A tour to Loch Long and Loch Lomond

April 2008
130 km

I have established a nice tradition of doing this tour as my second tour of the season (after the Troon tour). It is a very nice tour which takes me past some of my previous homes and stomping grounds. I lived in Helensburgh and the Vale Of Leven area for many years. I have many fond memories from those places.
The tour itself is also very nice. It takes me from the busy Glasgow area to the Highlands and back. The hills are not too bad either. It is mostly flat, but still very varied and technical. It is the perfect spring training. It also fills my lungs with fresh air and my brain with some superb view. This tour is the best cure against winter-blues !

I had some healthy respect for this tour when I started the run down Renfrew Road to Renfrew ferry that sunny morning. I aimed for the first ferry and got it. The locals was waiting too...... but was told to jump into the river.

The locals waiting for the ferry.

This ferry service is over 200 years old and was recently threatened with closure. But the government has now thankfully renewed the service for the next ten years. It is a vital link in the Glasgow area and one of the busiest foot passenger ferries in Europe.

Renfrew Ferry.

I disembarked on the other side and followed the Glasgow to Loch Lomond cycle path along and down the Clyde River to a cycle shop in Bowling where I stocked up with some new stuff for my bike. That include a new tyre, water-bottle and a new pump. I got the tyre fitted and that solved my problem with the rather wobbly front-wheel. I then continued on the cycle path past Dumbarton Castle to Dumbarton. I have always been fond of Dumbarton and the new refurbishment of High Street looked good.
I stocked up on drink from the local Farmfoods. I am also learned that my friends in Pc 2000 had moved from the Bell Centre around the corner to Bridge Street. Good stuff ! The shop was still not open so I was not able to meet them.
I went over the old bridge and then took the road over the hill to Cardross. The road past the golf course and through the village is nice. The hill at the end of the village was not so nice, but it took me up to a superb viewpoint over Helensburgh. The road down the hill was a bit exposed to the wind and the now pretty heavy traffic, but it took me past the new college and into Helensburgh. I lived for some years in Helensburgh and this was for me a paradise for a while. I have no wishes to move back to Helensburgh, but it is always nice to visit this small town. I love the seafront. I took a small break here for a sandwich and some drink before I continued in the fjord to Garelochhead. The road had a couple of small, sharp climbs until I came to a big hill bypassing the Faslane Naval Base. The hill rise to around 50 meters above sea level here and the climb is very boring. Past the “peace camp” to the right and the very heavily guarded naval base to the left. I reached a small roundabout and took the road up to the left and up a long, very steep and hill to a moor. The top of the hill is the highest point of the tour and around 125 meters above sea level. I reached another roundabout, which I cycled straight through and onto the road to Loch Long and Arrochar. This road is one of the best cycling roads in Scotland.

Some good fun on the hills above Loch Long

It gradually falls in leaps and bounds down the hill to the sea at Loch Long. The last piece of road is a vertical descent. The cycling along the whole road is very technical and rewarding. The road is full of small hills which is very rewarding on a racing bike. The scenery is breathtaking and alpine. The area is called the Arrochar Alps and that says everything. I love this road and that is why I am returning, year after year. After some good fun, I reached Arrochar.

The last kilometres of Loch Long.

The Cobbler seen from Arrochar.

This village has some superb views towards The Cobbler and is a genuine nice place. The hotel is nice and the views in all directions is very nice too. The observant reader may have noticed that I like Arrochar. The place feels like a place in Norway. Then again; it is not. But Loch Long is certainly like a Norwegian fjord. I feel like “home” in Loch Long. The problem is that this area is now my home. Norway is now a foreign country for me.

I am always aiming to reach Arrochar before midday. A kind of a tradition. This time, I was twenty minutes too late. I turned my attention to the small hill over to Tarbert at Loch Lomond. These three kilometres was OK with some good views. The Vikings, my ancestors, dragged their Viking ships over this hill when they attacked Dumbarton from the rear. Basically, they met too much resistance from the heavy fortified Dumbarton Castle when they tried to attack Dumbarton. So they took their ships in Loch Long, dragged them over this hill, sailed down Loch Lomond and River Leven to the, from the north, defenceless Dumbarton. Basically, the same route as I did.

