The east bank of Loch Lomond can provide a glorious traverse through splendid oakwoods with a wide variety of birds, plants, mammals and other trees to delight the eye, plus the changing vistas across the water; or it can be a tortuous struggle through what the Scots aptly call ‘glaur’. You will have to take it as you find it. In adversity there is pleasure in thinking ahead to the better going once Glen Falloch is gained.
Robert Macgregor (1671–1734), better known by his nickname Rob Roy (red-headed Rob) lived at Craigrostan just south of Inversnaid. A mighty man with the broadsword, it was said that his arms were so long that he could tie his garters without bending down. Originally a cattle drover, he was defrauded by a dealer and bankrupted: at this point he turned to the allied trade of reiving, or cattle stealing.
Clan Macgregor was already particularly feared and persecuted by the authorities. One unhappy troop of redcoats was sent on night march up the east shore of the loch – the line of the West Highland Way – in hopes of catching Rob by surprise. They arrived three hours late, by which time Rob and his family were long gone. Later, the authorities set up a garrison above Inversnaid, in hopes of subduing the locals.
Inversnaid's waterfall is seen at its best from the water, or even from the far side of the loch. The ferry service has been bringing tourists across here for over 200 years, including the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. But the falls were most celebrated by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose ‘Inversnaid’ has become famous as a plea for keeping wild places wild:
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
In only a few hundred yards you've broken clear of the crowds and their cars (most people are either picnicking by the lochside or climbing Ben Lomond). Once past the youth hostel the track continues for 0.5 miles (800m) or so, to fork up right and pass above Ptarmigan Lodge.
Here a choice of routes presents itself. Those in a hurry have been known to continue along the broad forest road option higher up. That would be a pity, for the lochside route winds in and out of attractive woods, down to little bays, round small promontories and through plantations – and the path itself is smooth and comfortable, not at all the rugged struggle it was before being completely rebuilt in 2014.
About a mile (1.6km) along it is a crag known as Rob Roy’s Prison, where it is said the outlaw kept hostages in a natural rock cell. The next building on the path is Rowchoish Bothy.
Soon after Rowchoish the path rejoins the track above. This track immediately reduces to a lovely woodland path to the farm cottage at Cailness. The footbridge here is occasionally washed away by sudden spates down the steep burn.
At Inversnaid there is an elegant and unexpectedly large hotel dating from Victorian times, a ferry pier, and the end of the road from Aberfoyle. And of course the falls crashing down – they're best seen by a short descent left before crossing the bridge above.
Beyond Inversnaid, the wooded slopes fall steep into the loch, and the path has to fight a way through, with a fair amount of up-and-down and scrambling over rocks and tree-roots. Normal time allowances go out of the window on this stretch. (The really fainthearted could catch the ferry from the hotel across the loch to Inveruglas, and take the bus up the west side to rejoin the West Highland Way by the ferry from Ardlui.) As the Way crosses the Allt Rostan it passes from Strathclyde to Central Region; shortly after this a very steep slab is crossed by a stoutly built bridge. In another 0.25 miles (400m) or so you emerge at a bay with a grassy meadow behind.
The difficulties are now over. The path rises beside a stream, and drops past Doune, where there's another bothy. In another mile (1.5km) the north end of the loch is reached, and the path climbs through the gap east of Cnap Mor, past the lovely little Dubh Lochan (dubh meaning ‘dark’). The path runs down through woods to the Beinglas camp site. Here a diversion is often made the short distance across the site's entrance bridge and down A82 to the old Drovers Inn at Inverarnan for a well-earned refreshment.
Clear, mostly waymarked paths, 4 stiles
Good along the woodland paths
OS Explorer 364 Loch Lomond North
Rowardennan, Inversnaid, Inverarnan
Ferries cross Loch Lomond from Luss or Inveruglas to Rowardennan, and also from Tarbet and Inveruglas to both Rowardennan and Inversnaid (www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk). A small passenger ferry run by Ardlui Hotel crosses the north end of the loch between Ardlui and Ardbeg (01301 704 243/269). All these places on the west shore have good bus links with Fort William and Glasgow, as does Inverarnan at the end of the stage.
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.