resolved (start at Auch, exit via Achallader), whilst the full traverse of the Blackmount becomes a superb option (Forest Lodge to Kingshouse; quickest route from A82 to Forest Lodge is from Tulla Cottage, not Br of O).