Hills & Mountains
The Kilpatrick Hills
*I am in the process of redesigning this section to include updated notes and many more high-res shots*
The Kilpatrick Hills were one of fourteen Commonwealth Woods, designated as part of the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, to provide outdoor areas for all to enjoy, offering a range of free events and activities. The network of green spaces around the city includes a mix of well-established and newly-planted woods, and a new riverside park created out of derelict land opposite the Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village in Glasgow`s east end.
Woodland Trust Scotland has been working with the local community to establish a new native woodland on the moorland beneath Lang Craigs. Some 20,000 trees are being planted to create new habitats on the hill and attract lots of native wildlife. Visit the site to see how they are getting on. Works began in August 2016 to create a new woodland in the Kilpatrick Hills. As part of the work there will be fencing installed, ground cultivation, grass cutting, tree and shrub planting, chemical weeding and pest control. (to edit)*
The main tree planting work will take place over three phases across the next three years, with foundation works completed in spring 2019. Phase one will see trees planted on the Kilpatrick Braes and deer fences installed. This will not affect access to the hills. We will be working with contractors Highfield Forestry to ensure there is as little disruption to public access as possible. (to edit)* Once the trees are established, the fences will be removed, enabling deer and other mammals to pass freely across the area.
The photos illustrating this section are just a small selection from hundreds taken during numerous walks and mountain bike outings I`ve enjoyed on the Kilpatricks over many years. Hopefully they will show anyone planning to visit what the area has to offer. Both of the above shots were taken from roughly the same spot. Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton and, on the opposite side of the river Port Glasgow and Greenock are all visible in the lower of the two.
Despite their relatively low altitude and proximity to Clydebank and Glasgow, a walk over the Kilpatricks can be a memorable experience, especially if thick fog is forecast on an otherwise fine day. During such conditions a temperature inversion may occur which often leaves the upper slopes basking in sunshine above any mist or cloud blanketing the Clyde Estuary.
The southern aspect of the Kilpatricks, known as the Kilpatrick Braes, is wooded and overlooks the River Clyde above Old Kilpatrick in a broken line of cliffs and crags, however, an extensive area of open moorland, lochs and forestry plantations stretches to the north and east.
To the east, beyond the Blane Valley, are the the Campsie Fells, which include the volcanic plug of Dumgoyne. To the north, Loch Lomond and its surrounding peaks are revealed. Although Duncolm is the highest summit in the Kilpatricks, Fynloch Hill, which lies just a kilometre away to the southwest, is a finer viewpoint. It overlooks lonely Fyn Loch, which is often home to a pair of Great Crested Grebes during the breeding season (see below).
Above: On a mild February morning the wind picks up and blows low lying cloud clear of the tops.
Much of this area is now managed by Forestry Commission Scotland and although there are no formal trails, well-worn paths can be followed up through gaps in the cliffs and across the undulating high ground beyond.
Old Kilpatrick has an interesting church and the Forth & Clyde Canal and Saltings Local Nature Reserve are just a few minutes walk from the railway station and main road through the village. There has been a church on the same site here since at least the late 12th century and the present building with its distinctive blue-faced steeple clock dates from 1812. The church has an interesting graveyard with several tombs worthy of inspection, including one from the 14th century which bears a sculptured effigy of an armed knight.
The most popular trip with locals and day-visitors alike is the walk to the Loch Humphrey Reservoir. Cars can be left in Old Kilpatrick, near a small electricity sub station although parking is limited and it`s better if walkers park just south of the A82, on the edge of the playing fields Mount Pleasant Drive beside the bowling club. (update with current parking restrictions)* Comparison with new overflow car park etc*
From there it only takes a couple of minutes to reach an underpass that leads to the sub-station (visible towards the left hand side in the following shot) from which a tarred road climbs steadily and initially passes a couple of farm houses before becoming a gravel track. There are a couple cattle grids with gates which are sometimes locked to bar access to unauthorised vehicles but there are no restrictions for walkers and cyclists.
