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Cowal Way: Glenbranter to Lochgoilhead

Cowal Way: Glenbranter to Lochgoilhead

Postby nigheandonn » Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:07 pm

Route description: Loch Lomond and Cowal Way

Date walked: 25/07/2019

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I didn't do much walking from Tarbert this year, for a mixture of reasons - none of us got down until Monday, because my sister was going to a wedding on the Sunday night, and a cousin from Canada was visiting on Friday, which didn't leave much time for an Islay trip.

So instead of running straight down to Tarbert from the dance festival I was part of, as usual, I went off to Inversnaid for Sunday night - walking down from Ardleish in the pouring rain, because I'd got away too late to catch the Inversnaid boat. (The ferryman asked me if I was mad, but I just said yes.)

By the time I got there, I knew I had what was called the Estonian Cold - because the Estonian group brought it with them and started giving it to the Scots. So I ended up doing even less local walking than planned, because I spent the first couple of days mostly lying about feeling wobbly.

By Wednesday I was feeling a bit better - well enough to go and potter about Lochranza, as some kind of doubtful Islay-substitute, before coming back to the Skipness sale of work - but I was still a bit uncertain about Thursday's plan, not so much because of the amount of walking as because I'd planned to go for breakfast at the Oyster Bar, and there was no point if I couldn't taste it!

But I was on the early bus the next morning, which left me at the Oyster Bar just after 9, as they started doing breakfast - quite expensive, but very tasty smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and a generous portion of salmon. There's a little cluster of places now near the head of Loch Fyne - the Oyster Bar itself, and a gift shop which is also the Cairndow post office, and a little heritage centre place, as well as the brewery further up, and Cairndow itself on the other side.

They had a lovely cartoon map of the area on a sign, but I especially liked that the Citylink bus was important eniugh to make an appearance on it.

Cartoon map

My next bus - heading for Dunoon - wasn't until 10.25, so it was getting on for 11 when I arrived back in Glenbranter, and the driver nearly forgot to let me off.

The first stretch is along the back road to Strachur, keeping to the other side of the river from the main road, and with just a scattering of houses along it.

The back road

From Strachur the path loops back again on the other side of the road, and I could look out for the route, heading up by the side of a hill patterned with trees.

Between the hills

I thought I would have to make a detour right through Strachur to find a shop, but as I came out on the main road I discovered that there was a petrol station with a little shop just there, which supplied me - with ice cream among other things, because it had been forecast to be very hot, and it was.

This was the start of an official new stretch - it even had the new official name, although it was about the only time that day that I did see it.

The next section

The way kept to minor roads for a while, round two corners and in and out of welcome trees, then gently uphill through a little valley.

Along the road

Where the road ran out the path left the farm lane and crossed a little wooden bridge into a shady lane.

Over the bridge

The shade didn't last long, though, and I was soon out onto bare and dusty forestry track - an attractive scene with Beinn Bheula ahead, but thirsty work, and I was very glad to fill my water bottle from a tiny burn running down to the track further along.

Hot track

This seemed a long stretch, climbing steadily as the track swung round, and then turning off at a junction to climb again across the slopes of Carnach Mor.

The map showed the track petering out, and the WH description also talked about it fading out to a faint path, but although it became rougher and much narrower, and the markers were back to faded Cowal Way ones, it stayed very clear, and so I was never quite sure how far along I was.

Smaller path

Eventually I came to the unmistakable point where the path turns at right angles to pass through a gap in the trees, and here the track did just stop and become a grassy line, but it didn't stay that way for long - the stile at the far end of the ride has now become a rather unexpected gate, and beyond it the clear earth and stone path carried on

Through the trees

As with the previous section, the rough halfway point over the hill is marked by an old sheep fank, but this time tumbledown wood instead of grassy stone.

Sheep fank

Beyond that Loch Curra stretches out, the path running along beside it.

Along the lochside

A place half way along marked as an official Cowal Way rest area would have been more tempting if there had been anything to rest *on* - even a log!

