West Highland Way Travel-Lite
Balmaha to Rowardennan – 7 1/4 miles (11.75 km)
Balmaha on the West Highland Way, Loch Lomond is a very remarkable place. On the west shore the A82 trunk road takes traffic into the West Highlands. On the east side, the road is a modest after Balmaha and dwindles out at Rowardennan, leaving the wilderness area to the north accessible only by foot.
The loch on the highland way is one of the longest in Scotland (23 miles), and is the greatest stretch of inland water in Britain. The land around the lower reaches is gentle and fertile. The loch itself is wide, fairly shallow, and dotted with islands. To the north, the steep banks continue down to deep depths – over six hundred feet off Inversnaid. The fertile land to the south was settled and farmed. The widely varying terrain around Loch Lomond of marsh, shingle, woodland, arable land, mountain and moor, provide habitat for plants, insects, birds and mammals.
The progress along the loch side can be slow as there is so much to see, but heading north from the old pier at Balmaha, you start walking on a rocky footpath around the loch shore. As you make your way around Milarrochy Bay, you will pass a private campsite and the Way takes briefly to the road. Further along takes you off to the right into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The walking is quite varied here, sometimes open ground, sometimes in the darkness of sprice plantation, and then through much more pleasant, deciduous woodland.
In the Queen Elizabeth Forest planting first started in 1951, though the wood inherited the old oak trees from the Duke of Montrose’s estate.
The route from Balmaha to Rowardennan offers the walker a constant change of scene, from shore to woodland and hill, and it’s on this stretch that you will pass the last of the bigger islands. This is Inchlonaig, which is famous for its yew trees. These are said to have been planted by Robert the Bruce, to ensure a supply of longbows for Scotland’s archers. A little further north, you may see the famous Loch Lomond crannogs. The crannogs are man-made islands dating from the Iron Age, and are composed of logs, stones and brushwood submerged in the loch. They were places of refuge, approached by causeways or stepping stones.
Rowardennan on the West Highland Way is an attractive and popular place, with a good hotel and a superb youth hostel. If you have time it is worth climbing Ben Lomond. The mountain is 3192 feet high, far short of Ben Nevis at the end of your walk, but in good weather the walk to the summit makes a good day out. The Ben Lomond footpath begins immediately opposite the Rowardennan hotel, and is marked by an antique petrol pump.