The main track, on the right in the above view, passes the entrance to Gavinburn Cottages. Appearances can be deceptive: the track gets much steeper as it climbs. There are a number of excellent self catering units here, all offering superb views: www.gavinburncottages.com.
The best view from the track is high on the shoulder where it bends sharply and turns north towards the loch. A fence offers protection at the edge of the sheer cliffs of Haw Craigs where Peregrines have been known to nest. Raven favour the crags on the opposite side of the track, plus Buzzards and Kestrels are often spotted. The adjacent Creigarestie conifer plantation used to come alive with birdsong in springtime with species such as Redpoll, Goldcrest, and Crossbill occasionally seen on the tree tops. Unfortunately much of this area has now been felled.
Left: In this shot, taken from the Humphrey track in June 2003, a newly built Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) heads downriver from BAE Systems yard at Scotstoun to start her sea trials.
The once busy Gavinburn Bus Depot in Old Kilpatrick, was boarded-up and awaiting resale or demolition and almost fills the foreground of the left-hand shot, The building was eventually sold and is now the base for a private business enterprise.
From the bend in the track the scene, especially towards the mouth of the Clyde Estuary, is outstanding, especially if a ship sails into view and a decent dump of snow covers the landscape - a relatively rare occurrence these days. Other birds seen on the Braes and moors include Meadow Pipit, various Wagtail species, Twite, Stonechat, Whinchat, Fieldfare, Snipe and Redwing.
The first section of the route is shown in the above photo taken from the Erskine Bridge. Gaviburn cottage, passed on the way up the Loch Humphrey track, is in the middle, just above the centre of the image although difficult to make out. The vessel is the Liberian-registered bulk carrier Anarchos which had sailed all the way from the port of Santos in Brazil to deliver animal feed to the Glasgow city docks.
From the electricity substation, rather than follow the traditional route all the way to Loch Humphrey, walkers can cut over the adjacent field and follow the Dalnottar Burn up onto the southern edge of the Braes at their east end above the crags. In this shot, taken from the heights in Renfrew, the ravine of the Dalnottar is obvious on the extreme left hand side with a well-worn path zigzagging on its left. The pudding shaped summit of Duncolm dominates the skyline.
These slideshows feature shots taken on the Dalnottar Burn approach etc* // the burn itself tumbles down a steep ravine for much of the way and is fenced for safety, hidden from view etc* The above photos show the way up with the following batch comprising only shots looking back down the trail. I`ll add to these in due course. etc*
A continuation westwards over the undulating moorland eventually gains the Humphrey track just beyond the sharp bend above Haw Craigs, close to an old disused stone quarry. This variation is nowhere near as popular as the main approach and gives the best chance of spotting wildlife with red deer, roe deer, fox and various species of birds inhabiting the upland and steep wooded slopes of the crags.
From the bend the main track continues at an easier angle to the Loch Humphrey reservoir where, despite the general area being good for bird watching, there never seems to be much avian interest on the loch itself.
Above: From this junction at the southeast corner of Loch Humphrey there are a couple of possibilities: continue north over the moor to Fynloch Hill and a superb view of Loch Lomond, or follow the Humphrey`s southern shore and head down to Milton, just east of Dumbarton. As you head along the Humphrey`s southern shore you could easily imagine you were in the Highlands.
The frozen Humphrey reservoir with Fynloch Hill and, to its right, Duncolm.
The ground leading up to Fynloch Hill is fairly easy-angled but usually boggy. Provided it hasn`t been raining for a while, this part can be cycled for much of the way.
Both these shots of Loch Humphrey were taken from almost the same spot, on the hike towards Fynloch Hill.
Various extensions and alternative descents from Loch Humphrey are possible, depending on transport and time available including, as previously mentioned, a detour to take in Duncolm, which lies almost 3 kilometres to the north, or Fynloch Hill. Despite being one of the best vantage points in the Kilpatricks, and only 1 meter lower than Duncolm there`s no cairn or `trig point` marking the top of Fynloch Hill. The views to the north are first-class with a distant panorama of Loch Lomond and its mountains so it`s worth leaving this outing for a clear day.