Rest area

The route up Beinn Bheula starts from the track at the far end of the loch, and I had really intended to climb it as a detour from this section, but between the cold and the heat - if you see what you mean - I didn't have the energy, and I didn't have the time, having been a bit slow so far. So that will have to be a reason to come back - it is a lovely area of little craggy hills piled together.

A slightly confusing sign here shows the Cowal Way, or at least its 'multipurpose route', moved to the track on the near side of the burn, while the original route on the other side is marked 'to Struth Ban Falls and loop/ to the Cowal Way'.


I wanted to stick to the route I'd read about, and I liked the idea of waterfalls, so I crossed over, although a man coming along on the other side - the first other person I'd seen on the route all day - called to me that it was easier going on his side, and he was right!

About the most you could say for this section was that you could always see where the path was going - it wasn't awful, but it was quite a change from earlier on.

Grassy path

A little bit further on it got more adventurous again, plunging down a slope with not much more to follow than occasional white posts - a zigzag along and then back on a tiny sloping path.

Steep descent

The reason for the steepness, and the reason for this route, was soon revealed - a stunning tumbling waterfall above the next bend of the path, which made it worth coming this way.


I was looking down now to the valley containing Lochgoilhead, and the lower path was clear down below, but it wasn't obvious how to get there from here.

Looking down

The way turned out to be a tiny path through the trees to reach the forest road, where a sign lying on the ground said that something had been diverted somewhere at some point - it wasn't even clear which side it meant, and I thought it was probably the path above which I had missed. But although there was nothing wrong with the road, and nothing happening on it, I eventually came to a sign telling me to go no further. I didn't have much choice, though - I had no idea where the alternative route was supposed to be, and everywhere else around was leg-breaking felled ground, so that I decided that the best thing to do was just to walk past quickly and quietly, keeping politely away from the log piles!

Eventually I came out by the first buildings, and then the other end of the diversion, telling me to follow the arrows carefully.

Reaching the houses

The path led down to the road and the road led down to the seashore, passing a seemingly endless line of holiday chalets, and children playing about.

The view down the loch is lovely, and it's not very obvious from here that there's a way out, although it's obviously the sea, but I realised that the hills at the far end are the same little bumpy hills seen above the Y-junction of loch from the train between Garelochhead and Arrochar.

Loch Goil

I'd been dreaming all day about reaching the sea and cooling down, but now I was here there wasn't really any beach - or anywhere to change - and I didn't really have any time for swimming. It was a bit cooler anyway, although still a lovely day.

The chalets give way in the end to a golf course, and then to some odd triangular wooden buildings, and although the map shows the route following the road, the signs take it over a little bridge and round the edge of more golf course, then through an odd stretch past the ends of various gardens, and a 17thC sundial, to come out on the road again by the pub.

Waterside path

Sad disappointment was to follow - I'd expected to get dinner here, but they had a sign up to say that their kitchen was closed unexpectedly. They told me that there was a pub in the holiday park, and so I walked back again, past the gardens and round the edge of the water and up a long curving road through the park to reach the big odd building which was a kind of pub among other things. They said they could feed me, and sat me down, but you had to wait for someone to come to you and although I'd told them I was in a hurry, 10 minutes later no one had been near me, so I decided it was unlikely I'd get to eat any food I ordered, and walked out again.

So back along the water's edge for a third time, and this time I just bought juice from the shop and sat with my feet in the sea until it was time for the bus to turn up, which it did a bit late. It was a slightly too exciting ride up to the Rest and Be Thankful, including a kind of emergency stop, but not nearly as cold a wait as the last time I'd been there, after climbing Ben Donich in the spring.

Since I'd forgotten to eat any lunch I still had the sandwich I'd bought at Strachur to eat for my dinner - which was a good thing, since you can't even get to the co-op in Inveraray anymore since they've moved it. So the ending left me quite cross, which was a shame, because it had been otherwise a very good day!
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