I arrived at this small village. Tarbert has a famous hotel and a couple of shops. It is a major crossroad between the Highlands and the Islands (Oban, the Kintyre Peninsula and Islay). Tarbert is also on the shores of Loch Lomond, the biggest lake in the mainland United Kingdom. Only Lough Neagh (see my Lough Neagh tour) in Northern Ireland is bigger. Personally, I find Loch Lomond bigger. It is certainly a lot longer, 50 km from top to bottom. I have done this run five times and I find it highly enjoyable. Tarbert lays in the middle of this run, 20 km from the north end of Loch Lomond and 30 km from Balloch at the south end.
The road out of Tarbert is following a cycle-path. In the beginning, on a pavement. It is also a bit steep up a hill out of Tarbert. I was feeling fine and really looking forward to these 30 km. The sun was shining and life could not get any better. On the other side of Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond was dominating the skyline. This is a 1000 meters high mountain and a giant among the smaller surrounding hills. The cycle-path followed the very busy road for some kilometres before it went of down to the shores of Loch Lomond. This is the old Loch Lomond road. The new one goes more up in the hillside above Loch Lomond. I have done both and I prefer the cycle-road. The whole cycle path from Tarbert to Balloch (and Dumbarton and Glasgow) is superb. It is also safe and devoid of any cars. The only “danger” on this path is walkers. Be careful and enjoy this path.

Looking north towards Tarbert and the north end of Loch Lomond.

I am also big fan of Loch Lomond. I find it tranquil and majestic. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking too. It truly deserve the mythical status it has got. There was a lot of walkers on the path that day and I had to be careful not to run them over. I stopped for a break to take in the scenery and wash my legs in Loch Lomond. The water was very cold. I had some food and drink before I continued down this cycle path past the big campsite at Inverbeg to Luss. This is an old village and a tourist magnet. “Everyone” goes there if the weather is good. The village was overcrowded when I was there that Sunday. I bought an ice-cream (tradition !) and went down to the pier. The views from this pier is superb. This is why everybody goes there.

Ben Lomond from the Luss pier. One of the most famous images of Scotland.

I eventually got back on my bike again and followed the old Luss Road out of Luss towards Balloch. The road was a bit undulating and very busy. After four kilometres, I then rejoined the cycle path towards Balloch again. The cycle path took me past the Loch Lomond golf course and the new golf course The Carrick. The main road was very busy and I was glad I was on the cycle path. A very enjoyable cycle path, although very busy in itself. The road from Luss too Balloch is mostly flat with a small hill from Duck Bay over to Balloch at the end. There was a major car accident (fatal, I learned later that night) on the road and the queue was standing for miles. This road is a very dangerous road and in need of some upgrades. I passed the The Carrick Golf course on my way down to Duck Bay and the famous Duck Bay Hotel & Cafeteria. The traffic was at a standstill and the bus to Campheltown, which was supposed to deliver passengers to the Islay ferry, was stucked in this chaos. I guess the passengers to Islay did not reach that ferry. It was a sorry sight and I was glad I was on my bike.
I passed the Cameron House, the ultimate in luxury hotels on my way over the small hill from Duck Bay to Balloch.

Balloch has changed a lot since I lived there back in 1996. The new Loch Lomond Shores tourist attraction has given Balloch a new life. It is always nice to come back to Balloch. I really like Balloch.
Instead of taking the cycle-path down River Leven to Dumbarton (which I recommend), I took the road to Alexandria and Bonhill. The reason being that I lived here for four years and I wanted to see this part of the world again. Alexandria has changed a lot over the last years. The changes has been good. Regeneration they call it. I crossed the Bonhill Bridge and went up the hill to Bonhill. I was starting to get pretty tired after a day on the bike in sunshine.
The road took me over the Ballantine distillery and the disused J & B site where they now film the horrible River City soap drama. I rejoined the busy Glasgow road at the police station. The road also bypassed Dumbarton and I followed this road for 2 kilometres before I rejoined the cycle path towards Glasgow. Just after Bowling and under the Erskine Bridge, I took a small road up the hill to the left and joined the bridge itself over the river. Erskine Bridge is a pretty bad bridge with low railings. I do not like it at all due to my scepticism towards all man-made structures. I took some pictures though.

Looking down the river towards Dumbarton from the bridge.

Looking up the river towards Glasgow from the bridge.

I was glad when I was on the other side. The road now took me up a couple of hills. I was very tired and got some cramps in my legs. These hills and the heavy traffic was no fun at all. I reached Inchinnan after six kilometres and turned off the road towards Renfrew to bypass the roundabouts at Glasgow Airport. I stopped at Renfrew to buy some food and then arrived at my home after seven hours on the bike.

This is a superb cycling tour. It is not hilly, but still pretty technical. The road from Garelochhead to Arrochar is one of the best cycling roads I have ever done during my thousands of kilometres on the road.

I am therefore happy to recommend this tour to anyone.