The view east from Fynloch Hill to Duncolm with Dumgoyne and Earl`s Seat in the Campsies beyond.
Heading down from Duncolm with Greenside Reservoir in the distance (above) and the Jaw and Cochno lochs below. (to edit)*
The trail from Duncolm meets the Greenside at the reservoir`s north-east corner. Once again, I found this section, although short, tedious with the bike. The path runs just above the water`s edge and there are a few ragged, rusted iron fence post stubs protruding from the ground which could easily rip a tyre. Once you reach the south end of the Greenside, it`s back on the saddle for a downhill all the way to Cochno Road and the A82.Click here (to edit)*.
I presume the gravel road on right in the above view leads towards Dumbarton but I took the left fork which climbs slightly to the perimeter of a working quarry which is out of bounds. However, just before the gate a right-of-way cuts over the fields (below), joining another rubble-strewn quarry access road further down. When the facility is in operation and the trucks are rolling, although short, this section isn`t the best place to be, especially on a bike! Soon after though you`re on a proper road, joining it above Milton, just short of Loch Bowie and the Overtoun Estate.
Another good western circuit can also be had by heading northwest from the reservoir to Doughnot Hill, 374 metres, and then following the course of the Overtoun Burn to tiny Loch Bowie above Milton.
This route passes through the grounds of the Overtoun Estate with its large mansion house that was designed by the well-know architect James Smith (1808 -1863) for the wealthy White family. In the 1930s the family vacated the property and donated it to the people of Dumbarton. The Overtoun mansion has since operated as maternity hospital, a religious retreat and a youth and social services centre. Overtoun House dates from the 1860s and is not currently open to the public. The estate grounds are though and various walks lead through the woodland and onto the open hillside.
Overtoun is perhaps best known for its stone bridge which has the macabre claim to fame that it is an apparent suicide hot-spot for dogs. Over the years, since the 1950s, numerous canines have leapt to their death over the wall, landing in the gorge of the Overtoun Burn 15m (50ft) below. There are even documented cases of dogs that have miraculously survived the fall being taken back to the bridge, only to jump over the parapet again!
The only scientific theory that has been put forward to explain the phenomenon is that mink are prevalent in the area and it may be the exceptionally strong scent from their urine that is irresistible to the dogs!
On the way down from Overtoun House Loch Bowie (above) is passed then it`s a very steep descent (cyclists need to make sure their brakes are working well here before the next section) to regain the busy A82 Glasgow - Fort William road at Milton, approximately 4km west of the starting point at the electricity sub-station in Old Kilpatrick.
The return along the A814, rather than the busy A82 which runs parallel, takes you through Bowling, once an important shipbuilding centre on the Upper Clyde. The western terminus of the Forth & Clyde Canal lies in the shadow of the Kilpatrick Braes and is worth a look at any time of year, although there`s obviously more activity during the summer months. It can be a great location for photography in exceptionally harsh winters when the surface soon freezes over.
Although these birds were snapped at Bowling Basin, there`s every chance of spotting the same species higher up on the Braes: Dipper feed along the various burns and Kestrel, and Buzzard, are likely to be encountered hunting over the open moors.
There used to be a sizeable `ships` graveyard` at Bowling harbour, although the majority of the wrecks, most of which only became visible at low tide have long since been cleared. Vessels included a steam trawler, a 30 metre-long World War 2 minesweeper and a torpedo boat.
The following shot, taken in August 2005, shows RFA Wave Ruler (A390), a Fast Fleet replenishment tanker, sailing downriver en route to start her sea trials in the Firth of Clyde. The crags immediately below the bend in the Loch Humphrey track are immediately noticeable towards the skyline in both these shots. Just in front of Wave Ruler, at Bowling, is Dunglass Castle which is currently in a dangerous condition with no access permitted.
The earliest part of the Castle, which was once the main power base of the Colquhoun Clan, dates from the 14th century but very little of the original structure remains. In 1735 a large section was dismantled to provide a source of stone to repair the adjacent quay. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald later re-designed the castle`s interior for its wealthy owner and it is thought that Mackintosh's efforts here led to him being awarded the contract for the Hillhouse in Helensburgh.
Security fences and trees more or less screen the castle from the A814 road which runs through the village, therefore Longhaugh Point, on the south bank of the Clyde, where this shot was taken from, is the best place from which to view it. The area surrounding the castle previously housed a large fuel depot and storage tanks were built into the hillside between here and Milton, just east of Dumbarton.
The obelisk in the castle grounds, erected in 1838, is a monument to Henry Bell (1767-1830), an engineer and celebrated character on Clydeside who pioneered the development of nautical steam power. His vessel Comet, built at Port Glasgow, operated the first steamboat service on the Clyde in 1812. Initially the paddle-steamer transported passengers between Glasgow, Greenock and Bell`s hotel in Helensburgh sailing three times a week.
This monument to Bell was erected on the seafront at Helensburgh. Bell is buried in the graveyard of the nearby Rhu Church. (add pics*)
West from the Jaw and Cochno Lochs
To the east of Loch Humphrey lie the Greenside, Jaw and Cochno Reservoirs, with returns possible via the Duntocher and Faifley areas of Clydebank, or for anyone with a bit more time and energy, a continuation westwards for a steep, easy descent on the Loch Humphrey track to the Erskine Bridge. The most popular way of accessing the Kilpatricks` eastern lochs is via a marked path off Cochno Road.
The policies of the Cochno Farm & Research Centre occupy a large area of the hillside immediately north of Cochno Road and a sign requests that visitors to the Jaw and Cochno lochs use the marked path 500 metres east of the main entrance. Although the main building, Cochno House, (built around 1757) is partially screened by trees this way you pass the University of Glasgow`s Observatory, which is equipped with a 20" Grubb Parsons telescope.
Below: This nice little waterfall, known locally as the Grey Mare`s Tail, flows down beside the path. Unfortunately it was deep in shadow when I passed early morning.
Rather than walking the eastern hills, many prefer to use a mountain bike although unless you`re an expert and / or very fit there will likely by a fair bit of push and carry. etc* The defile of the burn can be seen on the extreme left hand skyline in the following shot which was taken from Renfrew. etc* //
Although signed for Cochno Loch, the route actually reaches the Jaw Reservoir first.
Thereafter it`s an easy ascent of Cochno Hill and I actually managed to cycle along most of this section. This is the domain of Skylark and grouse.
As you climb Cochno Hill, rugged summits including Ben Lomond and the Cobbler appear over the horizon. Causeways connect the island to the shore and separate the Jaw from the Cochno Loch. A small anglers` hut sits in a picturesque location at the far side. Duncolm, (on the right, above) the highest summit in the Kilpatricks at 401m can be seen in the distance.
The faint trail divides near the top of Cochno Hill and I took the easier option, heading south-west on sloping ground, easy-angled for the most part, to join the main access track (below) that leads to Greenside Reservoir (above), rather than the more direct but steeper route down the far side of the hill.
The last time I was up here on my bike, a buzzard was circling high above the reservoir, catching the thermals. You can head down the above route from Greenside to join Cochno Road or continue west to gain the Loch Humphrey track. I opted for the latter and found that the roughest part of the traverse was between Greenside Reservoir and the trig-topped bump known as `The Slacks`. I had the hills to myself throughout and didn`t meet anyone until I reached the Humphrey track.
Looking back along the route on the way to The Slacks: The Greenside Reservoir is nearest with Cochno Loch and the distant Campsies beyond.
These last few photos were taken on the crest of Boglairoch, easy to cycle along after so much rough ground.
Above: Loch Humphrey with the Cowal Hills, the Luss Hills and the Arrochar Alps in the far distance.
Below: The end in sight: the descent track to Old Kilpatrick, the River Clyde and the Erskine Bridge.